Wilkie Collins: The Best Works


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This ebook compiles Wilkie Collins' greatest writings, including novels, novellas, short stories and travel narratives such as "The Moonstone", "The Woman in White", "The Yellow Mask", "Rambles Beyond Railways", "Armadale" and "A Terribly Strange Bed".
This edition has been professionally formatted and contains several tables of contents. The first table of contents (at the very beginning of the ebook) lists the titles of all novels included in this volume. By clicking on one of those titles you will be redirected to the beginning of that work, where you'll find a new TOC that lists all the chapters and sub-chapters of that specific work.



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Date de parution 05 décembre 2019
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Wilkie CollinsTable of Contents

Rambles Beyond Railways
First published : 1851
a travel narrative

A Letter of Introduction

Dear Reader,
When any friend of yours or mine, in whose fortunes we take an interest, is about to start
on his travels, we smooth his way for him as well as we can, by giving him a letter of
introduction to such connexions of ours as he may find on his line of route. We bespeak their
favourable consideration for him by setting forth his good qualities in the best light possible;
and then leave him to make his own way by his own merit — satisfied that we have done
enough in procuring him a welcome under our friend’s roof, and giving him at the outset a
claim to our friend’s estimation.
Will you allow me, reader (if our previous acquaintance authorizes me to take such a
liberty), to follow the custom to which I have just adverted; and to introduce to your notice this
Book, as a friend of mine setting forth on his travels, in whose well-being I feel a very lively
interest. He is neither so bulky nor so distinguished a person as some of the predecessors of
his race, who may have sought your attention in years gone by, under the name of “Quarto,”
and in magnificent clothing of Morocco and Gold. All that I can say for his outside is, that I
have made it as neat as I can — having had him properly thumped into wearing his present
coat of decent cloth, by the most competent book-tailor I could find. As for his intrinsic claims
to your kindness, he has only two that I shall venture to advocate. In the first place he is able
to tell you something about a part of your own country which is still too rarely visited and too
little known. He will speak to you of one of the remotest and most interesting corners of our
old English soil. He will tell you of the grand and varied scenery; the mighty Druid relics; the
quaint legends; the deep, dark mines; the venerable remains of early Christianity; and the
pleasant primitive population of the county of CORNWALL. You will inquire, can we believe
him in all that he says? This brings me at once to his second qualification — he invariably
speaks the truth. If he describes scenery to you, it is scenery that he saw and noted on the
spot; and if he adds some little sketches of character, I answer for him, on my own
responsibility, that they are sketches drawn from the life.
Have I said enough about my friend to interest you in his fortunes, when you meet him
wandering hither and thither over the great domain of the Republic of Letters — or, must I
plead more warmly in his behalf? I can only urge on you that he does not present himself as
fit for the top seats at the library table — as aspiring to the company of those above him — of
classical, statistical, political, philosophical, historical, or antiquarian high dignitaries of his
class, of whom he is at best but the poor relation. Treat him not, as you treat such illustrious
guests as these! Toss him about anywhere, from hand to hand, as good-naturedly as you
can; stuff him into your pocket when you get into the railway; take him to bed with you, and
poke him under the pillow; present him to the rising generation, to try if he can amuse them;
give him to the young ladies, who are always predisposed to the kind side, and may make
something of him; introduce him to “my young masters” when they are idling away a dull
morning over their cigars. Nay, advance him if you will, to the notice of the elders themselves;
but take care to ascertain first that they are people who only travel to gratify a hearty
admiration of the wonderful works of Nature, and to learn to love their neighbour better by
seeking him at his own home — regarding it, at the same time, as a peculiar privilege, to
derive their satisfaction and gain their improvement from experiences on English ground. Take
care of this; and who knows into what high society you may not be able to introduce the
bearer of the present letter! In spite of his habit of rambling from subject to subject in his talk,
much as he rambled from place to place in his travels, he may actually find himself, one day,
basking on Folio Classics beneath the genial approval of a Doctor of Divinity, or tremblingamong Statutes and Reports under the learned scrutiny of a Sergeant at Law!

W. C.
Harley Street, London,
March, 1861.
Chapter 1 — The Start

Assuredly, considering that our tour was to be a pedestrian tour, we began it
inconsistently enough, by sitting down in the stern-sheets of a boat; tucking our knapsacks
under our feet, and proceeding on our journey, not by making use of our own legs, but of
another man’s oars.
You will be inclined to ask, how many people are comprehended under the term “we?”
what was our object in travelling? and where we were travelling to? I answer, that by “we,” I
mean the author and the illustrator of this book; that our only object in travelling was our own
pleasure; and that our destination was, generally, Cornwall, and, particularly, the village of St.
Germans, towards which we were now proceeding in our boat from the town of Devonport.
The main reason that urged us to choose Cornwall as the scene of a walking tour which
we had long proposed to ourselves, in some part of our own country, was simply this —
Cornwall presented to us the most untrodden ground that we could select for our particular
purpose. You may number by thousands, admirers of the picturesque who have been to
Wales, to Devonshire, to the Lakes, to Ireland, to Scotland; but ask them if they have ever
been to Cornwall, and you begin to tell them off by twos and threes only. Nay, take up the
map of the world, and I doubt whether Cornwall will not gain by comparison with foreign
countries, as an unexplored region offered to the curiosity of the tourist. Have we not, in fact,
got under our thumbs, or in our circulating libraries, volumes of excellent books which amuse
us with the personal experiences and adventures of travellers in every part of the habitable
globe — except, perhaps, Cornwall and Kamtschatka? That the latter place should still be left
open ground to the modern traveller, is, in these days, extraordinary enough; but that
Cornwall should share the same neglect, passes all comprehension. Yet so it is. Even the
railway stops short at Plymouth, and shrinks from penetrating to the savage regions beyond! *
In a word, on considering where we should go, as pedestrians anxious to walk where fewest
strangers had walked before, we found ourselves fairly limited to a choice between Cornwall
and Kamtschatka — we were patriotic, and selected the former.
While my travelling companion was cleaning his colour-box, and collecting his
sketchingbooks, I employed myself in seeking for information, among my friends, on the subject of our
line of route. The great majority of them wondered what was the use of going to Cornwall.
Was it not a horribly dreary country, where you could expect to do nothing but tumble down
mines, and lose yourself on pathless moors? Were not the whole population wreckers and
smugglers? Should we not be cheated, robbed, and kidnapped? Such were a few only of the
opinions that my inquiries elicited. Very different, however, were the answers I received when
I applied to one friend who was a Cornishman, and to another who had really been in
Cornwall. From the first, especially, I received such an account of what we might see and do
in the far West of England, if we travelled on foot and looked sharply about us, as materially
accelerated the day of our departure. We packed up our knapsacks, transported ourselves at
once to Plymouth, and, getting to the western water-side, saw the hills of Cornwall rising
before us, lit by the last glorious evening rays of a July sunlight.
And now, reader, if you can follow a couple of vagrant tourists, with all their luggage on
their backs; with a perfect independence of high roads, stage-coaches, time-tables, and
guide-books; with no other object in view but to wander about hither and thither, in a zig-zag
course, picking up a trait of character here, and a sketch from Nature there — why, then, step
into our boat by all means, and let us go to St. Germans together.
We were lucky enough to commit ourselves, at once, to the guidance of the most
amusing and original of boatmen. He was a fine, strong, swarthy fellow, with luxuriant blackhair and whiskers, an irresistible broad grin, and a thoroughly good opinion of himself. He
gave us his name, his autobiography, and his opinion of his own character, all in a breath. He
was called William Dawle; he had begun life as a farm-labourer; then he had become a sailor
in the Royal Navy, as a suitable change; now he was a licensed waterman, which was a more
suitable change still; he was known all over the country; he would row against any man in
England; he would take more care of us than he would of his own sons; and if we had five
hundred guineas apiece in our knapsacks, he could keep no stricter watch over them than he
was determined to keep now. Such was this phoenix of boatmen — under such
unexceptionable auspices did we start for the shores of Cornwall.
The calm summer evening drew near its close, as we began to move through the water.
The broad orb of the moon was rising dim behind us, above the dark majestic trees of Mount
Edgecombe. Already, the houses of Devonport looked pale and indistinct as we left them
behind us. The innumerable masts, the lofty men-of-war hulks, the drooping sails of smaller
vessels — all the thickly grouped objects of the great port through which we were proceeding
— assumed a solemn stillness and repose under the faint light that was now shining over
them. On this wide scene, at other hours so instinct in all its parts with bustle and animation,
nothing spoke now of life and action — save the lights which occasionally broke forth from
houses on the hill at our side, or the small boats passing at intervals over the smooth water,
and soon mysteriously lost to view behind the hull of a man-of-war, or in the deep shadows of
the river’s distant banks.
In front of us, the last glories of day still lingered in the west. Here, the sky was yet bright
and warm to look on, though the sun had gone down, and, even now, the evening star was
plainly visible. In this part of the landscape, the wooded hills rose dark and grand against their
transparent background of light. Where the topmost trees grew thinnest, long strips of rosy
sky appeared through their interstices; the water beyond us was tinged in one place with all
the colours of the prism, in another with the palest and coldest blue — even the wet
mudbanks, left by the retiring tide, still glittered with silvery brightness in the waning light. While,
adding solemnity and mystery to all beside, the great hulks, painted pale yellow and anchored
close in against the black trees, lay before us still and solitary, touched alike by the earliest
moonbeams of night and the last sunlight of day. As the twilight gloom drew on — as the
impressive tranquillity of the whole scene deepened and deepened gradually, until not even
the distant barking of a dog was now heard from the land, or the shrill cry of a seabird from
the sky-the pale massy hulls of the old war-ships around and beyond us, assumed gradually a
spectral and mysterious appearance, until they looked more like water-monsters in repose
than the structures of mortal hands, and the black heights behind them seemed like lairs from
which they had issued under cover of the night!
It was such an evening, and such a view, as I shall never forget. After enjoying the
poetry and beauty of the scene uninterruptedly, for some time, we were at length recalled to
practical matters of business by a species of adjuration suddenly addressed to us by that
prince of British boatmen, Mr. William Dawle. Resting impressively upon his oars, and
assuming a deplorable expression of countenance, he begged to be informed, whether we
really wished him to “row his soul out any longer against tide?” — we might laugh, but would
we be so kind as to step forward a minute and feel his shirt sleeves? — If we were resolved to
go on, he was ready; for had he not told us that he would row against any man in England? -
but he felt it due to his position as a licensed waterman, having the eyes of the public on him,
and courting inspection, to inform us that “in three parts of an hour, and no mistake,” the tide
would run up; and that there was a place not far off, called Saltash-a most beautiful and
interesting place, where we could get good beer. If we waited there for the turn of the tide, no
race-horse that ever was foaled would take us to St. Germans so fast as he would row us. In
short, the point was, would we mercifully “spare his shoulders,” or not?
As we belonged to the sauntering and vagabond order of travellers, and — cared verylittle in how roundabout a manner we reached our destination, we inclined to the side of
mercy, and spared the shoulders of Mr. William Dawle; who, thereupon, reckless of the state
of his shirt-sleeves, began to row again with renewed and alarming energy. Now, he bent
forward over the oars, as if he was about to fall upon us-and now, he lay back from them,
horizontal, and almost lost to view in the dim light. We passed, triumphantly, every boat
proceeding in our direction; we brushed, at hairbreadth distances, by vessels at anchor and
stakes planted in shallow water. Suddenly, what seemed to be a collection of mud hovels built
upon mud, appeared in sight; shortly afterwards, our boat was grounded among a perfect
legion of other boats; and the indefatigable Dawle, jumping up nimbly, seized our knapsacks
and handed us out politely into the mud. We had arrived at that “beautiful and interesting
place,” Saltash.
There was no mistaking the tavern. The only light on shore gleamed from the tavern
window; and, judging by the criterion of noise, the whole local population seemed to be
collected within the tavern walls. We opened the door; and found ourselves in a small room,
filled with shrimpers, sailors, fishermen and watermen, all “looming large” through a fog of
tobacco, and all chirping merrily over their cups; while the hostess sat apart on a raised seat
in a corner, calm and superior amidst the hubbub, as Neptune himself, when he rose to the
surface to save the pious Eneas from shipwreck, at the crisis of the storm. As there was no
room for us in this festive hall, we were indulged in the luxury of a private apartment, where
Mr. Dawle proceeded to “do the honours” of Saltash, by admonishing the servant to be
particular about the quality of the ale she brought, dusting chairs with the crown of his hat,
proposing toasts, snuffing the candle briskly with his fingers, and performing other pleasant
social attentions of a similar nature. Having, as he imagined, sufficiently propitiated us by this
course of conduct, he started an entirely new proposition — which bore reference, however,
to the old subject of mercifully sparing his shoulders, and was expressed to the following
effect :- Might he go now, and fetch his “missus,” who lived hard by? She was the very nicest
and strongest woman in Saltash; was able to row almost as well as he could, and would help
him materially in getting to St. Germans; but perhaps we objected to admit her into the boat?
We had but to say the word, if we did; and from that moment forth, he was dumb on the
subject for ever.
How could we resist this most irresistible of boatmen? There was something about his
inveterate good-humour and inveterate idleness, his comical variations backwards and
forwards between great familiarity and great respect, his honesty on one point (he asked us
no more than his proper fare in the first instance) and his manoeuvring on another, that would
have cajoled a Cynic into complacency. Besides, our innate sentiments of gallantry forbade
the thought of objecting to the company and assistance of Mrs. William Dawle! So, we sent
the fortunate spouse of this strong and useful woman, to seek her forthwith-and forthwith did
he return, with a very remarkable species of “missus,” in the shape of a gigantic individual of
the male sex-the stoutest, strongest, and hairiest man I ever saw — who entered, exhaling a
relishing odour of shrimps, with his shirt-sleeves rolled up to his shoulders! “Gentlemen both,
good evening,” said this urbane giant, looking dreamily forward two feet over our heads, and
then settling himself solemnly on a bench — never more to open his lips in our presence !
Our worthy boatman’s explanation of the phenomenon he had thus presented to us,
involved some humiliating circumstances. His “missus” had flatly refused to aid her lord and
master in the exertion of rowing, and had practically carried out her refusal by immediately
going to bed before his face. As for the shrimp-scented giant, Mr. Dawle informed me (in a
whisper) that his name was” Dick;” that he had met him outside, and had asked him to favour
us with his company, because he was a very amusing man, if we could only bring him out;
and was capable of beguiling the time, while we were waiting for the tide, by an excellent story
or two. Presuming that a fresh supply of ale was all that was wanting to develop the latent
humour of our new friend, we ordered a second quart; but it unhappily produced no effect. (Itwould have required, I am inclined to think, a gallon to have attained the desired result.) “
Dick” sat voiceless and vacant, staring steadily at the candle, and occasionally groaning softly
to himself, as if he had something dreadful on his mind and dared not disburthen it in
company. Abandoning, therefore, in despair, all hope of enjoying the comic amusement which
had been promised us, we left our bulky humorist still silent and portentous as a Quaker at
“meeting”-proof alike against the potency of the ale and the blandishments of Mr. Dawle-and
went out at the last moment to make our observations on Saltash by night.
The moonlight gave us very little assistance, as we groped our way up a steep hill, down
which two rows of old cottages seemed to be gradually toppling into the water beyond. Here
and there, an open door showed us a Rembrandt scene-a glowing red fire brilliantly
illuminating the face of a woman cooking at it, or the forms of ragged children asleep on the
hearth; and leaving all beside — figures, furniture, and rough raftered ceiling-steeped in grand
and gloomy shadow. There were plenty of loose stones in the road, to trip up the feet of
inquisitive strangers; there was plenty of stinking water bubbling musically down the kennel;
and there were no lamps of any kind, to throw the smallest light upon any topographical
subject of inquiry whatever. When I have proceeded thus far, and have further informed the
curious in such matters, that Charles the Second conferred upon Saltash the inestimable
blessing of a Mayor and six Aldermen — that it had the honour and advantage, before the
Reform Bill, of sending two members to Parliament — and that it still possesses various
municipal privileges of an equally despotic and lucrative nature, connected with
oysterfisheries, anchorage, salvage, ferries, and market-tolls — I have said all that I can about
Saltash; and must request the reader’s permission to return to the tavern without further
Here, the scene had changed since our departure. The jovial company of the public room
had penetrated into the private parlour. In the midst of the crowd stood Mr. Dawle,
haranguing, with the last glass of ale in his hand; by his side was his son, who had been
bribed, for the paltry consideration of sixpence, to relieve his parent’s shoulders by helping to
row us to St. Germans; and, on the old bench, in the old position, with the old fixed stare
straight into the flame of the candle, sat the imperturbable “Dick” — stolid and gloomy as
ever, in the midst of the festive uproar. It was now high time to proceed. So we gave the word
to depart. But an unexpected obstacle impeded us at the doorway. All the women who could
squeeze themselves into the passage, suddenly fell down at our feet, and began scrubbing
the dust off our shoes with the corners of their aprons; informing us, at the same time, in shrill
chorus, that this was an ancient custom to which we must submit; and that any stranger who
entered a Saltash house, and had his shoes dusted by Saltash women, was expected to pay
his footing, by giving a trifle — say sixpence — for liquor; after which, he became a free and
privileged citizen for life. As I do not remember that this interesting custom is mentioned
among the other municipal privileges of Saltash, in any Itineraries or Histories of Cornwall, I
communicate it, in all humility, to any antiquarian gentleman who may be disposed to make a
scientific use of it, for the benefit of the community at large.
On departing at last for St. Germans, grave doubts arose in our minds, as to the effect
which Dawle’s portations of ale might have on his professional exertions as a licensed
waterman. We were immediately relieved, however, by finding that what he had drunk had
influenced him for good, rather than for evil — he talked less, and rowed more. Smoothly and
swiftly we glided through the still water. The tide had now been flowing for some time; the arm
of the sea, up which we were proceeding, was in many places more than half a mile across;
on the broad, smooth surface of the stream, the moonlight lay fair and unruffled; the woods
clothing the hills on each side, grew down to the water’s edge, and were darkly reflected, all
along, in solemn, winding shapes. Sometimes we passed an old ship, rotten and mastless,
anchored solitary, midway between land and land. Sometimes we saw, afar off, a light in a
fisherman’s cottage among the trees; but we met no boats, saw no living beings, heard novoices, on our lonely way. It was nearly midnight before we reached the landing-place; got out
in the mud again here; and, guided by our trusty boatman, began to ascend the hill-path that
led to St. Germans.
The village was about a quarter of a mile inland. Mr. Dawle’s account of it was not
cheering. He described it tersely (and, as we afterwards found, truly), as “a d — d strap of a
place,” — meaning thereby, that it consisted of one long street only; thus answering to the
mathematical definition of a line — “length without breadth.” The inn, when we arrived at it,
was locked up for the night. After much kicking at the door, we succeeded in inducing the
landlady to look down on us from her bedroom window; and a very cautious and distrustful
woman she soon proved to be. First, she required to be informed what sort of characters we
were? — which gave Dawle an opportunity of loudly assuring her, that he was a licensed
water-man, and that we were “right-down gentlemen, and no mistake!” Satisfied on this point,
the landlady next declared, that nothing should induce her to admit us, until she had first
discovered whether she had any aired sheets, or not. These chamber luxuries being
fortunately found to be forthcoming, the door was unbolted; and we found ourselves at last
admitted to a shelter for the night on Cornish ground.
Our parting with Dawle was characteristic on his side. Interpreting the right way certain
convulsive motions of his arm and twitchings of his countenance, when he came to bid us
farewell, we held out our hands at a venture, and found them instantly caught and shaken with
a fervour which was as physically painful, as it was morally gratifying. “Good-bye, gentlemen!”
cried our friendly boatman, in his heartiest tones; “you have been very kind to me-God bless
you both! I should like to walk all over Cornwall with you — and I would, if I could leave the
missus, and get anybody to take care of my boat! Bill, boy!” (reproachfully to his son), “take
off your hat, and make a bow directly! — Good-bye, gentlemen; God speed you both !”-and
away he went, to row back to Saltash.
As for St. Germans, let me honestly confess that I have nothing to say about it. Mr.
Dawle’s happy metaphorical description of the village, as “a strap of a place,” at once
anticipates and expresses all that I could write on topographical matters. And, in reference to
the only local curiosity of St. Germans — its noble old Church — I am superseded by my
companion, who has already described it with his pencil, much better than I could with my
pen. Beaten out of the field, therefore, at all points; and having by this time duly concluded the
narration of our “Start,” nothing remains for me but to pass at once to the evening when we
strapped on our knapsacks for the first time, and set out on our “Rambles Beyond Railways,”
joyously, and in good earnest.
Chapter 2 — A Cornish Fishing Town

The time is ten o’clock at night — the scene, a bank by the roadside, crested with young
fir-trees, and affording a temporary place of repose to two travellers, who are enjoying the
cool night air, picturesquely extended flat on their backs — or rather, on their knapsacks,
which now form part and parcel of their backs. These two travellers are, the writer of this
book, and an artist friend who is the companion of his rambles. They have long desired to
explore Cornwall together, on foot; and the object of their aspirations has been at last
accomplished, in the summer-time of the year eighteen hundred and fifty.
In their present position, the travellers are (to speak geographically) bounded towards
the east by a long road winding down the side of a rocky hill; towards the west, by the broad
half-dry channel of a tidal river; towards the north, by trees, hills, and upland valleys; and
towards the south, by an old bridge and some houses near it, with lights in their windows
faintly reflected in shallow water. In plainer words, the southern boundary of the prospect
around them represents a place called Looe — a fishing-town on the south coast of Cornwall,
which is their destination for the night.
They had, by this time, accomplished their initiation into the process of walking under a
knapsack, with the most complete and encouraging success. You, who in these days of
vehement bustle, business, and competition, can still find time to travel for pleasure alone —
you, who have yet to become emancipated from the thraldom of railways, carriages, and
saddle-horses — patronize, I exhort you, that first and oldest-established of all conveyances,
your own legs! Think on your tender partings nipped in the bud by the railway bell; think of
crabbed cross-roads, and broken carriage-springs; think of luggage confided to extortionate
porters, of horses casting shoes and catching colds, of cramped legs and numbed feet, of
vain longings to get down for a moment here, and to delay for a pleasant half hour there —
think of all these manifold hardships of riding at your ease; and the next time you leave home,
strap your luggage on your shoulders, take your stick in your hand, set forth delivered from a
perfect paraphernalia of incumbrances, to go where you will, how you will — the free citizen of
the whole travelling world! Thus independent, what may you not accomplish? — what pleasure
is there that you cannot enjoy? Are you an artist? — you can stop to sketch every point of
view that strikes your eye. Are you a philanthropist? — you can go into every cottage and talk
to every human being you pass. Are you a botanist, or geologist? — you may pick up leaves
and chip rocks wherever you please, the live-long day. Are you a valetudinarian? — you may
physic yourself by Nature’s own simple prescription, walking in fresh air. Are you dilatory and
irresolute? — you may dawdle to your heart’s content; you may change all your plans a dozen
times in a dozen hours; you may tell “Boots” at the inn to call you at six o’clock, may fall
asleep again (ecstatic sensation!) five minutes after he has knocked at the door, and may get
up two hours later, to pursue your journey, with perfect impunity and satisfaction. For, to you,
what is a time-table but waste-paper? — and a “booked place” but a relic of the dark ages?
You dread, perhaps, blisters on your feet — sponge your feet with cold vinegar and water,
change your socks every ten miles, and show me blisters after that, if you can! You strap on
your knapsack for the first time, and five minutes afterwards feel an aching pain in the
muscles at the back of your neck — walk on, and the aching will walk off! How do we
overcome our first painful cuticular reminiscences of first getting on horseback? — by riding
again. Apply the same rule to carrying the knapsack, and be assured of the same successful
result. Again I say it, therefore — walk, and be merry; walk, and be healthy; walk, and be your
own master! — walk, to enjoy, to observe, to improve, as no riders can! — walk, and you are
the best peripatetic impersonation of holiday enjoyment that is to be met with on the surfaceof this work-a-day world!
How much more could I not say in praise of travelling on our own neglected legs? But it
is getting late; dark night-clouds are marching slowly over the sky, to the whistling music of
the wind; we must leave our bank by the roadside, pass one end of the old bridge, walk along
a narrow winding street, and enter our hospitable little inn, where we are welcomed by the
kindest of landladies, and waited on by the fairest of chambermaids. If Looe prove not to be a
little sea-shore paradise tomorrow, then is there no virtue in the good omens of to-night.
The first point for which we made in the morning, was the old bridge; and a most
picturesque and singular structure we found it to be. Its construction dates back as far as the
beginning of the fifteenth century. It is three hundred and eighty-four feet long, and has
fourteen arches, no two of which are on the same scale. The stout buttresses built between
each arch, are hollowed at the top into curious triangular places of refuge for pedestrians, the
roughly paved roadway being just wide enough to allow the passage of one cart at a time. On
some of these buttresses, towards the middle, once stood an oratory, or chapel, dedicated to
St. Anne; but no vestiges of it now remain. The old bridge however, still rises sturdily enough
on its ancient foundations; and, whatever the point from which its silver-grey stones and
quaint arches of all shapes and sizes may be beheld, forms no mean adjunct to the charming
landscape around it.
Looe is known to have existed as a town in the reign of Edward I.; and it remains to this
day one of the prettiest and most primitive places in England. The river divides it into East and
West Looe; and the view from the bridge, looking towards the two little colonies of houses
thus separated, is in some respects almost unique.
At each side of you rise high ranges of beautifully wooded hills; here and there a cottage
peeps out among the trees, the winding path that leads to it being now lost to sight in the thick
foliage, now visible again as a thin serpentine line of soft grey. Midway on the slopes appear
the gardens of Looe, built up the acclivity on stone terraces one above another; thus
displaying the veritable garden architecture of the mountains of Palestine magically
transplanted to the side of an English hill. Here, in this soft and genial atmosphere, the
hydrangea is a common flower-bed ornament, the fuchsia grows lofty and luxuriant in the
poorest cottage garden, the myrtle flourishes close to the sea-shore, and the tender tamarisk
is the wild plant of every farmer’s hedge. Looking lower down the hills yet, you see the houses
of the town straggling out towards the sea along each bank of the river, in mazes of little
narrow streets; curious old quays project over the water at different points; coast-trade
vessels are being loaded and unloaded, built in one place and repaired in another, all within
view; while the prospect of hills, harbour, and houses thus quaintly combined together, is
beautifully closed by the English Channel, just visible as a small strip of blue water, pent in
between the ridges of two promontories which stretch out on either side to the beach.
Such is Looe as beheld from a distance; and it loses none of its attractions when you
look at it more closely. There is no such thing as a straight street in the place. No martinet of
an architect has been here, to drill the old stone houses into regimental regularity. Sometimes
you go down steps into the ground floor, sometimes you mount an outside staircase to get to
the bed-rooms. Never were such places devised for hide and seek since that exciting nursery
pastime was first invented. No house has fewer than two doors leading into two different
lanes; some have three, opening at once into a court, a street, and a wharf, all situated at
different points of the compass. The shops, too, have their diverting irregularities, as well as
the town. Here you might call a man a Jack of all trades, as the best and truest compliment
you could pay him — for here one shop combines in itself a drug-mongering,
cheesemongering, stationery, grocery, and oil and Italian line of business; to say nothing of such
cosmopolitan miscellanies as wrinkled apples, dusty nuts, cracked slate pencils and fly-blown
mock jewellery. The moral good which you derive, in the first pane of a window, from the
contemplation of memoirs of murdered missionaries and serious tracts against intemperanceand tight-lacing, you lose in the second, before such worldly temptations as gingerbread,
shirtstuds, and fascinating white hats for Sunday wear, at two and ninepence apiece. Let no man
rashly say he has seen all that British enterprise can do for the extension of British commerce,
until he has carefully studied the shop-fronts of the tradesmen of Looe.
Then, when you have at last threaded your way successfully through the streets, and
have got out on the beach, you see a pretty miniature bay, formed by the extremity of a green
hill on the right, and by fine jagged slate-rocks on the left. Before this seaward quarter of the
town is erected a strong bulwark of rough stones, to resist the incursion of high tides. Here,
the idlers of the place assemble to lounge and gossip, to look out for any outward-bound ships
that are to be seen in the Channel, and to criticise the appearance and glorify the capabilities
of the little fleet of Looe fishing-boats, riding snugly at anchor before them at the entrance of
the bay.
The inhabitants number some fourteen hundred; and are as good-humoured and
unsophisticated a set of people as you will meet with anywhere. The Fisheries and the Coast
Trade form their principal means of subsistence. The women take a very fair share of the hard
work out of the men’s hands. You constantly see them carrying coals from the vessels to the
quay in curious hand-barrows: they laugh, scream, and run in each other’s way incessantly:
but these little irregularities seem to assist, rather than impede them, in the prosecution of
their tasks. As to the men, one absorbing interest appears to govern them all. The whole day
long they are mending boats, painting boats, cleaning boats, rowing boats, or, standing with
their hands in their pockets, looking at boats. The children seem to be children in size, and
children in nothing else. They congregate together in sober little groups, and hold mysterious
conversations, in a dialect which we cannot understand. If they ever do tumble down, soil their
pinafores, throw stones, or make mud pies, they practise these juvenile vices in a midnight
secrecy which no stranger’s eye can penetrate.
In that second period of the dark ages, when there were High Tories and rotten boroughs
in the land, Looe (containing at that time nothing like the number of inhabitants which it now
possesses) sent Four Members to Parliament! The ceremony by which two of these members
were elected, as it was described to me by a man who remembered witnessing it, must have
been an impressive sight indeed to any foreigner interested in studying the representative
system of this country. On the morning of the “Poll,” one division of the borough sent six
electors, and another four, to record their imposing aggregate of votes in favour of any two
smiling civil gentlemen, who came, properly recommended, to ask for them. This done, the
ten electors walked quietly home in one direction, and the two members walked quietly off in
another, to perform the fatiguing duty of representing their constituents’ interests in Imperial
Parliament. The election was quite a snug little family affair, in these “good old times.” The ten
gentlemen who voted, and the other two gentlemen who took their votes, just made up a
comfortable compact dozen, all together!
But this state of things was too harmonious to last in such a world of discord as ours.
The day of innovation came: turbulent Whigs and Radicals laid uncivil hands on the Looe
polling-booth, and politically annihilated the pleasant party of twelve. Since that disastrous
period the town has sent no members to Parliament at all; and very little, indeed, do the
townspeople appear to care about so serious a deprivation. In case the reader should be
disposed to attribute this indifference to municipal privileges to the supineness rather than the
philosophy of the inhabitants, I think it necessary to establish their just claims to be considered
as possessing public spirit, prompt decision, and wise fertility of resource in cases of
emergency, by relating in this place the true story of how the people of Looe got rid of the
About a mile out at sea, to the southward of the town, rises a green triangular shaped
eminence, called Looe Island. Here, many years ago, a ship was wrecked. Not only were the
sailors saved, but several free passengers of the rat species, who had got on board, nobodyknew how, where, or when, were also preserved by their own strenuous exertions, and wisely
took up permanent quarters for the future on the terra firma of Looe Island. In process of
time, and in obedience to the laws of nature, these rats increased and multiplied exceedingly;
and, being confined all round within certain limits by the sea, soon became a palpable and
dangerous nuisance. Destruction was threatened to the agricultural produce of all the small
patches of cultivated land on the island — it seemed doubtful whether any man who ventured
there by himself, might not share the fate of Bishop Hatto, and be devoured by rats. Under
these pressing circumstances, the people of Looe determined to make one united and
vehement effort to extirpate the whole colony of invaders. Ordinary means of destruction had
been tried already, and without effect. It was said that rats left for dead on the ground had
mysteriously revived faster than they could be picked up and skinned, or flung into the sea.
Rats desperately wounded had got away into their holes, and become convalescent, and
increased and multiplied again more productively than ever. The great problem was, not how
to kill the rats, but how to annihilate them so effectually as to place the reappearance even of
one of them altogether out of the question. This was the problem, and it was solved in the
following manner:—
All the available inhabitants of the town were called to join in a great hunt. The rats were
caught by every conceivable artifice; and, once taken, were instantly and ferociously
smothered in onions; the corpses were then decently laid out on clean china dishes, and
straightway eaten with vindictive relish by the people of Looe. Never was any invention for
destroying rats so complete and so successful as this! Every man, woman, and child, who
could eat, could swear to the extirpation of all the rats they had eaten. The local returns of
dead rats were not made by the bills of mortality, but by the bills of fare: it was getting rid of a
nuisance by the unheard-of process of stomaching a nuisance! Day after day passed on, and
rats disappeared by hundreds, never to return. What could all their cunning and resolution
avail them now? They had resisted before, and could have resisted still, the ordinary force of
dogs, ferrets, traps, sticks, stones, and guns, arrayed against them; but when to these
engines of assault were added, as auxiliaries, smothering onions, scalding stew-pans, hungry
mouths, sharp teeth, good digestions, and the gastric juice, what could they do but give in?
Swift and sure was the destruction that now overwhelmed them — everybody who wanted a
dinner had a strong personal interest in hunting them down to the very last. In a short space
of time the island was cleared of the usurpers. Cheeses remained entire: ricks rose uninjured.
And this is the true story of how the people of Looe got rid of the rats!
It will not much surprise any reader who has been good-natured enough to peruse the
preceding pages with some attention, to hear that we idly delayed the day of departure from
the pleasant fishing-town on the south coast, which was now the place of our sojourn. The
smiles of our fair chambermaid and the cookery of our excellent hostess, addressed us in
Siren tones of allurement which we had not the virtue to resist. Then, it was difficult to leave
unexplored any of the numerous walks in the neighbourhood — all delightfully varied in
character, and each possessing its own attractive point of view. Even when we had made our
determination and fixed our farewell day, a great boat-race and a great tea-drinking, which
everybody declared was something that everybody else ought to see, interfered to detain us.
We delayed yet once more, to partake in the festivities, and found that they supplied us with
all the necessary resolution to quit Looe which we had hitherto wanted. We had remained to
take part in a social failure on a very large scale.
As, in addition to the boat-race, there was to be a bazaar on the beach; and as fine
weather was therefore an essential requisite on the occasion, it is scarcely necessary to
premise that we had an unusually large quantity of rain. In the forenoon, however, the sun
shone with treacherous brilliancy; and all the women in the neighbourhood fluttered out in his
beams, gay as butterflies. What dazzling gowns, what flaring parasols, what joyous
cavalcades on cart-horses, did we see on the road that led to the town! What a mixture ofexcitement, confusion, anxiety, and importance, possessed everybody! What frolic and felicity
attended the popular gatherings on the beach, until the fatal moment when the gun fired for
the first race! Then, as if at that signal, the clouds began to muster in ominous blackness; the
deceitful sunlight disappeared; the rain came down for the day — a steady, noiseless,
malicious rain, that at once forbade all hope of clear weather. Dire was the discomfiture of the
poor ladies of Looe. They ran hither and thither for shelter, in lank wet muslin and under
dripping parasols, displaying, in the lamentable emergency of the moment, all sorts of interior
contrivances for expanding around them the exterior magnificence of their gowns, which we
never ought to have seen. Deserted were the stalls of the bazaar for the parlours of the
alehouses; unapplauded and unobserved, strained at the oar the stout rowers in the
boatrace. Everybody ran to cover, except some seafaring men who cared nothing for weather,
some inveterate loungers who would wander up and down in spite of the rain, and three
unhappy German musicians, who had been caught on their travels, and pinned up tight
against the outer wall of a house, in a sort of cage of canvas, boards, and evergreens, which
hid every part of them but their heads and shoulders. Nobody interfered to release these
unfortunates. There they sat, hemmed in all round by dripping leaves, blowing grimly and
incessantly through instruments of brass. If the reader can imagine the effect of three
phlegmatic men with long bottle noses, looking out of a circle of green bushes, and playing
waltzes unintermittingly on long horns, in a heavy shower — he will be able to form a tolerably
correct estimate of the large extra proportion of gloom which the German musicians
succeeded in infusing into the disastrous proceedings of the day.
The tea-drinking was rather more successful. The room in which it was held was filled to
the corners, and exhaled such an odour of wet garments and bread and butter (to say nothing
of an incessant clatter of china and bawling of voices) that we found ourselves, as uninitiated
strangers, unequal to the task of remaining in it to witness the proceedings. Descending the
steps which led into the street from the door — to the great confusion of a string of smartly
dressed ladies who encountered us, rushing up with steaming teakettles and craggy lumps of
plumcake — we left the inhabitants to conclude their festivities by themselves, and went out to
take a farewell walk on the cliffs of Looe.
We ascended the heights to the westward, losing sight of the town among the trees as
we went; and then, walking in a southerly direction through some cornfields, approached
within a few hundred yards of the edge of the cliffs, and looked out on the sea. The sky had
partially cleared, and the rain had ceased; but huge fantastic masses of cloud, tinged with
lurid copper-colour by the setting sun, still towered afar off over the horizon, and were
reflected in a deeper hue on the calm surface of the sea, with a perfectness and grandeur
that I never remember to have witnessed before. Not a ship was in sight; but out on the
extreme line of the wilderness of grey waters there shone one red, fiery spark — the beacon
of the Eddystone Lighthouse. Before us, the green fields of Looe Island rose high out of the
ocean — here, partaking the red light on the clouds; there, half lost in cold shadow. Closer
yet, on the mainland, a few cattle were feeding quietly on a long strip of meadow bordering
the edge of the cliff; and, now and then, a gull soared up from the sea, and wheeled
screaming over our heads. The faint sound of the small shore-waves (invisible to us in the
position we occupied) beating dull and at long intervals on the beach, augmented the dreary
solemnity of the evening prospect. Light, shade, and colour, were all before us, arranged in
the grandest combinations, and expressed by the simplest forms. If Michael Angelo had
painted landscape, he might have represented such a scene as we now beheld.
This was our last excursion at Looe. The next morning we were again on the road,
walking inland on our way to the town of Liskeard.
Chapter 3 — Holy Wells and Druid Relics

Fresh from the quaint old houses, the delightfully irregular streets, and the fragrant
terrace-gardens of Looe, we found ourselves, on entering Liskeard, suddenly introduced to
that “abomination of desolation,” a large agricultural country town. Modern square houses,
barren of all outer ornament; wide, dusty, deserted streets; misanthropical-looking
shopkeepers, clad in rusty black, standing at their doors to gaze on the solitude around them
— greeted our eyes on all sides. Such samples of the population as we accidentally
encountered were not promising. We were unlucky enough to remark, in the course of two
streets, a nonagenarian old woman with a false nose, and an idiot shaking with the palsy.
But harder trials were in reserve for us. We missed the best of the many inns at
Liskeard, and went to the very worst. What a place was our house of public entertainment for
a great sinner to repent in, or for a melancholy recluse to retreat to! Not a human being
appeared in the street where this tavern of despair frowned amid congenial desolation.
Nobody welcomed us at the door — the sign creaked dolefully, as the wind swung it on its
rusty hinges. We walked in, and discovered a low-spirited little man sitting at an empty “bar,”
and hiding himself, as it were, from all mortal inspection behind the full sheet of a dirty
provincial newspaper. Doleful was our petition to this secluded publican for shelter and food;
and doubly doleful was his answer to our appeal. Beds he believed he had — food there was
none in the house, saving a piece of corned beef, which the family had dined on, and which he
proposed that we should partake of before it got quite cold. Having said thus much, he
suddenly retired behind his newspaper, and spoke no word more.
In a few minutes the landlady appeared, looking very thin and care-worn, and clad in
mourning weeds. She smiled sadly upon us; and desired to know how we liked corned beef?
We acknowledged a preference for fresh meat, especially in large market towns like Liskeard,
where butchers’ shops abounded. The landlady was willing to see what she could get; and in
the meantime, begged to be allowed to show us into a private room. She succeeded in
incarcerating us in the most thoroughly private room that could be found out of a model
prison. It was situated far away at the back of the house, and looked out upon a very small
yard entirely circumscribed by empty stables. The one little window was shut down tight, and
we were desired not to open it, for fear of a smell from these stables. The ornaments of the
place consisted of hymn-books, spelling-books, and a china statue of Napoleon in a light
green waistcoat and a sky-blue coat. There was not even a fly in the room to intrude on us in
our privacy; there were no cocks and hens in the yard to cackle on us in our privacy; nobody
walked past the outer passage, or made any noise in any part of the house, to startle us in
our privacy; and a steady rain was falling propitiously to keep us in our privacy. We dined in
our retired situation on some rugged lumps of broiled flesh, which the landlady called chops,
and the servant steaks. We broke out of prison after dinner, and roamed the streets. We
returned to solitary confinement in the evening, and were instantly conducted to another cell.
This second private apartment appeared to be about forty feet long; six immense
wooden tables, painted of a ghastly yellow colour, were ranged down it side by side. Nothing
was placed on any of them — they looked like dissecting-tables waiting for “subjects.” There
was yet another and a seventh table — a round one, half lost in a corner, to which we
retreated for refuge — it was covered with crape and bombazine, half made up into mourning
garments proper to the first and intensest stage of grief. The servant brought us one small
candle to cheer the scene; and desired to be informed whether we wanted two sheets apiece
to our beds, or whether we could do with a sheet at top and a blanket at bottom, as other
people did? This question cowed us at once into gloomy submission to our fate. We justhinted that we had contracted bad habits of sleeping between two sheets, and left the rest to
chance; reckless how we slept, or where we slept, whether we passed the night on the top of
one of the six dissecting-tables, or with a blanket at bottom, as other people passed it. Soon
the servant returned to tell us that we had got our two sheets each, and to send us to bed —
snatching up the landlady’s mourning garments, while she spoke, with a scared, suspicious
look, as if she thought that the next outrageous luxury we should require would be a
nightgown apiece of crape and bombazine.
Reflecting on our lamentable situation the last thing at night, we derived some
consolation from remembering that we should leave our quarters early the next morning. It
was not Liskeard that we had come to see, but the country around Liskeard — the famous
curiosities of Nature and Art that are to be found some six or eight miles away from the town.
Accordingly, we were astir betimes on the morrow. The sky was fair; the breeze was
exhilarating. Once past the doleful doorway of the inn, we found ourselves departing under the
fairest auspices for a pilgrimage to the ruins of St. Cleer’s Well, and to the granite piles and
Druid remains, now entitled the “Cheese–Wring” and “Hurler” rocks.
On leaving the town, our way lay to the northward, up rising ground. For the first two
miles, the scenery differed little from what we had already beheld in Cornwall. The lanes were
still sunk down between high banks, like dry ditches; all varieties of ferns grew in exquisite
beauty and luxuriance on either side of us; the trees were small in size, and thickly clothed
with leaves; and the views were generally narrowed to a few well-cultivated fields, with sturdy
little granite-built cottages now and then rising beyond. It was only when we had reached what
must have been a considerable elevation, that any change appeared in the face of the
country. Five minutes more of walking, and a single turn in the road, brought us suddenly to
the limits of trees, meadows, and cottages; and displayed before us, with almost startling
abruptness, the magnificent prospect of a Cornish Moor.
The expanse of open plain that we now beheld stretched away uninterruptedly on the
right hand, as far as the distant hills. Towards the left, the view was broken and varied by
some rough stone walls, a narrow road, and a dip in the earth beyond. Wherever we looked,
far or near, we saw masses of granite of all shapes and sizes, heaped irregularly on the
ground among dark clusters of heath. An old furze-cutter was the only human figure that
appeared on the desolate scene. Approaching him to ask our way to St. Cleer’s Well — no
signs of which could be discerned on the wilderness before us — we found the old fellow,
though he was eighty years of age, working away with all the vigour of youth. On this wild
moor he had lived and laboured from childhood; and he began to talk proudly of its great
length and breadth, and of the wonderful sights that were to be seen on different parts of it,
the moment we addressed him. He described to us, in his own homely forcible way, the awful
storms that he had beheld, the fearful rattling and roaring of thunder over the great
unsheltered plain before us — the hail and sleet driven so fiercely before the hurricane, that a
man was half-blinded if he turned his face towards it for a moment — the forked lightning
shooting from pitch-dark clouds, leaping and running fearfully over the level ground,
blackening, splitting, tearing from their places the stoutest rocks on the moor. Three masses
of granite lay heaped together near the spot where we had halted — the furze-cutter pointed
to them with his bill-hook, and told us that what we now looked on was once one great rock,
which he had seen riven in an instant by the lightning into the fragmentary form that it now
presented. If we mounted the highest of these three masses, he declared that we might find
out our own way to St. Cleer’s Well by merely looking around us. We followed his directions.
Towards the east, far away over the magnificent sweep of moorland, and on the slope of the
hill that bounded it, appeared the tall chimneys and engine-houses of the Great Caraton
Copper Mine — the only objects raised by the hand of man that were to be seen on this part
of the view. Towards the west, much nearer at hand, four grey turrets were just visible beyond
some rising ground. These turrets belonged to the tower of St. Cleer’s Church, and the Wellwas close by it.
Taking leave of the furze-cutter, we followed the path at once that led to St. Cleer’s. Half
an hour’s walking brought us to the village, a straggling, picturesque place, hidden in so deep
a hollow as to be quite invisible from any distance. All the little cottage-girls whom we met,
carrying their jugs and pitchers of water, curtseyed and wished us good morning with the
prettiest air of bashfulness and good humour imaginable. One of them, a rosy, beautiful child,
who proudly informed us that she was six years old, put down her jug at a cottage-gate and
ran on before to show us the way, delighted to be singled out from her companions for so
important an office. We passed the grey walls of the old church, walked down a lane, and
soon came in sight of the Well, the position of which was marked by a ruined Oratory, situated
on some open ground close at the side of the public pathway.
St. Cleer, or — as the name is generally spelt out of Cornwall — St. Clare, the patron
saint of the Well, was born in Italy, in the twelfth century — and born to a fair heritage of this
world’s honours and this world’s possessions. But she voluntarily abandoned, at an early age,
all that was alluring in the earthly career awaiting her, to devote herself entirely to the interests
of her religion and the service of Heaven. She was the first woman who sat at the feet of St.
Francis as his disciple, who humbly practised the self-mortification, and resolutely performed
the vow of perpetual poverty, which her preceptor’s harshest doctrines imposed on his
followers. She soon became Abbess of the Benedictine Nuns with whom she was associated
by the saint; and afterwards founded an order of her own — the order of “Poor Clares.” The
fame of her piety and humility, of her devotion to the cause of the sick, the afflicted, and the
poor, spread far and wide. The most illustrious of the ecclesiastics of her time attended at her
convent as at a holy shrine. Pope Innocent the Fourth visited her, as a testimony of his
respect for her virtues; and paid homage to her memory when her blameless existence had
closed, by making one among the mourners who followed her to the grave. Her name had
been derived from the Latin word that signifies purity; and from first to last, her life had kept
the promise of her name.
Poor St. Clare! If she could look back, with the thoughts and interests of the days of her
mortality, to the world that she has quitted for ever, how sadly would she now contemplate the
Holy Well which was once hallowed in her name and for her sake! But one arched wall, thickly
overgrown with ivy, still remains erect in the place that the old Oratory occupied. Fragments of
its roof, its cornices, and the mouldings of its windows lie scattered on the ground, half hidden
by the grasses and ferns twining prettily around them. A double cross of stone stands, sloping
towards the earth, at a little distance off — soon perhaps to share the fate of the prostrate
ruins about it. How changed the scene here, since the time when the rural christening
procession left the church, to proceed down the quiet pathway to the Holy Well — when
children were baptized in the pure spring; and vows were offered up under the roof of the
Oratory, and prayers were repeated before the sacred cross! These were the pious usages of
a past age; these were the ceremonies of an ancient church, whose innocent and reverent
custom it was to connect closer together the beauty of Nature and the beauty of Religion, by
such means as the consecration of a spring, or the erection of a roadside cross. There has
been something of sacrifice as well as of glory, in the effort by which we, in our time, have
freed ourselves from what was superstitious and tyrannical in the faith of the times of old — it
has cost us the loss of much of the better part of that faith which was not superstition, and of
more which was not tyranny. The spring of St. Clare is nothing to the cottager of our day but a
place to draw water from; the village lads now lounge whistling on the fallen stones, once the
consecrated arches under which their humble ancestors paused on the pilgrimage, or knelt in
prayer. Wherever the eye turns, all around it speaks the melancholy language of desolation
and decay — all but the water of the Holy Well. Still the little pool remains the fitting type of its
patron saint — pure and tranquil as in the bygone days, when the name of St. Clare was
something more than the title to a village legend, and the spring of St. Clare something betterthan a sight for the passing tourist among the Cornish moors.
We happened to arrive at the well at the period when the villagers were going home to
dinner. After the first quarter of an hour, we were left almost alone among the ruins. The only
person who approached to speak to us was a poor old woman, bent and tottering with age,
who lived in a little cottage hard by. She brought us a glass, thinking we might wish to taste
the water of the spring; and presented me with a rose out of her garden. Such small scraps of
information as she had gathered together about the well, she repeated to us in low, reverential
tones, as if its former religious uses still made it an object of veneration in her eyes. After a
time, she too quitted us; and we were then left quite alone by the side of the spring.
It was a bright, sunshiny day; a pure air was abroad; nothing sounded audibly but the
singing of birds at some distance, and the rustling of the few leaves that clothed one or two
young trees in a neighbouring garden. Unoccupied though I was, the minutes passed away as
quickly and as unheeded with me, as with my companion who was busily engaged in
sketching. The ruins of the ancient Oratory, viewed amid the pastoral repose of all things
around them, began imperceptibly to exert over me that mysterious power of mingling the
impressions of the present with the memories of the past, which all ruins possess. While I sat
looking idly into the water of the well, and thinking of the groups that had gathered round it in
years long gone by, recollections began to rise vividly on my mind of other ruins that I had
seen in other countries, with friends, some scattered, some gone now — of pleasant
pilgrimages, in boyish days, along the storied shores of Baiæ, or through the desolate streets
of the Dead City under Vesuvius — of happy sketching excursions to the aqueducts on the
plains of Rome, or to the temples and villas of Tivoli; during which, I had first learned to
appreciate the beauties of Nature under guidance which, in this world, I can never resume;
and had seen the lovely prospects of Italian landscape pictured by a hand now powerless in
death. Remembrances such as these, of pleasures which remembrance only can recall as
they were, made time fly fast for me by the brink of the holy well. I could have sat there all
day, and should not have felt, at night, that the day had been ill spent.
But the sunlight began to warn us that noon was long past. We had some distance yet to
walk, and many things more to see. Shortly after my friend had completed his sketch,
therefore, we reluctantly left St. Clare’s Well, and went on our way briskly, up the little valley,
and out again on the wide surface of the moor.
It was now our object to steer a course over the wide plain around us, leading directly to
the “Cheese–Wring” rocks (so called from their supposed resemblance to a Cornish
cheesepress or “wring”). On our road to this curiosity, about a mile and a half from St. Clare’s Well,
we stopped to look at one of the most perfect and remarkable of the ancient British
monuments in Cornwall. It is called Trevethey Stone, and consists of six large upright slabs of
granite, overlaid by a seventh, which covers them in the form of a rude, slanting roof. These
slabs are so irregular in form as to look quite unhewn. They all vary in size and thickness. The
whole structure rises to a height, probably, of fourteen feet; and, standing as it does on
elevated ground, in a barren country, with no stones of a similar kind erected near it, presents
an appearance of rugged grandeur and aboriginal simplicity, which renders it an impressive,
almost a startling object to look on. Antiquaries have discovered that its name signifies The
Place of Graves; and have discovered no more. No inscription appears on it; the date of its
erection is lost in the darkest of the dark periods of English history.
Our path had been gradually rising all the way from St. Clare’s Well; and, when we left
Trevethey Stone, we still continued to ascend, proceeding along the tram-way leading to the
Caraton Mine. Soon the scene presented another abrupt and extraordinary change. We had
been walking hitherto amid almost invariable silence and solitude; but now, with each
succeeding minute, strange, mingled, unintermitting noises began to grow louder and louder
around us. We followed a sharp curve in the tram-way, and immediately found ourselves
saluted by an entirely new prospect, and surrounded by an utterly bewildering noise. All aboutus monstrous wheels were turning slowly; machinery was clanking and groaning in the
hoarsest discords; invisible waters were pouring onward with a rushing sound; high above our
heads, on skeleton platforms, iron chains clattered fast and fiercely over iron pulleys, and
huge steam pumps puffed and gasped, and slowly raised and depressed their heavy black
beams of wood. Far beneath the embankment on which we stood, men, women, and children
were breaking and washing ore in a perfect marsh of copper-coloured mud and
coppercoloured water. We had penetrated to the very centre of the noise, the bustle, and the
population on the surface of a great mine.
When we walked forward again, we passed through a thick plantation of young firs; and
then, the sounds behind us became slowly and solemnly deadened the further we went on.
When we had arrived at the extremity of the line of trees, they ceased softly and suddenly. It
was like a change in a dream.
We now left the tram-way, and stood again on the moor — on a wilder and lonelier part
of it than we had yet beheld. The Cheese–Wring and its adjacent rocks were visible a mile and
a half away, on the summit of a steep hill. Wherever we looked, the horizon was bounded by
the long, dark, undulating edges of the moor. The ground rose and fell in little hillocks and
hollows, tufted with dry grass and furze, and strewn throughout with fragments of granite. The
whole plain appeared like the site of an ancient city of palaces, overthrown and crumbled into
atoms by an earthquake. Here and there, some cows were feeding; and sometimes a large
crow winged his way lazily before us, lessening and lessening slowly in the open distance, until
he was lost to sight. No human beings were discernible anywhere; the majestic loneliness and
stillness of the scene were almost oppressive both to eye and ear. Above us, immense fleecy
masses of brilliant white cloud, wind-driven from the Atlantic, soared up grandly, higher and
higher over the bright blue sky. Everywhere, the view had an impressively stern, simple,
aboriginal look. Here were tracts of solitary country which had sturdily retained their ancient
character through centuries of revolution and change; plains pathless and desolate even now,
as when Druid processions passed over them by night to the place of the secret sacrifice, and
skin-clad warriors of old Britain halted on them in council, or hurried across them to the fight.
On we went, up and down, in a very zig-zag course, now looking forward towards the
Cheese–Wring from the top of a rock, now losing sight of it altogether in the depths of a
hollow. By the time we had advanced about half way over the distance it was necessary for us
to walk, we observed, towards the left hand, a wide circle of detached upright rooks. These
we knew, from descriptions and engravings, to be the “Hurlers”— so we turned aside at once
to look at them from a nearer point of view.
There are two very different histories of these rocks; the antiquarian account of them is
straightforward and practical enough, simply asserting that they are the remains of a Druid
temple, the whole region about them having been one of the principal stations of the Druids in
Cornwall. The popular account of the Hurlers (from which their name is derived) is very
different. It is contended, on the part of the people, that once upon a time (nobody knows how
long ago), these rocks were Cornish men, who profanely went out (nobody knows from what
place), to enjoy the national sport of hurling the ball on one fine “Sabbath morning,” and were
suddenly turned into pillars of stone, as a judgment on their own wickedness, and a warning to
all their companions as well.
Having to choose between the antiquarian hypothesis and the popular legend on the very
spot to which both referred, a common susceptibility to the charms of romance at once
determined us to pin our faith on the legend. Looking at the Hurlers, therefore, in the peculiar
spirit of the story attached to them, as really and truly petrified ball-players, we observed, with
great interest, that some of them must have been a little above, and others a little below our
own height, in their lifetime; that some must have been very corpulent, and others very thin
persons; that one of them, having a protuberance on his head remarkably like a night-cap in
stone, was possibly a sluggard as well as a Sabbath-breaker, and might have got out of hisbed just in time to “hurl;” that another, with some faint resemblance left of a fat grinning
human face, leaned considerably out of the perpendicular, and was, in all probability, a hurler
of intemperate habits. At some distance off we remarked a high stone standing entirely by
itself, which, in the absence of any positive information on the subject, we presumed to
consider as the petrified effigy of a tall man who ran after the ball. In the opposite direction
other stones were dotted about irregularly, which we could only imagine to represent certain
misguided wretches who had attended as spectators of the sports, and had therefore incurred
the same penalty as the hurlers themselves. These humble results of observations taken on
the spot, may possibly be useful, as tending to offer some startling facts from ancient history
to the next pious layman in the legislature who gets up to propose the next series of Sabbath
prohibitions for the benefit of the profane laymen in the nation.
Abandoning any more minute observation of the Hurlers than that already recorded, in
order to husband the little time still left to us, we soon shaped our course again in the direction
of the Cheese–Wring. We arrived at the base of the hill on which it stands, in a short time and
without any difficulty; and beheld above us a perfect chaos of rocks piled up the entire surface
of the eminence. All the granite we had seen before was as nothing compared with the granite
we now looked on. The masses were at one place heaped up in great irregular cairns — at
another, scattered confusedly over the ground; poured all along in close, craggy lumps; flung
about hither and thither, as if in reckless sport, by the hands of giants. Above the whole, rose
the weird fantastic form of the Cheese–Wring, the wildest and most wondrous of all the wild
and wondrous structures in the rock architecture of the scene.
If a man dreamt of a great pile of stones in a nightmare, he would dream of such a pile
as the Cheese–Wring. All the heaviest and largest of the seven thick slabs of which it is
composed are at the top; all the lightest and smallest at the bottom. It rises perpendicularly to
a height of thirty-two feet, without lateral support of any kind. The fifth and sixth rocks are of
immense size and thickness, and overhang fearfully, all round, the four lower rocks which
support them. All are perfectly irregular; the projections of one do not fit into the interstices of
another; they are heaped up loosely in their extraordinary top-heavy form, on slanting ground
half-way down a steep hill. Look at them from whatever point you choose, there is still all that
is heaviest, largest, strongest, at the summit, and all that is lightest, smallest, weakest, at the
base. When you first see the Cheese–Wring, you instinctively shrink from walking under it.
Beholding the tons on tons of stone balanced to a hair’s breadth on the mere fragments
beneath, you think that with a pole in your hand, with one push against the top rocks, you
could hurl down the hill in an instant a pile which has stood for centuries, unshaken by the
fiercest hurricane that ever blew, rushing from the great void of an ocean over the naked
surface of a moor.
Of course, theories advanced by learned men are not wanting to explain such a
phenomenon as the Cheese–Wring. Certain antiquaries have undertaken to solve this curious
problem of Nature in a very off-hand manner, by asserting that the rocks were heaped up as
they now appear, by the Druids, with the intention of astonishing their contemporaries and all
posterity by a striking exhibition of their architectural skill. (If any of these antiquarian
gentlemen be still living, I would not recommend them to attempt a practical illustration of their
theory by building miniature Cheese–Wrings out of the contents of their coal-scuttles!) The
second explanation of the extraordinary position of the rocks is a geological explanation, and
is apparently the true one. It is assumed on this latter hypothesis, that the Cheese–Wring, and
all the adjacent masses of stone, were once covered, or nearly covered, by earth, and were
thus supported in an upright form; that the wear and tear of storms gradually washed away all
this earth, from between the rocks, down the hill, and then left such heaps of stones as were
accidentally complete in their balance on each other, to stand erect, and such as were not, to
fall flat on the surface of the hill in all the various positions in which they now appear.
Accepting this theory as the right one, it still seems strange that there should be only oneCheese–Wring on the hill — but so it is. Plenty of rocks are to be seen there piled one on
another; but none of them are piled in the same extraordinary manner as the Cheese–Wring,
which stands alone in its grandeur, a curiosity that even science may wonder at, a sight which
is worth a visit to Cornwall, if Cornwall presented nothing else to see.
Besides the astonishment which the rock scenery on the hill was calculated to excite, we
found in its neighbourhood an additional cause for surprise of a very different description. Just
as we were preparing to ascend the eminence, the silence of the great waste around us was
broken by a long and hearty cheer. The Hurlers themselves, if they had suddenly returned to
a state of flesh and blood, and resumed their interrupted game, could hardly have made more
noise, or exhibited a greater joviality of disposition, than did some three or four tradesmen of
the town of Liskeard, who had been enjoying a pic-nic under the Cheese–Wring, had seen us
approaching over the plain, and now darted out of their ambush to welcome us, flourishing
porter-bottles in their hands as olive branches of peace, amity, and good-will. My companion
skilfully contrived to make his escape; but I was stopped and surrounded in an instant. One
benevolent stranger held a glass in a very slanting position, while a brother philanthropist
violently uncorked a bottle and directed half of its contents in a magnificent jet of light brown
froth all over everybody, before he found the way into the tumbler. It was of no use to decline
imbibing the remainder of the light brown froth —“There was the Cheese–Wring (cried all the
benevolent strangers in chorus), and here was the porter —I must drink all their good healths,
and they would all drink mine — this was Cornish hospitality, and Cornish hospitality was
notoriously the finest thing in the world! As for my friend there, who was drawing, they bore
him no ill-will because he wouldn’t drink — they would buy his drawing, and one of the
commercial gentlemen, who was a stationer, would publish a hundred, two hundred, five
hundred, a thousand copies of it, on sheets of letter-paper, price one penny! What had I got
to say to that? — If that wasn’t hospitality, what the devil was?”
All this might have been very amusing, and our new friends might have proved excellent
companions, under a different set of circumstances. But, as things were, we neither of us felt
at all sorry when their manners subsequently exhibited a slight change, under the influence of
further potations of porter. Soon, they began to look stolid and suspicious — suddenly, they
discovered that we were not quite such good company as they had thought us at first —
finally, they took their departure in solemn silence, leaving us free at last to mount the hill, and
look out uninterruptedly on the glorious view from the summit, which extended over a
circumference of a hundred miles.
Turning our faces towards the north-east, and standing now on the topmost rock of one
of the most elevated situations in Cornwall, we were able to discern the sea on either side of
us. Two faint lines of the softest, haziest blue, indicated the Bristol Channel on the one hand,
and the English Channel on the other. Before us lay a wide region of downs and fields, all
mapped out in every variety of form by their different divisions of wall and hedge-row — while,
farther away yet, darker and more indefinite, appeared the Dartmoor forest and the Dartmoor
hills. It was just that hour before the evening, at which the atmosphere acquires a more
mellow purity, a more perfect serenity and warmth, than at earlier periods of the day. The
shadows of great clouds lay in vast lovely shapes of purple blue over the whole visible tract of
country, contrasting in exquisite beauty with the sunny glimpses of landscape shining between
them. Beneath us, the picturesque confusion of rocks, topped by the quaint form of the
Cheese–Wring, seemed to fade away mysteriously into the grass of the moorland; beyond
which, high up where the hills rose again, a little lake, called Dosmery Pool, shone in the
sunlight with dazzling, diamond brightness. In the opposite direction, towards the west, the
immediate prospect was formed by the rugged granite ridges, towering one behind the other,
of Sharp Torr and Kilmarth — the long hazy outlines of the plains and hill-tops of southern and
inland Cornwall closing grandly the distant view.
All that we had hitherto seen on and around the spot where we now stood, had not yetexhausted its objects of attraction for strangers. Descending the rocks in a new direction, after
taking a last look at the noble prospect visible from their summit, we proceeded to a particular
spot near the base of the hill, where the granite was scattered in remarkable abundance. Our
purpose here was to examine some stones which are well known to all the quarrymen in the
district, as associated with an extraordinary story and an extraordinary man.
During the earlier half of the last century, there lived in one of the villages on the outskirts
of the moor on which the Cheese–Wring stands, a stonecutter named Daniel Gumb. This man
was noted among his companions for his taciturn eccentric character, and for his attachment
to mathematical studies. Such leisure time as he had at his command he devoted to
pondering over the problems of Euclid: he was always drawing mysterious complications of
angles, triangles, and parallelograms, on pieces of slate, and on the blank leaves of such few
books as he possessed. But he made very slow progress in his studies. Poverty and hard
work increased with the increase of his family, and obliged him to give up his mathematics
altogether. He laboured early and laboured late; he hacked and hewed at the hard material
out of which he was doomed to cut a livelihood, with unremitting diligence; but times went so ill
with him, that in despair of ever finding them better, he took a sudden resolution of altering his
manner of living, and retreating from the difficulties that he could not overcome. He went to
the hill on which the Cheese–Wring stands, and looked about among the rocks until he found
some that had accidentally formed themselves into a sort of rude cavern. He widened this
recess; he propped up a great wide slab, to make its roof: he cut out in a rock that rose above
this, what he called his bed-room — a mere longitudinal slit in the stone, the length and
breadth of his body, into which he could roll himself sideways when he wanted to enter it. After
he had completed this last piece of work, he scratched the date of the year of his
extraordinary labours (1735) on the rock; and then removed his wife and family from their
cottage, and lodged them in the cavity he had made — never to return during his lifetime to
the dwellings of men!
Here he lived and here he worked, when he could get work. He paid no rent now: he
wanted no furniture; he struggled no longer to appear to the world as his equals appeared; he
required no more money than would procure for his family and himself the barest necessaries
of life; he suffered no interruptions from his fellow-workmen, who thought him a madman, and
kept out of his way; and — most precious privilege of his new position — he could at last
shorten his hours of labour, and lengthen his hours of study, with impunity. Having no
temptations to spend money, no hard demands of an inexorable landlord to answer, he could
now work with his brains as well as his hands; he could toil at his problems, scratching them
upon the tops of rocks, under the open sky, amid the silence of the great moor. Henceforth,
nothing moved, nothing depressed him. The storms of winter rushed over his unsheltered
dwelling, but failed to dislodge him. He taught his family to brave solitude and cold in the
cavern among the rocks, as he braved them. In the cell that he had scooped out for his wife
(the roof of which has now fallen in) some of his children died, and others were born. They
point out the rock where he used to sit on calm summer evenings, absorbed over his tattered
copy of Euclid. A geometrical “puzzle,” traced by his hand, still appears on the stone. When
he died, what became of his family, no one can tell. Nothing more is known of him than that
he never quitted the wild place of his exile; that he continued to the day of his death to live
contentedly with his wife and children, amid a civilized nation, under such a shelter as would
hardly serve the first savage tribes of the most savage country — to live, starving out poverty
and want on a barren wild; forsaking all things enduring all things for the love of Knowledge,
which he could still nobly follow through trials and extremities, without encouragement of fame
or profit, without vantage ground of station or wealth, for its own dear sake. Beyond this,
nothing but conjecture is left. The cell, the bed-place, the lines traced on the rocks, the
inscription of the year in which he hewed his habitation out of them, are all the memorials that
remain of Daniel Gumb.We lingered about the wild habitation of the stonemason and his family, until sunset.
Long shadows of rocks lay over the moor, the breeze had freshened and was already growing
chill, when we set forth, at last, to trace our way back to Liskeard. It was too late now to think
of proceeding on our journey, and sleeping at the next town on our line of route.
Returning in a new direction, we found ourselves once more walking on a high road, just
as the sun had gone down, and the grey twilight was falling softly over the landscape.
Stopping near a lonely farm-house, we went into a field to look at another old British
monument to which our attention had been directed. We saw a square stone column — now
broken into two pieces — ornamented with a curiously carved pattern, and exhibiting an
inscription cut in irregular, mysterious characters. Those who have deciphered them, have
discovered that the column is nearly a thousand years old; that it was raised as a sepulchral
monument over the body of Dungerth King of Cornwall; and that the letters carved on it form
some Latin words, which may be thus translated:—“PRAY FOR THE SOUL OF DUNGERTH.”
Seen in the dim light of the last quiet hour of evening, there was something solemn and
impressive about the appearance of the old tombstone — simple though it was. After leaving
it, we soon entered once more into regions of fertility. Cottages, cornfields, and trees
surrounded us again. We passed through pleasant little valleys; over brooks crossed by quaint
wooden bridges; up and down long lanes, where tall hedges and clustering trees darkened the
way — where the stag-beetle flew slowly by, winding “his small but sullen horn,” and
glowworms glimmered brightly in the long, dewy grass by the roadside. The moon, rising at first
red and dull in a misty sky, brightened as we went on, and lighted us brilliantly along all that
remained of our night-walk back to the town.
I have only to add, that, when we arrived at Liskeard, the lachrymose landlady of the inn
benevolently offered us for supper the identical piece of cold “corned beef” which she had
offered us for dinner the day before; and further proposed that we should feast at our ease in
the private dungeon dining-room at the back of the house. But one mode of escape was left
— we decamped at once to the large and comfortable hotel of the town; and there our
pleasant day’s pilgrimage to the moors of Cornwall concluded as agreeably as it had begun.
Chapter 4 — Cornish People

It is my purpose, in this place, to communicate some few facts relating to the social
condition of the inhabitants of Cornwall, which were kindly furnished to me by friends on the
spot; adding to the statement thus obtained, such anecdotes and illustrations of popular
character as I collected from my own observations in the capacity of a tourist on foot.
If the reader desires to compare at a glance the condition of the Cornish people with the
condition of their brethren in other parts of England, one small particle of practical information
will enable him to do so at once. In the Government Tables of Mortality for Cornwall there are
no returns of death from starvation.
Many causes combine to secure the poor of Cornwall from that last worst consequence
of poverty to which the poor in most of the other divisions of England are more or less
exposed. The number of inhabitants in the county is stated by the last census at 341,269 —
the number of square miles that they have to live on, being 1327. — This will be found on
proper computation and comparison, to be considerably under the average population of a
square mile throughout the rest of England. Thus, the supply of men for all purposes does not
appear to be greater than the demand in Cornwall. The remote situation of the county
guarantees it against any considerable influx of strangers to compete with the natives for work
on their own ground. We met a farmer there, who was so far from being besieged in harvest
time by claimants for labour on his land, that he was obliged to go forth to seek them himself
at a neighbouring town, and was doubtful whether he should find men enough left him
unemployed at the mines and the fisheries, to gather in his crops in good time at two shillings
a day and as much “victuals and drink” as they cared to have.
Another cause which has contributed, in some measure, to keep Cornwall free from the
burthen of a surplus population of working men must not be overlooked. Emigration has been
more largely resorted to in that county, than perhaps in any other in England. Out of the
population of the Penzance Union alone, nearly five per cent. left their native land for
Australia, or New Zealand, in 1849. The potato-blight was, at that time, assigned as the chief
cause of the readiness to emigrate; for it damaged seriously the growth of a vegetable, from
the sale of which, at the London markets, the Cornish agriculturalists derived large profits, and
on which (with their fish) the Cornish poor depend as a staple article of food.
It is by the mines and fisheries (of both of which I shall speak particularly in another
place) that Cornwall is compensated for a soil, too barren in many parts of the county, to be
ever well cultivated except at such an expenditure of capital as no mere farmer can afford.
From the inexhaustible mineral treasures in the earth, and from the equally inexhaustible
shoals of pilchards which annually visit the coast, the working population of Cornwall derive
their regular means of support, where agriculture would fail them. At the mines, the regular
rate of wages is from forty to fifty shillings a month; but miners have opportunities of making
more than this. By what is termed “working on tribute,” that is, agreeing to excavate the
mineral lodes for a per centage on the value of the metal they raise, some of them have been
known to make as much as six and even ten pounds each, in a month. When they are
unlucky in their working speculations, or perhaps thrown out of employment altogether by the
shutting up of a mine, they still have a fair opportunity of obtaining farm labour, which is paid
for (out of harvest time) at the rate of nine shillings a week. But this is a resource of which
they are rarely obliged to take advantage. A plot of common ground is included with the
cottages that are let to them; and the cultivation of this, helps to keep them and their families,
in bad times, until they find an opportunity of resuming work; when they may perhaps make as
much in one month, as an agricultural labourer can in twelve.The fisheries not only employ all the inhabitants of the coast, but, in the pilchard season,
many of the farm work-people as well. Ten thousand persons — men, women, and children —
derive their regular support from the fisheries; which are so amazingly productive, that the
“drift,” or deep-sea fishing, in Mount’s Bay alone, is calculated to realize, on the average,
30,000l. per annum.
To the employment thus secured for the poor in the mines and fisheries is to be added,
as an advantage, the cheapness of rent and living in Cornwall. Good cottages are let at from
fifty shillings, to between three and four pounds a-year — turf for firing grows in plenty on the
vast tracts of common land overspreading the country — all sorts of vegetables are abundant
and cheap, with the exception of potatoes, which so decreased in 1849, in consequence of
the disease, that the winter stock was imported from France, Belgium, and Holland. The early
potatoes, however, grown in May and June, are cultivated in large quantities, and realize on
exportation a very high price. Corn generally sells a little above the average. Fish is always
within the reach of the poorest people. In a good season, a dozen pilchards are sold for one
penny. Happily for themselves, the poor in Cornwall do not partake the senseless prejudice
against fish, so obstinately adhered to by the poor in many other parts of England. A
Cornishman’s national pride is in his pilchards — he likes to talk of them, and boast about
them to strangers; and with reason, for he depends for the main support of life on the tribute
of these little fish which the sea yields annually in almost countless shoals.
The workhouse system in Cornwall is said, by those who are well qualified to form an
opinion on the subject, to be generally well administered; the Unions in the eastern part of the
county being the least stringent in their regulations, and the most liberal in giving out-of-door
Such, briefly, but I think not incorrectly stated, is the condition of the poor in Cornwall, in
relation to their means of subsistence as a class. Looking to the fact that the number of
labourers there is not too much for the labour; comparing the rate of wages with rent and the
price of provisions; setting the natural advantages of the county fairly against its natural
disadvantages, it is impossible not to conclude that the Cornish poor suffer less by their
poverty, and enjoy more opportunities of improving their social position, than the majority of
their brethren in many other counties of England. The general demeanour and language of the
people themselves amply warrant this conclusion. The Cornish are essentially a cheerful,
contented race. The views of the working men are remarkably moderate and sensible — I
never met with so few grumblers anywhere.
My opportunities of correctly estimating the state of education among the people, were
not sufficiently numerous to justify me in offering to the reader more than a mere opinion on
the subject. Such few observations as I was able to make, inclined me to think that, in
education, the mass of the population was certainly below the average in England, with one
exception — that of the classes employed in the mines. All of these men with whom I held any
communication, would not have been considered badly-informed persons in a higher condition
of life. They possessed much more than a common mechanical knowledge of their own
calling, and even showed a very fair share of information on the subject of the history and
antiquities of their native county. As usual, the agricultural inhabitants appeared to rank lowest
in the scale of education and general intelligence. Among this class, and among the
fishermen, the strong superstitious feelings of the ancient days of Cornwall still survive, and
promise long to remain, handed down from father to son as heirlooms of tradition, gathered
together in a remote period, and venerable in virtue of their antiquity. The notion, for instance,
that no wound will fester as long as the instrument by which it was inflicted is kept bright and
clean, still prevails extensively among them. But a short time since, a boy in Cornwall was
placed under the care of a medical man (who related the anecdote to me) for a wound in the
back from a pitchfork; his relatives — cottagers of respectability — firmly believe that his cure
was accelerated by the pains they took to keep the prongs of the pitchfork in a state of thehighest polish, night and day, throughout the whole period of his illness, and down to the last
hour of his complete restoration to health.
Another and a more remarkable instance of the superstitions prevailing among the least
educated classes of the people, was communicated to me by the same informant — a
gentleman whose life had been passed in Cornwall, and who was highly and deservedly
respected by all those among whom he resided.
A small farmer living in one of the most western districts of the county, died some years
back of what was supposed at the time to be “English Cholera.” A few weeks after his
decease, his wife married again. This circumstance excited some attention in the
neighbourhood. It was remembered that the woman had lived on very bad terms with her late
husband, that she had on many occasions exhibited strong symptoms of possessing a very
vindictive temper, and that during the farmer’s lifetime she had openly manifested rather more
than a Platonic preference for the man whom she subsequently married. Suspicion was
generally excited: people began to doubt whether the first husband had died fairly. At length
the proper order was applied for, and his body was disinterred. On examination, enough
arsenic to have poisoned three men was found in his stomach. The wife was accused of
murdering him, was tried, convicted on the clearest evidence, and hanged. Very shortly after
she had suffered capital punishment, horrible stories of a ghost were widely circulated. Certain
people declared that they had seen a ghastly resemblance of the murderess, robed in her
winding-sheet, with the black mark of the rope round her swollen neck, standing on stormy
nights upon her husband’s grave, and digging there with a spade in hideous imitation of the
actions of the men who had disinterred the corpse for medical examination. This was fearful
enough — nobody dared go near the place after nightfall. But soon, another circumstance
was talked of, in connexion with the poisoner, which affected the tranquillity of people’s minds
in the village where she had lived, and where it was believed she had been born, more
seriously than even the ghost-story itself.
Near the church of this village there was a well, celebrated among the peasantry of the
district for one remarkable property — every child baptized in its water (with which the church
was duly supplied on christening occasions) was secure from ever being hanged. No one
doubted that all the babies fortunate enough to be born and baptized in the parish, though
they might live to the age of Methuselah, and might during that period commit all the capital
crimes recorded in the “Newgate Calendar,” were still destined to keep quite clear of the
summary jurisdiction of Jack Ketch — no one doubted this, until the story of the apparition of
the murderess began to be spread abroad. Then, awful misgivings arose in the popular mind.
A woman who had been born close by the magical well, and who had therefore in all
probability been baptized in its water like her neighbours of the parish, had nevertheless been
publicly and unquestionably hanged. However, probability was not always truth — everybody
determined that the baptismal register of the poisoner should be sought for, and that it should
be thus officially ascertained whether she had been christened with the well water, or not.
After much trouble, the important document was discovered — not where it was first looked
after, but in a neighbouring parish vestry. A mistake had been made about the woman’s
birthplace — she had not been baptized in the local church, and had therefore not been
protected by the marvellous virtue of the local water. Unutterable was the joy and triumph of
this discovery throughout the village — the wonderful character of the parish well was
wonderfully vindicated — its celebrity immediately spread wider than ever. The peasantry of
the neighbouring districts began to send for the renowned water before christenings; and
many of them actually continue, to this day, to bring it corked up in bottles to their churches,
and to beg particularly that it may be used whenever they present their children to be
Such instances of superstition as this — and others equally true might be quoted —
afford, perhaps, of themselves, the best evidence of the low state of education among thepeople from whom they are produced. It is, however, only fair to state, that children in
Cornwall are now enabled to partake of advantages which were probably not offered to their
parents. Good National Schools are in operation everywhere, and are — as far as my own
inquiries authorize me to report — well attended by pupils recruited from the ranks of the
poorest classes.
Of the social qualities of the Cornish all that can be written may be written
conscientiously in terms of the highest praise. Travelling as my companion and I did — in a
manner which (whatever it may be now) was, ten years since, perfectly new to the majority of
the people — we found constant opportunities of studying the popular character in its every
day aspects. We perplexed some, we amused others: here, we were welcomed familiarly by
the people, as travelling pedlars with our packs on our backs; there, we were curiously
regarded at an awful distance, and respectfully questioned in circumlocutory phrases as to our
secret designs in walking through the country. Thus, viewing us sometimes as their equals,
sometimes as mysteriously superior to them, the peasantry unconsciously exhibited many of
their most characteristic peculiarities without reserve. We looked at the spectacle of their
social life from the most searching point of view, for we looked at it from behind the scenes.
The manners of the Cornish of all ranks, down to the lowest, are remarkably
distinguished by courtesy — a courtesy of that kind which is quite independent of artificial
breeding, and which proceeds solely from natural motives of kindness and from an innate
anxiety to please. Few of the people pass you without a salutation. Civil questions are always
answered civilly. No propensity to jeer at strangers is exhibited — on the contrary, great
solicitude is displayed to afford them any assistance that they may require; and displayed,
moreover, without the slightest appearance of a mercenary motive. Thus, if you stop to ask
your way, you are not merely directed for a mile or two on, and then told to ask again; but
directed straight to the end of your destination, no matter how far off. Turnings to the right,
and turnings to the left, short cuts across moors five miles away, churches that you must
keep on this hand, and rocks that you must keep on that, are impressed upon your memory
with the most laborious minuteness, and shouted after you over and over again as long as
you are within hearing. If the utmost anxiety to give the utmost quantity of good advice could
always avail against accident or forgetfulness, no traveller in Cornwall who asks his way as he
goes, need ever lose himself.
When people possess the virtue of natural courtesy they are seldom found wanting in
other higher virtues that are akin to it. Household affection, ready hospitality, and great
gratitude for small rewards of services rendered, are all to be found among the Cornish
peasantry. Their fondness for their children is very pleasant to see. A word of inquiry or praise
addressed to the mother makes her face glow with delight, and sends her away at once in
search of the missing members of her little family, who are ranged before you triumphantly,
with smoothed hair and carefully wiped faces, ready to be reviewed in a row. Both father and
mother often wish you, at parting, a good wife and a large family (if you are not married
already), just as they wish you a pleasant journey and a prosperous return home again.
Of Cornish hospitality we experienced many proofs, one of which may be related as a
sample. Arriving late at a village, in the far west of the county, we found some difficulty in
arousing the people of the inn. While we were waiting at the door, we heard a man who lived
in a cottage near at hand, and of whom we had asked our way on the road, inquiring of some
female member of his family, whether she could make up a spare bed. We had met this man
proceeding in our direction, and had so far outstripped him in walking, that we had been
waiting outside the inn about a quarter of an hour before he got home. When the woman
answered his question in the negative, he directed her to put clean sheets on his own bed,
and then came out to tell us that if we failed to obtain admission at the public-house, a lodging
for the night was ready for us under his own roof. We found on inquiry, afterwards, that he
had looked out of window, after getting home, while we were still disturbing the village by acontinuous series of assaults on the inn door; had recognised us in the moonlight; and had
thereupon not only offered us his bed, but had got out of it himself to do so. When we finally
succeeded in gaining admittance to the inn, he declined an invitation to sup with us, and
wishing us a good night’s rest, returned to his home. I should mention, at the same time, that
another bed was offered to us at the vicarage, by the clergyman of the parish; and that after
this gentleman had himself seen that we were properly accommodated by our landlady, he left
us with an invitation to breakfast with him the next morning. Thus is hospitality practised in
Cornwall — a county where, it must be remembered, a stranger is doubly a stranger, in
relation to provincial sympathies; where the national feeling is almost entirely merged in the
local feeling; where a man speaks of himself as Cornish in much the same spirit as a
Welshman speaks of himself as Welsh.
In like manner, another instance drawn from my own experience, will best display the
anxiety which we found generally testified by the Cornish poor to make the best and most
grateful return in their power for anything which they considered as a favour kindly bestowed.
Such little anecdotes as I here relate in illustration of popular character, cannot, I think, be
considered trifling; for it is by trifles, after all, that we gain our truest appreciation of the
marking signs of good or evil in the dispositions of our fellow-beings; just as in the beating of a
single artery under the touch, we discover an indication of the strength or weakness of the
whole vital frame.
On the granite cliffs at the Land’s End I met with an old man, seventy-two years of age,
of whom I asked some questions relative to the extraordinary rocks scattered about this part
of the coast. He immediately opened his whole budget of local anecdotes, telling them in a
quavering high-treble voice, which was barely audible above the dash of the breakers
beneath, and the fierce whistling of the wind among the rocks around us. However, the old
fellow went on talking incessantly, hobbling along before me, up and down steep paths and
along the very brink of a fearful precipice, with as much coolness as if his sight was as clear
and his step as firm as in his youth. When he had shown me all that he could show, and had
thoroughly exhausted himself with talking, I gave him a shilling at parting. He appeared to be
perfectly astonished by a remuneration which the reader will doubtless consider the reverse of
excessive; thanked me at the top of his voice; and then led me, in a great hurry, and with
many mysterious nods and gestures, to a hollow in the grass, where he had spread on a
clean pocket-handkerchief a little stock-intrade of his own, consisting of barnacles, bits of rock
and ore, and specimens of dried seaweed. Pointing to these, he told me to take anything I
liked, as a present in return for what I had given him. He would not hear of my buying
anything; he was not, he said, a regular guide, and I had paid him more already than such an
old man was worth — what I took out of his handkerchief I must take as a present only. I saw
by his manner that he would be really mortified if I contested the matter with him, so as a
present I received one of his pieces of rock — I had no right to deny him the pleasure of doing
a kind action, because there happened to be a few more shillings in my pocket than in his.
Nothing can be much better adapted to show how simple and unsophisticated the
Cornish character still remains in many respects, than Cornish notions of organizing a public
festival, and Cornish enjoyment of that festival when it is organized. We had already seen how
they managed a public boat-race at Looe, and we saw again how they conducted the
preparations for the same popular festival, on a larger scale, at the coast town of Fowey.
In the first place, the dormant public enthusiasm was stimulated by music at an
uncomfortably early hour in the morning. Two horn players and a clarionet player; a fat
musician who blew through a very small fife and kept time with his head; and a withered little
man who beat furiously on a mighty drum — drew up in martial array, one behind the other,
before the principal inn. Two boys, staring about them in a stolidly important manner, and
carrying flags which bore a suspicious resemblance to India pocket handkerchiefs sewn
together, formed in front of the musicians. Two corpulent, solemn, elderly gentlemen in black(belonging, apparently, to the churchwarden-type of the human species), formed in their turn
on each side of the boys — and then the procession started; walking briskly up and down, and
in and out, and round and round the same streets, over and over again; the musicians playing
on all their instruments at once (drum included), without a moment’s intermission on the part
of any one of them. Nothing could exceed the gravity and silence of the popular concourse
which followed this grotesque procession. The solemn composure on the countenances of the
two corpulent civil officers who went before it, was reflected on the features of the smallest
boy who followed humbly behind. Profound musical amateurs in attendance at a classical
quartet concert, could have exhibited no graver or more breathless attention than that
displayed by the inhabitants of Fowey, as they marched at the heels of the peripatetic town
But, while the music was proceeding, another adjunct to the dignity of the festival was in
course of preparation, which appealed more strongly to popular sympathy even than the band
and procession. A quantity of young trees — miserable little saplings cut short in their early
infancy — were brought into the town, curiously sharpened at the stems. Holes were rapidly
drilled in the ground, here, there, and everywhere, for their reception, at corners of house
walls. While men outside set them up, women in a high state of excitement appeared at
firstfloor windows with long pieces of string, which they fastened to the branches to steady the
trees at the top, hauling them about this way and that most unmercifully during the operation,
and then vanishing to tie the loose ends of the lines to bars of grates and legs of tables.
Mazes of long tight strings ran all across our room at the inn; broken twigs and drooping
leaves peered in sadly at us through the three windows that lighted it. We were driven about
from corner to corner out of the way of this rigging by an imperious old woman, who fastened
and fettered the wretched trees with as fierce an air as if they were criminals whom she was
handcuffing, and who at last fairly told us that she thought we had better leave the room, and
see how beautiful things looked from the outside. On obeying this intimation, we found that
the trees had absorbed the whole public attention to themselves. The band marched by,
playing furiously; but the boys deserted it. The people from the country, hastening into the
town, hot and eager, paused, reckless of the music, reckless of the flags, reckless of the
procession, to look forth upon the streets “with verdure clad.” The popularity of the Sons of
Apollo was a thing of the past already! Nothing can well be imagined more miserably ugly than
the appearance of the trees, standing strung into unnatural positions, and looking half dead
already; but they evidently inspired the liveliest public satisfaction. Women returned to the
windows to give a last perfecting tug to their branches; men patted approvingly with spades
the loose earth round their stems. Spectators, one by one, took a near view and a distant
view, and then walked gently by and took an occasional view, and lastly gathered together in
little groups and took a general view. As connoisseurs look at their pictures, as mothers look
at their children, as lovers look at their mistresses — so did the people of Fowey assemble
with one accord and look at their trees.
After all, however, I shall perhaps best illustrate the simplicity of character displayed by
the Cornish country-people, if I leave the less amusing preparations for inaugurating the
Fowey boat-race untold, and describe some of the peculiarities of behaviour and remark which
the appearance of my companion and myself called forth in all parts of Cornwall. The mere
sight of two strangers walking with such appendages as knapsacks strapped on their
shoulders, seemed of itself to provoke the most unbounded wonder. We were stared at with
almost incredible pertinacity and good humour. People hard at work, left off to look at us;
while groups congregated at cottage doors, walked into the middle of the road when they saw
us approach, looked at us in front from that commanding point of view until we passed them,
and then wheeled round with one accord and gazed at us behind as long as we were within
sight. Little children ran indoors to bring out large children, as we drew near. Farmers,
overtaking us on horseback, pulled in, and passed at a walk, to examine us at their ease. Withthe exception of bedridden people and people in prison, I believe that the whole population of
Cornwall looked at us all over — back view and front view — from head to foot!
This staring was nowhere accompanied, either on the part of young or old, by a jeering
word or an impertinent look. We evidently astonished the people, but we never tempted them
to forget their natural good-nature, forbearance, and self-restraint. On our side, the attentive
scrutiny to which we were subjected, was at first not a little perplexing. It was difficult not to
doubt occasionally whether some unpleasantly remarkable change had not suddenly taken
place in our personal appearance — whether we might not have turned green or blue on our
travels, or have got noses as long as the preposterous nose of the traveller through
Strasburgh, in the tale of Slawkenbergius. It was not until we had been some days in the
county that we began to discover, by some such indications as the following, that we owed the
public attention to our knapsacks, and not to ourselves.
We enter a small public-house by the roadside to get a draught of beer. In the kitchen,
we behold the landlord and a tall man who is a customer. Both stare as a matter of course;
the tall man especially, after taking one look at our knapsacks, fixes his eyes firmly on us and
sits bolt upright on the bench without saying a word — he is evidently prepared for the worst
we can do. We get into conversation with the landlord, a jovial, talkative fellow, who desires
greatly to know what we are, if we have no objection. We ask him, what he thinks we are? —
“Well,” says the landlord, pointing to my friend’s knapsack, which has a square ruler strapped
to it, for architectural drawing — “well, I think you are both of you mappers— mappers who
come here to make new roads — you may be coming to make a railroad, I dare say — we’ve
had mappers in the country before this — I know a mapper myself — here’s both your good
healths!” We drink the landlord’s good health in return, and disclaim the honour of being
“mappers;” we walk through the country (we tell him) for pleasure alone, and take any roads
we can get, without wanting to make new ones. The landlord would like to know, if that is the
case, why we carry those weights at our backs? — Because we want to take our luggage
about with us. Couldn’t we pay to ride? — Yes, we could. And yet we like walking better? —
Yes we do. This last answer utterly confounds the tall customer, who has been hitherto
listening intently to the dialogue. It is evidently too much for his credulity — he pays his
reckoning, and walks out in a hurry without uttering a word. The landlord appears to be
convinced, but it is only in appearance. We leave him standing at his door, keeping his eye on
us as long as we are in sight, still evidently persuaded that we are “mappers,” but “mappers”
of a bad order whose presence is fraught with some unknown peril to the security of the
Queen’s highway.
We get on into another district. Here, public opinion is not flattering. Some of the groups,
gathered together in the road to observe us, begin to speculate on our characters before we
are quite out of hearing. Then, this sort of dialogue, spoken in serious, subdued tones, just
reaches us: Question — What can they be? Answer — “Trodgers!”
This is particularly humiliating, because it happens to be true. We certainly do trudge,
and are therefore properly, though rather unceremoniously, called trudgers, or “trodgers.” But
we sink to a lower depth yet, a little further on. We are viewed as objects for pity. It is a fine
evening; we stop and lean against a bank by the roadside to look at the sunset. An old woman
comes tottering by on high pattens, very comfortably and nicely clad. She sees our
knapsacks, and instantly stops in front of us, and begins to moan lamentably. Not
understanding at first what this means, we ask respectfully if she feels at all ill? “Ah, poor
fellows! poor fellows!” she sighs in answer, “obliged to carry all your baggage on your own
backs! — very hard! poor lads! very hard, indeed!” And the good old soul goes away groaning
over our evil plight, and mumbling something which sounds very like an assurance that she
has got no money to give us.
In another part of the county we rise again gloriously in worldly consideration. We pass a
cottage; a woman looks out after us, over the low garden wall, and rather hesitatingly calls usback. I approach her first, and am thus saluted: “If you please, sir, what have you got to sell?”
Again, an old man meets us on the road, stops, cheerfully taps our knapsacks with his stick,
and says: “Aha! you’re tradesmen, eh? things to sell? I say, have you got any tea”
(pronounced tay); “I’ll buy some tay!” Further on, we approach a group of miners breaking
ore. As we pass by, we hear one asking amazedly, “What have they got to sell in those things
on their backs?” and another answering, in the prompt tones of a guesser who is convinced
that he guesses right, “Guinea-pigs!”
It is unfortunately impossible to convey to the reader an adequate idea, by mere
description, of the extraordinary gravity of manner, the looks of surprise and the tones of
conviction which accompanied these various popular conjectures as to our calling and station
in life, and which added immeasurably at the time to their comic effect. Curiously enough,
whenever they took the form of questions, any jesting in returning an answer never seemed
either to be appreciated or understood by the country people. Serious replies shared much
the same fate as jokes. Everybody asked whether we could pay for riding, and nobody
believed that we preferred walking, if we could. So we soon gave up the idea of affording any
information at all; and walked through the country comfortably as mappers, trodgers,
tradesmen, guinea-pig-mongers, and poor back-burdened vagabond lads, altogether, or one
at a time, just as the peasantry pleased.
I have not communicated to the reader all the conjectures formed about us, for the
simple reason that many of them, when they ran to any length, were by no means so
intelligible as could be desired. It will readily be imagined, that in a county which had a
language of its own (something similar to the Welsh) down to the time of Edward VI., if not
later — in a county where this language continued to be spoken among the humbler classes
until nearly the end of the seventeenth century, and where it still gives their names to men,
places, and implements — some remnants of it must attach themselves to the dialect of
English now spoken by the lower orders. This is enough of itself to render Cornish talk not
very easy to be understood by ordinary strangers; but the difficulty of comprehending it is still
further increased by the manner in which the people speak. They pronounce rapidly and
indistinctly, often running separate syllables into one another through a sentence, until the
whole sounds like one long fragmentary word. To the student in philology a series of
conversations with the Cornish poor would, I imagine, afford ample matter for observation of
the most interesting kind. Some of their expressions have a character that is quite patriarchal.
Young men, for instance, are addressed by their elders as, “my son”— everything eatable,
either for man or beast, is commonly denominated, “meat.”
It may be expected, before I close this hasty sketch of the Cornish people, that I should
touch on the dark side of the picture — unfinished though it is — which I have endeavoured to
draw. But I have nothing to communicate on the subject of offences in Cornwall, beyond a few
words about “wrecking” and smuggling.
Opinions have been divided among well-informed persons, as to the truth or falsehood of
those statements of travellers and historians, which impute the habitual commission of
outrages and robberies on sufferers by shipwreck to the Cornish of former generations.
Without entering into this question of the past, which can only be treated as a matter for
discussion, I am happy, in proceeding at once to the present, to be able to state, as a matter
of fact, that “wrecking” is a crime unknown in the Cornwall of our day. So far from maltreating
shipwrecked persons, the inhabitants of the sea-shore risk their lives to save them. I make
this assertion, on the authority of a gentleman whose life has been passed in the West of
Cornwall; whose avocations take him much among the poor of all ranks and characters; and
who has himself seen wrecked sailors rescued from death by the courage and humanity of the
population of the coast.
In reference to smuggling, many years have passed without one of those fatal
encounters between smugglers and revenue officers which, in other days, gave a dark andfearful character to the contraband trade in Cornwall. So well is the coast watched, that no
smuggling of any consequence can now take place. It is only the oldest Cornish men who can
give you any account, from personal experience, of adventures in “running a cargo;” and
those that I heard described were by no means of the romantic or interesting order.
Beyond this, I have nothing further to relate regarding criminal matters. It may not
unreasonably be doubted whether a subject so serious and so extensive as the Statistics of
Crime, is not out of the scope of a book like the present, whose only object is to tell a simple
fireside story which may amuse an idle, or solace a mournful hour. Moreover, remembering
the assistance and the kindness that my companion and I met with throughout Cornwall —
and those only who have travelled on foot can appreciate how much the enjoyment of
exploring a country may be heightened or decreased, according to the welcome given to the
stranger by the inhabitants — remembering, too, that we walked late at night, through districts
inhabited only by the roughest and poorest classes, entirely unmolested; and that we trusted
much on many occasions to the honesty of the people, and never found cause to repent our
trust — I cannot but feel that it would be an ungracious act to ransack newspapers and
Reports to furnish materials for recording in detail, the vices of a population whom I have only
personally known by their virtues. Let you and I, reader, leave off with the same pleasant
impressions of the Cornish people — you, whose only object is to hear, and I whose only
object is to tell, the story of a holiday walk. There is enough to be found in them that is good,
amply to justify a little inattention to whatever we may discover that is bad.
Chapter 5 — Loo-Pool

“Now, I think it very much amiss,” remarks Sterne, in ‘Tristram Shandy,’ “that a man
cannot go quietly through a town and let it alone, when it does not meddle with him, but that
he must be turning about, and drawing his pen at every kennel he crosses over, merely, o’ my
conscience, for the sake of drawing it.” I quote this wise and witty observation on a bad
practice of some travel-writers, as containing the best reason that I can give the reader for
transporting him at once over some sixty miles of Cornish high-roads and footpaths, without
stopping to drop one word of description by the way. Having left off the record of our travels at
Liskeard, and taking it up again — as I mean to do here — at Helston, I skip over five
intermediate market-towns and two large villages, with a mere dash of the pen. Lostwithiel,
Fowey, St. Austell, Grampound, Probus, Truro, Falmouth, are all places of mark and note,
and have all certain curiosities and sights of their own to interest the inquisitive tourist; but,
nevertheless, not one of them “meddled” with me in the course of my rambles, and acting on
Sterne’s excellent principle, I purpose “letting them alone” now. In other words, the several
towns and villages that I have enumerated, though presenting much that was generally
picturesque and attractive in the way of old buildings and pretty scenery, exhibited little that
was distinctive or original in character; produced therefore rather pleasant than vivid
impressions; and would by no means suggest any very original series of descriptions to fill the
pages of a book which is confined to such subjects only as are most exclusively and strikingly
The town of Helston, where we now halt for the first time since we left the Cheese–Wring
and St. Cleer’s Well, might, if tested by its own merits alone, be passed over as
unceremoniously as the towns already passed over before it. Its principal recommendation, in
the opinion of the inhabitants, appeared to be that it was the residence of several very
“genteel families,” who have certainly not communicated much of their gentility to the lower
orders of the population — a riotous and drunken set, the only bad specimens of Cornish
people that I met with in Cornwall. The streets of Helston are a trifle larger and a trifle duller
than the streets of Liskeard; the church is comparatively modern in date, and superlatively
ugly in design. A miserable altar-piece, daubed in gaudy colours on the window above the
communion-table, is the only approach to any attempt at embellishment in the interior. In
short, the town has nothing to offer to attract the stranger, but a public festival — a sort of
barbarous carnival — held there annually on the 8th of May. This festival is said to be of very
ancient origin, and is called “The Furry”— an old Cornish word, signifying a gathering; and, at
Helston particularly, a gathering in celebration of the return of spring. The Furry begins early in
the morning with singing, to an accompaniment of drums and kettles. All the people in the
town immediately leave off work and scamper into the country; having reached which, they
scamper back again, garlanded with leaves and flowers, and caper about hand-inhand
through the streets, and in and out of all the houses, without let or hindrance. Even the
“genteel” resident families allow themselves to be infected with the general madness, and
wind up the day’s capering consistently enough by a night’s capering at a grand ball. A full
account of these extraordinary absurdities may be found in Polwhele’s “History of Cornwall.”
But, though thus uninteresting in itself, Helston must be visited by every tourist in
Cornwall for the sake of the grand, the almost unrivalled scenery to be met with near it. The
town is not only the best starting-point from which to explore the noble line of coast rocks
which ends at the Lizard Head; but possesses the further recommendation of lying in the
immediate vicinity of the largest lake in Cornwall — Loo Pool.
The banks of Loo Pool stretch on either side to the length of two miles; the lake, which insummer occupies little more than half the space that it covers in winter, is formed by the flow
of two or three small streams. You first reach it from Helston, after a walk of half a mile; and
then see before you, on either hand, long ranges of hills rising gently from the water’s edge,
covered with clustering trees, or occupied by wide cornfields and sloping tracts of common
land. So far, the scenery around Loo Pool resembles the scenery around other lakes; but as
you proceed, the view changes in the most striking and extraordinary manner. Walking on
along the winding banks of the pool, you taste the water and find it soft and fresh, you see
ducks swimming about in it from the neighbouring farm-houses, you watch the rising of the
fine trout for which it is celebrated — every object tends to convince you that you are
wandering by the shores of an inland lake — when suddenly at a turn in the hill slope, you are
startled by the shrill cry of the gull, and the fierce roar of breakers thunders on your ear —
you look over the light grey waters of the lake, and behold, stretching immediately above and
beyond them, the expanse of the deep blue ocean, from which they are only separated by a
strip of smooth white sand!
You hurry on, and reach this bar of sand which parts the great English Channel and the
little Loo Pool — a child might run across it in a minute! You stand in the centre. On one side,
close at hand, water is dancing beneath the breeze in glassy, tiny ripples; on the other,
equally close, water rolls in mighty waves, precipitated on the ground in dashing, hissing,
writhing floods of the whitest foam — here, children are floating mimic boats on a mimic sea;
there, the stateliest ships of England are sailing over the great deep — both scenes visible in
one view. Rocky cliffs and arid sands appear in close combination with rounded fertile hills,
and long grassy slopes; salt spray leaping over the first, spring-water lying calm beneath the
last! No fairy vision of Nature that ever was imagined is more fantastic, or more lovely than
this glorious reality, which brings all the most widely contrasted characteristics of a sea view
and an inland view into the closest contact, and presents them in one harmonious picture to
the eye.
The ridge of sand between Loo Pool and the sea, which, by impeding the flow of the
inland streams spreads them in the form of a lake over the valley-ground between two hills, is
formed by the action of storms from the south-west. Such, at least, is the modern explanation
of the manner in which Loo Bar has been heaped up. But there is an ancient legend in
connexion with it, which, tells a widely different story.
It is said that the terrible Cornish giant, or ogre, Tregeagle, was trudging homewards one
day, carrying a huge sack of sand on his back, which — being a giant of neat and cleanly
habits — he designed should serve him for sprinkling his parlour floor. As he was passing
along the top of the hills which now overlook Loo Pool, he heard a sound of scampering
footsteps behind him; and, turning round, saw that he was hotly pursued by no less a person
than the devil himself. Big as he was, Tregeagle lost heart and ignominiously took to his heels:
but the devil ran nimbly, ran steadily, ran without losing breath — ran, in short, like the devil.
Tregeagle was fat, short-winded, had a load on his back, and lost ground at every step. At
last, just as he reached the seaward extremity of the hills, he determined in despair to lighten
himself of his burden, and thus to seize the only chance of escaping his enemy by superior
fleetness of foot. Accordingly, he opened his huge sack in a great hurry, shook out all his sand
over the precipice, between the sea and the river which then ran into it, and so formed in a
moment the Bar of Loo Pool.
In the winter time, the lake is the cause and the scene of an extraordinary ceremony.
The heavy incessant rains which then fall (ice is almost unknown in the moist climate of
Cornwall), increase day by day the waters of the Pool, until they encroach over the whole of
the low flat valley between Helston and the sea. Then, the smooth paths of turf, the little
streams that run by their side — so pleasant to look on in the summer time — are hidden by
the great overflow. Mill-wheels are stopped; cottages built on the declivities of the hill are
threatened with inundation. Out on the bar, at high tide, but two or three feet of sand appearbetween the stormy sea on the one hand, and the stagnant swollen lake on the other. If Loo
Pool were measured now, it would be found to extend to a circumference of seven miles.
When the flooding of the lake has reached its climax, the millers, who are the principal
sufferers by the overflow, prepare to cut a passage through the Bar for the superabundant
waters of the Pool. Before they can do this, however, they must conform to a curious old
custom which has been practised for centuries, and is retained down to the present day.
Procuring two stout leathern purses, they tie up three halfpence in each, and then set off with
them in a body to the Lord of the Manor. Presenting him with their purses, they state their
case with all due formality, and request permission to cut their trench through the sand. In
consideration of the threepenny recognition of his rights, the Lord of the Manor graciously
accedes to the petition; and the millers, armed with their spades and shovels, start for the
Their projected labour is of the slightest kind. A mere ditch suffices to establish the
desired communication: and the water does the rest for itself. On one occasion, so high was
the tide on one side, and so full the lake on the other, that a man actually scraped away sand
enough with his stick, to give vent to the waters of the Pool. Thus, after no very hard work,
the millers achieve their object; and the spectators watching on the hill, behold a startling and
magnificent scene.
Tearing away the sand on either side, floods of fresh water rush out furiously against
floods of salt water leaping in, upheaved into mighty waves by the winter gale. A foaming
roaring battle between two opposing forces of the same element takes place. The noise is
terrific — it is heard like thunder, at great distances off. At last, the heavy, smooth, continuous
flow of the fresh water prevails even over the power of the ocean. Farther and farther out,
rushing through a wider and wider channel every minute, pour the great floods from the land,
until the salt water is stained with an ochre colour, over a surface of twenty miles. But their
force is soon spent: soon, the lake sinks lower and lower away from the slope of the hills.
Then, with the high tide, the sea reappears triumphantly, dashing and leaping, in clouds of
spray, through the channel in the sand — making the waters of the Pool brackish — now,
threatening to swell them anew to overflowing — and now, at the ebb, leaving them to empty
themselves again, in the manner of a great tidal river. No new change takes place, until a
storm from the south-west comes on; and then, fresh masses of sand and shingle are forced
up — the channel is refilled — the bar is reconstructed as if by a miracle. Again, the scene
resumes its old features — again, there is a sea on one side, and a lake on the other. But
now, the Pool occupies only its ordinary limits — now, the mill-wheels turn busily once more,
and the smooth paths and gliding streams reappear in their former beauty, until the next
winter rains shall come round, and the next winter floods shall submerge them again.
At the time when I visited the lake, its waters were unusually low. Here, they ran calm
and shallow, into little, glassy, flowery creeks, that looked like fairies’ bathing places. There,
out in the middle, they hardly afforded depth enough for a duck to swim in. Near to the Bar,
however, they spread forth wider and deeper; finely contrasted, in their dun colour and perfect
repose, with the flashing foaming breakers on the other side. The surf forbade all hope of
swimming; but, standing where the spent waves ran up deepest, and where the spray flew
highest before the wind, I could take a natural shower-bath from the sea, in one direction; and
the next moment, turning round in the other, could wash the sand off my feet luxuriously in
the soft, fresh waters of Loo Pool.
Chapter 6 — The Lizard

We had waited throughout one long rainy day at Helston —“remote, unfriended,
melancholy, slow”— for a chance of finer weather before we started to explore the Lizard
promontory. But our patience availed us little. The next morning, there was the soft, thick,
misty Cornish rain still falling, just as it had already fallen without cessation for twenty-four
hours. To wait longer, in perfect inactivity, and in the dullest of towns — doubtful whether the
sky would clear even in a week’s time — was beyond mortal endurance. We shouldered our
knapsacks, and started for the Lizard in defiance of rain, and in defiance of our landlady’s
reiterated assertions that we should lose our way in the mist, when we walked inland; and
should slip into invisible holes, and fall over fog-veiled precipices among the rocks, if we
ventured to approach the coast.
What sort of scenery we walked through, I am unable to say. The rain was above — the
mud was below — the mist was all around us. The few objects, near at hand, that we did now
and then see, dripped with wet, and had a shadowy visionary look. Sometimes, we met a
forlorn cow steaming composedly by the roadside — or an old horse, standing up to his
fetlocks in mire, and sneezing vociferously — or a good-humoured peasant, who directed us
on our road, and informed us with a grin, that this sort of “fine rain” often lasted for a fortnight.
Sometimes we passed little villages built in damp holes, where trees, cottages, women
scampering backwards and forwards peevishly on domestic errands, big boys with empty
sacks over their heads and shoulders, gossiping gloomily against barn walls, and
illconditioned pigs grunting for admission at closed kitchen doors, all looked soaked through and
through together. Nothing, in short, could be more dreary and comfortless than our walk for
the first two hours. But, after that, as we approached “Lizard Town,” the clouds began to part
to seaward; layer after layer of mist drove past us, rolling before the wind; peeps of faint
greenish-blue sky appeared and enlarged apace. By the time we had arrived at our
destination, a white, watery sunlight was falling over the wet landscape. The prognostications
of our Cornish friends were pleasantly falsified. A fine day was in store for us after all.
The man who first distinguished the little group of cottages that we now looked on, by the
denomination of Lizard Town, must have possessed magnificent ideas indeed on the subject
of nomenclature. If the place looked like anything in the world, it looked like a large collection
of farm out-buildings without a farm-house. Muddy little lanes intersecting each other at every
possible angle; rickety little cottages turned about to all the points of the compass; ducks,
geese, cocks, hens, pigs, cows, horses, dunghills, puddles, sheds, peat-stacks, timber, nets,
seemed to be all indiscriminately huddled together where there was little or no room for them.
To find the inn amid this confusion of animate and inanimate objects, was no easy matter; and
when we at length discovered it, pushed our way through the live stock in the garden, and
opened the kitchen door, this was the scene which burst instantaneously on our view:—
We beheld a small room literally full of babies, and babies’ mothers. Interesting infants of
the tenderest possible age, draped in long clothes and short clothes, and shawls and blankets,
met the eye wherever it turned. We saw babies propped up uncomfortably on the dresser,
babies rocking snugly in wicker cradles, babies stretched out flat on their backs on women’s
knees, babies prone on the floor toasting before a slow fire. Every one of these Cornish
cherubs was crying in every variety of vocal key. Every one of their affectionate parents was
talking at the top of her voice. Every one of their little elder brothers was screaming,
squabbling, and tumbling down in the passage with prodigious energy and spirit. The mothers
of England — and they only — can imagine the deafening and composite character of the
noise which this large family party produced. To describe it is impossible.Ere long, while we looked on it, the domestic scene began to change. Even as porters,
policemen, and workmen of all sorts, gathered together on the line of rails at a station, move
aside quickly and with one accord out of the way of the heavy engine slowly starting on its
journey — so did the congregated mothers in the inn kitchen now move back on either hand
with their babies, and clear a path for the great bulk of the hostess leisurely advancing from
the fireside, to greet us at the door. From this most corpulent and complaisant of women, we
received a hearty welcome, and a full explanation of the family orgies that were taking place
under her roof. The great public meeting of all the babies in Lizard Town and the neighbouring
villages, on which we had intruded, had been convened by the local doctor, who had got down
from London, what the landlady termed a “lot of fine fresh matter,” and was now about to
strike a decisive blow at the small-pox, by vaccinating all the babies he could lay his hands on
at “one fell swoop.” The surgical ceremonies were expected to begin in a few minutes.
This last piece of information sent us out of the house without a moment’s delay. The
sunlight had brightened gloriously since we had last beheld it — the rain was over — the mist
was gone. But a short distance before us, rose the cliffs at the Lizard Head — the
southernmost land in England — and to this point we now hastened, as the fittest spot from
which to start on our rambles along the coast.
On our way thither, short as it was, we observed a novelty. In the South and West of
Cornwall, the footpaths, instead of leading through or round the fields, are all on the top of the
thick stone walls — some four feet high — which divide them. This curious arrangement for
walking gives a startling and picturesque character to the figures of the country people, when
you see them at a distance, striding along, not on the earth but above it, and often relieved
throughout the whole length of their bodies against the sky. Preserving our equilibrium, on
these elevated pathways, with some difficulty against the strong south-west wind that was
now blowing in our faces, we soon reached the topmost rocks that crown the Lizard Head:
and then, the whole noble line of coast and the wild stormy ocean opened grandly into view.
On each side of us, precipice over precipice, cavern within cavern, rose the great cliffs
protecting the land against the raging sea. Three hundred feet beneath, the foam was boiling
far out over a reef of black rocks. Above and around, flocks of sea-birds flew in ever
lengthening circles, or perched flapping their wings and sunning their plumage, on ledges of
riven stone below us. Every object forming the wide sweep of the view was on the vastest and
most majestic scale. The wild varieties of form in the jagged line of rocks stretched away
eastward and westward, as far as the eye could reach; black shapeless masses of mist
scowled over the whole landward horizon; the bright blue sky at the opposite point was
covered with towering white clouds which moved and changed magnificently; the tossing and
raging of the great bright sea was sublimely contrasted by the solitude and tranquillity of the
desert, overshadowed land — while ever and ever, sounding as they first sounded when the
morning stars sang together, the rolling waves and the rushing wind pealed out their primeval
music over the whole scene!
And now, when we began to examine the coast more in detail, inquiring the names of
remarkable objects as we proceeded, we found ourselves in a country where each succeeding
spot that the traveller visited, was memorable for some mighty convulsion of Nature, or
tragically associated with some gloomy story of shipwreck and death. Turning from the Lizard
Head towards a cliff at some little distance, we passed through a field on our way, overgrown
with sweet-smelling wild flowers, and broken up into low grassy mounds. This place is called
“Pistol Meadow,” and is connected with a terrible event which is still spoken of by the country
people with superstitious awe.
Some hundred years since, a transport-ship, filled with troops, was wrecked on the reef
off the Lizard Head. Two men only were washed ashore alive. Out of the fearful number that
perished, two hundred corpses were driven up on the beach below Pistol Meadow; and there
they were buried by tens and twenties together in great pits, the position of which is stillrevealed by the low irregular mounds that chequer the surface of the field. The place was
named, in remembrance of the quantity of fire-arms — especially pistols — found about the
wreck of the ill-fated ship, at low tide, on the reef below the cliffs. To this day, the peasantry
continue to regard Pistol Meadow with feelings of awe and horror, and fear to walk near the
graves of the drowned men at night. Nor have many of the inhabitants yet forgotten a
revolting circumstance connected by traditional report with the burial of the corpses after the
shipwreck. It is said, that when dead bodies were first washed ashore, troops of ferocious,
half-starved dogs suddenly appeared from the surrounding country, and could with difficulty
be driven from preying on the mangled remains that were cast up on the beach. Ever since
that period, the peasantry have been reported as holding the dog in abhorrence. Whether this
be true or not, it is certainly a rare adventure to meet with a dog in the Lizard district. You
may walk through farm-yard after farm-yard, you may enter cottage after cottage, and never
hear any barking at your heels — you may pass, on the road, labourer after labourer, and yet
never find one of them accompanied, as in other parts of the country, by his favourite
attendant cur.
Leaving Pistol Meadow, after gathering a few of the wild herbs growing fragrant and
plentiful over the graves of the dead, we turned our steps towards the Lizard Lighthouse. As
we passed before the front of the large and massive building, our progress was suddenly and
startlingly checked by a hideous chasm in the cliff, sunk to a perpendicular depth of seventy
feet, and measuring more than a hundred in circumference. Nothing prepares the stranger for
this great gulf; no railing is placed about it; it lies hidden by rising land, and the earth all
around is treacherously smooth. The first moment when you see it, is the moment when you
start back instinctively from its edge, doubtful whether the hole has not yawned open in that
very instant before your feet.
This chasm — melodramatically entitled by the people, “The Lion’s Den”— was formed in
an extraordinary manner, not many years since. In the evening the whole surface of the down
above the cliff was smooth to the eye, and firm to the foot — in the morning it had opened
into an enormous hole. The men who kept watch at the Lighthouse, heard no sounds beyond
the moaning of the sea — felt no shock — looked out on the night, and saw that all was
apparently still and quiet. Nature suffered her convulsion and effected her change in silence.
Hundreds on hundreds of tons of soil had sunk down into depths beneath them, none knew in
how long, or how short a time; but there the Lion’s Den was in the morning, where the firm
earth had been the evening before.
The explanation of the manner in which this curious landslip occurred, is to be found by
descending the face of the cliff, beyond the Lion’s Den, and entering a cavern in the rocks,
called “Daw’s Hugo” (or Cave). The place is only accessible at low water. Passing from the
beach through the opening of the cavern, you find yourself in a lofty, tortuous recess, into the
farthest extremity of which, a stream of light pours down from some eighty or a hundred feet
above. This light is admitted through the Lion’s Den, and thus explains by itself the nature of
the accident by which that chasm was formed. Here, the weight of the upper soil broke
through the roof of the cave; and the earth which then fell into it, was subsequently washed
away by the sea, which fills Daw’s Hugo at every flow of the tide. It has lately been noticed
that the loose particles of ground at the bottom of the Lion’s Den, still continue to sink
gradually through the narrow, slanting passage into the cave already formed; and it is
expected that in no very long time the lower extremity of the chasm will widen so far, as to
make the sea plainly visible through it from above. At present, the effect of the two streams of
light pouring into Daw’s Hugo from two opposite directions — one from the Lion’s Den, the
other from the seaward opening in the rocks — and falling together, in cross directions on the
black rugged walls of the cave and the beautiful marine ferns growing from them, is
supernaturally striking and grand. Here, Rembrandt would have loved to study; for here, even
his sublime perception of the poetry of light and shade might have received a new impulse,and learned from the teaching of Nature one immortal lesson more.
Daw’s Hugo and the Lion’s Den may be fairly taken as characteristic types of the whole
coast scenery about the Lizard Head, in its general aspects. Great caves and greater
landslips are to be seen both eastward and westward. In calm weather you may behold the
long prospects of riven rock, in their finest combination, from a boat. At such times, you may
row into vast caverns, always filled by the sea, and only to be approached when the waves
ripple as calmly as the waters of a lake. Then, you may see the naturally arched roof high
above you, adorned in the loveliest manner by marine plants waving to and fro gently in the
wind. Rocky walls are at each side of you, variegated in dark red and dark green colours —
now advancing, now receding, now winding in and out, now rising straight and lofty, until their
termination is hid in a pitch-dark obscurity which no man has ever ventured to fathom to its
end. Beneath, is the emerald-green sea, so still and clear that you can behold the white sand
far below, and can watch the fish gliding swiftly and stealthily out and in: while, all around, thin
drops of moisture are dripping from above, like rain, into the deep quiet water below, with a
monotonous echoing sound which half oppresses and half soothes the ear, at the same time.
On stormy days your course is different. Then, you wander along the summits of the
cliffs; and looking down, through the hedges of tamarisk and myrtle that skirt the ends of the
fields, see the rocks suddenly broken away beneath you into an immense shelving
amphitheatre, on the floor of which the sea boils in fury, rushing through natural archways and
narrow rifts. Beyond them, at intervals as the waves fall, you catch glimpses of the brilliant
blue main ocean, and the outer reefs stretching into it. Often, such wild views as these are
relieved from monotony by the prospect of smooth cornfields and pasture-lands, or by pretty
little fishing villages perched among the rocks — each with its small group of boats drawn up
on a slip of sandy beach, and its modest, tiny gardens rising one above another, wherever the
slope is gentle, and the cliff beyond rises high to shelter them from the winter winds.
But the place at which the coast scenery of the Lizard district arrives at its climax of
grandeur is Kynance Cove. Here, such gigantic specimens are to be seen of the most
beautiful of all varieties of rock — the “serpentine”— as are unrivalled in Cornwall; perhaps,
unrivalled anywhere. A walk of two miles along the westward cliffs from Lizard Town, brought
us to the top of a precipice of three hundred feet. Looking forward from this, we saw the white
sand of Kynance Cove stretching out in a half circle into the sea.
What a scene was now presented to us! It was a perfect palace of rocks! Some rose
perpendicularly and separate from each other, in the shapes of pyramids and steeples —
some were overhanging at the top and pierced with dark caverns at the bottom — some were
stretched horizontally on the sand, here studded with pools of water, there broken into natural
archways. No one of these rocks resembled another in shape, size, or position — and all, at
the moment when we looked on them, were wrapped in the solemn obscurity of a deep mist;
a mist which shadowed without concealing them, which exaggerated their size, and, hiding all
the cliffs beyond, presented them sublimely as separate and solitary objects in the sea-view.
It was now necessary, however, to occupy as little time as possible in contemplating
Kynance Cove from a distance; for if we desired to explore it, immediate advantage was to be
taken of the state of the tide, which was already rapidly ebbing. Hurriedly descending the
cliffs, therefore, we soon reached the sand: and here, leaving my companion to sketch, I set
forth to wander among the rocks, doubtful whither to turn my steps first. While still hesitating, I
was fortunate enough to meet with a guide, whose intelligence and skill well deserve such
record as I can give of them here; for, to the former I was indebted for much local information
and anecdote, and to the latter, for quitting Kynance Cove with all my limbs in as sound a
condition as when I first approached it.
The guide introduced himself to me by propounding a sort of stranger’s catechism. 1st.
“Did I want to see everything?”—“Certainly.” 2nd. “Was I giddy on the tops of high
places?”—“No.” 3rd. “Would I be so good, if I got into a difficulty anywhere, as to take it easy,and catch hold of him tight?”—“Yes, very tight!” With these answers the guide appeared to be
satisfied. He gave his hat a smart knock with one hand, to fix it on his head; and pointing
upwards with the other, said, “We’ll try that rock first, to look into the gulls’ nests, and get
some wild asparagus.” And away we went accordingly.
We mount the side of an immense rock which projects far out into the sea, and is the
largest of the surrounding group. It is called Asparagus Island, from the quantity of wild
asparagus growing among the long grass on its summit. Half way up, we cross an ugly
chasm. The guide points to a small chink or crevice, barely discernible in one side of it, and
says “Devil’s Bellows!” Then, first courteously putting my toes for me into a comfortable little
hole in the perpendicular rock side, which just fits them, he proceeds to explain himself.
Through the base of the opposite extremity of the island there is a natural channel, into which
the sea rushes furiously at high tide: and finding no other vent but the little crevice we now
look down on, is expelled through it in long, thin jets of spray, with a roaring noise resembling
the sound of a gigantic bellows at work. But the sea is not yet high enough to exhibit this
phenomenon, so the guide takes my toes out of the hole again for me, just as politely as he
put them in; and forthwith leads the way up higher still — expounding as he goes, the whole
art and mystery of climbing, which he condenses into this axiom:—“Never loose one hand, till
you’ve got a grip with the other; and never scramble your toes about, where toes have no
business to be.”
At last we reach the topmost ridge of the island, and look down upon the white restless
water far beneath, and peep into one or two deserted gulls’ nests, and gather wild asparagus
— which I can only describe as bearing no resemblance at all, that I could discover, to the
garden species. Then, the guide points to another perpendicular rock, farther out at sea,
looming dark and phantom-like in the mist, and tells me that he was the man who built the
cairn of stones on its top: and then he proposes that we shall go to the opposite extremity of
the ridge on which we stand, and look down into “The Devil’s Throat.”
This desirable journey is accomplished with the greatest ease on his part, and with
considerable difficulty and delay on mine — for the wind blows fiercely over us on the height;
our rock track is narrow, rugged, and slippery; the sea roars bewilderingly below; and a single
false step would not be attended with agreeable consequences. Soon, however, we begin to
descend a little from our “bad eminence,” and come to a halt before a wide, tunnelled
opening, slanting sharply downwards in the very middle of the island — a black, gaping hole,
into the bottom of which the sea is driven through some unknown subterranean channel,
roaring and thundering with a fearful noise, which rises in hollow echoes through the
aptlynamed “Devil’s Throat.” About this hole no grass grew: the rocks rose wild, jagged, and
precipitous, all around it. If ever the ghastly imagery of Dante’s terrible “Vision” was realized
on earth, it was realized here.
At this place, close to the mouth of the hole, the guide suggests that we shall sit down
and have a little talk! — and very impressive talk it is, when he begins the conversation by
bawling into my ear (and down the Devil’s Throat at the same time) to make himself heard
above the fierce roaring beneath us. Now, his tale is of tremendous jets of water which he has
seen, during the storms of winter, shot out of the hole before which we sit, into the creek of
the sea below — now, he tells me of a shipwreck off Asparagus Island, of half-drowned sailors
floating ashore on pieces of timber, and dashed out to sea again just as they touched the
strand, by a jet from the Devil’s Throat — now, he points away in the opposite direction, under
one of the steeple-shaped rocks, and speaks of a chase after smugglers that began from this
place; a desperate chase, in which some of the smugglers’ cargo, but not one of the
smugglers themselves, was seized — now, he talks of another great hole in the landward
rocks, where the sea may be seen boiling within: a hole into which a man who was fishing for
fragments of a wreck fell and was drowned; his body being sucked away through some
invisible channel, never to be seen again by mortal eyes.Anon, the guide’s talk changes from tragedy to comedy. He begins to recount odd
adventures of his own with strangers. He tells me of a huge fat woman who was got up to the
top of Asparagus Island, by the easiest path, and by the exertions of several guides; who, left
to herself, gasped, reeled, and fell down immediately; and was just rolling off, with all the
momentum of sixteen stone, over the precipice below her, when she was adroitly caught, and
anchored fast to the ground, by the ankle of one leg and the calf of the other. Then he speaks
of an elderly gentleman, who, while descending the rocks with him, suddenly stopped short at
the most dangerous point, giddy and panic-stricken, pouring forth death-bed confessions of all
his sins, and wildly refusing to move another inch in any direction. Even this man the guide got
down in safety at last, by making stepping places of his hands, on which the elderly gentleman
lowered himself as on a ladder, ejaculating incoherently all the way, and trembling in great
agony long after he had been safely landed on the sands.
This last story ended, it is settled that we shall descend again to the beach. Stimulated
by the ease with which my worthy leader goes down beneath me, I get over-confident in my
dexterity, and begin to slip here, and slide there, and come to awkward pauses at precipitous
places, in what would be rather an alarming manner, but for the potent presence of the guide,
who is always beneath me, ready to be fallen upon. Sometimes, when I am holding on with all
the necessary tenacity of grip, as regards my hands, but, “scrambling my toes about” in a
very disorderly and unworkmanlike fashion, he pops his head up from below for me to sit on;
and puts my feet into crevices for me, with many apologies for taking the liberty! Sometimes, I
fancy myself treading on what feels like soft turf; I look down, and find that I am standing like
an acrobat on his shoulders, and hear him civilly entreating me to take hold of his jacket next,
and let myself down over his body to the ledge where he is waiting for me. He never makes a
false step, never stumbles, scrambles, hesitates, or fails to have a hand always at my service.
The nautical metaphor of “holding on by your eyelids” becomes a fact in his case. He really
views his employer, as porters are expected to view a package labelled “glass with care.” I am
firmly persuaded that he could take a drunken man up and down Asparagus Island, without
the slightest risk either to himself or his charge; and I hold him in no small admiration, when,
after landing on the sand with something between a tumble and a jump, I find him raising me
to my perpendicular almost before I have touched the ground, and politely hoping that I feel
quite satisfied, hitherto, with his conduct as a guide.
We now go across the beach to explore some caves — dry at low water — on the
opposite side. Some of these are wide, lofty, and well-lighted from without. We walk in and out
and around them, as if in great, irregular, Gothic halls. Some are narrow and dark. Now, we
crawl into them on hands and knees; now, we wriggle onward a few feet, serpent-like, flat on
our bellies; now, we are suddenly able to stand upright in pitch darkness, hearing faint
moaning sounds of pent-up winds, when we are silent, and long reverberations of our own
voices, when we speak. Then, as we turn and crawl out again, we soon see before us one
bright speck of light that may be fancied miles and miles away — a star shining in the earth —
a diamond sparkling in the bosom of the rock. This guides us out again pleasantly; and, on
gaining the open air, we find that while we have been groping in the darkness, a change has
been taking place in the regions of light, which has altered and is still altering the aspect of the
whole scene.
It is now two o’clock. The tide is rising fast; the sea dashes, in higher and higher waves,
on the narrowing beach. Rain and mist are both gone. Overhead, the clouds are falling
asunder in every direction, assuming strange momentary shapes, quaint airy resemblances of
the forms of the great rocks among which we stand. Height after height along the distant cliffs
dawns on us gently; great golden rays shoot down over them; far out on the ocean, the
waters flash into a streak of fire; the sails of ships passing there, glitter bright; yet a moment
more, and the glorious sunlight bursts out over the whole view. The sea changes soon from
dull grey to bright blue, embroidered thickly with golden specks, as it rolls and rushes anddances in the wind. The sand at our feet grows brighter and purer to the eye; the sea-birds
flying and swooping above us, look like flashes of white light against the blue firmament; and,
most beautiful of all, the wet serpentine rocks now shine forth in full splendour beneath the
sun; every one of their exquisite varieties of colour becomes plainly visible — silver grey and
bright yellow, dark red, deep brown, and malachite green appear, here combined in thin
intertwined streaks, there outspread in separate irregular patches — glorious ornaments of
the sea-shore, fashioned by no human art! — Nature’s own home-made jewellery, which the
wear of centuries has failed to tarnish, and the rage of tempests has been powerless to
But the hour wanes while we stand and admire; the surf dashes nearer and nearer to our
feet; soon, the sea will cover the sand, and rush swiftly into the caves where we have slowly
crawled. Already the Devil’s Bellows is at work — the jets of spray spout forth from it with a
roar. The sea thunders louder and louder in the Devil’s Throat — we must gain the cliffs while
we have yet time. The guide takes his leave; my companion unwillingly closes his
sketchbook; and we slowly ascend on our inland way together — looking back often and often, with
no feigned regret, on all that we are leaving behind us at KYNANCE COVE.
Chapter 7 — The Pilchard Fishery

If it so happened that a stranger in Cornwall went out to take his first walk along the cliffs
towards the south of the county, in the month of August, that stranger could not advance far
in any direction without witnessing what would strike him as a very singular and alarming
He would see a man standing on the extreme edge of a precipice, just over the sea,
gesticulating in a very remarkable manner, with a bush in his hand; waving it to the right and
the left, brandishing it over his head, sweeping it past his feet — in short, apparently acting
the part of a maniac of the most dangerous character. It would add considerably to the
startling effect of this sight on the stranger, if he were told, while beholding it, that the insane
individual before him was paid for flourishing the bush at the rate of a guinea a week. And if
he, thereupon, advanced a little to obtain a nearer view of the madman, and then observed on
the sea below (as he certainly might) a well-manned boat, turning carefully to right and left
exactly as the bush turned right and left, his mystification would probably be complete, and
the right time would arrive to come to his rescue with a few charitable explanatory words. He
would then learn that the man with the bush was an important agent in the Pilchard Fishery of
Cornwall; that he had just discovered a shoal of pilchards swimming towards the land; and
that the men in the boat were guided by his gesticulations alone, in securing the fish on which
they and all their countrymen on the coast depend for a livelihood.
To begin, however, with the pilchards themselves, as forming one of the staple
commercial commodities of Cornwall. They may be, perhaps, best described as bearing a
very close resemblance to the herring, but as being rather smaller in size and having larger
scales. Where they come from before they visit the Cornish coast — where those that escape
the fishermen go to when they quit it, is unknown; or, at best, only vaguely conjectured. All
that is certain about them is, that they are met with, swimming past the Scilly Isles, as early
as July (when they are caught with a drift-net). They then advance inland in August, during
which month the principal, or “inshore,” fishing begins; visit different parts of the coast until
October or November; and after that disappear until the next year. They may be sometimes
caught off the south-west part of Devonshire, and are occasionally to be met with near the
southernmost coast of Ireland; but beyond these two points they are never seen on any other
portion of the shores of Great Britain, either before they approach Cornwall, or after they have
left it.
The first sight from the cliffs of a shoal of pilchards advancing towards the land, is not a
little interesting. They produce on the sea the appearance of the shadow of a dark cloud. This
shadow comes on and on, until you can see the fish leaping and playing on the surface by
thousands at a time, all huddled close together, and all approaching so near to the shore, that
they can be always caught in some fifty or sixty feet of water. Indeed, on certain occasions,
when the shoals are of considerable magnitude, the fish behind have been known to force the
fish before, literally up to the beach, so that they could be taken in buckets, or even in the
hand with the greatest ease. It is said that they are thus impelled to approach the land by
precisely the same necessity which impels the fishermen to catch them as they appear — the
necessity of getting food.
With the discovery of the first shoal, the active duties of the “look-out” on the cliffs begin.
Each fishing-village places one or more of these men on the watch all round the coast. They
are called “huers,” a word said to be derived from the old French verb, huer, to call out, to
give an alarm. On the vigilance and skill of the “huer” much depends. He is, therefore, not
only paid his guinea a week while he is on the watch, but receives, besides, a perquisite in theshape of a percentage on the produce of all the fish taken under his auspices. He is placed at
his post, where he can command an uninterrupted view of the sea, some days before the
pilchards are expected to appear; and, at the same time, boats, nets, and men are all ready
for action at a moment’s notice.
The principal boat used is at least fifteen tons in burden, and carries a large net called
the “seine,” which measures a hundred and ninety fathoms in length, and costs a hundred and
seventy pounds — sometimes more. It is simply one long strip, from eleven to thirteen
fathoms in breadth, composed of very small meshes, and furnished, all along its length, with
lead at one side and corks at the other. The men who cast this net are called the “shooters,”
and receive eleven shillings and sixpence a week, and a perquisite of one basket of fish each
out of every haul.
As soon as the “huer” discerns the first appearance of a shoal, he waves his bush. The
signal is conveyed to the beach immediately by men and boys watching near him. The “seine”
boat (accompanied by another small boat, to assist in casting the net) is rowed out where he
can see it. Then there is a pause, a hush of great expectation on all sides. Meanwhile, the
devoted pilchards press on — a compact mass of thousands on thousands of fish, swimming
to meet their doom. All eyes are fixed on the “huer;” he stands watchful and still, until the
shoal is thoroughly embayed, in water which he knows to be within the depth of the “seine”
net. Then, as the fish begin to pause in their progress, and gradually crowd closer and closer
together, he gives the signal; the boats come up, and the “seine” net is cast, or, in the
technical phrase “shot,” overboard.
The grand object is now to enclose the entire shoal. The leads sink one end of the net
perpendicularly to the ground; the corks buoy up the other to the surface of the water. When it
has been taken all round the fish, the two extremities are made fast, and the shoal is then
imprisoned within an oblong barrier of network surrounding it on all sides. The great art is to
let as few of the pilchards escape as possible, while this process is being completed.
Whenever the “huer” observes from above that they are startled, and are separating at any
particular point, to that point he waves his bush, thither the boats are steered, and there the
net is “shot” at once. In whatever direction the fish attempt to get out to sea again, they are
thus immediately met and thwarted with extraordinary readiness and skill. This labour
completed, the silence of intense expectation that has hitherto prevailed among the spectators
on the cliff, is broken. There is a great shout of joy on all sides — the shoal is secured!
The “seine’” is now regarded as a great reservoir of fish. It may remain in the water a
week or more. To secure it against being moved from its position in case a gale should come
on, it is warped by two or three ropes to points of land in the cliff, and is, at the same time,
contracted in circuit, by its opposite ends being brought together, and fastened tight over a
length of several feet. While these operations are in course of performance, another boat,
another set of men, and another net (different in form from the “seine”) are approaching the
scene of action.
This new net is called the “tuck;” it is smaller than the “seine,” inside which it is now to be
let down for the purpose of bringing the fish closely collected to the surface. The men who
manage this net are termed “regular seiners.” They receive ten shillings a week, and the same
perquisite as the “shooters.” Their boat is first of all rowed inside the seine-net, and laid close
to the seine-boat, which remains stationary outside, and to the bows of which one rope at one
end of the “tuck-net” is fastened. The “tuck” boat then slowly makes the inner circuit of the
“seine,” the smaller net being dropped overboard as she goes, and attached at intervals to the
larger. To prevent the fish from getting between the two nets during this operation, they are
frightened into the middle of the enclosure by beating the water, at proper places, with oars,
and heavy stones fastened to ropes. When the “tuck” net has at length travelled round the
whole circle of the “seine,” and is securely fastened to the “seine” boat, at the end as it was at
the beginning, everything is ready for the great event of the day, the hauling of the fish to thesurface.
Now, the scene on shore and sea rises to a prodigious pitch of excitement. The
merchants, to whom the boats and nets belong, and by whom the men are employed, join the
“huer” on the cliff; all their friends follow them; boys shout, dogs bark madly; every little boat in
the place puts off, crammed with idle spectators; old men and women hobble down to the
beach to wait for the news. The noise, the bustle, and the agitation, increase every moment.
Soon the shrill cheering of the boys is joined by the deep voices of the “seiners.” There they
stand, six or eight stalwart sunburnt fellows, ranged in a row in the “seine” boat, hauling with
all their might at the “tuck” net, and roaring the regular nautical “Yo-heave-ho!” in chorus!
Higher and higher rises the net, louder and louder shout the boys and the idlers. The
merchant forgets his dignity, and joins them; the “huer,” so calm and collected hitherto, loses
his self-possession and waves his cap triumphantly; even you and I, reader, uninitiated
spectators though we are, catch the infection, and cheer away with the rest, as if our bread
depended on the event of the next few minutes. “Hooray! hooray! Yo-hoy, hoy, hoy! Pull
away, boys! Up she comes! Here they are! Here they are!” The water boils and eddies; the
“tuck” net rises to the surface, and one teeming, convulsed mass of shining, glancing, silvery
scales; one compact crowd of tens of thousands of fish, each one of which is madly
endeavouring to escape, appears in an instant!
The noise before was as nothing compared with the noise now. Boats as large as barges
are pulled up in hot haste all round the net; baskets are produced by dozens: the fish are
dipped up in them, and shot out, like coals out of a sack, into the boats. Ere long, the men are
up to their ankles in pilchards; they jump upon the rowing benches and work on, until the
boats are filled with fish as full as they can hold, and the gunwales are within two or three
inches of the water. Even yet, the shoal is not exhausted; the “tuck” net must be let down
again and left ready for a fresh haul, while the boats are slowly propelled to the shore, where
we must join them without delay.
As soon as the fish are brought to land, one set of men, bearing capacious wooden
shovels, jump in among them; and another set bring large hand-barrows close to the side of
the boat, into which the pilchards are thrown with amazing rapidity. This operation proceeds
without ceasing for a moment. As soon as one barrow is ready to be carried to the
saltinghouse, another is waiting to be filled. When this labour is performed by night, which is often
the case, the scene becomes doubly picturesque. The men with the shovels, standing up to
their knees in pilchards, working energetically; the crowd stretching down from the
saltinghouse, across the beach, and hemming in the boat all round; the uninterrupted succession of
men hurrying backwards and forwards with their barrows, through a narrow way kept clear for
them in the throng; the glare of the lanterns giving light to the workmen, and throwing red
flashes on the fish as they fly incessantly from the shovels over the side of the boat — all
combine together to produce such a series of striking contrasts, such a moving picture of
bustle and animation, as not even the most careless of spectators could ever forget.
Having watched the progress of affairs on the shore, we next proceed to the
saltinghouse, a quadrangular structure of granite, well-roofed in all round the sides, but open to the
sky in the middle. Here, we must prepare ourselves to be bewildered by incessant confusion
and noise; for here are assembled all the women and girls in the district, piling up the
pilchards on layers of salt, at three-pence an hour; to which remuneration, a glass of brandy
and a piece of bread and cheese are hospitably added at every sixth hour, by way of
refreshment. It is a service of some little hazard to enter this place at all. There are men
rushing out with empty barrows, and men rushing in with full barrows, in almost perpetual
succession. However, while we are waiting for an opportunity to slip through the doorway, we
may amuse ourselves by watching a very curious ceremony which is constantly in course of
performance outside it.
As the filled barrows are going into the salting-house, we observe a little urchin runningby the side of them, and hitting their edges with a long cane, in a constant succession of
smart strokes, until they are fairly carried through the gate, when he quickly returns to
perform the same office for the next series that arrive. The object of this apparently
unaccountable proceeding is soon practically illustrated by a group of children, hovering about
the entrance of the salting-house, who every now and then dash resolutely up to the barrows,
and endeavour to seize on as many fish as they can take away at one snatch. It is understood
to be their privilege to keep as many pilchards as they can get in this way by their dexterity, in
spite of a liberal allowance of strokes aimed at their hands; and their adroitness richly
deserves its reward. Vainly does the boy officially entrusted with the administration of the
cane, strike the sides of the barrow with malignant smartness and perseverance — fish are
snatched away with lightning rapidity and pickpocket neatness of hand. The hardest rap over
the knuckles fails to daunt the sturdy little assailants. Howling with pain, they dash up to the
next barrow that passes them, with unimpaired resolution; and often collect their ten or a
dozen fish a piece, in an hour or two. No description can do justice to the “Jack-inOffice”
importance of the boy with the cane, as he flourishes it about ferociously in the full enjoyment
of his vested right to castigate his companions as often as he can. As an instance of the early
development of the tyrannic tendencies of human nature, it is, in a philosophical point of view,
quite unique.
But now, while we have a chance, while the doorway is accidentally clear for a few
moments, let us enter the salting-house, and approach the noisiest and most amusing of all
the scenes which the pilchard fishery presents. First of all we pass a great heap of fish lying in
one recess inside the door, and an equally great heap of coarse, brownish salt lying in
another. Then we advance farther, get out of the way of everybody, behind a pillar, and see a
whole congregation of the fair sex screaming, talking, and — to their honour be it spoken —
working at the same time, round a compact mass of pilchards which their nimble hands have
already built up to a height of three feet, a breadth of more than four, and a length of twenty.
Here we have every variety of the “fairer half of creation” displayed before us, ranged round
an odoriferous heap of salted fish. Here we see crones of sixty and girls of sixteen; the ugly
and the lean, the comely and the plump; the sour-tempered and the sweet — all squabbling,
singing, jesting, lamenting, and shrieking at the very top of their very shrill voices for “more
fish,” and “more salt;” both of which are brought from the stores, in small buckets, by a long
train of children running backwards and forwards with unceasing activity and in bewildering
confusion. But, universal as the uproar is, the work never flags; the hands move as fast as the
tongues; there may be no silence and no discipline, but there is also no idleness and no delay.
Never was three-pence an hour more joyously or more fairly earned than it is here!
The labour is thus performed. After the stone floor has been swept clean, a thin layer of
salt is spread on it, and covered with pilchards laid partly edgewise, and close together. Then
another layer of salt, smoothed fine with the palm of the hand, is laid over the pilchards; and
then more pilchards are placed upon that; and so on until the heap rises to four feet or more.
Nothing can exceed the ease, quickness, and regularity with which this is done. Each woman
works on her own small area, without reference to her neighbour; a bucketful of salt and a
bucketful of fish being shot out in two little piles under her hands, for her own especial use. All
proceed in their labour, however, with such equal diligence and equal skill, that no irregularities
appear in the various layers when they are finished — they run as straight and smooth from
one end to the other, as if they were constructed by machinery. The heap, when completed,
looks like a long, solid, neatly-made mass of dirty salt; nothing being now seen of the pilchards
but the extreme tips of their noses or tails, just peeping out in rows, up the sides of the pile.
Having now inspected the progress of the pilchard fishery, from the catching to the
curing, we have seen all that we can personally observe of its different processes, at one
opportunity. What more remains to be done, will not be completed until after an interval of
several weeks. We must be content to hear about this from information given to us by others.Yonder, sitting against the outside wall of the salting-house, is an intelligent old man, too infirm
now to do more than take care of the baby that he holds in his arms, while the baby’s mother
is earning her three-pence an hour inside. To this ancient we will address all our inquiries; and
he is well qualified to answer us, for the poor old fellow has worked away all the pith and
marrow of his life in the pilchard fishery.
The fish — as we learn from our old friend, who is mightily pleased to be asked for
information — will remain in salt, or, as the technical expression is, “in bulk,” for five or six
weeks. During this period, a quantity of oil, salt, and water drips from them into wells cut in the
centre of the stone floor on which they are placed. After the oil has been collected and
clarified, it will sell for enough to pay off the whole expense of the wages, food, and drink
given to the “seiners”— perhaps defraying other incidental charges besides. The salt and
water left behind, and offal of all sorts found with it, furnish a valuable manure. Nothing in the
pilchard itself, or in connexion with the pilchard, runs to waste — the precious little fish is a
treasure in every part of him.
After the pilchards have been taken out of “bulk,” they are washed clean in salt water,
and packed in hogsheads, which are then sent for exportation to some large sea-port —
Penzance for instance — in coast traders. The fish reserved for use in Cornwall, are generally
cured by those who purchase them. The export trade is confined to the shores of the
Mediterranean — Italy and Spain providing the two great foreign markets for pilchards. The
home consumption, as regards Great Britain, is nothing, or next to nothing. Some variation
takes place in the prices realized by the foreign trade — their average, wholesale, is stated to
be about fifty shillings per hogshead.
As an investment for money, on a small scale, the pilchard fishery offers the first great
advantage of security. The only outlay necessary, is that for providing boats and nets, and for
building salting-houses — an outlay which, it is calculated, may be covered by a thousand
pounds. The profits resulting from the speculation are immediate and large. Transactions are
managed on the ready money principle, and the markets of Italy and Spain (where pilchards
are considered a great delicacy) are always open to any supply. The fluctuation between a
good season’s fishing and a bad season’s fishing is rarely, if ever, seriously great. Accidents
happen but seldom; the casualty most dreaded, being the enclosure of a large fish along with
a shoal of pilchards. A “ling,” for instance, if unfortunately imprisoned in the seine, often bursts
through its thin meshes, after luxuriously gorging himself with prey, and is of course at once
followed out of the breach by all the pilchards. Then, not only is the shoal lost, but the net is
seriously damaged, and must be tediously and expensively repaired. Such an accident as this,
however, very seldom happens; and when it does, the loss occasioned falls on those best
able to bear it, the merchant speculators. The work and wages of the fishermen go on as
Some idea of the almost incalculable multitude of pilchards caught on the shores of
Cornwall, may be formed from the following data. At the small fishing cove of Trereen, 600
hogsheads were taken in little more than one week, during August, 1850. Allowing 2,400 fish
only to each hogshead — 3,000 would be the highest calculation — we have a result of
1,440,000 pilchards, caught by the inhabitants of one little village alone, on the Cornish coast,
at the commencement of the season’s fishing.
At considerable sea-port towns, where there is an unusually large supply of men, boats,
and nets, such figures as those quoted above, are far below the mark. At St. Ives, for
example, 1,000 hogsheads were taken in the first three seine nets cast into the water. The
number of hogsheads exported annually, averages 22,000. In 1850, 27,000 were secured for
the foreign markets. Incredible as these numbers may appear to some readers, they may
nevertheless be relied on; for they are derived from trustworthy sources — partly from local
returns furnished to me; partly from the very men who filled the baskets from the boat-side,
and who afterwards verified their calculations by frequent visits to the salting-houses.Such is the pilchard fishery of Cornwall — a small unit, indeed, in the vast aggregate of
England’s internal sources of wealth: but yet neither unimportant nor uninteresting, if it be
regarded as giving active employment to a hardy and honest race who would starve without it;
as impartially extending the advantages of commerce to one of the remotest corners of our
island; and, more than all, as displaying a wise and beautiful provision of Nature, by which the
rich tribute of the great deep is most generously lavished on the land most in need of a
compensation for its own sterility.
Chapter 8 — The Land’s End

Something like what Jerusalem was to the pilgrim in the Holy Land, the Land’s End is —
comparing great things with small — to the tourist in Cornwall. It is the Ultima Thule where his
progress stops — the shrine towards which his face has been set, from the first day when he
started on his travels — the main vent, through which all the pent-up enthusiasm accumulated
along the line of route is to burst its way out, in one long flow of admiration and delight.
The Land’s End! There is something in the very words that stirs us all. It was the name
that struck us most, and was best remembered by us, as children, when we learnt our
geography. It fills the minds of imaginative people with visions of barrenness and solitude, with
dreams of some lonely promontory, far away by itself out in the sea — the sort of place where
the last man in England would be most likely to be found waiting for death, at the end of the
world! It suggests even to the most prosaically constituted people, ideas of tremendous
storms, of flakes of foam flying over the land before the wind, of billows in convulsion, of rocks
shaken to their centre, of caves where smugglers lurk in ambush, of wrecks and hurricanes,
desolation, danger, and death. It awakens curiosity in the most careless — once hear of it,
and you long to see it — tell your friends that you have travelled in Cornwall, and ten thousand
chances to one, the first question they ask is:—“Have you been to the Land’s End?”
And yet, strange to say, this spot so singled out and set apart by our imaginations as
something remarkable and even unique of its kind, is as a matter of fact, not distinguishable
from any part of the coast on either side of it, by any local peculiarity whatever. If you desire
really and truly to stand on the Land’s End itself, you must ask your way to it, or you are in
danger of mistaking any one of the numerous promontories on the right hand and the left, for
your actual place of destination. But I am anticipating. Before I say more about the Land’s
End, it is necessary to relate how my companion and I got there, and what we saw that was
interesting and characteristic on our road.
The reader may perhaps remember that he last left us scrambling out of reach of the
tide, up the cliffs overlooking Kynance Cove. From that place we got back to Helston in mist
and rain, just as we had left it. From Helston we proceeded to Marazion — stopping there to
visit St. Michael’s Mount, so well known to readers of all classes by innumerable pictures and
drawings, and by descriptions scarcely less plentiful, that they will surely be relieved rather
than disappointed, if these pages exhibit the distinguished negative merit of passing the Mount
without notice. From Marazion we walked to Penzance, from Penzance to the beautiful coast
scenery at Lamorna Cove, and thence to Trereen, celebrated as the halting place for a visit to
one of Cornwall’s greatest curiosities — the Loggan Stone.
This far-famed rock rises on the top of a bold promontory of granite, jutting far out into
the sea, split into the wildest forms, and towering precipitously to a height of a hundred feet.
When you reach the Loggan Stone, after some little climbing up perilous-looking places, you
see a solid, irregular mass of granite, which is computed to weigh eighty five tons, supported
by its centre only, on a flat, broad rock, which, in its turn, rests on several others stretching
out around it on all sides. You are told by the guide to turn your back to the uppermost stone;
to place your shoulders under one particular part of its lower edge, which is entirely
disconnected, all round, with the supporting rock below; and in this position to push upwards
slowly and steadily, then to leave off again for an instant, then to push once more, and so on,
until after a few moments of exertion, you feel the whole immense mass above you moving as
you press against it. You redouble your efforts — then turn round — and see the massy
Loggan Stone, set in motion by nothing but your own pair of shoulders, slowly rocking
backwards and forwards with an alternate ascension and declension, at the outer edges, of atleast three inches. You have treated eighty-five tons of granite like a child’s cradle; and, like a
child’s cradle, those eighty-five tons have rocked at your will!
The pivot on which the Loggan Stone is thus easily moved, is a small protrusion in its
base, on all sides of which the whole surrounding weight of rock is, by an accident of Nature,
so exactly equalized, as to keep it poised in the nicest balance on the one little point in its
lower surface which rests on the flat granite slab beneath. But perfect as this balance appears
at present, it has lost something, the merest hair’s-breadth, of its original faultlessness of
adjustment. The rock is not to be moved now, either so easily or to so great an extent, as it
could once be moved. Six-and-twenty years since, it was overthrown by artificial means; and
was then lifted again into its former position. This is the story of the affair, as it was related to
me by a man who was an eyewitness of the process of restoring the stone to its proper place.
In the year 1824, a certain Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, then in command of a cutter
stationed off the southern coast of Cornwall, was told of an ancient Cornish prophecy, that no
human power should ever succeed in overturning the Loggan Stone. No sooner was the
prediction communicated to him, than he conceived a mischievous ambition to falsify
practically an assertion which the commonest common sense might have informed him had
sprung from nothing but popular error and popular superstition. Accompanied by a body of
picked men from his crew, he ascended to the Loggan Stone, ordered several levers to be
placed under it at one point, gave the word to “heave”— and the next moment had the
miserable satisfaction of seeing one of the most remarkable natural curiosities in the world
utterly destroyed, for aught he could foresee to the contrary, under his own directions!
But Fortune befriended the Loggan Stone. One edge of it, as it rolled over, became fixed
by a lucky chance in a crevice in the rocks immediately below the granite slab from which it
had been started. Had this not happened, it must have fallen over a sheer precipice, and been
lost in the sea. By another accident, equally fortunate, two labouring men at work in the
neighbourhood, were led by curiosity secretly to follow the Lieutenant and his myrmidons up to
the Stone. Having witnessed, from a secure hiding-place, all that occurred, the two workmen,
with great propriety, immediately hurried off to inform the lord of the manor of the wanton act
of destruction which they had seen perpetrated.
The news was soon communicated throughout the district, and thence, throughout all
Cornwall. The indignation of the whole county was aroused. Antiquaries, who believed the
Loggan Stone to have been balanced by the Druids; philosophers who held that it was
produced by an eccentricity of natural formation; ignorant people, who cared nothing about
Druids, or natural formations, but who liked to climb up and rock the stone whenever they
passed near it; tribes of guides who lived by showing it; innkeepers in the neighbourhood, to
whom it had brought customers by hundreds; tourists of every degree who were on their way
to see it — all joined in one general clamour of execration against the overthrower of the rock.
A full report of the affair was forwarded to the Admiralty; and the Admiralty, for once, acted
vigorously for the public advantage, and mercifully spared the public purse.
The Lieutenant was officially informed that his commission was in danger, unless he set
up the Loggan Stone again in its proper place. The materials for compassing this achievement
were offered to him, gratis, from the Dock Yards; but he was left to his own resources to
defray the expense of employing workmen to help him. Being by this time awakened to a
proper sense of the mischief he had done, and to a tolerably strong conviction of the
disagreeable position in which he was placed with the Admiralty, he addressed himself
vigorously to the task of repairing his fault. Strong beams were planted about the Loggan
Stone, chains were passed round it, pulleys were rigged, and capstans were manned. After a
week’s hard work and brave perseverance on the part of every one employed in the labour,
the rock was pulled back into its former position, but not into its former perfection of balance:
it has never moved since as freely as it moved before.
It is only fair to the Lieutenant to add to this narrative of his mischievous frolic the fact,that he defrayed, though a poor man, all the heavy expenses of replacing the rock. Just
before his death, he paid the last remaining debt, and paid it with interest.
Leaving the Loggan Stone, we next shaped our course for the Land’s End. We stopped
on our way, to admire the desolate pile of rocks and caverns which form the towering
promontory, called “Tol–Peden-Penwith,” or, “The Holed Headland on the Left.” Thence,
turning a little inland — passing over wild, pathless moors; occasionally catching distant
glimpses of the sea, with the mist sometimes falling thick down to the very edges of the
waves, sometimes parting mysteriously and discovering distant crags of granite rising
shadowy out of the foaming waters — we reached, at last, the limits of our outward journey,
and saw the Atlantic before us, rolling against the westernmost extremity of the shores of
I have already said, that the stranger must ask his way before he can find out the
particular mass of rocks, geographically entitled to the appellation of the “Land’s End.” He
may, however, easily discover when he has reached the district of the “Land’s End,” by two
rather remarkable indications that he will meet with on his road. He will observe, at some
distance from the coast, an old milestone marked “I,” and will be informed that this is the real
original first mile in England; as if all measurement of distances began strictly from the West!
A little further on he will come to a house, on one wall of which he will see written in large
letters, “This is the first Inn in England,” and on the other: “This is the last Inn in England;” as
if the recognised beginning, and end too, of the Island of Britain were here, and here only!
Having pondered a little on the slightly exclusive view of the attributes of their locality, taken by
the inhabitants, he will then be led forward, about half a mile, by his guide, will descend some
cliffs, will walk out on a ridge of rocks till he can go no farther — and will then be told that he is
standing on the Land’s End!
Here, as elsewhere, there are certain “sights” which a stranger is required to examine
assiduously, as a duty if not as a pleasure, by guide-book law, rigidly administered by guides.
There is, first of all, the mark of a horse’s hoof, which is with great care kept sharply modelled
(to borrow the painter’s phrase), in the thin grass at the edge of a precipice. This mark
commemorates the narrow escape from death of a military man who, for a wager, rode a
horse down the cliff to the extreme verge of the Land’s End; where the poor animal, seeing its
danger, turned in affright, reared, and fell back into the sea raging over the rocks beneath.
The foolhardy rider had just sense enough left to throw himself off in time — he tumbled on
the ground, within a few inches of the precipice, and so barely saved the life which he had
richly deserved to lose.
After the mark of the hoof, the traveller is next desired to look at a natural tunnel in the
outer cliff, which pierces it through from one end to the other. Then his attention is directed to
a lighthouse built on a reef of rocks detached from the land; and he is told of the great waves
which break over the top of the building during the winter storms. Lastly, he is requested to
inspect a quaint protuberance in a pile of granite at a little distance off, which bears a remote
resemblance to a gigantic human face, adorned with a short beard; and which, he is informed,
is considered quite a portrait (of all the people in the world to liken it to!) of Dr. Johnson! It is,
therefore, publicly known as “Johnson’s Head.” If it can fairly be compared with any of the
countenances of any remarkable characters that ever existed, it may be said to exhibit, in
violent exaggeration, the worst physiognomical peculiarities of Nero and Henry the Eighth,
combined in one face!
These several local curiosities duly examined, you are at last left free to look at the
Land’s End in your own way. Before you, stretches the wide, wild ocean; the largest of the
Scilly Islands being barely discernible on the extreme horizon, on clear days. Tracts of heath;
fields where corn is blown by the wind into mimic waves; downs, valleys, and crags, mingle
together picturesquely and confusedly, until they are lost in the distance, on your left. On your
right is a magnificent bay, bounded at either extremity by far-stretching promontories risingfrom a beach of the purest white sand, on which the yet whiter foam of the surf is ever
seething, as waves on waves break one behind the other. The whole bold view possesses all
the sublimity that vastness and space can bestow; but it is that sublimity which is to be seen,
not described, which the heart may acknowledge and the mind contain, but which no mere
words may delineate — which even painting itself may but faintly reflect.
However, it is, after all, the walk to the Land’s End along the southern coast, rather than
the Land’s End itself, which displays the grandest combinations of scenery in which this
grandest part of Cornwall abounds. There, Nature appears in her most triumphant glory and
beauty — there, every mile as you proceed, offers some new prospect, or awakens some
fresh impression. All objects that you meet with, great and small, moving and motionless,
seem united in perfect harmony to form a scene where original images might still be found by
the poet; and where original pictures are waiting, ready composed, for the painter’s eye.
On approaching the wondrous landscapes between Trereen and the Land’s End, the first
characteristic that strikes you, is the change that has taken place in the forms of the cliffs
since you left the Lizard Head. You no longer look on variously shaped and variously coloured
“serpentine” rocks; it is granite, and granite alone, that appears everywhere — granite, less
lofty and less eccentric in form than the “serpentine” cliffs and crags; but presenting an
appearance of adamantine solidity and strength, a mighty breadth of outline and an unbroken
vastness of extent, nobly adapted to the purpose of protecting the shores of Cornwall, where
they are most exposed to the fury of the Atlantic waves. In these wild districts, the sea rolls
and roars in fiercer agitation, and the mists fall thicker, and at the same time fade and change
faster, than elsewhere. Vessels pitching heavily in the waves, are seen to dawn, at one
moment, in the clearing atmosphere — and then, at another, to fade again mysteriously, as it
abruptly thickens, like phantom ships. Up on the top of the cliffs, furze and heath in brilliant
clothing of purple and yellow, cluster close round great white, weird masses of rock, dotted
fantastically with patches of grey-green moss. The solitude on these heights is unbroken — no
houses are to be seen — often, no pathway is to be found. You go on, guided by the sight of
the sea, when the sky brightens fitfully: and by the sound of the sea, when you stray
instinctively from the edge of the cliff, as mist and darkness gather once more densely and
solemnly all around you.
Then, when the path appears again — a winding path, that descends rapidly — you
gradually enter on a new scene. Old horses startle you, scrambling into perilous situations, to
pick dainty bits by the hillside; sheep, fettered by the fore and hind leg, hobble away
desperately as you advance. Suddenly, you discern a small strip of beach shut in snugly
between protecting rocks. A spring bubbles down from an inland valley; while not far off, an
old stone well collects the water into a calm, clear pool. Sturdy little cottages, built of rough
granite, and thickly thatched, stand near you, with gulls’ and cormorants’ eggs set in their
loop-holed windows for ornament; great white sections of fish hang thickly together on their
walls to dry, looking more like many legs of many dirty duck trousers, than anything else;
pigsties are hard-by the cottages, either formed by the Cromlech stones of the Druids, or
excavated like caves in the side of the hill. Down on the beach, where the rough old
fishingboats lie, the sand is entirely formed by countless multitudes of the tiniest, fairy-like shells,
often as small as a pin’s head, and all exquisitely tender in colour and wonderfully varied in
form. Up the lower and flatter parts of the hills above, fishing nets are stretched to dry. While
you stop to look forth over the quiet, simple scene, wild little children peep out at you in
astonishment; and hard-working men and women greet you with a hearty Cornish salutation,
as you pass near their cottage doors.
You walk a few hundred yards inland, up the valley, and discover in a retired, sheltered
situation, the ancient village church, with its square grey tower surmounted by moss-grown
turrets, with its venerable Saxon stone cross in the churchyard — where the turf graves rise
humbly by twos and threes, and where the old coffin-shaped stone stands midway at theentrance gates, still used, as in former times, by the bearers of a rustic funeral. Appearing
thus amid the noblest scenery, as the simple altar of the prayers of a simple race, this is a
church which speaks of religion in no formal or sectarian tone. Appealing to the heart of every
traveller be his creed what it may, in loving and solemn accents, it sends him on his way
again, up the mighty cliffs and through the mist driving cloud-like over them, the better fitted
for his journey forward here; the better fitted, it may be, even for that other dread journey of
one irrevocable moment — the last he shall ever take — to his abiding-place among the spirits
of the dead!
These are some of the attractions which home rambles can offer to tempt the home
traveller; for these are the impressions produced, and the incidents presented during a walk to
the Land’s End.
Chapter 9 — Botallack Mine

I have little doubt that the less patient among the readers of this narrative have already,
while perusing it, asked themselves some such questions as these:—“Is not Cornwall a
celebrated mineral country? Why has the author not taken us below the surface yet? Why
have we heard nothing all this time about the mines?”
Readers who have questioned thus, may be assured that their impatience to go down a
mine, in this book, was fully equalled by our impatience to go down a mine, in the county of
which this book treats. Our anxiety, however, when we mentioned it to Cornish friends, was
invariably met by the same answer. “Wait”— they all said —“until you have turned your backs
on the Land’s End; and then go to Botallack. The mine there is the most extraordinary mine in
Cornwall; go down that, and you will not want to go down another — wait for Botallack.” And
we did wait for Botallack, just as the reader has waited for it in these pages. May he derive as
much satisfaction from the present description of the mine, as we did from visiting the mine
We left the Land’s End, feeling that our homeward journey had now begun from that
point; and walking northward, about five miles along the coast, arrived at Botallack. Having
heard that there was some disinclination in Cornwall to allow strangers to go down the mines,
we had provided ourselves — through the kindness of a friend — with a proper letter of
introduction, in case of emergency. We were told to go to the counting-house to present our
credentials; and on our road thither, we beheld the buildings and machinery of the mine,
literally stretching down the precipitous face of the cliff, from the land at the top, to the sea at
the bottom.
This sight was, in its way, as striking and extraordinary as the first view of the Cheese–
Wring itself. Here, we beheld a scaffolding perched on a rock that rose out of the waves —
there, a steam-pump was at work raising gallons of water from the mine every minute, on a
mere ledge of land half way down the steep cliff side. Chains, pipes, conduits, protruded in all
directions from the precipice; rotten-looking wooden platforms, running over deep chasms,
supported great beams of timber and heavy coils of cable; crazy little boarded houses were
built, where gulls’ nests might have been found in other places. There did not appear to be a
foot of level space anywhere, for any part of the works of the mine to stand upon; and yet,
there they were, fulfilling all the purposes for which they had been constructed, as safely and
completely on rocks in the sea, and down precipices in the land, as if they had been cautiously
founded on the tracts of smooth solid ground above!
The counting-house was built on a projection of earth about midway between the top of
the cliff and the sea. When we got there, the agent, to whom our letter was addressed, was
absent; but his place was supplied by two miners who came out to receive us; and to one of
them we mentioned our recommendation, and modestly hinted a wish to go down the mine
But our new friend was not a person who did anything in a hurry. He was a grave,
courteous, and rather melancholy man, of great stature and strength. He looked on us with a
benevolent, paternal expression, and appeared to think that we were nothing like strong
enough, or cautious enough to be trusted down the mine. “Did we know,” he urged, “that it
was dangerous work?” “Yes; but we didn’t mind danger!”—“Perhaps we were not aware that
we should perspire profusely, and be dead tired getting up and down the ladders?” “Very
likely; but we didn’t mind that, either!”—“Surely we shouldn’t like to strip and put on miners’
clothes?” “Yes, we should, of all things!” and pulling off coat and waistcoat, on the spot, we
stood half-undressed already, just as the big miner was proposing another objection, which,under existing circumstances, he good-naturedly changed into a speech of acquiescence.
“Very well, gentlemen,” he said, taking up two suits of miners’ clothes, “I see you are
determined to go down; and so you shall! You’ll be wet through with the heat and the work
before you come up again; so just put on these things, and keep your own clothes dry.”
The clothing consisted of a flannel shirt, flannel drawers, canvas trousers, and a canvas
jacket — all stained of a tawny copper colour; but all quite clean. A white night-cap and a
round hat, composed of some iron-hard substance, well calculated to protect the head from
any loose stones that might fall on it, completed the equipment; to which, three tallow-candles
were afterwards added, two to hang at the buttonhole, one to carry in the hand.
My friend was dressed first. He had got a suit which fitted him tolerably, and which, as
far as appearances went, made a miner of him at once. Far different was my case.
The same mysterious dispensation of fate, which always awards tall wives to short men,
decreed that a suit of the big miner’s should be reserved for me. He stood six feet two inches
— I stand five feet six inches. I put on his flannel shirt — it fell down to my toes, like a
bedgown; his drawers — and they flowed in Turkish luxuriance over my feet. At his trousers I
helplessly stopped short, lost in the voluminous recesses of each leg. The big miner, like a
good Samaritan as he was, came to my assistance. He put the pocket button through the
waist buttonhole, to keep the trousers up in the first instance; then, he pulled steadily at the
braces until my waistband was under my armpits; and then he pronounced that I and my
trousers fitted each other in great perfection. The cuffs of the jacket were next turned up to
my elbows — the white night-cap was dragged over my ears — the round hat was jammed
down over my eyes. When I add to all this, that I am so nearsighted as to be obliged to wear
spectacles, and that I finished my toilet by putting my spectacles on (knowing that I should
see little or nothing without them), nobody, I think, will be astonished to hear that my
companion seized his sketch-book, and caricatured me on the spot; and that the grave miner,
polite as he was, shook with internal laughter, when I took up my tallow-candles and reported
myself ready for a descent into the mine.
We left the counting-house, and ascended the face of the cliff — then, walked a short
distance along the edge, descended a little again, and stopped at a wooden platform built
across a deep gully. Here, the miner pulled up a trap-door, and disclosed a perpendicular
ladder leading down to a black hole, like the opening of a chimney. “This is the shaft; I will go
down first, to catch you in case you tumble; follow me and hold tight;” saying this, our friend
squeezed himself through the trap-door, and we went after him as we had been bidden.
The black hole, when we entered it, proved to be not quite so dark as it had appeared
from above. Rays of light occasionally penetrated it through chinks in the outer rock. But by
the time we had got some little way farther down, these rays began to fade. Then, just as we
seemed to be lowering ourselves into total darkness, we were desired to stand on a narrow
landing-place opposite the ladder, and wait there while the miner went below for a light. He
soon reascended to us, bringing, not only the light he had promised, but a large lump of damp
clay with it. Having lighted our candles he stuck them against the front of our hats with the
clay — in order, as he said, to leave both our hands free to us to use as we liked. Thus
strangely accoutred, like Solomon Eagles in the Great Plague, with flame on our heads, we
resumed the descent of the shaft; and now at last began to penetrate beneath the surface of
the earth in good earnest.
The process of getting down the ladders was not very pleasant. They were all quite
perpendicular, the rounds were placed at irregular distances, were many of them much worn
away, and were slippery with water and copper-ooze. Add to this, the narrowness of the shaft,
the dripping wet rock shutting you in, as it were, all round your back and sides against the
ladder — the fathomless darkness beneath — the light flaring immediately above you, as if
your head was on fire — the voice of the miner below, rumbling away in dull echoes lower and
lower into the bowels of the earth — the consciousness that if the rounds of the ladder broke,you might fall down a thousand feet or so of narrow tunnel in a moment — imagine all this,
and you may easily realize what are the first impressions produced by a descent into a
Cornish mine.
By the time we had got down seventy fathoms, or four hundred and twenty feet of
perpendicular ladders, we stopped at another landing-place, just broad enough to afford
standing room for us three. Here, the miner, pointing to an opening yawning horizontally in the
rock at one side of us, said that this was the first gallery from the surface; that we had done
with the ladders for the present; and that a little climbing and crawling were now to begin.
Our path was a strange one, as we advanced through the rift. Rough stones of all sizes,
holes here, and eminences there, impeded us at every yard. Sometimes, we could walk on in
a stooping position — sometimes, we were obliged to crawl on our hands and knees.
Occasionally, greater difficulties than these presented themselves. Certain parts of the gallery
dipped into black, ugly-looking pits, crossed by thin planks, over which we walked dizzily, a
little bewildered by the violent contrast between the flaring light that we carried above us, and
the pitch darkness beneath and before us. One of these places terminated in a sudden rising
in the rock, hollowed away below, but surmounted by a narrow projecting wooden platform, to
which it was necessary to climb by cross-beams arranged at wide distances. My companion
ascended to this awkward elevation, without hesitating; but I came to an “awful pause” before
it. Fettered as I was by my Brobdingnag jacket and trousers, I felt a humiliating consciousness
that any extraordinary gymnastic exertion was altogether out of my power.
Our friend the miner saw my difficulty, and extricated me from it at once, with a
promptitude and skill which deserve record. Descending half way by the beams, he clutched
with one hand that hinder part of my too voluminous nether garments, which presented the
broadest superficies of canvas to his grasp (I hope the delicate reader appreciates my
ingenious indirectness of expression, when I touch on the unmentionable subject of trousers!).
Grappling me thus, and supporting himself by his free hand, he lifted me up as easily as if I
had been a small parcel; then carried me horizontally along the loose boards, like a refractory
little boy borne off by the usher to the master’s birch; or — considering the candle burning on
my hat, and the necessity of elevating my position by as lofty a comparison as I can make —
like a flying Mercury with a star on his head; and finally deposited me safely upon my legs
again, on the firm rock pathway beyond. “You are but a light and a little man, my son,” says
this excellent fellow, snuffing my candle for me before we go on; “only let me lift you about as
I like, and you shan’t come to any harm while I am with you!”
Speaking thus, the miner leads us forward again. After we have walked a little farther in a
crouching position, he calls a halt, makes a seat for us by sticking a piece of old board
between the rocky walls of the gallery, and then proceeds to explain the exact subterranean
position which we actually occupy.
We are now four hundred yards out, under the bottom of the sea; and twenty fathoms or
a hundred and twenty feet below the sea level. Coast-trade vessels are sailing over our
heads. Two hundred and forty feet beneath us men are at work, and there are galleries
deeper yet, even below that! The extraordinary position down the face of the cliff, of the
engines and other works on the surface, at Botallack, is now explained. The mine is not
excavated like other mines under the land, but under the sea!
Having communicated these particulars, the miner next tells us to keep strict silence and
listen. We obey him, sitting speechless and motionless. If the reader could only have beheld
us now, dressed in our copper-coloured garments, huddled close together in a mere cleft of
subterranean rock, with flame burning on our heads and darkness enveloping our limbs — he
must certainly have imagined, without any violent stretch of fancy, that he was looking down
upon a conclave of gnomes.
After listening for a few moments, a distant, unearthly noise becomes faintly audible — a
long, low, mysterious moaning, which never changes, which is felt on the ear as well as heardby it — a sound that might proceed from some incalculable distance, from some far invisible
height — a sound so unlike anything that is heard on the upper ground, in the free air of
heaven; so sublimely mournful and still; so ghostly and impressive when listened to in the
subterranean recesses of the earth, that we continue instinctively to hold our peace, as if
enchanted by it, and think not of communicating to each other the awe and astonishment
which it has inspired in us from the very first.
At last, the miner speaks again, and tells us that what we hear is the sound of the surf,
lashing the rocks a hundred and twenty feet above us, and of the waves that are breaking on
the beach beyond. The tide is now at the flow, and the sea is in no extraordinary state of
agitation: so the sound is low and distant just at this period. But, when storms are at their
height, when the ocean hurls mountain after mountain of water on the cliffs, then the noise is
terrific; the roaring heard down here in the mine is so inexpressibly fierce and awful, that the
boldest men at work are afraid to continue their labour. All ascend to the surface, to breathe
the upper air and stand on the firm earth: dreading, though no such catastrophe has ever
happened yet, that the sea will break in on them if they remain in the caverns below.
Hearing this, we get up to look at the rock above us. We are able to stand upright in the
position we now occupy; and flaring our candles hither and thither in the darkness, can see
the bright pure copper streaking the dark ceiling of the gallery in every direction. Lumps of
ooze, of the most lustrous green colour, traversed by a natural network of thin red veins of
iron, appear here and there in large irregular patches, over which water is dripping slowly and
incessantly in certain places. This is the salt water percolating through invisible crannies in the
rock. On stormy days it spirts out furiously in thin, continuous streams. Just over our heads
we observe a wooden plug of the thickness of a man’s leg; there is a hole here, and the plug
is all that we have to keep out the sea.
Immense wealth of metal is contained in the roof of this gallery, throughout its whole
length; but it remains, and will always remain, untouched. The miners dare not take it, for it is
part, and a great part, of the rock which forms their only protection against the sea; and which
has been so far worked away here, that its thickness is limited to an average of three feet only
between the water and the gallery in which we now stand. No one knows what might be the
consequence of another day’s labour with the pickaxe on any part of it.
This information is rather startling when communicated at a depth of four hundred and
twenty feet under ground. We should decidedly have preferred to receive it in the
countinghouse! It makes us pause for an instant, to the miner’s infinite amusement, in the very act of
knocking away a tiny morsel of ore from the rock, as a memento of Botallack. Having,
however, ventured on reflection to assume the responsibility of weakening our defence
against the sea, by the length and breadth of an inch, we secure our piece of copper, and
next proceed to discuss the propriety of descending two hundred and forty feet more of
ladders, for the sake of visiting that part of the mine where the men are at work.
Two or three causes concur to make us doubt the wisdom of going lower. There is a hot,
moist, sickly vapour floating about us, which becomes more oppressive every moment; we are
already perspiring at every pore, as we were told we should; and our hands, faces, jackets,
and trousers are all more or less covered with a mixture of mud, tallow, and iron-drippings,
which we can feel and smell much more acutely than is exactly desirable. We ask the miner
what there is to see lower down. He replies, nothing but men breaking ore with pickaxes; the
galleries of the mine are alike, however deep they may go; when you have seen one you have
seen all.
The answer decides us — we determine to get back to the surface.
We returned along the gallery, just as we had advanced, with the same large allowance
of scrambling, creeping, and stumbling on our way. I was charitably carried along and down
the platform over the pit, by my trousers, as before; our order of procession only changing
when we gained the ladders again. Then, our friend the miner went last instead of first, uponthe same principle of being ready to catch us if we fell, which led him to precede us on our
descent. Except that one of the rounds cracked under his weight as we went up, we ascended
without casualties of any kind. As we neared the mouth of the shaft, the daylight atmosphere
looked dazzlingly white, after the darkness in which we had been groping so long; and when
we once more stood out on the cliff, we felt a cold, health-giving purity in the sea breeze, and,
at the same time, a sense of recovered freedom in the power that we now enjoyed of running,
jumping, and stretching our limbs in perfect security, and with full space for action, which it
was almost a new sensation to experience. Habit teaches us to think little of the light and air
that we live and breathe in, or, at most, to view them only as the ordinary conditions of our
being. To find out that they are more than this, that they are a luxury as well as a necessity of
life, go down into a mine, and compare what you can exist in there, with what you do exist in,
on upper earth!
On reentering the counting-house, we were greeted by the welcome appearance of two
large tubs of water, with soap and flannel placed invitingly by their sides. Copious ablutions
and clean clothes are potent restorers of muscular energy. These, and a half hour of repose,
enabled us to resume our knapsacks as briskly as ever, and walk on fifteen miles to the town
of St. Ives — our resting place for the night.
While we were sitting in the counting-house, we had some talk with our good-humoured
and intelligent guide, on the subject of miners and mining at Botallack. Some of the local
information that he gave us, may interest the reader — to whom I do not pretend to offer
more here than a simple record of a half hour’s gossip. I could only write elaborately about the
Cornish mines, by swelling my pages with extracts on the subject from Encyclopædias and
Itineraries which are within easy reach of every one, and on the province of which, it is neither
my business nor my desire to intrude.
Botallack mine is a copper mine; but tin, and occasionally iron, are found in it as well. It is
situated at the western extremity of the great strata of copper, tin, and lead, running eastward
through Cornwall, as far as the Dartmoor Hills. According to the statement of my informant in
the counting-house, it has been worked for more than a century. In former times, it produced
enormous profits to the speculators; but now the case is altered. The price of copper has
fallen of late years; the lodes have proved neither so rich nor so extensive, as at past periods;
and the mine, when we visited Cornwall, had failed to pay the expenses of working it.
The organization of labour at Botallack, and in all other mines throughout the county, is
thus managed:— The men work eight hours underground, out of the twenty-four; taking their
turn of night duty (for labour proceeds in the mines by night as well as by day), in regular
rotation. The different methods on which their work is undertaken, and the rates of
remuneration that they receive, have been already touched on, in the chapter on the “Cornish
People.” It will be found that ordinary wages for mine labour, are there stated as ranging from
forty to fifty shillings a month — mention being made at the same time, of the larger
remuneration which may be obtained by working “on tribute,” or, in other words, by agreeing
to excavate the lodes of metal for a percentage which varies with the varying value of the
mineral raised. It is, however, necessary to add here, that, although men who labour on this
latter plan, occasionally make as much as six or ten pounds each, in a month, they are on the
other hand liable to heavy losses from the speculative character of the work in which they
engage. The lode may, for instance, be poor when they begin to work it, and may continue
poor as they proceed farther and farther. Under these circumstances, the low value of the
mineral they have raised, realizes a correspondingly low rate of percentage; and when this
happens, the best workmen cannot make more than twenty shillings a month.
Another system on which the men are employed, is the system of “contract.” A certain
quantity of ore in the rock is mapped out by the captain of the mine; and put up to auction
among the miners thus:— One man mentions a sum for which he is willing to undertake
excavating the ore, upon the understanding that he is himself to pay for the assistance,candles, &c., out of the price he asks. Another man, who is also anxious to get the contract,
then offers to accept it on lower terms; a third man’s demand is smaller still; and so they
proceed until the piece of work is knocked down to the lowest bidder. By this sort of labour the
contracting workman — after he has paid his expenses for assistance — seldom clears more
than twelve shillings a week.
Upon the whole, setting his successful and his disastrous speculations fairly against each
other, the Cornish miner’s average gains, year by year, may be fairly estimated at about ten
shillings a week. “It’s hard work we have to do, sir,” said my informant, summing up, when we
parted, the proportions of good and evil in the social positions of his brethren and himself
—“harder work than people think, down in the heat and darkness under ground. We may get
a good deal at one time, but we get little enough at another; sometimes mines are shut up,
and then we are thrown out altogether — but, good work or bad work, or no work at all, what
with our bits of ground for potatoes and greens, and what with cheap living, somehow we and
our families make it do. We contrive to keep our good cloth coat for Sundays, and go to
chapel in the morning — for we’re most of us Wesleyans — and then to church in the
afternoon; so as to give ’em both their turn like! We never go near the mine on Sundays,
except to look after the steam-pump: our rest, and our walk in the evening once a week, is a
good deal to us. That’s how we live, sir; whatever happens, we manage to work through, and
don’t complain!”
Although the occupation of smelting the copper above ground is, as may well be
imagined, unhealthy enough, the labour of getting it from the mine (by blasting the
subterranean rock in the first place, and then hewing and breaking the ore out of the
fragments), seems to be attended with no bad effect on the constitution. The miners are a
fine-looking race of men — strong and well-proportioned. The fact appears to be, that they
gain more, physically, by the pure air of the cliffs and moors on which their cottages are built,
and the temperance of their lives (many of them are “teetotallers”), than they lose by their
hardest exertions in the underground atmosphere in which they work.
Serious accidents are rare in the mines of Cornwall. From the horrors of such explosions
as take place in coal mines, they are by their nature entirely free. The casualties that oftenest
occur are serious falls, generally produced by the carelessness of inexperienced or foolhardy
people. Of these, and of extraordinary escapes from death with which they are associated,
many anecdotes are told in mining districts, which would appear to the reader exaggerated, or
positively untrue, if I related them on mere hearsay evidence. There was, however, one
instance of a fall down the shaft of a mine, unattended with fatal consequences, which
occurred while I was in Cornwall; and which I may safely adduce, for I can state some of the
facts connected with the affair as an eyewitness. I attended an examination of the sufferer by
a medical man, and heard the story of the accident from the parents of the patient.
On the 7th of August 1850, a boy fourteen years of age, the son of a miner, slipped into
the shaft of Boscaswell Down Mine, in the neighbourhood of Penzance. He fell to the depth of
thirteen fathoms, or seventy-eight feet. Fifty-eight feet down, he struck his left side against a
board placed across the shaft, snapped it in two, and then falling twenty feet more, pitched on
his head. He was of course taken up insensible; the doctor was sent for; and on examining
him, found, to his amazement, that there was actually a chance of the boy’s recovery after
this tremendous fall!
Not a bone in his body was broken. He was bruised and scratched all over, and there
were three cuts — none of them serious — on his head. The board stretched across the
shaft, twenty feet from the bottom, had saved him from being dashed to pieces; but had
inflicted at the same time, where his left side had struck it, the only injury that appeared
dangerous to the medical man — a large, hard lump that could be felt under the bruised skin.
The boy showed no symptoms of fever; his pulse, day after day, was found never varying
from eighty-two to the minute; his appetite was voracious; and the internal functions of hisbody only required a little ordinary medicine to keep them properly at work. In short, nothing
was to be dreaded but the chance of the formation of an abscess in his left side, between the
hip and ribs. He had been under medical care exactly one week, when I accompanied the
doctor on a visit to him.
The cottage where he lived with his parents, though small, was neat and comfortable.
We found him lying in bed, awake. He looked languid and lethargic; but his skin was moist and
cool; his face displayed no paleness, and no injury of any kind. He had just eaten a good
dinner of rabbit-pie, and was anxious to be allowed to sit up in a chair, and amuse himself by
looking out of the window. His left side was first examined. A great circular bruise discoloured
the skin, over the whole space between the hip and ribs; but on touching it, the doctor
discovered that the lump beneath had considerably decreased in size, and was much less
hard than it had felt during previous visits. Next we looked at his back and arms — they were
scratched and bruised all over; but nowhere seriously. Lastly, the dressings were taken off his
head, and three cuts were disclosed, which even a non-medical eye could easily perceive to
be of no great importance. Such were all the results of a fall of seventy-eight feet.
The boy’s father reiterated to me the account of the accident, just as I had already heard
it from the doctor. How it happened, he said, could only be guessed, for his son had
completely forgotten all the circumstances immediately preceding the fall; neither could he
communicate any of the sensations which must have attended it. Most probably, he had been
sitting dangling his legs idly over the mouth of the shaft, and had so slipped in. But however
the accident really happened, there the sufferer was before us — less seriously hurt than
many a lad who has trodden on a piece of orange peel as he was walking along the street.
We left him (humanly speaking) certain of recovery, now that the dangerous lump in his
side had begun to decrease. I heard afterwards from his medical attendant, that in two
months from the date of the accident, he was at work again as usual in the mine; at that very
part of it, too, where his fall had taken place!
It was not the least interesting part of my visit to the cottage where he lay ill, to observe
the anxious affection displayed towards him by both his parents. His mother left her work in
the kitchen to hold him in her arms, while the old dressings were being taken off and the new
ones applied — sighing bitterly, poor creature, every time he winced or cried out under the
pain of the operation. The father put several questions to the doctor, which were always
perfectly to the point; and did the honours of his little abode to his stranger visitor, with a
natural politeness and a simple cordiality of manner which showed that he really meant the
welcome that he spoke. Nor was he any exception to the rest of his brother-workmen with
whom I met. As a body of men, they are industrious and intelligent; sober and orderly; neither
soured by hard work, nor easily depressed by harder privations. No description of personal
experiences in the Cornish mines can be fairly concluded, without a collateral testimony to the
merits of the Cornish miners — a testimony which I am happy to accord here; and to which
my readers would cheerfully add their voices, if they ever felt inclined to test its impartiality by
their own experience.
Chapter 10 — The Modern Drama in Cornwall

Our walk from Botallack Mine to St. Ives, led us almost invariably between moors and
hills on one side, and cliffs and sea on the other; and displayed some of the dreariest views
that we had yet beheld in Cornwall. About nightfall, we halted for a short time at a place which
was certainly not calculated to cheer the traveller along his onward way.
Imagine three or four large, square, comfortless-looking, shut-up houses, all apparently
uninhabited; add some half-dozen miserable little cottages standing near the houses, with the
nasal notes of a Methodist hymn pouring disastrously through the open door of one of them;
let the largest of the large buildings be called an inn, but let it make up no beds, because
nobody ever stops to sleep there: place in the kitchen of this inn a sickly little girl, and a
middle-aged, melancholy woman, the first staring despondently on a wasting fire, the second
offering to the stranger a piece of bread, three eggs, and some sour porter corked down in an
earthenware jar, as all that her larder and cellar can afford; fancy next an old, grim, dark
church, with two or three lads leaning against the churchyard wall, looking out together in
gloomy silence on a solitary high road; conceive a thin, slow rain falling, a cold twilight just
changing into darkness, a surrounding landscape wild, barren, and shelterless — imagine all
this, and you will have the picture before you which presented itself to me and my companion,
when we found ourselves in the village of Morvah.
Late that night, we got to the large sea-port town of St. Ives; and stayed there two or
three days to look at the pilchard fishery, which was then proceeding with all the bustle and
activity denoting the commencement of a good season. Leaving St. Ives, on our way up the
northern coast, we now passed through the central part of the mining districts of Cornwall.
Chimneys and engine-houses chequered the surface of the landscape; the roads glittered with
metallic particles; the walls at their sides were built with crystallized stones; towns showed a
sudden increase in importance; villages grew large and populous; inns disappeared, and
hotels arose in their stead; people became less curious to know who we were, stared at us
less, gossiped with us less; gave us information, but gave us nothing more — no long stories,
no invitations to stop and smoke a pipe, no hospitable offers of bed and board. All that we saw
and heard tended to convince us that we had left the picturesque and the primitive, with the
streets of Looe and the fishermen at the Land’s End; and had got into the commercial part of
the county, among sharp, prosperous, business like people — it was like walking out of a
painter’s studio into a merchant’s counting-house!
As we were travelling, like the renowned Doctor Syntax, in search of the picturesque, we
hurried through this populous and highly-civilized region of Cornwall as rapidly as possible. I
doubt much whether we should not have passed as unceremoniously through the large town
of Redruth — the capital city of the mining districts — as we passed through several towns
and villages before it, had not our attention been attracted and our departure delayed by a
public notice, printed on rainbow-coloured paper, and pasted up in the most conspicuous part
of the market-place.
The notice set forth, that “the beautiful drama of The Curate’s Daughter” was to be
performed at night, in the “unrivalled Sans Pareil Theatre,” by “the most talented company in
England,” before “the most discerning audience in the world.” As far as we were individually
concerned, this theatrical announcement was remarkably tempting and well-timed. We were
now within one day’s journey of Piran Round, the famous amphitheatre where the old Cornish
Miracle Plays used to be performed. Anything connected with the stage was, therefore, a
subject of particular interest in our eyes. The bill before us seemed to offer a curious
opportunity of studying the dramatic tastes of the modern Cornish, on the very day before wewere about to speculate on the dramatic tastes of the ancient Cornish, among the remains of
their public theatre. Such an occasion was too favourable to be neglected; we ordered our
beds at Redruth, and joined the “discerning audience” assembled to sit in judgment on “The
Curate’s Daughter.”
The Sans Pareil Theatre was not of that order of architecture in which outward ornament
is studied. There was nothing “florid” about it; canvas, ropes, scaffolding-poles, and old
boards, threw an air of Saxon simplicity over the whole structure. Admitted within, we turned
instinctively towards the stage. On each side of the proscenium boards was painted a knight
in full armour, with powerful calves, weak knees, and an immense spear. Tallow candles,
stuck round two hoops, threw a mysterious light on the green curtain, in front of which sat an
orchestra of four musicians, playing on a trombone, an ophicleide, a clarionet, and a fiddle, as
loudly as they could — the artist on the trombone, especially, performing prodigies of blowing,
though he had not room enough to develop the whole length of his instrument. Every now and
then great excitement was created among the expectant audience by the vehement ringing of
a bell behind the scenes, and by the occasional appearance of a youth who gravely snuffed
the candles all round, with a skill and composure highly creditable to him, considering the
pertinacity with which he was stared at by everybody while he pursued his occupation.
At last, the bell was rung furiously for the twentieth time; the curtain drew up, and the
drama of “The Curate’s Daughter” began.
Our sympathies were excited at the outset. We beheld a lady-like woman who answered
to the name of “Grace;” and an old gentleman, dressed in dingy black, who personated her
father, the Curate; and who was, on this occasion (I presume through unavoidable
circumstances), neither more nor less than — drunk. There was no mistaking the cause of the
fixed leer in the reverend gentleman’s eye; of the slow swaying in his gait; of the gruff
huskiness in his elocution. It appeared, from the opening dialogue, that a pending law-suit,
and the absence of his daughter Fanny in London, combined to make him uneasy in his mind
just at present. But he was by no means so clear on this subject as could be desired — in
fact, he spoke through his nose, put in and left out his hs in the wrong places, and involved his
dialogue in a long labyrinth of parentheses whenever he expressed himself at any length. It
was not until the entrance of his daughter Fanny (just arrived from London: nobody knew why
or wherefore), that he grew more emphatic and intelligible. We now observed with pleasure
that he gave his children his blessing and embraced them both at once; and we were
additionally gratified by hearing from his own lips, that his “daughters were the h’all on which
his h’all depended — that they would watch h’over his ’ale autumn; and that whatever
happened the whole party must invariably trust in heabben’s obdipotent power!”
Grateful for this clerical advice, Fanny retired into the garden to gather her parent some
flowers; but immediately returned shrieking. She was followed by a Highwayman with a
cocked hat, mustachios, bandit’s ringlets, a scarlet hunting-coat, and buff boots. This
gentleman had shown his extraordinary politeness — although a perfect stranger — by giving
Miss Fanny a kiss in the garden; conduct for which the Curate very properly cursed him, in the
strongest language. Apparently a quiet and orderly character, the Highwayman replied by
beginning a handsome apology, when he was interrupted by the abrupt entrance of another
personage, who ordered him (rather late in the day, as we ventured to think) to “let go his
holt, and beware how he laid his brutal touch on the form of innocence!” This newcomer, the
parson informed us, was “good h’Adam Marle, the teacher of the village school.” We found
“h’Adam,” in respect of his outward appearance, to be a very short man, dressed in a
highcrowned modern hat, with a fringed vandyck collar drooping over his back and shoulders, a
modern frock-coat, buttoned tight at the waist, and a pair of jack-boots of the period of James
the Second. Aided by his advantages of costume, this character naturally interested us; and
we regretted seeing but little of him in the first scene, from which he retired, following the
penitent Highwayman out, and lecturing him as he went. No sooner were their backs turned,than a waggoner, in a clean smock-frock and high-lows, entered with an offer of a situation in
London for Fanny, which the unsuspicious Curate accepted immediately. As soon as he had
committed himself, it was confided to the audience that the waggoner was a depraved villain,
in the employ of that notorious profligate, Colonel Chartress, who had commissioned a second
myrmidon (of the female sex) to lure Fanny from virtue and the country, to vice and the
metropolis. By the time the plot had “thickened” thus far, the scene changed, and we got to
London at once.
We now beheld the Curate, Chartress’s female accomplice, Fanny, and the vicious
waggoner, all standing in a row, across the stage. The Curate, in a burst of amiability, had just
lifted up his hands to bless the company, when Colonel Chartress (dressed in an old naval
uniform, with an opera-hat of the year 1800), suddenly rushed in, followed by the
Highwayman, who having relapsed from penitence to guilt, had, as a necessary consequence,
determined to supplant Chartress in the favour of Miss Fanny. These two promptly seized
each other by the throat; vehement shouting, scuffling, and screaming ensued; and the
Curate, clasping his daughter round the waist, frantically elevated his walking-stick in the air.
Was he about to inflict personal chastisement on his innocent child? Who could say? Before
there was time to ask the question, the curtain fell with a bang, on the crisis of the first act.
In act the second, the first scene was described in the bills as Temple Bar by moonlight.
Neither Bar nor moonlight appeared when the curtain rose — so we took both for granted,
and fixed our minds on the story. The first person who now confronted us, was “good h’Adam
Marle.” The paint was all washed off his face; his immense spread of collar looked grievously
in want of washing; and he leaned languidly on an oaken stick. He had been walking — he
informed us — through the streets of London for six consecutive days and nights, without
sustenance, in search of Miss Fanny, who had disappeared since the skirmish at the end of
act the first, and had never been heard of since. Poor dear Marle! how eloquent he was with
his white handkerchief, when he fairly opened his heart, and confided to us that he was madly
attached to Fanny; that he knew he “was nothink” to her; and that, under existing
circumstances, he felt inclined to rest himself on a door step! Just as he had comfortably
settled down, the valet of the profligate Chartress entered, in the communicative stage of
intoxication; and immediately mentioned all his master’s private affairs to “h’Adam.” It
appeared that the Colonel had carried off Miss Fanny, had then got tired of her, and had
coolly handed her over to a Jew, in part payment of “a little bill.” Having ascertained the Jew’s
address, the indefatigable Marle left us (still without sustenance) to rescue the Curate’s
daughter, or die in the attempt.
The next scene disclosed Fanny, sitting conscience-stricken and inconsolable, in a red
polka jacket and white muslin slip. Mr. Marle, having discovered her place of refuge, now
stepped in to lecture and reclaim. Vain proceeding! The Curate’s daughter looked at him with
a scream, exclaimed, “Cuss me, h’Adam! cuss me!” and rushed out. “H’Adam,” after a
despondent soliloquy, followed with his eloquent handkerchief to his eyes; but, while he had
been talking to himself, our old friend the Highwayman had been on the alert, and had picked
Fanny up, fainting in the street. And what did he do with her after that? He handed her over to
his “comrades in villany.” And who were his comrades in villany? They were the trombone and
ophicleide players from the orchestra, and the “Miss Grace,” of act first, disguised as a bad
character, in a cloak, with a red pocket-handkerchief over her head. And what happened
next? A series of events happened next. Miss Fanny recovered on a sudden, perceived what
sort of company she had about her, rushed out a second time into the street, fell fainting a
second time on the pavement, and was picked up on this occasion by Colonel Chartress — in
the interests, it is to be presumed, of his friend, the Jew money-lender. Before, however, he
could get clear off with his prize, the indefatigably vicious Highwayman, and the indefatigably
virtuous Marle, precipitated themselves on the stage, assaulting Chartress, assaulting each
other, assaulting everybody. Fanny fell fainting a third time in the street; and before we couldfind out who was the third person who picked her up, down came the curtain in the midst of
the catastrophe.
Act the third was opened by the heroine, still injured, still inconsolable, and still clad in the
polka jacket and white slip. We thought her a very nice little woman, with a melodious,
genteel-comedy-voice, trim ankles, and a habit of catching her breath in the most pathetic
manner, at least a dozen times in the course of one soliloquy. While she was still assuring us
that she felt the most forlorn creature on the face of the earth, she was suddenly interrupted
by the entrance of no less a person than the Curate himself. We had seen nothing of the
reverend gentleman throughout the second act; but “h’Adam” had casually informed us that
his time had been passed at his parsonage, “sittun with his ’ed between his knees, sobbun!”
Having now wearied of this gymnastic method of indulging in parental grief, he had set forth to
seek his lost daughter, and had accidentally stopped at the very inn where she had taken
refuge. Nothing could be more piteous than his present appearance; he was infinitely more
tipsy, infinitely more dignified, and infinitely more parenthetical in his mode of expressing
himself, than when we last beheld him. A streak of burnt cork running down each side of his
venerable nose, showed us how deeply grief had increased the wrinkles of age; and our pity
for him reached its climax when he cast his clerical hat on the floor, sank drowsily into a chair,
and began to pray in these words: “Oh heabben! hear a solemn and a solid prayer — hear a
solemn heart who wants to embrace his darling Fanny!”
All this time, the lost daughter was hiding behind the forlorn father’s chair; an awful and
convenient darkness being thrown on the stage by the introduction of a plank between the
actors and the tallow candles. In this striking situation, Miss Fanny told her sad story, and
pleaded her own cause as a stranger, under disguise of the darkness. Useless — quite
useless! The reverend gentleman, having never turned round to see who it was that was
speaking to him, and having therefore no idea that it was his own daughter, received in
dignified silence the advances of a young person unknown to him. What course was now left
to the unhappy Fanny? The old course — a rush off the stage, and a swoon in the street. As
soon as her back was turned, the Parson, forgetting to take away his hat with him, staggered
out at the opposite side to continue his journey. He uttered as he went the following moral
observation:—“No soul so lost to Nature, but must be lost eternally — my ’art is broken!”
The next moment, we were startled by a long and elaborate trampling of feet behind the
scenes, and the villain Chartress, ran panic-stricken across the stage, hotly pursued by “good
h’Adam Marle.” In the eloquent language of virtue, thus did Adam address him:—“Stay,
ruffian, stay! Inquiring for Chartress at the bar of this inn, I found indeed that you was the very
identical. You foul, venomous, treacherous, voluptuous liar, where is the un’appy Fanny?
where is the victim of your prey? — Ha! ’oary-’edded ruffian, I have yer!” (Collars Chartress.)
“But no! I will not strike yer; I will drag yer!” It was interesting to see Adam exemplify the
peculiar distinction in the science of assault implied in his last words, by hauling Chartress all
round the stage. It was awful to observe that the Colonel lost his temper at the second round,
murderously snapped a pistol in “h’Adam’s” face, and rushed off in hot homicidal triumph. We
waited breathless for the fall of Marle. Nothing of the sort happened. He started, frowned,
paused, laughed fiercely, exclaimed — “The villain ’as missed!” and followed in pursuit.
In the interim, Miss Fanny had been picked up in the street, for the fourth time, by a
benevolent “washerwoman,” who happened to be passing by at the moment; had been
conveyed to the said washerwoman’s lodgings; and now appeared before us, despoiled, at
last, of all the glories of the red polka, enveloped from head to foot in clouds of white muslin,
and dying with frightful rapidity in an armchair. In the next and last scene, all that remained to
represent the unhappy heroine was a coffin decently covered with a white sheet. With slow
and funereal steps, the Curate, Miss Grace, “h’Adam,” the Highwayman, and the “venomous
and voluptuous liar,” Chartress, approached to weep over it. The Curate had gone raving mad
since we saw him last. His wig was set on wrong side foremost; the ends of his clerical cravatfloated wildly, a yard long at least over his shoulders; his eyes rolled in frenzy; he swooned at
the sight of the coffin; recovered convulsively; placed Marle’s hand in the hand of Miss Grace
(telling him that now one daughter was dead, nothing was left for him but to marry the other);
and then fell flat on his back, with a thump that shook the stage and made the audience start
unanimously. Marle — well-bred to the last — politely offered his arm to Grace; and pointing
to the coffin, asked Chartress, reproachfully, whether that was not his work. The Colonel took
off his opera-hat, raised his hand to his eyes, and doggedly answered, “Indeed, it is!” The
Tableau thus formed, was completed by the Highwayman, the coffin, and the defunct Curate;
and the curtain fell to slow music.
Such was the plot of this remarkable dramatic work, exactly as I took it down in the
theatre, between the acts; noting also in my pocket-book such scraps of dialogue as I have
presented to the reader, while they fell from the actors’ lips. There were plenty of comic
scenes in the play which I leave unmentioned; for their humour was of the dreariest, and their
morality of the lowest order that can possibly be conceived. I can only say, as the result of my
own experience at Redruth, that if the dramatic reforms which are now being attempted in the
theatrical by-ways of the metropolis succeed, there would be no harm in extending the
experiment as far as the locomotive stage of Cornwall. Good plays are good missionaries;
and, like missionaries, let them travel to teach.
And now, having seen enough of the modern drama in Cornwall, without waiting for the
songs, the dances, and the farces which are to follow the “Curate’s Daughter,” let us go on to
Piranzabuloe, and look at the theatre in which the Cornish of former days assembled;
endeavouring to discover, at the same time, by what sort of performances the people were
instructed or amused some two hundred and fifty years ago.
Chapter 11 — The Ancient Drama in Cornwall

We found the modern Cornish theatre situated in a populous town; built up, as a
temporary structure, with old canvas and boards; and opened to audiences only at night. We
found the ancient Cornish theatre placed in a perfect desert; constructed permanently, though
rudely, of mounds of turf — the sky forming its only roof, the flat plain its only stage, the broad
daylight its only means of illumination. Nothing of the kind could be more strongly marked than
the difference between the theatre of the past, and the theatre of the present day, in the far
West of England.
In like manner, the country about Piran Round (such is the name of the Old Cornish
amphitheatre) offers a startling contrast to the country about Redruth. You are at once
powerfully impressed by its barren solitude, its dreary repose, after the fertility and
populousness of the great mining districts through which you have just passed. Now, the large
towns and busy villages disappear, the mines grow rarer, the roads look deserted, the wide
pathways dwindle to the merest foot-track. Again you behold the spacious moor rolling away
in alternate hill and dale to the far horizon; again you pass though the quaint coast villages;
and see the few simple cottages, the few old boats, the little groups talking quietly at the inn
door, as they have already presented themselves along the southern and western shores of
Cornwall. Soon, however, your onward road towards Piran Round becomes yet more
desolate. Ere long, not even a solitary cottage is in sight, not a living being appears: you find
yourself wandering along the uneven boundary of a wilderness of sand-hills heaped up from
the seashore by the wind. You look over a perfect desert of miniature mountains and valleys,
in some places overgrown with thin, dry grass; in others, dotted with little pools of mud and
stagnant water. Year by year, this invasion of sand encroaches on the moorland — year by
year, it is ever shifting, ever increasing, ever assuming newer and more fantastic forms, now
in one direction and now in another, with each fresh storm.
When you leave this dreary scene, you only leave it for the wild flat heath, the open
naked country once more. You follow your long road, visible miles on before you, winding
white and serpent-like over the dark ground, until you suddenly observe in the distance an
object which rises strangely above the level prospect. You approach nearer, and behold a
circular turf embankment; a wide, lonesome, desolate enclosure, looking like a witches’
dancing-ring that has sprung up in the midst of the open moor. This is Piran Round. Here, the
old inhabitants of Cornwall assembled to form the audience of the drama of former days.
A level area of grassy ground, one hundred and thirty feet in diameter, is enclosed by the
embankment. There are two entrances to this area cut through the boundary circle of turf and
earth, which rises to a height of nine or ten feet, and narrows towards the top, where it is
seven feet wide. All round the inside of the embankment steps were formerly cut; but their
traces are now almost obliterated by the growth of the grass. They were originally seven in
number; the spectators stood on them in rows, one above another — a closely packed
multitude, all looking down at the dramatic performances taking place on the wide
circumference of the plain. When it was well filled, the amphitheatre must have contained
upwards of two thousand people.
Such is this rude, yet extraordinary structure, in our time. It has not lost its patriarchal
simplicity since the far distant period when the populace thronged its turf steps to welcome the
strolling players of their age. The antiquity of Piran Round dates back beyond the period of the
earliest and rudest dramatic performances on English ground. It was first used for popular
sports, for single combats, for rustic councils. Then, plays were acted in it — miracle plays —
some translated into the ancient Cornish language, some originally written in it. The oldest ofthese are lost; but one of a comparatively late date has been preserved and translated into
English. We will examine this book while we sit within the deserted amphitheatre; and thus, in
imagination at least, people the simple stage before us with the rough country actors who
once trod it — thus pry behind the scenes at all that is left to us of the ancient drama in
The play which we now open is called by the comprehensive title of “The Creation of the
World, with Noah’s Flood.” It was translated in 1611, from a drama of much earlier date, for
performance in Cornish, by William Jordan; was then rendered into English by John Keygwyn,
in 1691; and was finally corrected and published by Mr. Davies Gilbert, in 1827. The Cornish
and English versions are printed on opposite pages, so we can compare the two throughout,
as we go on.
The play is in five acts, and is written in poetry — in a rambling octosyllabic metre, often
varied by the introduction of longer or shorter lines, and sometimes interspersed (in the
Cornish version) with a word or two of English. It occupies a hundred and eighty pages,
containing on the average about twenty-five lines each. This would be thought rather a lengthy
manner of developing a dramatic story in our days; but we must remember that the time
embraced in the plot of the old playwright extends from the Creation to the Flood, and must
be astonished and thankful that he has not been more diffuse.
The dramatis personæ muster by the legion. In the first act, we have the whole heavenly
host: in the second, are superadded Adam, Eve, “Torpen, a devil,” Beelzebub, the Serpent,
and Michael the Archangel; in the third, besides these, Death, Cain and his wife, Abel and
Seth; in the fourth, we have the addition of Lamech, a servant, a Cherubim, and a first and
second devil; and in the fifth, Enoch, Noah and his wife, Shem, Ham, Japhet, Seth, Jaball,
and Tubal Cain.
The author manages this tremendous list of mortal and immortal characters with infinite
coolness and dexterity. Nothing appears to embarrass him. He follows history in a negligent,
sauntering way, passing over a hundred years or so, whenever it is convenient; and giving all
his personages their turn of talking in orderly and impartial rotation. His speeches are
wonderfully moral and long; even his worst characters have, for the most part, a temperate
and logical way of uttering the most violent language, which must have read an excellent
lesson to the roistering young gentlemen among the audiences of the time.
We will now examine the play a little in detail, quoting the stage directions (the most
extraordinary part of it) exactly as they occur; and occasionally presenting a line or two of the
dialogue from the old English translation wherever it best illustrates the author’s style.
The first act comprehends the fall of the angels — the introductory stage direction
commanding that the theatrical clouds, and the whole sky to boot, shall open when Heaven is
named! All is harmony at the outset of the play, until it is Lucifer’s turn to speak. He declares
that he alone is great, and that all allegiance must be given to him. Some of the angels glorify
him accordingly; others remain true to their celestial service; the debate grows warm, and
some of the disputants give each other the lie (but very calmly). At length, the scene is closed
by Lucifer’s condemnation to Hell, which, as the directions provide, “shall gape when it is
named.” The faithful angels are then told to “have swords and staves ready for Lucifer,” who,
we are informed, “voideth and goeth down to Hell apparelled foul, with fire about him, turning
to Hell, with every degree of devils and lost spirits on cords running into the plain.” With this
stirring scene the act ends.
The second act comprises the creation and fall of man. Here, again, we will consult the
stage directions, as giving the best idea of the incidents and scenes. We find that Adam and
Eve are to be “apparelled in white leather in a place appointed by the conveyor” (probably the
person we term stage-manager now); “and are not to be seen until they be called; and then
each rises.” After this, we read:—“Let Paradise be finely made, with fair trees in it, and apples
upon a tree, and other fruit on the others. A fountain, too, in Paradise, and fine flowerspainted. Put Adam into Paradise — let flowers appear in Paradise — let Adam lie down and
sleep where Eve is, and she, by the conveyor, must be taken from Adam’s side — let fishes
of all sorts, birds and beasts, as oxen, kyne, sheep, and such like, appear.”
Then, we have the preparations for the temptation, ordered thus:—“A fine serpent to be
made with a virgin’s face, and yellow hair on her head. Let the serpent appear, and also
geese and hens.” Lucifer enters immediately afterwards, and goes into the serpent, which is
then directed to be “seen singing in a tree” (the actor who personated Lucifer must have had
some gymnastic difficulties to contend with in his part!)—“Eve looketh strange on the serpent;”
then, “talketh familiarly and cometh near him;” then, “doubteth and looketh angrily;” and then
eats part of the apple, shows it to Adam, and insists on his eating part of it too, in the following

Sir, in a few words,
Taste them part of the apple,
Or my love thou shalt lose!
See, take this fair apple,
Or surely between thee and thy wife
The love shall utterly fail,
If thou wilt not eat of it!

The stage direction now proceeds:—“Adam receiveth the apple and tasteth it, and so
repenteth and casteth it away. Eve looketh on Adam very strangely and speaketh not
anything.” During this pause, the “conveyor” is told “to get the fig-leaves ready.” Then Lucifer
is ordered to “come out of the serpent and creep on his belly to hell;” Adam and Eve receive
the curse, and depart out of Paradise, “showing a spindle and distaff”— no badly-conceived
emblem of the labour to which they are henceforth doomed. And thus the second act
The third act treats of Cain and Abel; and is properly opened by an impersonation of
Death. After which Cain and Abel appear to sacrifice.
Cain makes his offering of the first substance that comes to hand —“dry cow-dung”(!);
and tells Abel that he is a “dolthead” and “a frothy fool” for using anything better. “Abel is
stricken with a jawbone and dieth; Cain casteth him into a ditch.” The effect of the first murder
on the minds of our first parents, is delineated in some speeches exhibiting a certain antique
simplicity of thought, which almost rises to the poetical by its homely adherence to nature, and
its perfect innocence of effort, artifice, or display. The banishment of Cain, still glorying in his
crime, follows the lamentations of Adam and Eve for the death of Abel; and the act is closed
by Adam’s announcement of the birth of Seth.
The fourth act relates the deaths of Cain and Adam, and contains some of the most
eccentric, and also, some of the most elevated writing in the play. Lamech opens the scene,
candidly and methodically exposing his own character in these lines:—

Sure I am the first
That ever yet had two wives!
And maidens in sufficient plenty
They are to me. I am not dainty,
I can find them where I will;
Nor do I spare of them
In anywise one that is handsome.
But I am wondrous troubled,
Scarce do I see one glimpse
What the devil shall be done!
In this vagabond frame of mind Lamech goes out hunting, with bow and arrow, and
shoots Cain, accidentally, in a bush. When Cain falls, Lamech appeals to his servant, to know
what is it that he has shot. The servant declares that it is “hairy, rough, ugly, and a buck-goat
of the night.” Cain, however, discovers himself before he dies. There is something rudely
dreary and graphic about his description of his loneliness, bare as it is of any recommendation
of metaphors or epithets:

Deformed I am very much,
And overgrown with hair;
I do live continually in heat or cold frost,
Surely night and day;
Nor do I desire to see the son of man,
With my will at any time;
But accompany most time with all the beasts.

Lamech, discovering the fatal error that he has committed, kills his servant in his anger;
and the scene ends with “the devils carrying them away with great noise to hell.”
The second scene is between Adam and his son Seth; and here, the old dramatist often
rises to an elevation of poetical feeling, which, judging from the preceding portions of the play,
we should not have imagined he could reach. Barbarous as his execution may be, the simple
beauty of his conception often shines through it faintly, but yet palpably, in this part of the
Adam is weary of life and weary of the world; he sends Seth to the gates of Paradise to
ask mercy and release for him, telling his son that he will find the way thither by his father’s
foot-prints, burnt into the surface of the earth which was cursed for Adam’s transgression.
Seth finds and follows the supernatural marks, is welcomed by the angel at the gate of
Paradise, and is permitted to look in. He beholds there, an Apocalypse of the redemption of
the world. On the tree of life sit the Virgin and Child; while on the tree from which Eve plucked
the apple, “the woman” is seen, having power over the serpent. The vision changes, and Cain
is shown in hell, “sorrowing and weeping.” Then the angel plucks three kernels from the tree
of life, and gives them to Seth for his father’s use, saying that they shall grow to another tree
of life, when more than five thousand years are ended; and that Adam shall be redeemed
from his pains when that period is fulfilled. After this, Seth is dismissed by the angel and
returns to communicate to his father the message of consolation which he has received.
Adam hears the result of his son’s mission with thankfulness; blesses Seth; and speaks
these last words, while he is confronted by Death:—

Old and weak, I am gone!
To live longer is not for me:
Death is come,
Nor will here leave me
To live one breath!

I see him now with his spear,
Ready to pierce me on every side,
There is no escaping from him!
The time is welcome with, me —
I have served long in the world!

So, the patriarch dies, trusting in the promise conveyed through his son; and is buried bySeth “in a fair tomb, with some Church sonnet.”
After this impressive close to the fourth act — impressive in its intention, however clumsy
the appliances by which that intention is worked out — it would be doing the old author no
kindness to examine his fifth act in detail. Here, he sinks again in many places, to puerility of
conception and coarseness of dialogue. It is enough to say that the history of the Flood closes
the drama, and that the spectators are dismissed with an epilogue, directing them to “come
tomorrow, betimes, and see very great matters”— the minstrels being charged, at the
conclusion to “pipe,” so that all may dance together, as the proper manner of ending the day’s
And now, let us close the book, look forth over this lonesome country and lonesome
amphitheatre, and imagine what a scene both must have presented, when a play was to be
acted on a fine summer’s morning in the year 1611.
Fancy, at the outset, the arrival of the audience — people dressed in the picturesque
holiday costume of the time, which varied with every varying rank, hurrying to their daylight
play from miles off; all visible in every direction on the surface of the open moor, and all
converging from every point of the compass to the one common centre of Piran Round. Then,
imagine the assembling in the amphitheatre; the running round the outer circle of the
embankment to get at the entrances; the tumbling and rushing up the steps inside; the racing
of hot-headed youngsters to get to the top places; the sly deliberation of the elders in
selecting the lower and safer positions; the quarrelling when a tall man chanced to stand
before a short one; the giggling and blushing of buxom peasant wenches when the gallant
young bachelors of the district happened to be placed behind them; the universal speculations
on the weather; the universal shouting for pots of ale — and finally, as the time of the
performance drew near and the minstrels appeared with their pipes, the gradual hush and
stillness among the multitude; the combined stare of the whole circular mass of spectators on
one point in the plain of the amphitheatre, where all knew that the actors lay hidden in a pit,
properly covered in from observation — the mysterious “green-room” of the strolling players of
old Cornwall!
And the play! — to see the play must have been a sight indeed! Conceive the
commencement of it; the theatrical sky which was to open awfully whenever Heaven was
named; the mock clouds coolly set up by the “property-man” on an open-air stage, where the
genuine clouds appeared above them to expose the counterfeit; the hard fighting of the
angels with swords and staves; the descent of the lost spirits along cords running into the
plain; the thump with which they must have come down; the rolling off of the whole troop over
the grass, to the infernal regions, amid shouts of applause from the audience as they rolled!
Then the appearance of Adam and Eve, packed in white leather, like our modern dolls — the
serpent with the virgin’s face and the yellow hair, climbing into a tree, and singing in the
branches — Cain falling out of the bush when he was struck by the arrow of Lamech, and his
blood appearing, according to the stage directions, when he fell — the making of the Ark, the
filling it with live stock, the scenery of the Deluge, in the fifth act! What a combination of
theatrical prodigies the whole performance must have presented! How the actors must have
ranted to make themselves heard in the open air; how often the machinery must have gone
wrong, and the rude scenery toppled and tumbled down! Could we revive at will, for mere
amusement, any of the bygone performances of the theatre, since the first days of barbaric
acting in a cart, assuredly the performances at Piran Round would be those which, without
hesitation, we should select from all others to call back to life.
The end of the play, too — how picturesque, how striking all the circumstances attending
it must have been! Oh that we could hear again the merry old English tune piped by the
minstrels, and see the merry old English dancing of the audience to the music! Then, think of
the separation and the return home of the populace, at sunset; the fishing people strolling off
towards the seashore; the miners walking away farther inland; the agricultural labourersspreading in all directions, wherever cottages and farm-houses were visible in the far distance
over the moor. And then the darkness coming on, and the moon rising over the amphitheatre,
so silent and empty, save at one corner, where the poor worn-out actors are bivouacking
gipsy-like in their tents, cooking supper over the fire that flames up red in the moonlight, and
talking languidly over the fatigues and the triumphs of the play. What a moral and what a
beauty in the quiet night view of the old amphitheatre, after the sight that it must have
presented during the noise, the bustle, and the magnificence of the day!
Shall we dream over our old play any longer? Shall we delay a moment more, ere we
proceed on our journey, to compare the modern with the ancient drama in Cornwall, as we
have already compared the theatre of Redruth with the theatre of Piran Round? If we set
them fairly against one another as we now know them, would it be rash to determine which
burnt purest — the new light that flared brilliantly in our eyes when we last saw it, or the old
light that just flickered in the socket for an instant, as we tried to trim it afresh? Or, if we rather
inquire which audience had the advantage of witnessing the worthiest performance, should we
hesitate to decide at once? Between the people at Redruth, and the people at Piran Round,
there was certainly a curious resemblance in one respect — they failed alike to discern the
barbarisms and absurdities of the plays represented before them; but were they also equally
uninstructed by what they beheld? Which was likeliest to send them away with something
worth thinking of, and worth remembering — the drama about knaves and fools, at the
modern theatre, or the drama about Scripture History at the ancient? Let the reader consider
and determine.
For our parts, let us honestly confess that though we took up the old play (not
unnaturally) to laugh over the clumsiness and eccentricity of the performance, we now lay it
down (not inconsistently), recognising the artless sincerity and elevation of the design — just
as in the earliest productions of the Italian School of Painting we first perceive the false
perspective of a scene or the quaint rigidity of a figure, and only afterwards discover that
these crudities and formalities enshrine the germs of deep poetic feeling, and the first
struggling perceptions of grace, beauty, and truth.
Chapter 12 — The Nuns of Mawgan

About three miles from the large market-town of St. Columb Major, in the direction of the
coast, is situated the Vale of Mawgan. The village of the same name occupies the lower part
of the valley, and includes a few cottages, an old church, a yet older manor-house, and a
clear running stream, crossed by a little stone bridge, all nestling close together on a few
hundred yards of ground enclosed by some of the most luxuriant wood foliage in Cornwall.
The trees bound each side of the stream, tinging it in deep places where it eddies smoothly,
with hues of lustrous green; and dipping their lower branches into it, where it ripples on white
pebbles or glides fast over grey sand. They cluster thickly about the old church-yard, as if to
keep the place secret, throwing deep shadows over the graves, and hiding all outer objects
from the eye. The small cottage garden and the spacious manor-house enjoy their verdant
shelter alike; the bye-roads leading in and out of the village, are soon lost to view amid
outspread branches; and not even a peep of the land that leads on to the sea in one direction,
and back to the town in the other, is to be obtained through the natural screen of leaves
above, and mosses, ferns, and high grass below, which closely shut in this part of the Vale of
Mawgan from the open country around.
There is an unbroken, unworldly tranquillity about this secluded place, which
communicates itself mysteriously to the stranger’s thoughts; making him unconsciously
slacken in his walk, and look and listen in silence, when he enters it, as if he had penetrated
into a new sphere. Slight noises, rarely noticed elsewhere, are always audible here. The dull
fall of the latch, when an idle child carelessly opens the churchyard wicket, sounds from one
end of the village to the other. The curious traveller who wanders round the walls of the old
church, peering through its dusty lattice windows at the dark religious solitude within, can hear
the lightest flap of a duck’s wing in the stream below; or the gentlest rustle of distant leaves,
as the faint breeze moves them in the upland woods above. But these, and all other sounds,
never break the peaceful charm of the place — they only deepen its unearthly stillness.
Within the church-yard, the bright colour of the turf, and the quiet grey hues of the
mouldering tombstones, are picturesquely intermingled all over the uneven surface of the
ground, save in one remote corner, where the graves are few and the grass grows rank and
high. Here, the eye is abruptly attracted by the stern of a boat, painted white, and fixed
upright in the earth. This strange memorial, little suited though it be to the old monuments
around, has a significance of its own which gives it a peculiar claim to consideration. Inscribed
on it, appear the names of ten fishermen of the parish who went out to sea to pursue their
calling, on one wintry night in 1846. It was unusually cold on land — on the sea, the frosty
bitter wind cut through to the bones. The men were badly provided against the weather; and
hardy as they were, the weather killed them that night. In the morning, the boat drifted on
shore, manned like a spectre bark, by the ghastly figures of the dead — freighted horribly with
the corpses of ten men all frozen to death. They are now buried in Mawgan church-yard; and
the stern of the boat they died in tells their fatal story, and points to the last home which they
share together.
But it is not from such a village tragedy as this; it is not from its retired situation, its
Arcadian peacefulness, its embowering trees and hidden hermit-like beauties of natural
scenery, that the vale of Mawgan derives its peculiar interest. It possesses an additional
attraction, stronger than any of these, to fix our attention — it is the scene of a romance
which we may still study, of a mystery which is of our own time. Even to this little hidden nook,
even to this quiet bower of Nature’s building, that vigilant and indestructible Papal religion,
which defies alike hidden conspiracy and open persecution, has stretched its stealthy and far-spreading influence. Even in this remote corner of the remote west of England, among the
homely cottages of a few Cornish peasants, the imperial Christianity of Rome has set up its
sanctuary in triumph — a sanctuary not thrown open to dazzle and awe the beholder, but
veiled in deep mystery behind gates that only open, like the fatal gates of the grave, to
receive, but never to dismiss again to the world without.
It is this attribute of the vale of Mawgan which leads the stranger away from the cool,
clear stream, and the pleasant, shadowy recesses among the trees, to an ancient building
near the church, which he knows to have been once an old English manorial hall — to be now
a convent of Carmelite nuns.
The House of Lanhearne, so it is named, comprises an ancient and a modern portion;
the first dating back before the time of the Conquest, the second added probably not more
than a century and a half ago. The place formerly belonged to the old Cornish family of the
Arundels; but about the year 1700, their race became extinct, and the property passed into
the possession of the present Lord Arundel. However, although the manor-house has
changed masters, there is one peculiar circumstance connected with it, which has remained
unaltered down to the present time — it has never had a Protestant owner.
Thus, whatever religious traditions are connected with it, are Roman Catholic traditions.
A secret recess remains in the wall of the old house, where a priest was hidden from his
pursuers, during the reign of Elizabeth, for eighteen months; the place being only large
enough to allow a man to stand upright in it. The skull of another priest who was burnt at the
same period, is also preserved with jealous care, as one of the important relics of the ancient
history of Lanhearne.
About the commencement of this century, the manor-house entirely changed its
character. It was at that time given to the Carmelite nuns, who now inhabit it, by Lord Arundel.
The sisterhood was originally settled in France, and was removed thence to Antwerp, at the
outbreak of the first French Revolution. Shortly afterwards, when the affairs of the Continent
began to assume a threatening and troubled aspect, the nuns again migrated, and sought in
England, at Lanhearne House, the last asylum which they still occupy.
The strictness of their order is preserved with a severity of discipline which is probably
without parallel anywhere else in Europe. It is on our free English ground, in one of our
simplest and prettiest English villages, that the austerities of a Carmelite convent are now
most resolutely practised, and the seclusion of a Carmelite convent most vigilantly preserved,
by the nuns of Mawgan! They are at present twenty in number: two of them are
Frenchwomen, the rest are all English. They are of every age, from the very young to the very
old. The eldest of the sisterhood has long passed the ordinary limits of human life — she has
attained ninety-five years.
The nuns never leave the convent, and no one even sees them in it. Women even are
not admitted to visit them: the domestic servants, who have been employed in the house for
years, have never seen their faces, have never heard them speak. It is only in cases of
severe and dangerous illness, when their own skill and their own medicines do not avail them,
that they admit, from sheer necessity, the only stranger who ever approaches them — the
doctor; and on these occasions, whenever it is possible, the face of the patient is concealed
from the medical man.
The nuns occupy the modern part of the house, which is entirely built off, inside, from the
ancient. Their only place for exercise is a garden of two acres, enclosed by lofty walls, and
surrounded by trees. Their food and other necessaries are conveyed to them through a
turning door; all personal communition with the servants’ offices being carried on through the
medium of lay sisters. The nuns have a private way, known only to themselves, to the chapel
choir, which is constructed in the form of a gallery, boarded in at the sides and concealed by a
curtain and close grating in front. The chapel itself is in the old part of the house, and occupies
what was formerly the servants’ hall. The officiating priest who undertakes the duties here,lives in this portion of the building, and leads a life of complete solitude, until he is relieved by
a successor. He never sees the face of one of the nuns; he cannot even ask one of his own
profession to dine with him, without first of all obtaining (by letter) the express permission of
the Abbess; and when his visitor is at length admitted, it is impossible to gain for him — let
him be who he may — the additional indulgence of being allowed to sleep in the house.
The chapel is the only part of the whole interior of the building to which strangers can be
admitted: those who desire to do so can attend mass there on Sundays. The casual visitor,
when permitted to enter it, is not allowed to pass beyond the pillars which support the gallery
of the choir above him; for if he advanced farther, the nuns who might then be occupying it,
might see him while they were engaged at their devotions. The chapel exhibits nothing in the
way of ornament, beyond the altar furniture and a few copies from pictures on sacred subjects
by the old masters. Some of the more valuable objects devoted to its service are not shown.
These consist of the sacred vestments and the sacramental plate, which are said to be of
extraordinary beauty and value, and are preserved in the keeping of the Abbess. The worth of
one of the jewelled chalices alone has been estimated at a thousand pounds.
Much of the land in the neighbourhood belongs to the convent, which has been enriched
by many valuable gifts. The nuns make a good use of their wealth. Neither the austerities and
mortifications to which their lives are devoted, nor their rigid and terrible self-exclusion from all
intercourse with their fellow-beings in the world around them, have diminished their sympathy
for affliction, or their readiness in ministering to the wants of the poor. Any assistance of any
kind that they can render, is always at the service of those who require it, without distinction of
rank or religion. No wandering beggar who rings at the convent bell, ever leaves the door
without a penny and a piece of bread to help him on his way.
But the charities of the nuns of Mawgan do not stop short at the first good work of
succouring the afflicted; they extend also to a generous sympathy for those human
weaknesses of impatience and irresolution in others, which they have surmounted, but not
forgotten themselves. Rather more than twelve years since, a young girl of eighteen applied to
be admitted to share the dreary life-indeath existence of the Carmelite sisterhood. She was
received for her year of probation: it expired, and she still held firmly to her first determination.
But the nuns, in pity to her youth, and perhaps mournfully remembering, even in their life-long
seclusion of mind and body, how strong are the ties which bind together the beings of this
world and the things of this world, gave her more time yet to search her own motives, to look
back on what she was abandoning, to look forward on what she desired to obtain. Mercifully
refusing to grant her her own wishes, they forebore the performance of the fatal ceremony
which irrevocably took her from earth to give her up only to Heaven, until she had undergone
an additional year of probation. This last solemn period of delay which Christian charity and
sisterly love had piously granted, expired, and found her still determined to adhere to her
resolution. She took the veil; and the dreary gates of Lanhearne have closed on all that is
mortal of her for ever!
The convent has two burial places. The first is in an ancient recess within the village
church, and was given to the nuns with the manor-house. Those among them who first
expired on English ground, lie buried here — the Catholic dead have returned to the once
Catholic edifice, where the Protestant living now worship! When the Carmelite funeral
procession entered this place, it entered at the dead of night, to avoid the chance of any
intrusion. But as the nuns have no private entrance to their burial-vault, and have been by law
prohibited from making one; as they are obliged to pass through the public door of the church
and walk up the nave, they are at the mercy of any stranger who can gain admittance to the
building, and who may be led by idle curiosity to watch the ceremonies which accompany their
midnight service for the dead. Feeling this, they have of late years abandoned their burial
place, after first carefully boarding it off from all observation. No inquisitive eyes can now
behold, no intruding footsteps can now approach, the tombs of the nuns of Mawgan.The second cemetery, which they use at present, is situated in one of the
conventgardens, and can therefore be secured, whenever they please, from all observation. A
wooden door at one corner of the ancient portion of the manor-house leads into it. The place
is merely a small, square plot of ground, damp, shady, and overgrown with long grass. An old
and elaborately carved stone cross stands in it; and about this appear the graves of the nuns,
marked by plain slate tablets. But even here, the mystery which hangs darkly over the
Carmelite household does not clear — the seclusion that has hidden the living in the Convent,
is but the forerunner of the secrecy that veils from us on the tombstone the history of the
dead. The saint’s name once assumed by the nun, and the short yet beautiful supplication of
the Roman Church for the repose of the soul of the departed, form the only inscriptions that
appear over the graves.
This is all — all of the lives, all of the deaths of the sisterhood at Lanhearne that we can
ever know! The remainder must be conjecture. We have but the bare stern outline that has
been already drawn — who shall venture, even in imagination, to colour and complete the
picture which it darkly, yet plainly, indicates?
Even if we only endeavour to image to ourselves the externals of the life which those
massy walls keep secret, what have we to speculate on? Nothing but the day that in winter
and summer, in sunshine and in storm, brings with it year after year, to young and to old alike,
the same monotony of action and the same monotony of repose — the turning door in the
wall (sole indication to those within, that there is a world without), moved in silence, ever at the
same stated hour, by invisible hands — the prayer and penance in the chapel choir, always a
solitude to its occupants, however many of their fellow-creatures may be standing beneath it
— the short hours of exercise amid high garden walls, which shut out everything but the
distant sky. Beyond this, what remains but that utter vacancy where even thought ends; that
utter gloom in which the brightest fancy must cease to shine?
Should we try to look deeper than the surface; to strip the inner life of the convent of all
its mysteries and coverings, and anatomising it inch by inch, search it through down to the
very heart? Should we pry into the dread and secret processes by which, among these
women, one human emotion after another may be suffering, first ossification, then death? No!
— this is a task which is beyond our power; an investigation which, of our own knowledge, we
cannot be certain of pursuing aright. We may imagine grief that does not exist, remorse that is
not felt, error that has not been committed. It is not for us to criticise the catastrophe of the
drama, when we have no acquaintance with the scenes which have preceded it. It is not for
us, guided by our own thoughts, moved by the impulses of the world we live in, to decide upon
the measure of good or evil contained in an act of self-sacrifice at the altar of religion, which is
in its own motive and result so utterly separated from all other motives and results, that we
cannot at the outset even so much as sympathise with it. The purpose of the convent system
is of those purposes which are conceived in this world, but which appeal for justification or
condemnation only to the next.
“Judge not, that ye be not judged!” Those words sink deep into our hearts, as we look
our last upon the convent walls, and leave the living-dead at old Lanhearne.
Chapter 13 — Legends of the Northern Coast

From the time when we left St. Ives, we walked through the last part of our journey much
faster than we walked through the first; faster, perhaps, than the reader may have perceived
from these pages. When we stopped at the town of St. Columb Major, to visit the
neighbouring vale of Mawgan, we had already advanced half way up the northern coast of
Cornwall. Throughout this part of the county the towns lay wide asunder; and, as pedestrian
tourists, we were obliged to lengthen our walks and hasten our pace accordingly.
After we had quitted St. Columb Major, our rambles began to draw rapidly to their close.
Little more was now left for us to examine than the different localities connected with certain
interesting Cornish legends. The places thus associated with the quaint fancies of the olden
time, were all situated close together, some fifteen or twenty miles farther on, along the coast.
The first among them that we reached was Tintagel Castle, an ancient ruin magnificently
situated on a precipice overhanging the sea, and romantically, if not historically, reputed as
the birthplace of King Arthur.
The date of the Castle of Tintagel is as much a subject of perplexity among modern
antiquaries, as is the existence of King Arthur among modern historians. We may still see
some ruins of the Castle; but when or by whom the building was erected which those ruins
represent, we have no means of discovering: we only know that, after the Conquest, it was
inhabited by some of our English princes, and that it was used as a state prison so late as the
reign of Elizabeth. The rest is, for the most part, mere conjecture, raised upon the weak
foundation of a few mouldering fragments of walls which must soon crumble and disappear as
the rest of the Castle has crumbled and disappeared before them.
The position of the old fortress was, probably, almost impregnable in the days of its
strength and glory. The outer part of it was built on a precipitous projection of cliff, three
hundred feet high, which must have been wrenched away from the mainland by some
tremendous convulsion of Nature. The inner part stood on the opposite side of the chasm
formed by this convulsion; and both divisions of the fortress were formerly connected by a
draw-bridge. The most interesting portion of the few ruins now remaining, is that on the
outermost promontory, which is almost entirely surrounded by the sea. The way up to this cliff
is by a steep and somewhat perilous path; so narrow in certain places, where it winds along
the verge of the precipice, that a single false step would be certain destruction. The difficulties
of the ascent appear to have impressed the old historian of Cornwall, Norden, so vividly that
he tries in his “Survey,” to frighten all his readers from attempting it; warning “unstable man,”
if he will try to mount the cliff, that “while he respecteth his footinge he indaungers his head;
and looking to save the head, indaungers the footinge, accordinge to the old proverbe: Incidit
in Scyllam qui vult vitare Charybdim. He must have eyes,”— ominously adds the worthy
Norden —“that will scale Tintagel.”
The ruins on the summit of the promontory only consist of a few straggling walls, loosely
piled up, rather than built, with dark-coloured stone. Some still remain entire enough to show
the square loopholes that were pierced in them for arrows; and, here and there, fragments of
rough irregular arches, which might have been either doorways or windows, are still visible.
Those parts of the building which have fallen, are concealed by long, thickly growing grass —
the foot may sometimes strike against them, but the eye perceives them not. These are all
the vestiges which remain of the once mighty castle; all the signs that are left to point out the
site of the old halls, where the bold knights of Arthur gathered for the feast or prepared for the
fight, at their royal master’s command.
The Cornish legends tell us that the British hero held his last court, solemnized his lastfeast, reviewed his last array of warriors, at Tintagel, before he went out to the fatal
battlefield of Camelford, to combat his nephew Mordred, who had rebelled against his power. In the
morning, the martial assemblage marched out of the castle in triumph, led by the king, with his
death-dealing sword “Excalibur” slung at his shoulder, and his magic lance “Rou,” in his hand.
In the evening the warriors returned, fatally victorious, from the struggle. The rebel army had
been routed and the rebel chief slain; but they brought back with them, their renowned leader
— the favourite hero of martial adventure, the conqueror of the Saxons in twelve battles —
mortally wounded, from the field which he had quitted a victor.
That night, the wise and valiant king died in the castle of his birth; died among his
followers who had feasted and sung around him at the festal table but a few hours before.
The deep-toned bells of Tintagel rang his death peal; and the awe-stricken populace from the
country round, gathering together hurriedly before the fortress, heard portentous wailings from
supernatural voices, which mingled in ghostly harmony with the moaning of the restless sea,
the dirging of the dreary wind, and the dull deep thunder of the funeral knell. About the heights
of the castle, and in the caverns beneath it, these sounds ceased not night or day, until the
corpse of the hero was conveyed to the ship destined to bear it to its burial-place in
Glastonbury Abbey. Then, dirging winds, and moaning sea, and wailing voices, ceased; and in
the intervals between the slow pealing of the funeral bells, clear child-like voices arose from
the calmed waters, and told the mourning people that Arthur was gone from them but for a
little time, to be healed of all his wounds in the Fairy Land; and that he would yet return to lead
and to govern them, as of old.
Such is the scene — strange compound of fiction and truth, of the typical and the real —
which legends teach us to imagine in the Tintagel Castle of thirteen centuries ago! What is the
scene that we look on now? — A solitude where the decaying works of man, and the enduring
works of Nature appear mingled in beauty together. The grass grows high and luxuriant,
where the rushes were strewn over the floor of Arthur’s banqueting hall. Sheep are cropping
the fresh pasture, within the walls which once echoed to the sweetest songs, or rang to the
clash of the stoutest swords of ancient England! About the fortress nothing remains
unchanged, but the sun which at evening still brightens it in its weak old age with the same
glory that shone over its lusty youth; the sea that rolls and dashes, as at first, against its
foundation rocks; and the wild Cornish country outspread on either side of it, as desolately
and as magnificently as ever.
The grandeur of the scenery at Tintagel, the romantic interest of the old British traditions
connected with the castle, might well have delayed us many hours on these solitary heights;
but we had other places still to visit, other and far different legends still to gossip over.
Descending the cliff while the day gave us ample time to wander at our will; we strolled away
inland to track the scene of a new romance as far as the waterfall called Nighton’s Keive.
A walk of little more than half-a-mile brings us to the entrance of a valley, bounded on
either side by high, gently-sloping hills, with a small stream running through its centre, fed by
the waterfall of which we are in search. We now follow a footpath a few hundred yards, pass
by a mill, and looking up the valley, see one compact mass of vegetation entirely filling it to its
remotest corners, and not leaving the slightest vestige of a path, the merest patch of clear
ground, visible in any direction, far or near.
It seems as if all the foliage which ought to have grown on the Cornish moorlands, had
been mischievously crammed into this place, within the narrow limits of one Cornish valley.
Weeds, ferns, brambles, bushes, and young trees, are flourishing together here, thickly
intertwined in every possible position, in triumphant security from any invasion of bill-hook or
axe. You win every step of your way through this miniature forest of vegetation, by the labour
of your arms and the weight of your body. Tangled branches and thorny bushes press against
you in front and behind, meet over your head, knock off your cap, flap in your face, twist
about your legs, and tear your coat skirts; so obstructing you in every conceivable mannerand in every conceivable direction, that they seem possessed with a living power of
opposition, and commissioned by some evil genius of Fairy Mythology to prevent mortal
footsteps from intruding into the valley. Whether you try a zig-zag or a straight course,
whether you go up or down, it is the same thing — you must squeeze, and push, and jostle
your way through the crowd of bushes, just as you would through a crowd of men — or else
stand still, surrounded by leaves, like “a Jack-inthe-Green,” and wait for the very remote
chance of somebody coming to help you out.
Forcing our road incessantly through these obstructions, for a full half-hour, and taking
care to keep our only guide — the sound of the running-water — always within hearing, we
came at last to a little break in the vegetation, crossed the stream at this place, and found, on
the opposite side of the bank, a faintly-marked track, which might have been once a footpath.
Following it as well as we could among the branches and brambles, and now ascending steep
ground, we soon heard the dash of the waterfall. But to attempt to see it, was no easy
undertaking. The trees, the bushes, and the wild herbage grew here thicker than ever,
stretching in perfect canopies of leaves so closely across the overhanging banks of the
stream, as entirely to hide it from view. We heard the monotonous, eternal splashing of the
water, close at our ears, and yet vainly tried to obtain even a glimpse of the fall. Adverse Fate
led us up and down, and round and round, and backwards and forwards, amid a labyrinth of
overgrown bushes which might have bewildered an Australian settler; and still the nymph of
the waterfall coyly hid herself from our eyes. Our ears informed us that the invisible object of
which we were in search was of very inconsiderable height; our patience was evaporating; our
time was wasting away — in short, to confess the truth here, as I have confessed it elsewhere
in these pages, let me acknowledge that we both concurred in a sound determination to
consult our own convenience, and give up the attempt to discover Nighton’s Keive!
Our wanderings, however, though useless enough in one direction, procured us this
compensating advantage in another: they led us accidentally to the exact scene of the legend
which we knew to be connected with this part of the valley, and which had, indeed, first
induced us to visit it.
We found ourselves standing before the damp, dismantled stone walls of a solitary
cottage, placed on a plot of partially open ground, near the outskirts of the wood. Long dark
herbage grew about the inside of the ruined little building; a toad was crawling where the
leaves clustered thickest, on what had once been the floor of a room; in every direction
corruption and decay were visibly battening on the lonesome place. Its aspect would repel
rather than allure curiosity, but for the mysterious story associated with it, which gives it an
attraction and an interest that are not its own.
Years and years ago, when this desolate building was a neat comfortable cottage, it was
inhabited by two ladies, of whose histories, and even names, all the people of the district were
perfectly ignorant. One day they were accidentally found living in their solitary abode, before
any one knew that they had so much as entered it, or that they existed at all. Both appeared
to be about the same age, and both were inflexibly taciturn. One was never seen without the
other; if they ever left the house, they only left it to walk in the most unfrequented parts of the
wood; they kept no servant, and never had a visitor; no living souls but themselves ever
crossed the door of their cottage. They procured their food and other necessaries from the
people in the nearest village, paying for everything they received when it was delivered, and
neither asking nor answering a single unnecessary question. Their manners were gentle, but
grave and sorrowful as well. The people who brought them their household supplies, felt awed
and uneasy, without knowing why, in their presence; and were always relieved when they had
dispatched their errand and had got well away from the cottage and the wood.
Gradually, as month by month passed on, and the mystery hanging over the solitary pair
was still not cleared up, superstitious doubts spread widely through the neighbourhood.
Harmless as the conduct of the ladies always appeared to be, there was something so sinisterand startling about the unearthly seclusion and secrecy of their lives, that people began to feel
vaguely suspicious, to whisper awful imaginary rumours about them, to gossip over old stories
of ghosts and false accusations that had never been properly sifted to the end, whenever the
inhabitants of the cottage were mentioned. At last they were secretly watched by the less
scrupulous among the villagers, whom intense curiosity had endowed with a morbid courage
and resolution. Even this proceeding led to no results whatever, but increased rather than
diminished the mystery.
The expertest eavesdroppers who had listened at the door, brought away no information
with them for their pains. Some declared that when the ladies held any conversation together,
they spoke in so low a tone that it was impossible to distinguish a word they said. Others, of
more imaginative temperament, protested, on the contrary, that their voices were perfectly
audible, but that the language they talked was some mysterious or diabolical language of their
own, incomprehensible to everybody but themselves. One or two expert and daring spies had
even contrived to look in at them through the window, unperceived; but had seen nothing
uncommon, nothing supernatural — nothing, in short, beyond the spectacle of two ladies
sitting quietly and silently by their own fireside.
So matters went on, until one day universal agitation was excited in the neighbourhood
by a rumour that one of the ladies was dead. The rustic authorities immediately repaired to
the cottage, accompanied by a long train of eager followers; and found that the report was
true. The surviving lady was seated by her companion’s bedside, weeping over a corpse. She
spoke not a word; she never looked up at the villagers as they entered. Question after
question was put to her without ever eliciting an answer; kind words were useless — even
threats proved equally inefficient: the lady still remained weeping by the corpse, and still said
nothing. Gradually her inexorable silence began to infect the visitors to the cottage. For a few
moments nothing was heard in the room but the dash of the waterfall hard by, and the singing
of birds in the surrounding wood. Bitterly as the lady was weeping, it was now first observed
by everybody that she wept silently, that she never sobbed, never even sighed under the
oppression of her grief.
People began to urge each other, superstitiously, to leave the place. It was determined
that the corpse should be removed and buried; and that afterwards some new expedient
should be tried to induce the survivor of the mysterious pair to abandon her inflexible silence.
It was anticipated that she would have made some sign, or spoken some few words when
they lifted the body from the bed on which it lay; but even this proceeding produced no visible
effect. As the villagers quitted the dwelling with their dead burden, the last of them who went
out left her in her solitude, still speechless, still weeping, as they had found her at first.
Days passed, and she sent no message to any one. Weeks elapsed, and the idlers who
waited about the woodland paths where they knew that she was once wont to walk with her
companion, never saw her, watch for her as patiently as they might. From haunting the wood,
they soon got on to hovering round the cottage, and to looking in stealthily at the window.
They saw her sitting on the same seat that she had always occupied, with a vacant chair
opposite; her figure wasted, her face wan already with incessant weeping. It was a dismal
sight to all who beheld it — a vision of affliction and solitude that sickened their hearts.
No one knew what to do; the kindest-hearted people hesitated, the hardest-hearted
people dreaded to disturb her. While they were still irresolute, the end was at hand. One
morning a little girl, who had looked in at the cottage window in imitation of her elders,
reported, when she returned home, that she had seen the lady still sitting in her accustomed
place, but that one of her hands hung strangely over the arm of the chair, and that she never
moved to pick up her pocket-handkerchief, which lay on the ground beside her. At these
ominous tidings, the villagers summoned their resolution, and immediately repaired to the
lonesome cottage in the wood.
They knocked and called at the door — it was not opened to them. They raised the latchand entered. She still occupied her chair; her head was resting on one of her hands; the other
hung down, as the little girl had told them. The handkerchief, too, was on the ground, and was
wet with tears. Was she sleeping? They went round in front to look. Her eyes were wide open;
her drooping hand, worn almost to mere bone, was cold to the touch as the waters of the
valley-stream on a winter’s day. She had died in her wonted place; died in mystery and in
solitude as she had lived.
They buried her where they had buried her companion. No traces of the real history of
either the one or the other have ever been discovered from that time to this.
Such is the tale that was related to us of the cottage in the valley of Nighton’s Keive. It
may be only imagination; but the stained roofless walls, the damp clotted herbage, and the
reptiles crawling about the ruins, give the place a gloomy and disastrous look. The air, too,
seems just now unusually still and heavy here — for the evening is at hand, and the vapours
are rising in the wood. The shadows of the trees are deepening; the rustling music of the
waterfall is growing dreary; the utter stillness of all things besides, becomes wearying to the
ear. Let us pass on, and get into bright wide space again, where the down leads back to
happier solitudes by the seashore.
We now rapidly lose sight of the trees which have hitherto so closely surrounded us, and
find ourselves treading the short scanty grass of the cliff-top once more. We still advance
northward, walking along rough cart-roads, and skirting the extremities of narrow gullies
leading down to the sea, until we enter the picturesque village of Boscastle. Then, descending
a long street of irregular houses, of all sizes, shapes, and ages, we are soon conducted to the
bottom of a deep hollow. Beyond this, the bare ground rises again abruptly up to the highest
point of the high cliffs which overhang the shore; and here, where the site is most elevated,
and where neither cottages nor cultivation appear, we descry the ancient walls and gloomy
tower of Forrabury Church.
The interior of the building still contains a part of the finely-carved rood-loft which once
adorned it. Its rickety wooden pews are blackened with extreme old age, and covered with
curiously-cut patterns and cyphers. The place is so dark that it is difficult to read the
inscriptions on many of the mouldering monuments, fixed together without order or symmetry
on the walls. Outside are some Saxon arches, oddly built of black slate-stone; and the
window-mouldings are ornamented with rough carving, which at once proclaims its own
antiquity. But it is in the tower that the interest attached to the church chiefly centres. Square,
thick, and of no extraordinary height, it resembles in appearance most other towers in
Cornwall — except in one particular, all the belfry windows are completely stopped up.
This peculiarity is to be explained simply enough; the church has never had any bells; the
old tower has been mute, and useless except for ornament, since it was first built. The
congregation of the district must trust to their watches and their punctuality to get to service in
good time on Sundays. At Forrabury the chimes have never sounded for a marriage: the knell
has never been heard for a funeral.
To know the reason of this; to discover why the church, though tower and belfry have
always been waiting ready for them, has never had a peal of bells, we must seek instruction
from another popular tradition, from a third legend of these legendary shores. Let us go down
a little to the brink of the cliff, where the sea is rolling into a black, yawning, perpendicular pit
of slate rock. The scene of our third story is the view over the waters from this place.
In ancient times, when Forrabury Church was still regarded as a building of recent date,
it was a subject of sore vexation to all the people of the neighbourhood that their tower had no
bells, while the inhabitants of Tintagel still possessed the famous peal that had rung for King
Arthur’s funeral. For some years, this superiority of the rival village was borne with composure
by the people of Forrabury; but, in process of time, they lost all patience, and it was publicly
determined by the rustic council, that the honour of their church should be vindicated. Money
was immediately collected, and bells of magnificent tones and dimensions were forthwithordered from the best manufactory that London could supply.
The bells were cast, blessed by high ecclesiastical authorities, and shipped for
transportation to Forrabury. The voyage was one of the most prosperous that had ever been
known. Fair winds and calm seas so expedited the passage of the ship, that she appeared in
sight of the downs on which the church stood, many days before she had been expected.
Great was the triumph of the populace on shore, as they watched her working into the bay
with a steady evening breeze.
On board, however, the scene was very different. Here there was more uproar than
happiness, for the captain and the pilot were at open opposition. As the ship neared the
harbour, the bells of Tintagel were faintly heard across the water, ringing for the evening
service. The pilot, who was a devout man, took off his hat as he heard the sound, crossed
himself, and thanked God aloud for a prosperous voyage. The captain, who was a reckless,
vain-glorious fellow, reviled the pilot as a fool, and impiously swore that the ship’s company
had only to thank his skill as a navigator, and their own strong arms and ready wills, for
bringing the ship safely in sight of harbour. The pilot, in reply, rebuked him as an infidel, and
still piously continued to return thanks as before; while the captain, joined by the crew, tried to
drown his voice by oaths and blasphemy. They were still shouting their loudest, when the
vengeance of Heaven descended in judgment on them all.
The clouds supernaturally gathered, the wind rose to a gale in a moment. An immense
sea, higher than any man had ever beheld, overwhelmed the ship; and, to the horror of the
people on shore, she went down in an instant, close to land. Of all the crew, the pilot only was
The bells were never recovered. They were heard tolling a muffled death-peal, as they
sank with the ship; and even yet, on stormy days, while the great waves roll over them, they
still ring their ghostly knell above the fiercest roaring of wind and sea.
This is the ancient story of the bells — this is why the chimes are never heard from the
belfry of Forrabury Church.
Now that we have visited the scene of our third legend, what is it that keeps me and my
companion still lingering on the downs? Why we are still delaying the hour of our departure
long after the time which we have ourselves appointed for it?
We both know but too well. At this point we leave the coast, not to return to it again: at
Forrabury we look our last on the sea from these rocky shores. With this evening, our
pleasant days of strolling travel are ended. To-morrow we go direct to Launceston, and from
Launceston at once to Plymouth. To-morrow the adventures of the walking tourist are ours no
longer; for on that day our rambles in Cornwall will have virtually closed!
Rise, brother-traveller! We have lingered until twilight already; the seaward crags grow
vast and dim around us, and the inland view narrows and darkens solemnly in the waning
light. Shut up your sketch-book which you have so industriously filled, and pocket your pencils
which you have worn down to stumps, even as I now shut up my dogs-eared old journal, and
pocket my empty ink-bottle. One more of the few and fleeting scenes of life is fast closing,
soon to leave us nothing but the remembrance that it once existed — a happy remembrance
of a holiday walk in dear old England, which will always be welcome and vivid to the last, like
other remembrances of home.
Come! the night is drawing round us her curtain of mist; let us strap on our trusty old
friends, the knapsacks for the last time, and turn resolutely from the shore by which we have
delayed too long. Come! let us once again “jog on the footpath way” as contentedly, if not
quite as merrily, as ever; and, remembering how much we have seen and learnt that must
surely better us both, let us, as we now lose sight of the dark, grey waters, gratefully, though
sadly, speak the parting word:—
FAREWELL TO CORNWALL! A Terribly Strange Bed
First published : 1852
a short story

Shortly after my education at college was finished, I happened to be staying at Paris with
an English friend. We were both young men then, and lived, I am afraid, rather a wild life, in
the delightful city of our sojourn. One night we were idling about the neighborhood of the
Palais Royal, doubtful to what amusement we should next betake ourselves. My friend
proposed a visit to Frascati’s; but his suggestion was not to my taste. I knew Frascati’s, as the
French saying is, by heart; had lost and won plenty of five-franc pieces there, merely for
amusement’s sake, until it was amusement no longer, and was thoroughly tired, in fact, of all
the ghastly respectabilities of such a social anomaly as a respectable gambling-house. “For
Heaven’s sake,” said I to my friend, “let us go somewhere where we can see a little genuine,
blackguard, poverty-stricken gaming with no false gingerbread glitter thrown over it all. Let us
get away from fashionable Frascati’s, to a house where they don’t mind letting in a man with a
ragged coat, or a man with no coat, ragged or otherwise.” “Very well,” said my friend, “we
needn’t go out of the Palais Royal to find the sort of company you want. Here’s the place just
before us; as blackguard a place, by all report, as you could possibly wish to see.” In another
minute we arrived at the door, and entered the house, the back of which you have drawn in
your sketch.
When we got upstairs, and had left our hats and sticks with the doorkeeper, we were
admitted into the chief gambling-room. We did not find many people assembled there. But,
few as the men were who looked up at us on our entrance, they were all types — lamentably
true types — of their respective classes.
We had come to see blackguards; but these men were something worse. There is a
comic side, more or less appreciable, in all blackguardism — here there was nothing but
tragedy — mute, weird tragedy. The quiet in the room was horrible. The thin, haggard,
longhaired young man, whose sunken eyes fiercely watched the turning up of the cards, never
spoke; the flabby, fat-faced, pimply player, who pricked his piece of pasteboard perseveringly,
to register how often black won, and how often red — never spoke; the dirty, wrinkled old
man, with the vulture eyes and the darned great-coat, who had lost his last sou, and still
looked on desperately, after he could play no longer — never spoke. Even the voice of the
croupier sounded as if it were strangely dulled and thickened in the atmosphere of the room. I
had entered the place to laugh, but the spectacle before me was something to weep over. I
soon found it necessary to take refuge in excitement from the depression of spirits which was
fast stealing on me. Unfortunately I sought the nearest excitement, by going to the table and
beginning to play. Still more unfortunately, as the event will show, I won — won prodigiously;
won incredibly; won at such a rate that the regular players at the table crowded round me; and
staring at my stakes with hungry, superstitious eyes, whispered to one another that the
English stranger was going to break the bank.
The game was Rouge et Noir. I had played at it in every city in Europe, without, however,
the care or the wish to study the Theory of Chances — that philosopher’s stone of all
gamblers! And a gambler, in the strict sense of the word, I had never been. I was heart-whole
from the corroding passion for play. My gaming was a mere idle amusement. I never resorted
to it by necessity, because I never knew what it was to want money. I never practiced it so
incessantly as to lose more than I could afford, or to gain more than I could coolly pocket
without being thrown off my balance by my good luck. In short, I had hitherto frequented
gambling-tables — just as I frequented ball-rooms and opera-houses — because theyamused me, and because I had nothing better to do with my leisure hours.
But on this occasion it was very different — now, for the first time in my life, I felt what
the passion for play really was. My success first bewildered, and then, in the most literal
meaning of the word, intoxicated me. Incredible as it may appear, it is nevertheless true, that I
only lost when I attempted to estimate chances, and played according to previous calculation.
If I left everything to luck, and staked without any care or consideration, I was sure to win —
to win in the face of every recognized probability in favor of the bank. At first some of the men
present ventured their money safely enough on my color; but I speedily increased my stakes
to sums which they dared not risk. One after another they left off playing, and breathlessly
looked on at my game.
Still, time after time, I staked higher and higher, and still won. The excitement in the
room rose to fever pitch. The silence was interrupted by a deep-muttered chorus of oaths and
exclamations in different languages, every time the gold was shoveled across to my side of
the table — even the imperturbable croupier dashed his rake on the floor in a (French) fury of
astonishment at my success. But one man present preserved his self-possession, and that
man was my friend. He came to my side, and whispering in English, begged me to leave the
place, satisfied with what I had already gained. I must do him the justice to say that he
repeated his warnings and entreaties several times, and only left me and went away after I
had rejected his advice (I was to all intents and purposes gambling drunk) in terms which
rendered it impossible for him to address me again that night.
Shortly after he had gone, a hoarse voice behind me cried: “Permit me, my dear sir —
permit me to restore to their proper place two napoleons which you have dropped. Wonderful
luck, sir! I pledge you my word of honor, as an old soldier, in the course of my long experience
in this sort of thing, I never saw such luck as yours — never! Go on, sir — Sacre mille
bombes! Go on boldly, and break the bank!”
I turned round and saw, nodding and smiling at me with inveterate civility, a tall man,
dressed in a frogged and braided surtout.
If I had been in my senses, I should have considered him, personally, as being rather a
suspicious specimen of an old soldier. He had goggling, bloodshot eyes, mangy mustaches,
and a broken nose. His voice betrayed a barrack-room intonation of the worst order, and he
had the dirtiest pair of hands I ever saw — even in France. These little personal peculiarities
exercised, however, no repelling influence on me. In the mad excitement, the reckless triumph
of that moment, I was ready to “fraternize” with anybody who encouraged me in my game. I
accepted the old soldier’s offered pinch of snuff; clapped him on the back, and swore he was
the honestest fellow in the world — the most glorious relic of the Grand Army that I had ever
met with. “Go on!” cried my military friend, snapping his fingers in ecstasy —“Go on, and win!
Break the bank — Mille tonnerres! my gallant English comrade, break the bank!”
And I did go on — went on at such a rate, that in another quarter of an hour the croupier
called out, “Gentlemen, the bank has discontinued for to-night.” All the notes, and all the gold
in that “bank,” now lay in a heap under my hands; the whole floating capital of the
gamblinghouse was waiting to pour into my pockets!
“Tie up the money in your pocket-handkerchief, my worthy sir,” said the old soldier, as I
wildly plunged my hands into my heap of gold. “Tie it up, as we used to tie up a bit of dinner in
the Grand Army; your winnings are too heavy for any breeches-pockets that ever were
sewed. There! that’s it — shovel them in, notes and all! Credie! what luck! Stop! another
napoleon on the floor! Ah! sacre petit polisson de Napoleon! have I found thee at last? Now
then, sir — two tight double knots each way with your honorable permission, and the money’s
safe. Feel it! feel it, fortunate sir! hard and round as a cannon-ball — Ah, bah! if they had only
fired such cannon-balls at us at Austerlitz — nom d’une pipe! if they only had! And now, as an
ancient grenadier, as an ex-brave of the French army, what remains for me to do? I ask
what? Simply this: to entreat my valued English friend to drink a bottle of Champagne withme, and toast the goddess Fortune in foaming goblets before we part!”
Excellent ex-brave! Convivial ancient grenadier! Champagne by all means! An English
cheer for an old soldier! Hurrah! hurrah! Another English cheer for the goddess Fortune!
Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!
“Bravo! the Englishman; the amiable, gracious Englishman, in whose veins circulates the
vivacious blood of France! Another glass? Ah, bah! — the bottle is empty! Never mind! Vive le
vin! I, the old soldier, order another bottle, and half a pound of bonbons with it!”
“No, no, ex-brave; never — ancient grenadier! Your bottle last time; my bottle this.
Behold it! Toast away! The French Army! the great Napoleon! the present company! the
croupier! the honest croupier’s wife and daughters — if he has any! the Ladies generally!
everybody in the world!”
By the time the second bottle of Champagne was emptied, I felt as if I had been drinking
liquid fire — my brain seemed all aflame. No excess in wine had ever had this effect on me
before in my life. Was it the result of a stimulant acting upon my system when I was in a
highly excited state? Was my stomach in a particularly disordered condition? Or was the
Champagne amazingly strong?
“Ex-brave of the French Army!” cried I, in a mad state of exhilaration, “I am on fire! how
are you? You have set me on fire! Do you hear, my hero of Austerlitz? Let us have a third
bottle of Champagne to put the flame out!”
The old soldier wagged his head, rolled his goggle-eyes, until I expected to see them slip
out of their sockets; placed his dirty forefinger by the side of his broken nose; solemnly
ejaculated “Coffee!” and immediately ran off into an inner room.
The word pronounced by the eccentric veteran seemed to have a magical effect on the
rest of the company present. With one accord they all rose to depart. Probably they had
expected to profit by my intoxication; but finding that my new friend was benevolently bent on
preventing me from getting dead drunk, had now abandoned all hope of thriving pleasantly on
my winnings. Whatever their motive might be, at any rate they went away in a body. When the
old soldier returned, and sat down again opposite to me at the table, we had the room to
ourselves. I could see the croupier, in a sort of vestibule which opened out of it, eating his
supper in solitude. The silence was now deeper than ever.
A sudden change, too, had come over the “ex-brave.” He assumed a portentously
solemn look; and when he spoke to me again, his speech was ornamented by no oaths,
enforced by no finger-snapping, enlivened by no apostrophes or exclamations.
“Listen, my dear sir,” said he, in mysteriously confidential tones —“listen to an old
soldier’s advice. I have been to the mistress of the house (a very charming woman, with a
genius for cookery!) to impress on her the necessity of making us some particularly strong
and good coffee. You must drink this coffee in order to get rid of your little amiable exaltation
of spirits before you think of going home — you must, my good and gracious friend! With all
that money to take home to-night, it is a sacred duty to yourself to have your wits about you.
You are known to be a winner to an enormous extent by several gentlemen present to-night,
who, in a certain point of view, are very worthy and excellent fellows; but they are mortal men,
my dear sir, and they have their amiable weaknesses. Need I say more? Ah, no, no! you
understand me! Now, this is what you must do — send for a cabriolet when you feel quite well
again — draw up all the windows when you get into it — and tell the driver to take you home
only through the large and well-lighted thoroughfares. Do this; and you and your money will be
safe. Do this; and tomorrow you will thank an old soldier for giving you a word of honest
Just as the ex-brave ended his oration in very lachrymose tones, the coffee came in,
ready poured out in two cups. My attentive friend handed me one of the cups with a bow. I
was parched with thirst, and drank it off at a draught. Almost instantly afterwards, I was
seized with a fit of giddiness, and felt more completely intoxicated than ever. The room whirledround and round furiously; the old soldier seemed to be regularly bobbing up and down before
me like the piston of a steam-engine. I was half deafened by a violent singing in my ears; a
feeling of utter bewilderment, helplessness, idiocy, overcame me. I rose from my chair,
holding on by the table to keep my balance; and stammered out that I felt dreadfully unwell —
so unwell that I did not know how I was to get home.
“My dear friend,” answered the old soldier — and even his voice seemed to be bobbing
up and down as he spoke —“my dear friend, it would be madness to go home in your state;
you would be sure to lose your money; you might be robbed and murdered with the greatest
ease. I am going to sleep here; do you sleep here, too — they make up capital beds in this
house — take one; sleep off the effects of the wine, and go home safely with your winnings
tomorrow — tomorrow, in broad daylight.”
I had but two ideas left: one, that I must never let go hold of my handkerchief full of
money; the other, that I must lie down somewhere immediately, and fall off into a comfortable
sleep. So I agreed to the proposal about the bed, and took the offered arm of the old soldier,
carrying my money with my disengaged hand. Preceded by the croupier, we passed along
some passages and up a flight of stairs into the bedroom which I was to occupy. The ex-brave
shook me warmly by the hand, proposed that we should breakfast together, and then,
followed by the croupier, left me for the night.
I ran to the wash-hand stand; drank some of the water in my jug; poured the rest out,
and plunged my face into it; then sat down in a chair and tried to compose myself. I soon felt
better. The change for my lungs, from the fetid atmosphere of the gambling-room to the cool
air of the apartment I now occupied, the almost equally refreshing change for my eyes, from
the glaring gaslights of the “salon” to the dim, quiet flicker of one bedroom-candle, aided
wonderfully the restorative effects of cold water. The giddiness left me, and I began to feel a
little like a reasonable being again. My first thought was of the risk of sleeping all night in a
gambling-house; my second, of the still greater risk of trying to get out after the house was
closed, and of going home alone at night through the streets of Paris with a large sum of
money about me. I had slept in worse places than this on my travels; so I determined to lock,
bolt, and barricade my door, and take my chance till the next morning.
Accordingly, I secured myself against all intrusion; looked under the bed, and into the
cupboard; tried the fastening of the window; and then, satisfied that I had taken every proper
precaution, pulled off my upper clothing, put my light, which was a dim one, on the hearth
among a feathery litter of wood-ashes, and got into bed, with the handkerchief full of money
under my pillow.
I soon felt not only that I could not go to sleep, but that I could not even close my eyes. I
was wide awake, and in a high fever. Every nerve in my body trembled — every one of my
senses seemed to be preternaturally sharpened. I tossed and rolled, and tried every kind of
position, and perseveringly sought out the cold corners of the bed, and all to no purpose. Now
I thrust my arms over the clothes; now I poked them under the clothes; now I violently shot
my legs straight out down to the bottom of the bed; now I convulsively coiled them up as near
my chin as they would go; now I shook out my crumpled pillow, changed it to the cool side,
patted it flat, and lay down quietly on my back; now I fiercely doubled it in two, set it up on
end, thrust it against the board of the bed, and tried a sitting posture. Every effort was in vain;
I groaned with vexation as I felt that I was in for a sleepless night.
What could I do? I had no book to read. And yet, unless I found out some method of
diverting my mind, I felt certain that I was in the condition to imagine all sorts of horrors; to
rack my brain with forebodings of every possible and impossible danger; in short, to pass the
night in suffering all conceivable varieties of nervous terror.
I raised myself on my elbow, and looked about the room — which was brightened by a
lovely moonlight pouring straight through the window — to see if it contained any pictures or
ornaments that I could at all clearly distinguish. While my eyes wandered from wall to wall, aremembrance of Le Maistre’s delightful little book, “Voyage autour de ma Chambre,” occurred
to me. I resolved to imitate the French author, and find occupation and amusement enough to
relieve the tedium of my wakefulness, by making a mental inventory of every article of
furniture I could see, and by following up to their sources the multitude of associations which
even a chair, a table, or a wash-hand stand may be made to call forth.
In the nervous unsettled state of my mind at that moment, I found it much easier to
make my inventory than to make my reflections, and thereupon soon gave up all hope of
thinking in Le Maistre’s fanciful track — or, indeed, of thinking at all. I looked about the room
at the different articles of furniture, and did nothing more.
There was, first, the bed I was lying in; a four-post bed, of all things in the world to meet
with in Paris — yes, a thorough clumsy British four-poster, with the regular top lined with
chintz — the regular fringed valance all round — the regular stifling, unwholesome curtains,
which I remembered having mechanically drawn back against the posts without particularly
noticing the bed when I first got into the room. Then there was the marble-topped wash-hand
stand, from which the water I had spilled, in my hurry to pour it out, was still dripping, slowly
and more slowly, on to the brick floor. Then two small chairs, with my coat, waistcoat, and
trousers flung on them. Then a large elbow-chair covered with dirty-white dimity, with my
cravat and shirt collar thrown over the back. Then a chest of drawers with two of the brass
handles off, and a tawdry, broken china inkstand placed on it by way of ornament for the top.
Then the dressing-table, adorned by a very small looking-glass, and a very large pincushion.
Then the window — an unusually large window. Then a dark old picture, which the feeble
candle dimly showed me. It was a picture of a fellow in a high Spanish hat, crowned with a
plume of towering feathers. A swarthy, sinister ruffian, looking upward, shading his eyes with
his hand, and looking intently upward — it might be at some tall gallows at which he was going
to be hanged. At any rate, he had the appearance of thoroughly deserving it.
This picture put a kind of constraint upon me to look upward too — at the top of the bed.
It was a gloomy and not an interesting object, and I looked back at the picture. I counted the
feathers in the man’s hat — they stood out in relief — three white, two green. I observed the
crown of his hat, which was of conical shape, according to the fashion supposed to have been
favored by Guido Fawkes. I wondered what he was looking up at. It couldn’t be at the stars;
such a desperado was neither astrologer nor astronomer. It must be at the high gallows, and
he was going to be hanged presently. Would the executioner come into possession of his
conical crowned hat and plume of feathers? I counted the feathers again — three white, two
While I still lingered over this very improving and intellectual employment, my thoughts
insensibly began to wander. The moonlight shining into the room reminded me of a certain
moonlight night in England — the night after a picnic party in a Welsh valley. Every incident of
the drive homeward, through lovely scenery, which the moonlight made lovelier than ever,
came back to my remembrance, though I had never given the picnic a thought for years;
though, if I had tried to recollect it, I could certainly have recalled little or nothing of that scene
long past. Of all the wonderful faculties that help to tell us we are immortal, which speaks the
sublime truth more eloquently than memory? Here was I, in a strange house of the most
suspicious character, in a situation of uncertainty, and even of peril, which might seem to
make the cool exercise of my recollection almost out of the question; nevertheless,
remembering, quite involuntarily, places, people, conversations, minute circumstances of
every kind, which I had thought forgotten forever; which I could not possibly have recalled at
will, even under the most favorable auspices. And what cause had produced in a moment the
whole of this strange, complicated, mysterious effect? Nothing but some rays of moonlight
shining in at my bedroom window.
I was still thinking of the picnic — of our merriment on the drive home — of the
sentimental young lady who would quote “Childe Harold” because it was moonlight. I wasabsorbed by these past scenes and past amusements, when, in an instant, the thread on
which my memories hung snapped asunder; my attention immediately came back to present
things more vividly than ever, and I found myself, I neither knew why nor wherefore, looking
hard at the picture again.
Looking for what?
Good God! the man had pulled his hat down on his brows! No! the hat itself was gone!
Where was the conical crown? Where the feathers — three white, two green? Not there! In
place of the hat and feathers, what dusky object was it that now hid his forehead, his eyes, his
shading hand?
Was the bed moving?
I turned on my back and looked up. Was I mad? drunk? dreaming? giddy again? or was
the top of the bed really moving down — sinking slowly, regularly, silently, horribly, right down
throughout the whole of its length and breadth — right down upon me, as I lay underneath?
My blood seemed to stand still. A deadly paralysing coldness stole all over me as I
turned my head round on the pillow and determined to test whether the bed-top was really
moving or not, by keeping my eye on the man in the picture.
The next look in that direction was enough. The dull, black, frowzy outline of the valance
above me was within an inch of being parallel with his waist. I still looked breathlessly. And
steadily and slowly — very slowly — I saw the figure, and the line of frame below the figure,
vanish, as the valance moved down before it.
I am, constitutionally, anything but timid. I have been on more than one occasion in peril
of my life, and have not lost my self-possession for an instant; but when the conviction first
settled on my mind that the bed-top was really moving, was steadily and continuously sinking
down upon me, I looked up shuddering, helpless, panic-stricken, beneath the hideous
machinery for murder, which was advancing closer and closer to suffocate me where I lay.
I looked up, motionless, speechless, breathless. The candle, fully spent, went out; but
the moonlight still brightened the room. Down and down, without pausing and without
sounding, came the bed-top, and still my panic-terror seemed to bind me faster and faster to
the mattress on which I lay — down and down it sank, till the dusty odor from the lining of the
canopy came stealing into my nostrils.
At that final moment the instinct of self-preservation startled me out of my trance, and I
moved at last. There was just room for me to roll myself sidewise off the bed. As I dropped
noiselessly to the floor, the edge of the murderous canopy touched me on the shoulder.
Without stopping to draw my breath, without wiping the cold sweat from my face, I rose
instantly on my knees to watch the bed-top. I was literally spellbound by it. If I had heard
footsteps behind me, I could not have turned round; if a means of escape had been
miraculously provided for me, I could not have moved to take advantage of it. The whole life in
me was, at that moment, concentrated in my eyes.
It descended — the whole canopy, with the fringe round it, came down — down — close
down; so close that there was not room now to squeeze my finger between the bed-top and
the bed. I felt at the sides, and discovered that what had appeared to me from beneath to be
the ordinary light canopy of a four-post bed was in reality a thick, broad mattress, the
substance of which was concealed by the valance and its fringe. I looked up and saw the four
posts rising hideously bare. In the middle of the bed-top was a huge wooden screw that had
evidently worked it down through a hole in the ceiling, just as ordinary presses are worked
down on the substance selected for compression. The frightful apparatus moved without
making the faintest noise. There had been no creaking as it came down; there was now not
the faintest sound from the room above. Amid a dead and awful silence I beheld before me —
in the nineteenth century, and in the civilized capital of France — such a machine for secret
murder by suffocation as might have existed in the worst days of the Inquisition, in the lonely
inns among the Hartz Mountains, in the mysterious tribunals of Westphalia! Still, as I lookedon it, I could not move, I could hardly breathe, but I began to recover the power of thinking,
and in a moment I discovered the murderous conspiracy framed against me in all its horror.
My cup of coffee had been drugged, and drugged too strongly. I had been saved from
being smothered by having taken an overdose of some narcotic. How I had chafed and fretted
at the fever fit which had preserved my life by keeping me awake! How recklessly I had
confided myself to the two wretches who had led me into this room, determined, for the sake
of my winnings, to kill me in my sleep by the surest and most horrible contrivance for secretly
accomplishing my destruction! How many men, winners like me, had slept, as I had proposed
to sleep, in that bed, and had never been seen or heard of more! I shuddered at the bare idea
of it.
But, ere long, all thought was again suspended by the sight of the murderous canopy
moving once more. After it had remained on the bed — as nearly as I could guess — about
ten minutes, it began to move up again. The villains who worked it from above evidently
believed that their purpose was now accomplished. Slowly and silently, as it had descended,
that horrible bed-top rose towards its former place. When it reached the upper extremities of
the four posts, it reached the ceiling, too. Neither hole nor screw could be seen; the bed
became in appearance an ordinary bed again — the canopy an ordinary canopy — even to
the most suspicious eyes.
Now, for the first time, I was able to move — to rise from my knees — to dress myself in
my upper clothing — and to consider of how I should escape. If I betrayed by the smallest
noise that the attempt to suffocate me had failed, I was certain to be murdered. Had I made
any noise already? I listened intently, looking towards the door.
No! no footsteps in the passage outside — no sound of a tread, light or heavy, in the
room above — absolute silence everywhere. Besides locking and bolting my door, I had
moved an old wooden chest against it, which I had found under the bed. To remove this chest
(my blood ran cold as I thought of what its contents might be!) without making some
disturbance was impossible; and, moreover, to think of escaping through the house, now
barred up for the night, was sheer insanity. Only one chance was left me — the window. I
stole to it on tiptoe.
My bedroom was on the first floor, above an entresol, and looked into a back street,
which you have sketched in your view. I raised my hand to open the window, knowing that on
that action hung, by the merest hair-breadth, my chance of safety. They keep vigilant watch in
a House of Murder. If any part of the frame cracked, if the hinge creaked, I was a lost man! It
must have occupied me at least five minutes, reckoning by time — five hours, reckoning by
suspense — to open that window. I succeeded in doing it silently — in doing it with all the
dexterity of a house-breaker — and then looked down into the street. To leap the distance
beneath me would be almost certain destruction! Next, I looked round at the sides of the
house. Down the left side ran a thick water-pipe which you have drawn — it passed close by
the outer edge of the window. The moment I saw the pipe I knew I was saved. My breath
came and went freely for the first time since I had seen the canopy of the bed moving down
upon me!
To some men the means of escape which I had discovered might have seemed difficult
and dangerous enough — to me the prospect of slipping down the pipe into the street did not
suggest even a thought of peril. I had always been accustomed, by the practice of
gymnastics, to keep up my school-boy powers as a daring and expert climber; and knew that
my head, hands, and feet would serve me faithfully in any hazards of ascent or descent. I had
already got one leg over the window-sill, when I remembered the handkerchief filled with
money under my pillow. I could well have afforded to leave it behind me, but I was
revengefully determined that the miscreants of the gambling-house should miss their plunder
as well as their victim. So I went back to the bed and tied the heavy handkerchief at my back
by my cravat.Just as I had made it tight and fixed it in a comfortable place, I thought I heard a sound
of breathing outside the door. The chill feeling of horror ran through me again as I listened.
No! dead silence still in the passage — I had only heard the night air blowing softly into the
room. The next moment I was on the window-sill — and the next I had a firm grip on the
water-pipe with my hands and knees.
I slid down into the street easily and quietly, as I thought I should, and immediately set
off at the top of my speed to a branch “Prefecture” of Police, which I knew was situated in the
immediate neighborhood. A “Sub-prefect,” and several picked men among his subordinates,
happened to be up, maturing, I believe, some scheme for discovering the perpetrator of a
mysterious murder which all Paris was talking of just then. When I began my story, in a
breathless hurry and in very bad French, I could see that the Sub-prefect suspected me of
being a drunken Englishman who had robbed somebody; but he soon altered his opinion as I
went on, and before I had anything like concluded, he shoved all the papers before him into a
drawer, put on his hat, supplied me with another (for I was bareheaded), ordered a file of
soldiers, desired his expert followers to get ready all sorts of tools for breaking open doors
and ripping up brick flooring, and took my arm, in the most friendly and familiar manner
possible, to lead me with him out of the house. I will venture to say that when the Sub-prefect
was a little boy, and was taken for the first time to the play, he was not half as much pleased
as he was now at the job in prospect for him at the gambling-house!
Away we went through the streets, the Sub-prefect cross-examining and congratulating
me in the same breath as we marched at the head of our formidable posse comitatus.
Sentinels were placed at the back and front of the house the moment we got to it; a
tremendous battery of knocks was directed against the door; a light appeared at a window; I
was told to conceal myself behind the police — then came more knocks and a cry of “Open in
the name of the law!” At that terrible summons bolts and locks gave way before an invisible
hand, and the moment after the Sub-prefect was in the passage, confronting a waiter
halfdressed and ghastly pale. This was the short dialogue which immediately took place:
“We want to see the Englishman who is sleeping in this house?”
“He went away hours ago.”
“He did no such thing. His friend went away; he remained. Show us to his bedroom!”
“I swear to you, Monsieur le Sous-prefect, he is not here! he —”
“I swear to you, Monsieur le Garcon, he is. He slept here — he didn’t find your bed
comfortable — he came to us to complain of it — here he is among my men — and here am I
ready to look for a flea or two in his bedstead. Renaudin! (calling to one of the subordinates,
and pointing to the waiter) collar that man and tie his hands behind him. Now, then,
gentlemen, let us walk upstairs!”
Every man and woman in the house was secured — the “Old Soldier” the first. Then I
identified the bed in which I had slept, and then we went into the room above.
No object that was at all extraordinary appeared in any part of it. The Sub-prefect looked
round the place, commanded everybody to be silent, stamped twice on the floor, called for a
candle, looked attentively at the spot he had stamped on, and ordered the flooring there to be
carefully taken up. This was done in no time. Lights were produced, and we saw a deep
raftered cavity between the floor of this room and the ceiling of the room beneath. Through
this cavity there ran perpendicularly a sort of case of iron thickly greased; and inside the case
appeared the screw, which communicated with the bed-top below. Extra lengths of screw,
freshly oiled; levers covered with felt; all the complete upper works of a heavy press —
constructed with infernal ingenuity so as to join the fixtures below, and when taken to pieces
again, to go into the smallest possible compass — were next discovered and pulled out on the
floor. After some little difficulty the Sub-prefect succeeded in putting the machinery together,
and, leaving his men to work it, descended with me to the bedroom. The smothering canopy
was then lowered, but not so noiselessly as I had seen it lowered. When I mentioned this tothe Sub-prefect, his answer, simple as it was, had a terrible significance. “My men,” said he,
“are working down the bed-top for the first time — the men whose money you won were in
better practice.”
We left the house in the sole possession of two police agents — every one of the
inmates being removed to prison on the spot. The Sub-prefect, after taking down my “proces
verbal“ in his office, returned with me to my hotel to get my passport. “Do you think,” I asked,
as I gave it to him, “that any men have really been smothered in that bed, as they tried to
smother me?”
“I have seen dozens of drowned men laid out at the Morgue,” answered the Sub-prefect,
“in whose pocket-books were found letters stating that they had committed suicide in the
Seine, because they had lost everything at the gaming table. Do I know how many of those
men entered the same gambling-house that you entered? won as you won? took that bed as
you took it? slept in it? were smothered in it? and were privately thrown into the river, with a
letter of explanation written by the murderers and placed in their pocket-books? No man can
say how many or how few have suffered the fate from which you have escaped. The people
of the gambling-house kept their bedstead machinery a secret from us — even from the
police! The dead kept the rest of the secret for them. Good-night, or rather good-morning,
Monsieur Faulkner! Be at my office again at nine o’clock — in the meantime, au revoir!”
The rest of my story is soon told. I was examined and re-examined; the gambling-house
was strictly searched all through from top to bottom; the prisoners were separately
interrogated; and two of the less guilty among them made a confession. I discovered that the
Old Soldier was the master of the gambling-house — justice discovered that he had been
drummed out of the army as a vagabond years ago; that he had been guilty of all sorts of
villainies since; that he was in possession of stolen property, which the owners identified; and
that he, the croupier, another accomplice, and the woman who had made my cup of coffee,
were all in the secret of the bedstead. There appeared some reason to doubt whether the
inferior persons attached to the house knew anything of the suffocating machinery; and they
received the benefit of that doubt, by being treated simply as thieves and vagabonds. As for
the Old Soldier and his two head myrmidons, they went to the galleys; the woman who had
drugged my coffee was imprisoned for I forget how many years; the regular attendants at the
gambling-house were considered “suspicious” and placed under “surveillance”; and I became,
for one whole week (which is a long time) the head “lion” in Parisian society. My adventure
was dramatized by three illustrious play-makers, but never saw theatrical daylight; for the
censorship forbade the introduction on the stage of a correct copy of the gambling-house
One good result was produced by my adventure, which any censorship must have
approved: it cured me of ever again trying “Rouge et Noir“ as an amusement. The sight of a
green cloth, with packs of cards and heaps of money on it, will henceforth be forever
associated in my mind with the sight of a bed canopy descending to suffocate me in the
silence and darkness of the night.
Just as Mr. Faulkner pronounced these words he started in his chair, and resumed his
stiff, dignified position in a great hurry. “Bless my soul!” cried he, with a comic look of
astonishment and vexation, “while I have been telling you what is the real secret of my interest
in the sketch you have so kindly given to me, I have altogether forgotten that I came here to
sit for my portrait. For the last hour or more I must have been the worst model you ever had
to draw from!”
“On the contrary, you have been the best,” said I. “I have been trying to catch your
likeness; and, while telling your story, you have unconsciously shown me the natural
expression I wanted to insure my success.”
The Yellow Mask
First published : 1855
a novella

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Part 1
Chapter 1

About a century ago, there lived in the ancient city of Pisa a famous Italian milliner, who,
by way of vindicating to all customers her familiarity with Paris fashions, adopted a French
title, and called herself the Demoiselle Grifoni. She was a wizen little woman with a
mischievous face, a quick tongue, a nimble foot, a talent for business, and an uncertain
disposition. Rumor hinted that she was immensely rich, and scandal suggested that she would
do anything for money.
The one undeniable good quality which raised Demoiselle Grifoni above all her rivals in
the trade was her inexhaustible fortitude. She was never known to yield an inch under any
pressure of adverse circumstances Thus the memorable occasion of her life on which she
was threatened with ruin was also the occasion on which she most triumphantly asserted the
energy and decision of her character. At the height of the demoiselle’s prosperity her skilled
forewoman and cutter-out basely married and started in business as her rival. Such a calamity
as this would have ruined an ordinary milliner; but the invincible Grifoni rose superior to it
almost without an effort, and proved incontestably that it was impossible for hostile Fortune to
catch her at the end of her resources. While the minor milliners were prophesying that she
would shut up shop, she was quietly carrying on a private correspondence with an agent in
Paris. Nobody knew what these letters were about until a few weeks had elapsed, and then
circulars were received by all the ladies in Pisa, announcing that the best French forewoman
who could be got for money was engaged to superintend the great Grifoni establishment. This
master-stroke decided the victory. All the demoiselle’s customers declined giving orders
elsewhere until the forewoman from Paris had exhibited to the natives of Pisa the latest
fashions from the metropolis of the world of dress.
The Frenchwoman arrived punctual to the appointed day — glib and curt, smiling and
flippant, tight of face and supple of figure. Her name was Mademoiselle Virginie, and her
family had inhumanly deserted her. She was set to work the moment she was inside the doors
of the Grifoni establishment. A room was devoted to her own private use; magnificent
materials in velvet, silk, and satin, with due accompaniment of muslins, laces, and ribbons
were placed at her disposal; she was told to spare no expense, and to produce, in the
shortest possible time, the finest and nearest specimen dresses for exhibition in the
showroom. Mademoiselle Virginie undertook to do everything required of her, produced her
portfolios of patterns and her book of colored designs, and asked for one assistant who could
speak French enough to interpret her orders to the Italian girls in the work-room.
“I have the very person you want,” cried Demoiselle Grifoni. “A work-woman we call
Brigida here — the idlest slut in Pisa, but as sharp as a needle — has been in France, and
speaks the language like a native. I’ll send her to you directly.”
Mademoiselle Virginie was not left long alone with her patterns and silks. A tall woman,
with bold black eyes, a reckless manner, and a step as firm as a man’s, stalked into the room
with the gait of a tragedy-queen crossing the stage. The instant her eyes fell on the French
forewoman, she stopped, threw up her hands in astonishment, and exclaimed, “Finette!”
“Teresa!” cried the Frenchwoman, casting her scissors on the table, and advancing a few
“Hush! call me Brigida.”
“Hush! call me Virginie.”
These two exclamations were uttered at the same moment, and then the two women
scrutinized each other in silence. The swarthy cheeks of the Italian turned to a dull yellow, and
the voice of the Frenchwoman trembled a little when she spoke again.
“How, in the name of Heaven, have you dropped down in the world as low as this?” sheasked. “I thought you were provided for when —”
“Silence!” interrupted Brigida. “You see I was not provided for. I have had my
misfortunes; and you are the last woman alive who ought to refer to them.”
“Do you think I have not had my misfortunes, too, since we met?” (Brigida’s face
brightened maliciously at those words.) “You have had your revenge,” continued
Mademoiselle Virginie, coldly, turning away to the table and taking up the scissors again.
Brigida followed her, threw one arm roughly round her neck, and kissed her on the
cheek. “Let us be friends again,” she said. The Frenchwoman laughed. “Tell me how I have
had my revenge,” pursued the other, tightening her grasp. Mademoiselle Virginie signed to
Brigida to stoop, and whispered rapidly in her ear. The Italian listened eagerly, with fierce,
suspicious eyes fixed on the door. When the whispering ceased, she loosened her hold, and,
with a sigh of relief, pushed back her heavy black hair from her temples. “Now we are friends,”
she said, and sat down indolently in a chair placed by the worktable.
“Friends,” repeated Mademoiselle Virginie, with another laugh. “And now for business,”
she continued, getting a row of pins ready for use by putting them between her teeth. “I am
here, I believe, for the purpose of ruining the late forewoman, who has set up in opposition to
us? Good! I will ruin her. Spread out the yellow brocaded silk, my dear, and pin that pattern on
at your end, while I pin at mine. And what are your plans, Brigida? (Mind you don’t forget that
Finette is dead, and that Virginie has risen from her ashes.) You can’t possibly intend to stop
here all your life? (Leave an inch outside the paper, all round.) You must have projects? What
are they?”
“Look at my figure,” said Brigida, placing herself in an attitude in the middle of the room.
“Ah,” rejoined the other, “it’s not what it was. There’s too much of it. You want diet,
walking, and a French stay-maker,” muttered Mademoiselle Virginie through her
chevausdefrise of pins.
“Did the goddess Minerva walk, and employ a French stay-maker? I thought she rode
upon clouds, and lived at a period before waists were invented.”
“What do you mean?”
“This — that my present project is to try if I can’t make my fortune by sitting as a model
for Minerva in the studio of the best sculptor in Pisa.”
“And who is he! (Unwind me a yard or two of that black lace.)”
“The master-sculptor, Luca Lomi — an old family, once noble, but down in the world now.
The master is obliged to make statues to get a living for his daughter and himself.”
“More of the lace — double it over the bosom of the dress. And how is sitting to this
needy sculptor to make your fortune?”
“Wait a minute. There are other sculptors besides him in the studio. There is, first, his
brother, the priest — Father Rocco, who passes all his spare time with the master. He is a
good sculptor in his way — has cast statues and made a font for his church — a holy man,
who devotes all his work in the studio to the cause of piety.”
“Ah, bah! we should think him a droll priest in France. (More pins.) You don’t expect him
to put money in your pocket, surely?”
“Wait, I say again. There is a third sculptor in the studio — actually a nobleman! His
name is Fabio d’Ascoli. He is rich, young, handsome, an only child, and little better than a fool.
Fancy his working at sculpture, as if he had his bread to get by it — and thinking that an
amusement! Imagine a man belonging to one of the best families in Pisa mad enough to want
to make a reputation as an artist! Wait! wait! the best is to come. His father and mother are
dead — he has no near relations in the world to exercise authority over him — he is a
bachelor, and his fortune is all at his own disposal; going a-begging, my friend; absolutely
going a-begging for want of a clever woman to hold out her hand and take it from him.”
“Yes, yes — now I understand. The goddess Minerva is a clever woman, and she will
hold out her hand and take his fortune from him with the utmost docility.”“The first thing is to get him to offer it. I must tell you that I am not going to sit to him, but
to his master, Luca Lomi, who is doing the statue of Minerva. The face is modeled from his
daughter; and now he wants somebody to sit for the bust and arms. Maddalena Lomi and I
are as nearly as possible the same height, I hear — the difference between us being that I
have a good figure and she has a bad one. I have offered to sit, through a friend who is
employed in the studio. If the master accepts, I am sure of an introduction to our rich young
gentleman; and then leave it to my good looks, my various accomplishments, and my ready
tongue, to do the rest.”
“Stop! I won’t have the lace doubled, on second thoughts. I’ll have it single, and running
all round the dress in curves — so. Well, and who is this friend of yours employed in the
studio? A fourth sculptor?”
“No, no; the strangest, simplest little creature —”
Just then a faint tap was audible at the door of the room.
Brigida laid her finger on her lips, and called impatiently to the person outside to come in.
The door opened gently, and a young girl, poorly but very neatly dressed, entered the
room. She was rather thin and under the average height; but her head and figure were in
perfect proportion. Her hair was of that gorgeous auburn color, her eyes of that deep
violetblue, which the portraits of Giorgione and Titian have made famous as the type of Venetian
beauty. Her features possessed the definiteness and regularity, the “good modeling” (to use
an artist’s term), which is the rarest of all womanly charms, in Italy as elsewhere. The one
serious defect of her face was its paleness. Her cheeks, wanting nothing in form, wanted
everything in color. That look of health, which is the essential crowning-point of beauty, was
the one attraction which her face did not possess.
She came into the room with a sad and weary expression in her eyes, which changed,
however, the moment she observed the magnificently-dressed French forewoman, into a look
of astonishment, and almost of awe. Her manner became shy and embarrassed; and after an
instant of hesitation, she turned back silently to the door.
“Stop, stop, Nanina,” said Brigida, in Italian. “Don’t be afraid of that lady. She is our new
forewoman; and she has it in her power to do all sorts of kind things for you. Look up, and tell
us what you want You were sixteen last birthday, Nanina, and you behave like a baby of two
years old!”
“I only came to know if there was any work for me today,” said the girl, in a very sweet
voice, that trembled a little as she tried to face the fashionable French forewoman again.
“No work, child, that is easy enough for you to do,” said Brigida. “Are you going to the
studio today?”
Some of the color that Nanina’s cheeks wanted began to steal over them as she
answered “Yes.”
“Don’t forget my message, darling. And if Master Luca Lomi asks where I live, answer
that you are ready to deliver a letter to me; but that you are forbidden to enter into any
particulars at first about who I am, or where I live.”
“Why am I forbidden?” inquired Nanina, innocently.
“Don’t ask questions, baby! Do as you are told. Bring me back a nice note or message
tomorrow from the studio, and I will intercede with this lady to get you some work. You are a
foolish child to want it, when you might make more money here and at Florence, by sitting to
painters and sculptors; though what they can see to paint or model in you I never could
“I like working at home better than going abroad to sit,” said Nanina, looking very much
abashed as she faltered out the answer, and escaping from the room with a terrified farewell
obeisance, which was an eccentric compound of a start, a bow, and a courtesy.
“That awkward child would be pretty,” said Mademoiselle Virginie, making rapid progress
with the cutting-out of her dress, “if she knew how to give herself a complexion, and had apresentable gown on her back. Who is she?”
“The friend who is to get me into Master Luca Lomi’s studio,” replied Brigida, laughing.
“Rather a curious ally for me to take up with, isn’t she?”
“Where did you meet with her?”
“Here, to be sure; she hangs about this place for any plain work she can get to do, and
takes it home to the oddest little room in a street near the Campo Santo. I had the curiosity to
follow her one day, and knocked at her door soon after she had gone in, as if I was a visitor.
She answered my knock in a great flurry and fright, as you may imagine. I made myself
agreeable, affected immense interest in her affairs, and so got into her room. Such a place! A
mere corner of it curtained off to make a bedroom. One chair, one stool, one saucepan on the
fire. Before the hearth the most grotesquely hideous unshaven poodle-dog you ever saw; and
on the stool a fair little girl plaiting dinner-mats. Such was the household — furniture and all
included. ‘Where is your father?’ I asked. ‘He ran away and left us years ago,’ answers my
awkward little friend who has just left the room, speaking in that simple way of hers, with all
the composure in the world. ‘And your mother?’—‘Dead.’ She went up to the little mat-plaiting
girl as she gave that answer, and began playing with her long flaxen hair. ‘Your sister, I
suppose,’ said I. ‘What is her name?’—‘They call me La Biondella,’ says the child, looking up
from her mat (La Biondella, Virginie, means The Fair). ‘And why do you let that great, shaggy,
ill-looking brute lie before your fireplace?’ I asked. ‘Oh!’ cried the little mat-plaiter, ‘that is our
dear old dog, Scarammuccia. He takes care of the house when Nanina is not at home. He
dances on his hind legs, and jumps through a hoop, and tumbles down dead when I cry Bang!
Scarammuccia followed us home one night, years ago, and he has lived with us ever since.
He goes out every day by himself, we can’t tell where, and generally returns licking his chops,
which makes us afraid that he is a thief; but nobody finds him out, because he is the cleverest
dog that ever lived!’ The child ran on in this way about the great beast by the fireplace, till I
was obliged to stop her; while that simpleton Nanina stood by, laughing and encouraging her. I
asked them a few more questions, which produced some strange answers. They did not seem
to know of any relations of theirs in the world. The neighbors in the house had helped them,
after their father ran away, until they were old enough to help themselves; and they did not
seem to think there was anything in the least wretched or pitiable in their way of living. The
last thing I heard, when I left them that day, was La Biondella crying ‘Bang!’— then a bark, a
thump on the floor, and a scream of laughter. If it was not for their dog, I should go and see
them oftener. But the ill-conditioned beast has taken a dislike to me, and growls and shows
his teeth whenever I come near him.”
“The girl looked sickly when she came in here. Is she always like that?”
“No. She has altered within the last month. I suspect our interesting young nobleman has
produced an impression. The oftener the girl has sat to him lately, the paler and more out of
spirits she has become.”
“Oh! she has sat to him, has she?”
“She is sitting to him now. He is doing a bust of some Pagan nymph or other, and
prevailed on Nanina to let him copy from her head and face. According to her own account the
little fool was frightened at first, and gave him all the trouble in the world before she would
“And now she has consented, don’t you think it likely she may turn out rather a
dangerous rival? Men are such fools, and take such fancies into their heads —”
“Ridiculous! A thread-paper of a girl like that, who has no manner, no talk, no
intelligence; who has nothing to recommend her but an awkward, babyish prettiness!
Dangerous to me? No, no! If there is danger at all, I have to dread it from the sculptor’s
daughter. I don’t mind confessing that I am anxious to see Maddalena Lomi. But as for
Nanina, she will simply be of use to me. All I know already about the studio and the artists in
it, I know through her. She will deliver my message, and procure me my introduction; andwhen we have got so far, I shall give her an old gown and a shake of the hand; and then,
good-by to our little innocent!”
“Well, well, for your sake I hope you are the wiser of the two in this matter. For my part, I
always distrust innocence. Wait one moment, and I shall have the body and sleeves of this
dress ready for the needle-women. There, ring the bell, and order them up; for I have
directions to give, and you must interpret for me.”
While Brigida went to the bell, the energetic Frenchwoman began planning out the skirt of
the new dress. She laughed as she measured off yard after yard of the silk.
“What are you laughing about?” asked Brigida, opening the door and ringing a hand-bell
in the passage.
“I can’t help fancying, dear, in spite of her innocent face and her artless ways, that your
young friend is a hypocrite.”
“And I am quite certain, love, that she is only a simpleton.”
Chapter 2

The studio of the master-sculptor, Luca Lomi, was composed of two large rooms
unequally divided by a wooden partition, with an arched doorway cut in the middle of it.
While the milliners of the Grifoni establishment were industriously shaping dresses, the
sculptors in Luca Lomi’s workshop were, in their way, quite as hard at work shaping marble
and clay. In the smaller of the two rooms the young nobleman (only addressed in the studio
by his Christian name of Fabio) was busily engaged on his bust, with Nanina sitting before him
as a model. His was not one of those traditional Italian faces from which subtlety and
suspicion are always supposed to look out darkly on the world at large. Both countenance and
expression proclaimed his character frankly and freely to all who saw him. Quick intelligence
looked brightly from his eyes; and easy good humor laughed out pleasantly in the rather
quaint curve of his lips. For the rest, his face expressed the defects as well as the merits of
his character, showing that he wanted resolution and perseverance just as plainly as it showed
also that he possessed amiability and intelligence.
At the end of the large room, nearest to the street door, Luca Lomi was standing by his
life-size statue of Minerva; and was issuing directions, from time to time, to some of his
workmen, who were roughly chiseling the drapery of another figure. At the opposite side of the
room, nearest to the partition, his brother, Father Rocco, was taking a cast from a statuette of
the Madonna; while Maddalena Lomi, the sculptor’s daughter, released from sitting for
Minerva’s face, walked about the two rooms, and watched what was going on in them.
There was a strong family likeness of a certain kind between father, brother and
daughter. All three were tall, handsome, dark-haired, and dark-eyed; nevertheless, they
differed in expression, strikingly as they resembled one another in feature. Maddalena Lomi’s
face betrayed strong passions, but not an ungenerous nature. Her father, with the same
indications of a violent temper, had some sinister lines about his mouth and forehead which
suggested anything rather than an open disposition. Father Rocco’s countenance, on the
other hand, looked like the personification of absolute calmness and invincible moderation;
and his manner, which, in a very firm way, was singularly quiet and deliberate, assisted in
carrying out the impression produced by his face. The daughter seemed as if she could fly
into a passion at a moment’s notice, and forgive also at a moment’s notice. The father,
appearing to be just as irritable, had something in his face which said, as plainly as if in words,
“Anger me, and I never pardon.” The priest looked as if he need never be called on either to
ask forgiveness or to grant it, for the double reason that he could irritate nobody else, and that
nobody else could irritate him.
“Rocco,” said Luca, looking at the face of his Minerva, which was now finished, “this
statue of mine will make a sensation.”
“I am glad to hear it,” rejoined the priest, dryly
“It is a new thing in art,” continued Luca, enthusiastically. “Other sculptors, with a
classical subject like mine, limit themselves to the ideal classical face, and never think of
aiming at individual character. Now I do precisely the reverse of that. I get my handsome
daughter, Maddalena, to sit for Minerva, and I make an exact likeness of her. I may lose in
ideal beauty, but I gain in individual character. People may accuse me of disregarding
established rules; but my answer is, that I make my own rules. My daughter looks like a
Minerva, and there she is exactly as she looks.”
“It is certainly a wonderful likeness,” said Father Rocco, approaching the statue.
“It the girl herself,” cried the other. “Exactly her expression, and exactly her features.
Measure Maddalena, and measure Minerva, and from forehead to chin, you won’t find a
hairbreadth of difference between them.”“But how about the bust and arms of the figure, now the face is done?” asked the priest,
returning, as he spoke, to his own work.
“I may have the very model I want for them tomorrow. Little Nanina has just given me
the strangest message. What do you think of a mysterious lady admirer who offers to sit for
the bust and arms of my Minerva?”
“Are you going to accept the offer?” inquired the priest.
“I am going to receive her tomorrow; and if I really find that she is the same height as
Maddalena, and has a bust and arms worth modeling, of course I shall accept her offer; for
she will be the very sitter I have been looking after for weeks past. Who can she be? That’s
the mystery I want to find out. Which do you say, Rocco — an enthusiast or an adventuress?”
“I do not presume to say, for I have no means of knowing.”
“Ah, there you are with your moderation again. Now, I do presume to assert that she
must be either one or the other — or she would not have forbidden Nanina to say anything
about her in answer to all my first natural inquiries. Where is Maddalena? I thought she was
here a minute ago.”
“She is in Fabio’s room,” answered Father Rocco, softly. “Shall I call her?”
“No, no!” returned Luca. He stopped, looked round at the workmen, who were chipping
away mechanically at their bit of drapery; then advanced close to the priest, with a cunning
smile, and continued in a whisper, “If Maddalena can only get from Fabio’s room here to
Fabio’s palace over the way, on the Arno — come, come, Rocco! don’t shake your head. If I
brought her up to your church door one of these days, as Fabio d’Ascoli’s betrothed, you
would be glad enough to take the rest of the business off my hands, and make her Fabio
d’Ascoli’s wife. You are a very holy man, Rocco, but you know the difference between the
clink of the money-bag and the clink of the chisel for all that!”
“I am sorry to find, Luca,” returned the priest, coldly, “that you allow yourself to talk of
the most delicate subjects in the coarsest way. This is one of the minor sins of the tongue
which is growing on you. When we are alone in the studio, I will endeavor to lead you into
speaking of the young man in the room there, and of your daughter, in terms more becoming
to you, to me, and to them. Until that time, allow me to go on with my work.”
Luca shrugged his shoulders, and went back to his statue. Father Rocco, who had been
engaged during the last ten minutes in mixing wet plaster to the right consistency for taking a
cast, suspended his occupation; and crossing the room to a corner next the partition,
removed from it a cheval-glass which stood there. He lifted it away gently, while his brother’s
back was turned, carried it close to the table at which he had been at work, and then resumed
his employment of mixing the plaster. Having at last prepared the composition for use, he laid
it over the exposed half of the statuette with a neatness and dexterity which showed him to be
a practiced hand at cast-taking. Just as he had covered the necessary extent of surface, Luca
turned round from his statue.
“How are you getting on with the cast?” he asked. “Do you want any help?”
“None, brother, I thank you,” answered the priest. “Pray do not disturb either yourself or
your workmen on my account.”
Luca turned again to the statue; and, at the same moment, Father Rocco softly moved
the cheval-glass toward the open doorway between the two rooms, placing it at such an angle
as to make it reflect the figures of the persons in the smaller studio. He did this with significant
quickness and precision. It was evidently not the first time he had used the glass for purposes
of secret observation.
Mechanically stirring the wet plaster round and round for the second casting, the priest
looked into the glass, and saw, as in a picture, all that was going forward in the inner room.
Maddalena Lomi was standing behind the young nobleman, watching the progress he made
with his bust. Occasionally she took the modeling tool out of his hand, and showed him, with
her sweetest smile, that she, too, as a sculptor’s daughter, understood something of thesculptor’s art; and now and then, in the pauses of the conversation, when her interest was
especially intense in Fabio’s work, she suffered her hand to drop absently on his shoulder, or
stooped forward so close to him that her hair mingled for a moment with his. Moving the glass
an inch or two, so as to bring Nanina well under his eye, Father Rocco found that he could
trace each repetition of these little acts of familiarity by the immediate effect which they
produced on the girl’s face and manner. Whenever Maddalena so much as touched the young
nobleman — no matter whether she did so by premeditation, or really by accident — Nanina’s
features contracted, her pale cheeks grew paler, she fidgeted on her chair, and her fingers
nervously twisted and untwisted the loose ends of the ribbon fastened round her waist.
“Jealous,” thought Father Rocco; “I suspected it weeks ago.”
He turned away, and gave his whole attention for a few minutes to the mixing of the
plaster. When he looked back again at the glass, he was just in time to witness a little accident
which suddenly changed the relative positions of the three persons in the inner room.
He saw Maddalena take up a modeling tool which lay on a table near her, and begin to
help Fabio in altering the arrangement of the hair in his bust. The young man watched what
she was doing earnestly enough for a few moments; then his attention wandered away to
Nanina. She looked at him reproachfully, and he answered by a sign which brought a smile to
her face directly. Maddalena surprised her at the instant of the change; and, following the
direction of her eyes, easily discovered at whom the smile was directed. She darted a glance
of contempt at Nanina, threw down the modeling tool, and turned indignantly to the young
sculptor, who was affecting to be hard at work again.
“Signor Fabio,” she said, “the next time you forget what is due to your rank and yourself,
warn me of it, if you please, beforehand, and I will take care to leave the room.” While
speaking the last words, she passed through the doorway. Father Rocco, bending
abstractedly over his plaster mixture, heard her continue to herself in a whisper, as she went
by him, “If I have any influence at all with my father, that impudent beggar-girl shall be
forbidden the studio.”
“Jealousy on the other side,” thought the priest. “Something must be done at once, or
this will end badly.”
He looked again at the glass, and saw Fabio, after an instant of hesitation, beckon to
Nanina to approach him. She left her seat, advanced half-way to his, then stopped. He
stepped forward to meet her, and, taking her by the hand, whispered earnestly in her ear.
When he had done, before dropping her hand, he touched her cheek with his lips, and then
helped her on with the little white mantilla which covered her head and shoulders out-of-doors.
The girl trembled violently, and drew the linen close to her face as Fabio walked into the larger
studio, and, addressing Father Rocco, said:
“I am afraid I am more idle, or more stupid, than ever today. I can’t get on with the bust
at all to my satisfaction, so I have cut short the sitting, and given Nanina a half-holiday.”
At the first sound of his voice, Maddalena, who was speaking to her father, stopped, and,
with another look of scorn at Nanina standing trembling in the doorway, left the room. Luca
Lomi called Fabio to him as she went away, and Father Rocco, turning to the statuette, looked
to see how the plaster was hardening on it. Seeing them thus engaged, Nanina attempted to
escape from the studio without being noticed; but the priest stopped her just as she was
hurrying by him.
“My child,” said he, in his gentle, quiet way, “are you going home?”
Nanina’s heart beat too fast for her to reply in words; she could only answer by bowing
her head.
“Take this for your little sister,” pursued Father Rocco, putting a few silver coins in her
hand; “I have got some customers for those mats she plaits so nicely. You need not bring
them to my rooms; I will come and see you this evening, when I am going my rounds among
my parishioners, and will take the mats away with me. You are a good girl, Nanina — youhave always been a good girl — and as long as I am alive, my child, you shall never want a
friend and an adviser.”
Nanina’s eyes filled with tears. She drew the mantilla closer than ever round her face, as
she tried to thank the priest. Father Rocco nodded to her kindly, and laid his hand lightly on
her head for a moment, then turned round again to his cast.
“Don’t forget my message to the lady who is to sit to me tomorrow,” said Luca to Nanina,
as she passed him on her way out of the studio.
After she had gone, Fabio returned to the priest, who was still busy over his cast.
“I hope you will get on better with the bust tomorrow,” said Father Rocco, politely; “I am
sure you cannot complain of your model.”
“Complain of her!” cried the young man, warmly; “she has the most beautiful head I ever
saw. If I were twenty times the sculptor that I am, I should despair of being able to do her
He walked into the inner room to look at his bust again — lingered before it for a little
while — and then turned to retrace his steps to the larger studio. Between him and the
doorway stood three chairs. As he went by them, he absently touched the backs of the first
two, and passed the third; but just as he was entering the larger room, stopped, as if struck
by a sudden recollection, returned hastily, and touched the third chair. Raising his eyes, as he
approached the large studio again after doing this, he met the eyes of the priest fixed on him
in unconcealed astonishment.
“Signor Fabio!” exclaimed Father Rocco, with a sarcastic smile, “who would ever have
imagined that you were superstitious?”
“My nurse was,” returned the young man, reddening, and laughing rather uneasily. “She
taught me some bad habits that I have not got over yet.” With those words he nodded and
hastily went out.
“Superstitious,” said Father Rocco softly to himself. He smiled again, reflected for a
moment, and then, going to the window, looked into the street. The way to the left led to
Fabio’s palace, and the way to the right to the Campo Santo, in the neighborhood of which
Nanina lived. The priest was just in time to see the young sculptor take the way to the right.
After another half-hour had elapsed, the two workmen quitted the studio to go to dinner,
and Luca and his brother were left alone.
“We may return now,” said Father Rocco, “to that conversation which was suspended
between us earlier in the day.”
“I have nothing more to say,” rejoined Luca, sulkily.
“Then you can listen to me, brother, with the greater attention,” pursued the priest. “I
objected to the coarseness of your tone in talking of our young pupil and your daughter; I
object still more strongly to your insinuation that my desire to see them married (provided
always that they are sincerely attached to each other) springs from a mercenary motive.”
“You are trying to snare me, Rocco, in a mesh of fine phrases; but I am not to be
caught. I know what my own motive is for hoping that Maddalena may get an offer of
marriage from this wealthy young gentleman — she will have his money, and we shall all profit
by it. That is coarse and mercenary, if you please; but it is the true reason why I want to see
Maddalena married to Fabio. You want to see it, too — and for what reason, I should like to
know, if not for mine?”
“Of what use would wealthy relations be to me? What are people with money — what is
money itself — to a man who follows my calling?”
“Money is something to everybody.”
“Is it? When have you found that I have taken any account of it? Give me money enough
to buy my daily bread, and to pay for my lodging and my coarse cassock, and though I may
want much for the poor, for myself I want no more. Then have you found me mercenary? Do I
not help you in this studio, for love of you and of the art, without exacting so much asjourneyman’s wages? Have I ever asked you for more than a few crowns to give away on
feast-days among my parishioners? Money! money for a man who may be summoned to
Rome tomorrow, who may be told to go at half an hour’s notice on a foreign mission that may
take him to the ends of the earth, and who would be ready to go the moment when he was
called on! Money to a man who has no wife, no children, no interests outside the sacred circle
of the Church! Brother, do you see the dust and dirt and shapeless marble chips lying around
your statue there? Cover that floor instead with gold, and, though the litter may have changed
in color and form, in my eyes it would be litter still.”
“A very noble sentiment, I dare say, Rocco, but I can’t echo it. Granting that you care
nothing for money, will you explain to me why you are so anxious that Maddalena should
marry Fabio? She has had offers from poorer men — you knew of them — but you have
never taken the least interest in her accepting or rejecting a proposal before.”
“I hinted the reason to you, months ago, when Fabio first entered the studio.”
“It was rather a vague hint, brother; can’t you be plainer today?”
“I think I can. In the first place, let me begin by assuring you that I have no objection to
the young man himself. He may be a little capricious and undecided, but he has no incorrigible
faults that I have discovered.”
“That is rather a cool way of praising him, Rocco.”
“I should speak of him warmly enough, if he were not the representative of an intolerable
corruption, and a monstrous wrong. Whenever I think of him I think of an injury which his
present existence perpetuates; and if I do speak of him coldly, it is only for that reason.”
Luca looked away quickly from his brother, and began kicking absently at the marble
chips which were scattered over the floor around him.
“I now remember,” he said, “what that hint of yours pointed at. I know what you mean.”
“Then you know,” answered the priest, “that while part of the wealth which Fabio d’Ascoli
possesses is honestly and incontestably his own; part, also, has been inherited by him from
the spoilers and robbers of the Church —”
“Blame his ancestors for that; don’t blame him.”
“I blame him as long as the spoil is not restored.”
“How do you know that it was spoil, after all?”
“I have examined more carefully than most men the records of the civil wars in Italy; and
I know that the ancestors of Fabio d’Ascoli wrung from the Church, in her hour of weakness,
property which they dared to claim as their right. I know of titles to lands signed away, in those
stormy times, under the influence of fear, or through false representations of which the law
takes no account. I call the money thus obtained spoil, and I say that it ought to be restored,
and shall be restored, to the Church from which it was taken.”
“And what does Fabio answer to that, brother?”
“I have not spoken to him on the subject.”
“Why not?”
“Because I have, as yet, no influence over him. When he is married, his wife will have
influence over him, and she shall speak.”
“Maddalena, I suppose? How do you know that she will speak?”
“Have I not educated her? Does she not understand what her duties are toward the
Church, in whose bosom she has been reared?”
Luca hesitated uneasily, and walked away a step or two before he spoke again.
“Does this spoil, as you call it, amount to a large sum of money?” he asked, in an
anxious whisper.
“I may answer that question, Luca, at some future time,” said the priest. “For the
present, let it be enough that you are acquainted with all I undertook to inform you of when we
began our conversation. You now know that if I am anxious for this marriage to take place, it
is from motives entirely unconnected with self-interest. If all the property which Fabio’sancestors wrongfully obtained from the Church were restored to the Church tomorrow, not
one paulo of it would go into my pocket. I am a poor priest now, and to the end of my days
shall remain so. You soldiers of the world, brother, fight for your pay; I am a soldier of the
Church, and I fight for my cause.”
Saying these words, he returned abruptly to the statuette; and refused to speak, or leave
his employment again, until he had taken the mold off, and had carefully put away the various
fragments of which it consisted. This done, he drew a writing-desk from the drawer of his
working-table, and taking out a slip of paper wrote these lines:
“Come down to the studio tomorrow. Fabio will be with us, but Nanina will return no
Without signing what he had written, he sealed it up, and directed it to “Donna
Maddalena”; then took his hat, and handed the note to his brother.
“Oblige me by giving that to my niece,” he said.
“Tell me, Rocco,” said Luca, turning the note round and round perplexedly between his
finger and thumb; “do you think Maddalena will be lucky enough to get married to Fabio?”
“Still coarse in your expressions, brother!”
“Never mind my expressions. Is it likely?”
“Yes, Luca, I think it is likely.”
With those words he waved his hand pleasantly to his brother, and went out.
Chapter 3

From the studio Father Rocco went straight to his own rooms, hard by the church to
which he was attached. Opening a cabinet in his study, he took from one of its drawers a
handful of small silver money, consulted for a minute or so a slate on which several names
and addresses were written, provided himself with a portable inkhorn and some strips of
paper, and again went out.
He directed his steps to the poorest part of the neighborhood; and entering some very
wretched houses, was greeted by the inhabitants with great respect and affection. The
women, especially, kissed his hands with more reverence than they would have shown to the
highest crowned head in Europe. In return, he talked to them as easily and unconstrainedly as
if they were his equals; sat down cheerfully on dirty bedsides and rickety benches; and
distributed his little gifts of money with the air of a man who was paying debts rather than
bestowing charity. Where he encountered cases of illness, he pulled out his inkhorn and slips
of paper, and wrote simple prescriptions to be made up from the medicine-chest of a
neighboring convent, which served the same merciful purpose then that is answered by
dispensaries in our days. When he had exhausted his money, and had got through his visits,
he was escorted out of the poor quarter by a perfect train of enthusiastic followers. The
women kissed his hand again, and the men uncovered as he turned, and, with a friendly sign,
bade them all farewell.
As soon as he was alone again, he walked toward the Campo Santo, and, passing the
house in which Nanina lived, sauntered up and down the street thoughtfully for some minutes.
When he at length ascended the steep staircase that led to the room occupied by the sisters,
he found the door ajar. Pushing it open gently, he saw La Biondella sitting with her pretty, fair
profile turned toward him, eating her evening meal of bread and grapes. At the opposite end
of the room, Scarammuccia was perched up on his hindquarters in a corner, with his mouth
wide open to catch the morsel of bread which he evidently expected the child to throw to him.
What the elder sister was doing, the priest had not time to see; for the dog barked the
moment he presented himself, and Nanina hastened to the door to ascertain who the intruder
might be. All that he could observe was that she was too confused, on catching sight of him,
to be able to utter a word. La Biondella was the first to speak.
“Thank you, Father Rocco,” said the child, jumping up, with her bread in one hand and
her grapes in the other —“thank you for giving me so much money for my dinner-mats. There
they are, tied up together in one little parcel, in the corner. Nanina said she was ashamed to
think of your carrying them; and I said I knew where you lived, and I should like to ask you to
let me take them home!”
“Do you think you can carry them all the way, my dear?” asked the priest.
“Look, Father Rocco, see if I can’t carry them!” cried La Biondella, cramming her bread
into one of the pockets of her little apron, holding her bunch of grapes by the stalk in her
mouth, and hoisting the packet of dinner-mats on her head in a moment. “See, I am strong
enough to carry double,” said the child, looking up proudly into the priest’s face.
“Can you trust her to take them home for me?” asked Father Rocco, turning to Nanina. “I
want to speak to you alone, and her absence will give me the opportunity. Can you trust her
out by herself?”
“Yes, Father Rocco, she often goes out alone.” Nanina gave this answer in low, trembling
tones, and looked down confusedly on the ground.
“Go then, my dear,” said Father Rocco, patting the child on the shoulder; “and come
back here to your sister, as soon as you have left the mats.”
La Biondella went out directly in great triumph, with Scarammuccia walking by her side,and keeping his muzzle suspiciously close to the pocket in which she had put her bread.
Father Rocco closed the door after them, and then, taking the one chair which the room
possessed, motioned to Nanina to sit by him on the stool.
“Do you believe that I am your friend, my child, and that I have always meant well toward
you?” he began.
“The best and kindest of friends,” answered Nanina.
“Then you will hear what I have to say patiently, and you will believe that I am speaking
for your good, even if my words should distress you?” (Nanina turned away her head.) “Now,
tell me; should I be wrong, to begin with, if I said that my brother’s pupil, the young nobleman
whom we call ‘Signor Fabio,’ had been here to see you today?” (Nanina started up affrightedly
from her stool.) “Sit down again, my child; I am not going to blame you. I am only going to tell
you what you must do for the future.”
He took her hand; it was cold, and it trembled violently in his.
“I will not ask what he has been saying to you,” continued the priest; “for it might distress
you to answer, and I have, moreover, had means of knowing that your youth and beauty have
made a strong impression on him. I will pass over, then, all reference to the words he may
have been speaking to you; and I will come at once to what I have now to say, in my turn.
Nanina, my child, arm yourself with all your courage, and promise me, before we part to-night,
that you will see Signor Fabio no more.”
Nanina turned round suddenly, and fixed her eyes on him, with an expression of terrified
incredulity. “No more?”
“You are very young and very innocent,” said Father Rocco; “but surely you must have
thought before now of the difference between Signor Fabio and you. Surely you must have
often remembered that you are low down among the ranks of the poor, and that he is high up
among the rich and the nobly born?”
Nanina’s hands dropped on the priest’s knees. She bent her head down on them, and
began to weep bitterly.
“Surely you must have thought of that?” reiterated Father Rocco.
“Oh, I have often, often thought of it!” murmured the girl “I have mourned over it, and
cried about it in secret for many nights past. He said I looked pale, and ill, and out of spirits
today, and I told him it was with thinking of that!”
“And what did he say in return?”
There was no answer. Father Rocco looked down. Nanina raised her head directly from
his knees, and tried to turn it away again. He took her hand and stopped her.
“Come!” he said; “speak frankly to me. Say what you ought to say to your father and
your friend. What was his answer, my child, when you reminded him of the difference between
“He said I was born to be a lady,” faltered the girl, still struggling to turn her face away,
“and that I might make myself one if I would learn and be patient. He said that if he had all the
noble ladies in Pisa to choose from on one side, and only little Nanina on the other, he would
hold out his hand to me, and tell them, ‘This shall be my wife.’ He said love knew no difference
of rank; and that if he was a nobleman and rich, it was all the more reason why he should
please himself. He was so kind, that I thought my heart would burst while he was speaking;
and my little sister liked him so, that she got upon his knee and kissed him. Even our dog,
who growls at other strangers, stole to his side and licked his hand. Oh, Father Rocco! Father
Rocco!” The tears burst out afresh, and the lovely head dropped once more, wearily, on the
priest’s knee.
Father Rocco smiled to himself, and waited to speak again till she was calmer.
“Supposing,” he resumed, after some minutes of silence, “supposing Signor Fabio really
meant all he said to you —”
Nanina started up, and confronted the priest boldly for the first time since he had enteredthe room.
“Supposing!” she exclaimed, her cheeks beginning to redden, and her dark blue eyes
flashing suddenly through her tears “Supposing! Father Rocco, Fabio would never deceive
me. I would die here at your feet, rather than doubt the least word he said to me!”
The priest signed to her quietly to return to the stool. “I never suspected the child had so
much spirit in her,” he thought to himself.
“I would die,” repeated Nanina, in a voice that began to falter now. “I would die rather
than doubt him.”
“I will not ask you to doubt him,” said Father Rocco, gently; “and I will believe in him
myself as firmly as you do. Let us suppose, my child, that you have learned patiently all the
many things of which you are now ignorant, and which it is necessary for a lady to know. Let
us suppose that Signor Fabio has really violated all the laws that govern people in his high
station and has taken you to him publicly as his wife. You would be happy then, Nanina; but
would he? He has no father or mother to control him, it is true; but he has friends — many
friends and intimates in his own rank — proud, heartless people, who know nothing of your
worth and goodness; who, hearing of your low birth, would look on you, and on your husband
too, my child, with contempt. He has not your patience and fortitude. Think how bitter it would
be for him to bear that contempt — to see you shunned by proud women, and carelessly
pitied or patronized by insolent men. Yet all this, and more, he would have to endure, or else
to quit the world he has lived in from his boyhood — the world he was born to live in. You love
him, I know —”
Nanina’s tears burst out afresh. “Oh, how dearly — how dearly!” she murmured.
“Yes, you love him dearly,” continued the priest; “but would all your love compensate him
for everything else that he must lose? It might, at first; but there would come a time when the
world would assert its influence over him again; when he would feel a want which you could
not supply — a weariness which you could not solace. Think of his life then, and of yours.
Think of the first day when the first secret doubt whether he had done rightly in marrying you
would steal into his mind. We are not masters of all our impulses. The lightest spirits have
their moments of irresistible depression; the bravest hearts are not always superior to doubt.
My child, my child, the world is strong, the pride of rank is rooted deep, and the human will is
frail at best! Be warned! For your own sake and for Fabio’s, be warned in time.”
Nanina stretched out her hands toward the priest in despair.
“Oh, Father Rocco! Father Rocco!” she cried, “why did you not tell me this before?”
“Because, my child, I only knew of the necessity for telling you today. But it is not too
late; it is never too late to do a good action. You love Fabio, Nanina? Will you prove that love
by making a great sacrifice for his good?”
“I would die for his good!”
“Will you nobly cure him of a passion which will be his ruin, if not yours, by leaving Pisa
“Leave Pisa!” exclaimed Nanina. Her face grew deadly pale; she rose and moved back a
step or two from the priest.
“Listen to me,” pursued Father Rocco; “I have heard you complain that you could not get
regular employment at needle-work. You shall have that employment, if you will go with me —
you and your little sister too, of course — to Florence tomorrow.”
“I promised Fabio to go to the studio,” began Nanina, affrightedly. “I promised to go at
ten o’clock. How can I—”
She stopped suddenly, as if her breath were failing her.
“I myself will take you and your sister to Florence,” said Father Rocco, without noticing
the interruption. “I will place you under the care of a lady who will be as kind as a mother to
you both. I will answer for your getting such work to do as will enable you to keep yourself
honestly and independently; and I will undertake, if you do not like your life at Florence, tobring you back to Pisa after a lapse of three months only. Three months, Nanina. It is not a
long exile.”
“Fabio! Fabio!” cried the girl, sinking again on the seat, and hiding her face.
“It is for his good,” said Father Rocco, calmly: “for Fabio’s good, remember.”
“What would he think of me if I went away? Oh, if I had but learned to write! If I could
only write Fabio a letter!”
“Am I not to be depended on to explain to him all that he ought to know?”
“How can I go away from him! Oh! Father Rocco, how can you ask me to go away from
“I will ask you to do nothing hastily. I will leave you till tomorrow morning to decide. At
nine o’clock I shall be in the street; and I will not even so much as enter this house, unless I
know beforehand that you have resolved to follow my advice. Give me a sign from your
window. If I see you wave your white mantilla out of it, I shall know that you have taken the
noble resolution to save Fabio and to save yourself. I will say no more, my child; for, unless I
am grievously mistaken in you, I have already said enough.”
He went out, leaving her still weeping bitterly. Not far from the house, he met La
Biondella and the dog on their way back. The little girl stopped to report to him the safe
delivery of her dinner-mats; but he passed on quickly with a nod and a smile. His interview
with Nanina had left some influence behind it, which unfitted him just then for the occupation
of talking to a child.
Nearly half an hour before nine o’clock on the following morning, Father Rocco set forth
for the street in which Nanina lived. On his way thither he overtook a dog walking lazily a few
paces ahead in the roadway; and saw, at the same time, an elegantly-dressed lady advancing
toward him. The dog stopped suspiciously as she approached, and growled and showed his
teeth when she passed him. The lady, on her side, uttered an exclamation of disgust, but did
not seem to be either astonished or frightened by the animal’s threatening attitude. Father
Rocco looked after her with some curiosity as she walked by him. She was a handsome
woman, and he admired her courage. “I know that growling brute well enough,” he said to
himself, “but who can the lady be?”
The dog was Scarammuccia, returning from one of his marauding expeditions The lady
was Brigida, on her way to Luca Lomi’s studio.
Some minutes before nine o’clock the priest took his post in the street, opposite Nanina’s
window. It was open; but neither she nor her little sister appeared at it. He looked up anxiously
as the church-clocks struck the hour; but there was no sign for a minute or so after they were
all silent. “Is she hesitating still?” said Father Rocco to himself.
Just as the words passed his lips, the white mantilla was waved out of the window.
Part 2
Chapter 1

Even the master-stroke of replacing the treacherous Italian forewoman by a French
dressmaker, engaged direct from Paris, did not at first avail to elevate the great Grifoni
establishment above the reach of minor calamities. Mademoiselle Virginie had not occupied
her new situation at Pisa quite a week before she fell ill. All sorts of reports were circulated as
to the cause of this illness; and the Demoiselle Grifoni even went so far as to suggest that the
health of the new forewoman had fallen a sacrifice to some nefarious practices of the
chemical sort, on the part of her rival in the trade. But, however the misfortune had been
produced, it was a fact that Mademoiselle Virginie was certainly very ill, and another fact that
the doctor insisted on her being sent to the baths of Lucca as soon as she could be moved
from her bed.
Fortunately for the Demoiselle Grifoni, the Frenchwoman had succeeded in producing
three specimens of her art before her health broke down. They comprised the evening-dress
of yellow brocaded silk, to which she had devoted herself on the morning when she first
assumed her duties at Pisa; a black cloak and hood of an entirely new shape; and an
irresistibly fascinating dressing-gown, said to have been first brought into fashion by the
princesses of the blood-royal of France. These articles of costume, on being exhibited in the
showroom, electrified the ladies of Pisa; and orders from all sides flowed in immediately on the
Grifoni establishment. They were, of course, easily executed by the inferior work-women, from
the specimen designs of the French dressmaker. So that the illness of Mademoiselle Virginie,
though it might cause her mistress some temporary inconvenience, was, after all, productive
of no absolute loss.
Two months at the baths of Lucca restored the new forewoman to health. She returned
to Pisa, and resumed her place in the private work-room. Once re-established there, she
discovered that an important change had taken place during her absence. Her friend and
assistant, Brigida, had resigned her situation. All inquiries made of the Demoiselle Grifoni only
elicited one answer: the missing work-woman had abruptly left her place at five minutes’
warning, and had departed without confiding to any one what she thought of doing, or whither
she intended to turn her steps.
Months elapsed The new year came; but no explanatory letter arrived from Brigida. The
spring season passed off, with all its accompaniments of dressmaking and dress-buying, but
still there was no news of her. The first anniversary of Mademoiselle Virginie’s engagement
with the Demoiselle Grifoni came round; and then at last a note arrived, stating that Brigida
had returned to Pisa, and that if the French forewoman would send an answer, mentioning
where her private lodgings were, she would visit her old friend that evening after business
hours. The information was gladly enough given; and, punctually to the appointed time, Brigida
arrived in Mademoiselle Virginie’s little sitting-room.
Advancing with her usual indolent stateliness of gait, the Italian asked after her friend’s
health as coolly, and sat down in the nearest chair as carelessly, as if they had not been
separated for more than a few days. Mademoiselle Virginie laughed in her liveliest manner,
and raised her mobile French eyebrows in sprightly astonishment.
“Well, Brigida!” she exclaimed, “they certainly did you no injustice when they nicknamed
you ‘Care-for-Nothing,’ in old Grifoni’s workroom. Where have you been? Why have you never
written to me?”
“I had nothing particular to write about; and besides, I always intended to come back to
Pisa and see you,” answered Brigida, leaning back luxuriously in her chair.
“But where have you been for nearly a whole year past? In Italy?”
“No; at Paris. You know I can sing — not very well; but I have a voice, and mostFrenchwomen (excuse the impertinence) have none. I met with a friend, and got introduced to
a manager; and I have been singing at the theater — not the great parts, only the second.
Your amiable countrywomen could not screech me down on the stage, but they intrigued
against me successfully behind the scenes. In short, I quarreled with our principal lady,
quarreled with the manager, quarreled with my friend; and here I am back at Pisa, with a little
money saved in my pocket, and no great notion what I am to do next.”
“Back at Pisa? Why did you leave it?”
Brigida’s eyes began to lose their indolent expression. She sat up suddenly in her chair,
and set one of her hands heavily on a little table by her side.
“Why?” she repeated. “Because when I find the game going against me, I prefer giving it
up at once to waiting to be beaten.”
“Ah! you refer to that last year’s project of yours for making your fortune among the
sculptors. I should like to hear how it was you failed with the wealthy young amateur.
Remember that I fell ill before you had any news to give me. Your absence when I returned
from Lucca, and, almost immediately afterward, the marriage of your intended conquest to the
sculptor’s daughter, proved to me, of course, that you must have failed. But I never heard
how. I know nothing at this moment but the bare fact that Maddalena Lomi won the prize.”
“Tell me first, do she and her husband live together happily?”
“There are no stories of their disagreeing. She has dresses, horses, carriages; a negro
page, the smallest lap-dog in Italy — in short, all the luxuries that a woman can want; and a
child, by-the-by, into the bargain.”
“A child?”
“Yes; a child, born little more than a week ago.”
“Not a boy, I hope?”
“No; a girl.”
“I am glad of that. Those rich people always want the first-born to be an heir. They will
both be disappointed. I am glad of that.”
“Mercy on us, Brigida, how fierce you look!”
“Do I? It’s likely enough. I hate Fabio d’Ascoli and Maddalena Lomi — singly as man and
woman, doubly as man and wife. Stop! I’ll tell you what you want to know directly. Only
answer me another question or two first. Have you heard anything about her health?”
“How should I hear? Dressmakers can’t inquire at the doors of the nobility.”
“True. Now one last question. That little simpleton, Nanina?”
“I have never seen or heard anything of her. She can’t be at Pisa, or she would have
called at our place for work.”
“Ah! I need not have asked about her if I had thought a moment beforehand. Father
Rocco would be sure to keep her out of Fabio’s sight, for his niece’s sake.”
“What, he really loved that ‘thread-paper of a girl’ as you called her?”
“Better than fifty such wives as he has got now! I was in the studio the morning he was
told of her departure from Pisa. A letter was privately given to him, telling him that the girl had
left the place out of a feeling of honor, and had hidden herself beyond the possibility of
discovery, to prevent him from compromising himself with all his friends by marrying her.
Naturally enough, he would not believe that this was her own doing; and, naturally enough
also, when Father Rocco was sent for, and was not to be found, he suspected the priest of
being at the bottom of the business. I never saw a man in such a fury of despair and rage
before. He swore that he would have all Italy searched for the girl, that he would be the death
of the priest, and that he would never enter Luca Lomi’s studio again —”
“And, as to this last particular, of course, being a man, he failed to keep his word?”
“Of course. At that first visit of mine to the studio I discovered two things. The first, as I
said, that Fabio was really in love with the girl — the second, that Maddalena Lomi was really
in love with him. You may suppose I looked at her attentively while the disturbance was goingon, and while nobody’s notice was directed on me. All women are vain, I know, but vanity
never blinded my eyes. I saw directly that I had but one superiority over her — my figure. She
was my height, but not well made. She had hair as dark and as glossy as mine; eyes as bright
and as black as mine; and the rest of her face better than mine. My nose is coarse, my lips
are too thick, and my upper lip overhangs my under too far. She had none of those personal
faults; and, as for capacity, she managed the young fool in his passion as well as I could have
managed him in her place.”
“She stood silent, with downcast eyes and a distressed look, all the time he was raving
up and down the studio. She must have hated the girl, and been rejoiced at her
disappearance; but she never showed it. ‘You would be an awkward rival’ (I thought to
myself), ‘even to a handsomer woman than I am.’ However, I determined not to despair too
soon, and made up my mind to follow my plan just as if the accident of the girl’s
disappearance had never occurred. I smoothed down the master-sculptor easily enough —
flattering him about his reputation, assuring him that the works of Luca Lomi had been the
objects of my adoration since childhood, telling him that I had heard of his difficulty in finding a
model to complete his Minerva from, and offering myself (if he thought me worthy) for the
honor — laying great stress on that word — for the honor of sitting to him. I don’t know
whether he was altogether deceived by what I told him; but he was sharp enough to see that I
really could be of use, and he accepted my offer with a profusion of compliments. We parted,
having arranged that I was to give him a first sitting in a week’s time.”
“Why put it off so long?”
“To allow our young gentleman time to cool down and return to the studio, to be sure.
What was the use of my being there while he was away?”
“Yes, yes — I forgot. And how long was it before he came back?”
“I had allowed him more time than enough. When I had given my first sitting I saw him in
the studio, and heard it was his second visit there since the day of the girl’s disappearance.
Those very violent men are always changeable and irresolute.”
“Had he made no attempt, then, to discover Nanina?”
“Oh, yes! He had searched for her himself, and had set others searching for her, but to
no purpose. Four days of perpetual disappointment had been enough to bring him to his
senses. Luca Lomi had written him a peace-making letter, asking what harm he or his
daughter had done, even supposing Father Rocco was to blame. Maddalena Lomi had met
him in the street, and had looked resignedly away from him, as if she expected him to pass
her. In short, they had awakened his sense of justice and his good nature (you see, I can
impartially give him his due), and they had got him back. He was silent and sentimental
enough at first, and shockingly sulky and savage with the priest —”
“I wonder Father Rocco ventured within his reach.”
“Father Rocco is not a man to be daunted or defeated by anybody, I can tell you. The
same day on which Fabio came back to the studio, he returned to it. Beyond boldly declaring
that he thought Nanina had done quite right, and had acted like a good and virtuous girl, he
would say nothing about her or her disappearance. It was quite useless to ask him questions
— he denied that any one had a right to put them. Threatening, entreating, flattering — all
modes of appeal were thrown away on him. Ah, my dear! depend upon it, the cleverest and
politest man in Pisa, the most dangerous to an enemy and the most delightful to a friend, is
Father Rocco. The rest of them, when I began to play my cards a little too openly, behaved
with brutal rudeness to me. Father Rocco, from first to last, treated me like a lady. Sincere or
not, I don’t care — he treated me like a lady when the others treated me like —”
“There! there! don’t get hot about it now. Tell me instead how you made your first
approaches to the young gentleman whom you talk of so contemptuously as Fabio.”
“As it turned out, in the worst possible way. First, of course, I made sure of interestinghim in me by telling him that I had known Nanina. So far it was all well enough. My next object
was to persuade him that she could never have gone away if she had truly loved him alone;
and that he must have had some fortunate rival in her own rank of life, to whom she had
sacrificed him, after gratifying her vanity for a time by bringing a young nobleman to her feet. I
had, as you will easily imagine, difficulty enough in making him take this view of Nanina’s flight.
His pride and his love for the girl were both concerned in refusing to admit the truth of my
suggestion. At last I succeeded. I brought him to that state of ruffled vanity and fretful
selfassertion in which it is easiest to work on a man’s feelings — in which a man’s own wounded
pride makes the best pitfall to catch him in. I brought him, I say, to that state, and then she
stepped in and profited by what I had done. Is it wonderful now that I rejoice in her
disappointments — that I should be glad to hear any ill thing of her that any one could tell
“But how did she first get the advantage of you?”
“If I had found out, she would never have succeeded where I failed. All I know is, that
she had more opportunities of seeing him than I, and that she used them cunningly enough
even to deceive me. While I thought I was gaining ground with Fabio, I was actually losing it.
My first suspicions were excited by a change in Luca Lomi’s conduct toward me. He grew
cold, neglectful — at last absolutely rude. I was resolved not to see this; but accident soon
obliged me to open my eyes. One morning I heard Fabio and Maddalena talking of me when
they imagined I had left the studio. I can’t repeat their words, especially here. The blood flies
into my head, and the cold catches me at the heart, when I only think of them. It will be
enough if I tell you that he laughed at me, and that she —”
“Hush! not so loud. There are other people lodging in the house. Never mind about telling
me what you heard; it only irritates you to no purpose. I can guess that they had discovered
“Through her — remember, all through her!”
“Yes, yes, I understand. They had discovered a great deal more than you ever intended
them to know, and all through her.”
“But for the priest, Virginie, I should have been openly insulted and driven from their
doors. He had insisted on their behaving with decent civility toward me. They said that he was
afraid of me, and laughed at the notion of his trying to make them afraid too. That was the last
thing I heard. The fury I was in, and the necessity of keeping it down, almost suffocated me. I
turned round to leave the place forever, when, who should I see, standing close behind me,
but Father Rocco. He must have discovered in my face that I knew all, but he took no notice
of it. He only asked, in his usual quiet, polite way, if I was looking for anything I had lost, and if
he could help me. I managed to thank him, and to get to the door. He opened it for me
respectfully, and bowed — he treated me like a lady to the last! It was evening when I left the
studio in that way. The next morning I threw up my situation, and turned my back on Pisa.
Now you know everything.”
“Did you hear of the marriage? or did you only assume from what you knew that it would
take place?”
“I heard of it about six months ago. A man came to sing in the chorus at our theater who
had been employed some time before at the grand concert given on the occasion of the
marriage. But let us drop the subject now. I am in a fever already with talking of it. You are in
a bad situation here, my dear; I declare your room is almost stifling.”
“Shall I open the other window?”
“No; let us go out and get a breath of air by the river-side. Come! take your hood and fan
— it is getting dark — nobody will see us, and we can come back here, if you like, in half an
Mademoiselle Virginie acceded to her friend’s wish rather reluctantly. They walked toward
the river. The sun was down, and the sudden night of Italy was gathering fast. AlthoughBrigida did not say another word on the subject of Fabio or his wife, she led the way to the
bank of the Arno, on which the young nobleman’s palace stood.
Just as they got near the great door of entrance, a sedan-chair, approaching in the
opposite direction, was set down before it; and a footman, after a moment’s conference with a
lady inside the chair, advanced to the porter’s lodge in the courtyard. Leaving her friend to go
on, Brigida slipped in after the servant by the open wicket, and concealed herself in the
shadow cast by the great closed gates.
“The Marchesa Melani, to inquire how the Countess d’Ascoli and the infant are this
evening,” said the footman.
“My mistress has not changed at all for the better since the morning,” answered the
porter. “The child is doing quite well.”
The footman went back to the sedan-chair; then returned to the porter’s lodge.
“The marchesa desires me to ask if fresh medical advice has been sent for,” he said.
“Another doctor has arrived from Florence today,” replied the porter.
Mademoiselle Virginie, missing her friend suddenly, turned back toward the palace to
look after her, and was rather surprised to see Brigida slip out of the wicket-gate. There were
two oil lamps burning on pillars outside the doorway, and their light glancing on the Italian’s
face, as she passed under them, showed that she was smiling.
Chapter 2

While the Marchesa Melani was making inquiries at the gate of the palace, Fabio was
sitting alone in the apartment which his wife usually occupied when she was in health. It was
her favorite room, and had been prettily decorated, by her own desire, with hangings in yellow
satin and furniture of the same color. Fabio was now waiting in it, to hear the report of the
doctors after their evening visit.
Although Maddalena Lomi had not been his first love, and although he had married her
under circumstances which are generally and rightly considered to afford few chances of
lasting happiness in wedded life, still they had lived together through the one year of their
union tranquilly, if not fondly. She had molded herself wisely to his peculiar humors, had made
the most of his easy disposition; and, when her quick temper had got the better of her, had
seldom hesitated in her cooler moments to acknowledge that she had been wrong. She had
been extravagant, it is true, and had irritated him by fits of unreasonable jealousy; but these
were faults not to be thought of now. He could only remember that she was the mother of his
child, and that she lay ill but two rooms away from him — dangerously ill, as the doctors had
unwillingly confessed on that very day.
The darkness was closing in upon him, and he took up the handbell to ring for lights.
When the servant entered there was genuine sorrow in his face, genuine anxiety in his voice,
as he inquired for news from the sick-room. The man only answered that his mistress was still
asleep, and then withdrew, after first leaving a sealed letter on the table by his master’s side.
Fabio summoned him back into the room, and asked when the letter had arrived. He replied
that it had been delivered at the palace two days since, and that he had observed it lying
unopened on a desk in his master’s study.
Left alone again, Fabio remembered that the letter had arrived at a time when the first
dangerous symptoms of his wife’s illness had declared themselves, and that he had thrown it
aside, after observing the address to be in a handwriting unknown to him. In his present state
of suspense, any occupation was better than sitting idle. So he took up the letter with a sigh,
broke the seal, and turned inquiringly to the name signed at the end.
It was “NANINA.”
He started, and changed color. “A letter from her,” he whispered to himself. “Why does it
come at such a time as this?”
His face grew paler, and the letter trembled in his fingers. Those superstitious feelings
which he had ascribed to the nursery influences of his childhood, when Father Rocco charged
him with them in the studio, seemed to be overcoming him now. He hesitated, and listened
anxiously in the direction of his wife’s room, before reading the letter. Was its arrival ominous
of good or evil? That was the thought in his heart as he drew the lamp near to him, and
looked at the first lines.
“Am I wrong in writing to you?” (the letter began abruptly). “If I am, you have but to throw
this little leaf of paper into the fire, and to think no more of it after it is burned up and gone. I
can never reproach you for treating my letter in that way; for we are never likely to meet
“Why did I go away? Only to save you from the consequences of marrying a poor girl
who was not fit to become your wife. It almost broke my heart to leave you; for I had nothing
to keep up my courage but the remembrance that I was going away for your sake. I had to
think of that, morning and night — to think of it always, or I am afraid I should have faltered in
my resolution, and have gone back to Pisa. I longed so much at first to see you once more,
only to tell you that Nanina was not heartless and ungrateful, and that you might pity her and
think kindly of her, though you might love her no longer.“Only to tell you that! If I had been a lady I might have told it to you in a letter; but I had
never learned to write, and I could not prevail on myself to get others to take the pen for me.
All I could do was to learn secretly how to write with my own hand. It was long, long work; but
the uppermost thought in my heart was always the thought of justifying myself to you, and
that made me patient and persevering. I learned, at last, to write so as not to be ashamed of
myself, or to make you ashamed of me. I began a letter — my first letter to you — but I heard
of your marriage before it was done, and then I had to tear the paper up, and put the pen
down again.
“I had no right to come between you and your wife, even with so little a thing as a letter; I
had no right to do anything but hope and pray for your happiness. Are you happy? I am sure
you ought to be; for how can your wife help loving you?
“It is very hard for me to explain why I have ventured on writing now, and yet I can’t think
that I am doing wrong. I heard a few days ago (for I have a friend at Pisa who keeps me
informed, by my own desire, of all the pleasant changes in your life)— I heard of your child
being born; and I thought myself, after that, justified at last in writing to you. No letter from
me, at such a time as this, can rob your child’s mother of so much as a thought of yours that
is due to her. Thus, at least, it seems to me. I wish so well to your child, that I cannot surely
be doing wrong in writing these lines.
“I have said already what I wanted to say — what I have been longing to say for a whole
year past. I have told you why I left Pisa; and have, perhaps, persuaded you that I have gone
through some suffering, and borne some heart-aches for your sake. Have I more to write?
Only a word or two, to tell you that I am earning my bread, as I always wished to earn it,
quietly at home — at least, at what I must call home now. I am living with reputable people,
and I want for nothing. La Biondella has grown very much; she would hardly be obliged to get
on your knee to kiss you now; and she can plait her dinner-mats faster and more neatly than
ever. Our old dog is with us, and has learned two new tricks; but you can’t be expected to
remember him, although you were the only stranger I ever saw him take kindly to at first.
“It is time I finished. If you have read this letter through to the end, I am sure you will
excuse me if I have written it badly. There is no date to it, because I feel that it is safest and
best for both of us that you should know nothing of where I am living. I bless you and pray for
you, and bid you affectionately farewell. If you can think of me as a sister, think of me
sometimes still.”
Fabio sighed bitterly while he read the letter. “Why,” he whispered to himself, “why does
it come at such a time as this, when I cannot dare not think of her?” As he slowly folded the
letter up the tears came into his eyes, and he half raised the paper to his lips. At the same
moment, some one knocked at the door of the room. He started, and felt himself changing
color guiltily as one of his servants entered.
“My mistress is awake,” the man said, with a very grave face, and a very constrained
manner; “and the gentlemen in attendance desire me to say —”
He was interrupted, before he could give his message, by one of the medical men, who
had followed him into the room.
“I wish I had better news to communicate,” began the doctor, gently.
“She is worse, then?” said Fabio, sinking back into the chair from which he had risen the
moment before.
“She has awakened weaker instead of stronger after her sleep,” returned the doctor,
evasively. “I never like to give up all hope till the very last, but —”
“It is cruel not to be candid with him,” interposed another voice — the voice of the doctor
from Florence, who had just entered the room. “Strengthen yourself to bear the worst,” he
continued, addressing himself to Fabio. “She is dying. Can you compose yourself enough to
go to her bedside?”
Pale and speechless, Fabio rose from his chair, and made a sign in the affirmative. Hetrembled so that the doctor who had first spoken was obliged to lead him out of the room.
“Your mistress has some near relations in Pisa, has she not?” said the doctor from
Florence, appealing to the servant who waited near him.
“Her father, sir, Signor Luca Lomi; and her uncle, Father Rocco,” answered the man.
“They were here all through the day, until my mistress fell asleep.”
“Do you know where to find them now?”
“Signor Luca told me he should be at his studio, and Father Rocco said I might find him
at his lodgings.”
“Send for them both directly. Stay, who is your mistress’s confessor? He ought to be
summoned without loss of time.”
“My mistress’s confessor is Father Rocco, sir.”
“Very well — send, or go yourself, at once. Even minutes may be of importance now.”
Saying this, the doctor turned away, and sat down to wait for any last demands on his
services, in the chair which Fabio had just left.
Chapter 3

Before the servant could get to the priest’s lodgings a visitor had applied there for
admission, and had been immediately received by Father Rocco himself. This favored guest
was a little man, very sprucely and neatly dressed, and oppressively polite in his manner. He
bowed when he first sat down, he bowed when he answered the usual inquiries about his
health, and he bowed, for the third time, when Father Rocco asked what had brought him
from Florence.
“Rather an awkward business,” replied the little man, recovering himself uneasily after his
third bow. “The dressmaker, named Nanina, whom you placed under my wife’s protection
about a year ago —”
“What of her?” inquired the priest eagerly.
“I regret to say she has left us, with her child-sister, and their very disagreeable dog, that
growls at everybody.”
“When did they go?”
“Only yesterday. I came here at once to tell you, as you were so very particular in
recommending us to take care of her. It is not our fault that she has gone. My wife was
kindness itself to her, and I always treated her like a duchess. I bought dinner-mats of her
sister; I even put up with the thieving and growling of the disagreeable dog —”
“Where have they gone to? Have you found out that?”
“I have found out, by application at the passport-office, that they have not left Florence
— but what particular part of the city they have removed to, I have not yet had time to
“And pray why did they leave you, in the first place? Nanina is not a girl to do anything
without a reason. She must have had some cause for going away. What was it?”
The little man hesitated, and made a fourth bow.
“You remember your private instructions to my wife and myself, when you first brought
Nanina to our house?” he said, looking away rather uneasily while he spoke.
“Yes; you were to watch her, but to take care that she did not suspect you. It was just
possible, at that time, that she might try to get back to Pisa without my knowing it; and
everything depended on her remaining at Florence. I think, now, that I did wrong to distrust
her; but it was of the last importance to provide against all possibilities, and to abstain from
putting too much faith in my own good opinion of the girl. For these reasons, I certainly did
instruct you to watch her privately. So far you are quite right; and I have nothing to complain
of. Go on.”
“You remember,” resumed the little man, “that the first consequence of our following your
instructions was a discovery (which we immediately communicated to you) that she was
secretly learning to write?”
“Yes; and I also remember sending you word not to show that you knew what she was
doing; but to wait and see if she turned her knowledge of writing to account, and took or sent
any letters to the post. You informed me, in your regular monthly report, that she nearer did
anything of the kind.”
“Never, until three days ago; and then she was traced from her room in my house to the
post-office with a letter, which she dropped into the box.”
“And the address of which you discovered before she took it from your house?”
“Unfortunately I did not,” answered the little man, reddening and looking askance at the
priest, as if he expected to receive a severe reprimand.
But Father Rocco said nothing. He was thinking. Who could she have written to? If to
Fabio, why should she have waited for months and months, after she had learned how to useher pen, before sending him a letter? If not to Fabio, to what other person could she have
“I regret not discovering the address — regret it most deeply,” said the little man, with a
low bow of apology.
“It is too late for regret,” said Father Rocco, coldly. “Tell me how she came to leave your
house; I have not heard that yet. Be as brief as you can. I expect to be called every moment
to the bedside of a near and dear relation, who is suffering from severe illness. You shall have
all my attention; but you must ask it for as short a time as possible.”
“I will be briefness itself. In the first place, you must know that I have — or rather had —
an idle, unscrupulous rascal of an apprentice in my business.”
The priest pursed up his mouth contemptuously.
“In the second place, this same good-for-nothing fellow had the impertinence to fall in
love with Nanina.”
Father Rocco started, and listened eagerly.
“But I must do the girl the justice to say that she never gave him the slightest
encouragement; and that, whenever he ventured to speak to her, she always quietly but very
decidedly repelled him.”
“A good girl!” said Father Rocco. “I always said she was a good girl. It was a mistake on
my part ever to have distrusted her.”
“Among the other offenses,” continued the little man, “of which I now find my scoundrel
of an apprentice to have been guilty, was the enormity of picking the lock of my desk, and
prying into my private papers.”
“You ought not to have had any. Private papers should always be burned papers.”
“They shall be for the future; I will take good care of that.”
“Were any of my letters to you about Nanina among these private papers?”
“Unfortunately they were. Pray, pray excuse my want of caution this time. It shall never
happen again.”
“Go on. Such imprudence as yours can never be excused; it can only be provided
against for the future. I suppose the apprentice showed my letters to the girl?”
“I infer as much; though why he should do so —”
“Simpleton! Did you not say that he was in love with her (as you term it), and that he got
no encouragement?”
“Yes; I said that — and I know it to be true.”
“Well! Was it not his interest, being unable to make any impression on the girl’s fancy, to
establish some claim to her gratitude; and try if he could not win her that way? By showing her
my letters, he would make her indebted to him for knowing that she was watched in your
house. But this is not the matter in question now. You say you infer that she had seen my
letters. On what grounds?”
“On the strength of this bit of paper,” answered the little man, ruefully producing a note
from his pocket. “She must have had your letters shown to her soon after putting her own
letter into the post. For, on the evening of the same day, when I went up into her room, I
found that she and her sister and the disagreeable dog had all gone, and observed this note
laid on the table.”
Father Rocco took the note, and read these lines:
“I have just discovered that I have been watched and suspected ever since my stay
under your roof. It is impossible that I can remain another night in the house of a spy. I go
with my sister. We owe you nothing, and we are free to live honestly where we please. If you
see Father Rocco, tell him that I can forgive his distrust of me, but that I can never forget it. I,
who had full faith in him, had a right to expect that he should have full faith in me. It was
always an encouragement to me to think of him as a father and a friend. I have lost that
encouragement forever — and it was the last I had left to me!“NANINA.”
The priest rose from his seat as he handed the note back, and the visitor immediately
followed his example.
“We must remedy this misfortune as we best may,” he said, with a sigh. “Are you ready
to go back to Florence tomorrow?”
The little man bowed again.
“Find out where she is, and ascertain if she wants for anything, and if she is living in a
safe place. Say nothing about me, and make no attempt to induce her to return to your
house. Simply let me know what you discover. The poor child has a spirit that no ordinary
people would suspect in her. She must be soothed and treated tenderly, and we shall manage
her yet. No mistakes, mind, this time! Do just what I tell you, and do no more. Have you
anything else to say to me?”
The little man shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
“Good-night, then,” said the priest.
“Good-night,” said the little man, slipping through the door that was held open for him
with the politest alacrity.
“This is vexatious,” said Father Rocco, taking a turn or two in the study after his visitor
had gone. “It was bad to have done the child an injustice — it is worse to have been found
out. There is nothing for it now but to wait till I know where she is. I like her, and I like that
note she left behind her. It is bravely, delicately, and honestly written — a good girl — a very
good girl, indeed!”
He walked to the window, breathed the fresh air for a few moments, and quietly
dismissed the subject from his mind. When he returned to his table he had no thoughts for
any one but his sick niece.
“It seems strange,” he said, “that I have had no message about her yet. Perhaps Luca
has heard something. It may be well if I go to the studio at once to find out.”
He took up his hat and went to the door. Just as he opened it, Fabio’s servant confronted
him on the thresh old.
“I am sent to summon you to the palace,” said the man. “The doctors have given up all
Father Rocco turned deadly pale, and drew back a step. “Have you told my brother of
this?” he asked.
“I was just on my way to the studio,” answered the servant.
“I will go there instead of you, and break the bad news to him,” said the priest.
They descended the stairs in silence. Just as they were about to separate at the street
door, Father Rocco stopped the servant.
“How is the child?” he asked, with such sudden eagerness and impatience, that the man
looked quite startled as he answered that the child was perfectly well.
“There is some consolation in that,” said Father Rocco, walking away, and speaking
partly to the servant, partly to himself. “My caution has misled me,” he continued, pausing
thoughtfully when he was left alone in the roadway. “I should have risked using the mother’s
influence sooner to procure the righteous restitution. All hope of compassing it now rests on
the life of the child. Infant as she is, her father’s ill-gotten wealth may yet be gathered back to
the Church by her hands.”
He proceeded rapidly on his way to the studio, until he reached the river-side and drew
close to the bridge which it was necessary to cross in order to get to his brother’s house. Here
he stopped abruptly, as if struck by a sudden idea. The moon had just risen, and her light,
streaming across the river, fell full upon his face as he stood by the parapet wall that led up to
the bridge. He was so lost in thought that he did not hear the conversation of two ladies who
were advancing along the pathway close behind him. As they brushed by him, the taller of the
two turned round and looked back at his face.“Father Rocco!” exclaimed the lady, stopping.
“Donna Brigida!” cried the priest, looking surprised at first, but recovering himself directly
and bowing with his usual quiet politeness. “Pardon me if I thank you for honoring me by
renewing our acquaintance, and then pass on to my brother’s studio. A heavy affliction is likely
to befall us, and I go to prepare him for it.”
“You refer to the dangerous illness of your niece?” said Brigida. “I heard of it this
evening. Let us hope that your fears are exaggerated, and that we may yet meet under less
distressing circumstances. I have no present intention of leaving Pisa for some time, and I
shall always be glad to thank Father Rocco for the politeness and consideration which he
showed to me, under delicate circumstances, a year ago.”
With these words she courtesied deferentially, and moved away to rejoin her friend. The
priest observed that Mademoiselle Virginie lingered rather near, as if anxious to catch a few
words of the conversation between Brigida and himself. Seeing this, he, in his turn, listened as
the two women slowly walked away together, and heard the Italian say to her companion:
“Virginie, I will lay you the price of a new dress that Fabio d’Ascoli marries again.”
Father Rocco started when she said those words, as if he had trodden on fire.
“My thought!” he whispered nervously to himself. “My thought at the moment when she
spoke to me! Marry again? Another wife, over whom I should have no influence! Other
children, whose education would not be confided to me! What would become, then, of the
restitution that I have hoped for, wrought for, prayed for?”
He stopped, and looked fixedly at the sky above him. The bridge was deserted. His black
figure rose up erect, motionless, and spectral, with the white still light falling solemnly all
around it. Standing so for some minutes, his first movement was to drop his hand angrily on
the parapet of the bridge. He then turned round slowly in the direction by which the two
women had walked away.
“Donna Brigida,” he said, “I will lay you the price of fifty new dresses that Fabio d’Ascoli
never marries again!”
He set his face once more toward the studio, and walked on without stopping until he
arrived at the master-sculptor’s door.
“Marry again?” he thought to himself, as he rang the bell. “Donna Brigida, was your first
failure not enough for you? Are you going to try a second time?”
Luca Lomi himself opened the door. He drew Father Rocco hurriedly into the studio
toward a single lamp burning on a stand near the partition between the two rooms.
“Have you heard anything of our poor child?” he asked. “Tell me the truth! tell me the
truth at once!”
“Hush! compose yourself. I have heard,” said Father Rocco, in low, mournful tones.
Luca tightened his hold on the priest’s arm, and looked into his face with breathless,
speechless eagerness.
“Compose yourself,” repeated Father Rocco. “Compose yourself to hear the worst. My
poor Luca, the doctors have given up all hope.”
Luca dropped his brother’s arm with a groan of despair. “Oh, Maddalena! my child — my
only child!”
Reiterating these words again and again, he leaned his head against the partition and
burst into tears. Sordid and coarse as his nature was, he really loved his daughter. All the
heart he had was in his statues and in her.
After the first burst of his grief was exhausted, he was recalled to himself by a sensation
as if some change had taken place in the lighting of the studio. He looked up directly, and
dimly discerned the priest standing far down at the end of the room nearest the door, with the
lamp in his hand, eagerly looking at something.
“Rocco!” he exclaimed, “Rocco, why have you taken the lamp away? What are you doing
there?”There was no movement and no answer. Luca advanced a step or two, and called again.
“Rocco, what are you doing there?”
The priest heard this time, and came suddenly toward his brother, with the lamp in his
hand — so suddenly that Luca started.
“What is it?” he asked, in astonishment. “Gracious God, Rocco, how pale you are!”
Still the priest never said a word. He put the lamp down on the nearest table. Luca
observed that his hand shook. He had never seen his brother violently agitated before. When
Rocco had announced, but a few minutes ago, that Maddalena’s life was despaired of, it was
in a voice which, though sorrowful, was perfectly calm. What was the meaning of this sudden
panic — this strange, silent terror?
The priest observed that his brother was looking at him earnestly. “Come!” he said in a
faint whisper, “come to her bedside: we have no time to lose. Get your hat, and leave it to me
to put out the lamp.”
He hurriedly extinguished the light while he spoke. They went down the studio side by
side toward the door. The moonlight streamed through the window full on the place where the
priest had been standing alone with the lamp in his hand. As they passed it, Luca felt his
brother tremble, and saw him turn away his head.


Two hours later, Fabio d’Ascoli and his wife were separated in this world forever; and the
servants of the palace were anticipating in whispers the order of their mistress’s funeral
procession to the burial-ground of the Campo Santo.
Part 3
Chapter 1

About eight months after the Countess d’Ascoli had been laid in her grave in the Campo
Santo, two reports were circulated through the gay world of Pisa, which excited curiosity and
awakened expectation everywhere.
The first report announced that a grand masked ball was to be given at the Melani
Palace, to celebrate the day on which the heir of the house attained his majority. All the
friends of the family were delighted at the prospect of this festival; for the old Marquis Melani
had the reputation of being one of the most hospitable, and, at the same time, one of the
most eccentric men in Pisa. Every one expected, therefore, that he would secure for the
entertainment of his guests, if he really gave the ball, the most whimsical novelties in the way
of masks, dances, and amusements generally, that had ever been seen.
The second report was, that the rich widower, Fabio d’Ascoli, was on the point of
returning to Pisa, after having improved his health and spirits by traveling in foreign countries;
and that he might be expected to appear again in society, for the first time since the death of
his wife, at the masked ball which was to be given in the Melani Palace. This announcement
excited special interest among the young ladies of Pisa. Fabio had only reached his thirtieth
year; and it was universally agreed that his return to society in his native city could indicate
nothing more certainly than his desire to find a second mother for his infant child. All the single
ladies would now have been ready to bet, as confidently as Brigida had offered to bet eight
months before, that Fabio d’Ascoli would marry again.
For once in a way, report turned out to be true, in both the cases just mentioned.
Invitations were actually issued from the Melani Palace, and Fabio returned from abroad to his
home on the Arno.
In settling all the arrangements connected with his masked ball, the Marquis Melani
showed that he was determined not only to deserve, but to increase, his reputation for oddity.
He invented the most extravagant disguises, to be worn by some of his more intimate friends;
he arranged grotesque dances, to be performed at stated periods of the evening by
professional buffoons, hired from Florence. He composed a toy symphony, which included
solos on every noisy plaything at that time manufactured for children’s use. And not content
with thus avoiding the beaten track in preparing the entertainments at the ball, he determined
also to show decided originality, even in selecting the attendants who were to wait on the
company. Other people in his rank of life were accustomed to employ their own and hired
footmen for this purpose; the marquis resolved that his attendants should be composed of
young women only; that two of his rooms should be fitted up as Arcadian bowers; and that all
the prettiest girls in Pisa should be placed in them to preside over the refreshments, dressed,
in accordance with the mock classical taste of the period, as shepherdesses of the time of
The only defect of this brilliantly new idea was the difficulty of executing it. The marquis
had expressly ordered that not fewer than thirty shepherdesses were to be engaged — fifteen
for each bower. It would have been easy to find double this number in Pisa, if beauty had
been the only quality required in the attendant damsels. But it was also absolutely necessary,
for the security of the marquis’s gold and silver plate, that the shepherdesses should possess,
besides good looks, the very homely recommendation of a fair character. This last
qualification proved, it is sad to say, to be the one small merit which the majority of the ladies
willing to accept engagements at the palace did not possess. Day after day passed on; and
the marquis’s steward only found more and more difficulty in obtaining the appointed number
of trustworthy beauties. At last his resources failed him altogether; and he appeared in his
master’s presence about a week before the night of the ball, to make the humiliatingacknowledgment that he was entirely at his wits’ end. The total number of fair shepherdesses
with fair characters whom he had been able to engage amounted only to twenty-three.
“Nonsense!” cried the marquis, irritably, as soon as the steward had made his
confession. “I told you to get thirty girls, and thirty I mean to have. What’s the use of shaking
your head when all their dresses are ordered? Thirty tunics, thirty wreaths, thirty pairs of
sandals and silk stockings, thirty crooks, you scoundrel — and you have the impudence to
offer me only twenty-three hands to hold them. Not a word! I won’t hear a word! Get me my
thirty girls, or lose your place.” The marquis roared out this last terrible sentence at the top of
his voice, and pointed peremptorily to the door.
The steward knew his master too well to remonstrate. He took his hat and cane, and
went out. It was useless to look through the ranks of rejected volunteers again; there was not
the slightest hope in that quarter. The only chance left was to call on all his friends in Pisa who
had daughters out at service, and to try what he could accomplish, by bribery and persuasion,
that way.
After a whole day occupied in solicitations, promises, and patient smoothing down of
innumerable difficulties, the result of his efforts in the new direction was an accession of six
more shepherdesses. This brought him on bravely from twenty-three to twenty-nine, and left
him, at last, with only one anxiety — where was he now to find shepherdess number thirty?
He mentally asked himself that important question, as he entered a shady by-street in
the neighborhood of the Campo Santo, on his way back to the Melani Palace. Sauntering
slowly along in the middle of the road, and fanning himself with his handkerchief after the
oppressive exertions of the day, he passed a young girl who was standing at the street door
of one of the houses, apparently waiting for somebody to join her before she entered the
“Body of Bacchus!” exclaimed the steward (using one of those old Pagan ejaculations
which survive in Italy even to the present day), “there stands the prettiest girl I have seen yet.
If she would only be shepherdess number thirty, I should go home to supper with my mind at
ease. I’ll ask her, at any rate. Nothing can be lost by asking, and everything may be gained.
Stop, my dear,” he continued, seeing the girl turn to go into the house as he approached her.
“Don’t be afraid of me. I am steward to the Marquis Melani, and well known in Pisa as an
eminently respectable man. I have something to say to you which may be greatly for your
benefit. Don’t look surprised; I am coming to the point at once. Do you want to earn a little
money? honestly, of course. You don’t look as if you were very rich, child.”
“I am very poor, and very much in want of some honest work to do,” answered the girl,
“Then we shall suit each other to a nicety; for I have work of the pleasantest kind to give
you, and plenty of money to pay for it. But before we say anything more about that, suppose
you tell me first something about yourself — who you are, and so forth. You know who I am
“I am only a poor work-girl, and my name is Nanina. I have nothing more, sir, to say
about myself than that.”
“Do you belong to Pisa?”
“Yes, sir — at least, I did. But I have been away for some time. I was a year at Florence,
employed in needlework.”
“All by yourself?”
“No, sir, with my little sister. I was waiting for her when you came up.”
“Have you never done anything else but needlework? never been out at service?”
“Yes, sir. For the last eight months I have had a situation to wait on a lady at Florence,
and my sister (who is turned eleven, sir, and can make herself very useful) was allowed to
help in the nursery.”
“How came you to leave this situation?”“The lady and her family were going to Rome, sir. They would have taken me with them,
but they could not take my sister. We are alone in the world, and we never have been parted
from each other, and never shall be — so I was obliged to leave the situation.”
“And here you are, back at Pisa — with nothing to do, I suppose?”
“Nothing yet, sir. We only came back yesterday.”
“Only yesterday! You are a lucky girl, let me tell you, to have met with me. I suppose you
have somebody in the town who can speak to your character?”
“The landlady of this house can, sir.”
“And who is she, pray?”
“Marta Angrisani, sir.”
“What! the well-known sick-nurse? You could not possibly have a better
recommendation, child. I remember her being employed at the Melani Palace at the time of
the marquis’s last attack of gout; but I never knew that she kept a lodging-house.”
“She and her daughter, sir, have owned this house longer than I can recollect. My sister
and I have lived in it since I was quite a little child, and I had hoped we might be able to live
here again. But the top room we used to have is taken, and the room to let lower down is far
more, I am afraid, than we can afford.”
“How much is it?”
Nanina mentioned the weekly rent of the room in fear and trembling. The steward burst
out laughing.
“Suppose I offered you money enough to be able to take that room for a whole year at
once?” he said.
Nanina looked at him in speechless amazement.
“Suppose I offered you that?” continued the steward. “And suppose I only ask you in
return to put on a fine dress and serve refreshments in a beautiful room to the company at
the Marquis Melani’s grand ball? What should you say to that?”
Nanina said nothing. She drew back a step or two, and looked more bewildered than
“You must have heard of the ball,” said the steward, pompously; “the poorest people in
Pisa have heard of it. It is the talk of the whole city.”
Still Nanina made no answer. To have replied truthfully, she must have confessed that
“the talk of the whole city” had now no interest for her. The last news from Pisa that had
appealed to her sympathies was the news of the Countess d’Ascoli’s death, and of Fabio’s
departure to travel in foreign countries. Since then she had heard nothing more of him. She
was as ignorant of his return to his native city as of all the reports connected with the
marquis’s ball. Something in her own heart — some feeling which she had neither the desire
nor the capacity to analyze — had brought her back to Pisa and to the old home which now
connected itself with her tenderest recollections. Believing that Fabio was still absent, she felt
that no ill motive could now be attributed to her return; and she had not been able to resist the
temptation of revisiting the scene that had been associated with the first great happiness as
well as with the first great sorrow of her life. Among all the poor people of Pisa, she was
perhaps the very last whose curiosity could be awakened, or whose attention could be
attracted by the rumor of gayeties at the Melani Palace.
But she could not confess all this; she could only listen with great humility and no small
surprise, while the steward, in compassion for her ignorance, and with the hope of tempting
her into accepting his offered engagement, described the arrangements of the approaching
festival, and dwelt fondly on the magnificence of the Arcadian bowers, and the beauty of the
shepherdesses’ tunics. As soon as he had done, Nanina ventured on the confession that she
should feel rather nervous in a grand dress that did not belong to her, and that she doubted
very much her own capability of waiting properly on the great people at the ball. The steward,
however, would hear of no objections, and called peremptorily for Marta Angrisani to make thenecessary statement as to Nanina’s character. While this formality was being complied with to
the steward’s perfect satisfaction, La Biondella came in, unaccompanied on this occasion by
the usual companion of all her walks, the learned poodle Scarammuccia.
“This is Nanina’s sister,” said the good-natured sick-nurse, taking the first opportunity of
introducing La Biondella to the great marquis’s great man. “A very good, industrious little girl;
and very clever at plaiting dinner-mats, in case his excellency should ever want any. What
have you done with the dog, my dear?”
“I couldn’t get him past the pork butcher’s, three streets off,” replied La Biondella. “He
would sit down and look at the sausages. I am more than half afraid he means to steal some
of them.”
“A very pretty child,” said the steward, patting La Biondella on the cheek. “We ought to
have her at the hall. If his excellency should want a Cupid, or a youthful nymph, or anything
small and light in that way, I shall come back and let you know. In the meantime, Nanina,
consider yourself Shepherdess Number Thirty, and come to the housekeeper’s room at the
palace to try on your dress tomorrow. Nonsense! don’t talk to me about being afraid and
awkward. All you’re wanted to do is to look pretty; and your glass must have told you you
could do that long ago. Remember the rent of the room, my dear, and don’t stand in your light
and your sister’s. Does the little girl like sweetmeats? Of course she does! Well, I promise you
a whole box of sugar-plums to take home for her, if you will come and wait at the ball.”
“Oh, go to the ball, Nanina; go to the ball!” cried La Biondella, clapping her hands.
“Of course she will go to the ball,” said the nurse. “She would be mad to throw away
such an excellent chance.”
Nanina looked perplexed. She hesitated a little, then drew Marta Angrisani away into a
corner, and whispered this question to her:
“Do you think there will be any priests at the palace where the marquis lives?”
“Heavens, child, what a thing to ask!” returned the nurse. “Priests at a masked ball! You
might as well expect to find Turks performing high mass in the cathedral. But supposing you
did meet with priests at the palace, what then?”
“Nothing,” said Nanina, constrainedly. She turned pale, and walked away as she spoke.
Her great dread, in returning to Pisa, was the dread of meeting with Father Rocco again. She
had never forgotten her first discovery at Florence of his distrust of her. The bare thought of
seeing him any more, after her faith in him had been shaken forever, made her feel faint and
sick at heart.
“To-morrow, in the housekeeper’s room,” said the steward, putting on his hat, “you will
find your new dress all ready for you.”
Nanina courtesied, and ventured on no more objections. The prospect of securing a
home for a whole year to come among people whom she knew, reconciled her — influenced
as she was also by Marta Angrisani’s advice, and by her sister’s anxiety for the promised
present — to brave the trial of appearing at the ball.
“What a comfort to have it all settled at last,” said the steward, as soon as he was out
again in the street. “We shall see what the marquis says now. If he doesn’t apologize for
calling me a scoundrel the moment he sets eyes on Number Thirty, he is the most ungrateful
nobleman that ever existed.”
Arriving in front of the palace, the steward found workmen engaged in planning the
external decorations and illuminations for the night of the ball. A little crowd had already
assembled to see the ladders raised and the scaffoldings put up. He observed among them,
standing near the outskirts of the throng, a lady who attracted his attention (he was an ardent
admirer of the fair sex) by the beauty and symmetry of her figure. While he lingered for a
moment to look at her, a shaggy poodle-dog (licking his chops, as if he had just had
something to eat) trotted by, stopped suddenly close to the lady, sniffed suspiciously for an
instant, and then began to growl at her without the slightest apparent provocation. Thesteward advancing politely with his stick to drive the dog away, saw the lady start, and heard
her exclaim to herself amazedly:
“You here, you beast! Can Nanina have come back to Pisa?”
This last exclamation gave the steward, as a gallant man, an excuse for speaking to the
elegant stranger.
“Excuse me, madam,” he said, “but I heard you mention the name of Nanina. May I ask
whether you mean a pretty little work-girl who lives near the Campo Santo?”
“The same,” said the lady, looking very much surprised and interested immediately.
“It may be a gratification to you, madam, to know that she has just returned to Pisa,”
continued the steward, politely; “and, moreover, that she is in a fair way to rise in the world. I
have just engaged her to wait at the marquis’s grand ball, and I need hardly say, under those
circumstances, that if she plays her cards properly her fortune is made.”
The lady bowed, looked at her informant very intently and thoughtfully for a moment,
then suddenly walked away without uttering a word.
“A curious woman,” thought the steward, entering the palace. “I must ask Number Thirty
about her tomorrow.”
Chapter 2

The death of Maddalena d’Ascoli produced a complete change in the lives of her father
and her uncle. After the first shock of the bereavement was over, Luca Lomi declared that it
would be impossible for him to work in his studio again — for some time to come at least —
after the death of the beloved daughter, with whom every corner of it was now so sadly and
closely associated. He accordingly accepted an engagement to assist in restoring several
newly discovered works of ancient sculpture at Naples, and set forth for that city, leaving the
care of his work-rooms at Pisa entirely to his brother.
On the master-sculptor’s departure, Father Rocco caused the statues and busts to be
carefully enveloped in linen cloths, locked the studio doors, and, to the astonishment of all
who knew of his former industry and dexterity as a sculptor, never approached the place
again. His clerical duties he performed with the same assiduity as ever; but he went out less
than had been his custom hitherto to the houses of his friends. His most regular visits were to
the Ascoli Palace, to inquire at the porter’s lodge after the health of Maddalena’s child, who
was always reported to be thriving admirably under the care of the best nurses that could be
found in Pisa. As for any communications with his polite little friend from Florence, they had
ceased months ago. The information — speedily conveyed to him — that Nanina was in the
service of one of the most respectable ladies in the city seemed to relieve any anxieties which
he might otherwise have felt on her account. He made no attempt to justify himself to her; and
only required that his over-courteous little visitor of former days should let him know whenever
the girl might happen to leave her new situation.
The admirers of Father Rocco, seeing the alteration in his life, and the increased
quietness of his manner, said that, as he was growing older, he was getting more and more
above the things of this world. His enemies (for even Father Rocco had them) did not scruple
to assert that the change in him was decidedly for the worse, and that he belonged to the
order of men who are most to be distrusted when they become most subdued. The priest
himself paid no attention either to his eulogists or his depreciators. Nothing disturbed the
regularity and discipline of his daily habits; and vigilant Scandal, though she sought often to
surprise him, sought always in vain.
Such was Father Rocco’s life from the period of his niece’s death to Fabio’s return to
As a matter of course, the priest was one of the first to call at the palace and welcome
the young nobleman back. What passed between them at this interview never was precisely
known; but it was surmised readily enough that some misunderstanding had taken place, for
Father Rocco did not repeat his visit. He made no complaints of Fabio, but simply stated that
he had said something, intended for the young man’s good, which had not been received in a
right spirit; and that he thought it desirable to avoid the painful chance of any further collision
by not presenting himself at the palace again for some little time. People were rather amazed
at this. They would have been still more surprised if the subject of the masked ball had not
just then occupied all their attention, and prevented their noticing it, by another strange event
in connection with the priest. Father Rocco, some weeks after the cessation of his intercourse
with Fabio, returned one morning to his old way of life as a sculptor, and opened the
longclosed doors of his brother’s studio.
Luca Lomi’s former workmen, discovering this, applied to him immediately for
employment; but were informed that their services would not be needed. Visitors called at the
studio, but were always sent away again by the disappointing announcement that there was
nothing new to show them. So the days passed on until Nanina left her situation and returned
to Pisa. This circumstance was duly reported to Father Rocco by his correspondent atFlorence; but, whether he was too much occupied among the statues, or whether it was one
result of his cautious resolution never to expose himself unnecessarily to so much as the
breath of detraction, he made no attempt to see Nanina, or even to justify himself toward her
by writing her a letter. All his mornings continued to be spent alone in the studio, and all his
afternoons to be occupied by his clerical duties, until the day before the masked ball at the
Melani Palace.
Early on that day he covered over the statues, and locked the doors of the work-rooms
once more; then returned to his own lodgings, and did not go out again. One or two of his
friends who wanted to see him were informed that he was not well enough to be able to
receive them. If they had penetrated into his little study, and had seen him, they would have
been easily satisfied that this was no mere excuse. They would have noticed that his face was
startlingly pale, and that the ordinary composure of his manner was singularly disturbed.
Toward evening this restlessness increased, and his old housekeeper, on pressing him to
take some nourishment, was astonished to hear him answer her sharply and irritably, for the
first time since she had been in his service. A little later her surprise was increased by his
sending her with a note to the Ascoli Palace, and by the quick return of an answer, brought
ceremoniously by one of Fabio’s servants. “It is long since he has had any communication
with that quarter. Are they going to be friends again?” thought the housekeeper as she took
the answer upstairs to her master.
“I feel better to-night,” he said as he read it; “well enough indeed to venture out. If any
one inquires for me, tell them that I am gone to the Ascoli Palace.” Saying this, he walked to
the door; then returned, and trying the lock of his cabinet, satisfied himself that it was properly
secured; then went out.
He found Fabio in one of the large drawing-rooms of the palace, walking irritably
backward and forward, with several little notes crumpled together in his hands, and a plain
black domino dress for the masquerade of the ensuing night spread out on one of the tables.
“I was just going to write to you,” said the young man, abruptly, “when I received your
letter. You offer me a renewal of our friendship, and I accept the offer. I have no doubt those
references of yours, when we last met, to the subject of second marriages were well meant,
but they irritated me; and, speaking under that irritation, I said words that I had better not
have spoken. If I pained you, I am sorry for it. Wait! pardon me for one moment. I have not
quite done yet. It seems that you are by no means the only person in Pisa to whom the
question of my possibly marrying again appears to have presented itself. Ever since it was
known that I intended to renew my intercourse with society at the ball tomorrow night, I have
been persecuted by anonymous letters — infamous letters, written from some motive which it
is impossible for me to understand. I want your advice on the best means of discovering the
writers; and I have also a very important question to ask you. But read one of the letters first
yourself; any one will do as a sample of the rest.”
Fixing his eyes searchingly on the priest, he handed him one of the notes. Still a little
paler than usual, Father Rocco sat down by the nearest lamp, and shading his eyes, read
these lines:

Count Fabio,
It is the common talk of Pisa that you are likely, as a young man left with a
motherless child, to marry again. Your having accepted an invitation to the Melani
Palace gives a color of truth to this report. Widowers who are true to the departed
do not go among all the handsomest single women in a city at a masked ball.
Reconsider your determination, and remain at home. I know you, and I knew your
wife, and I say to you solemnly, avoid temptation, for you must never marry again.
Neglect my advice and you will repent it to the end of your life. I have reasons for
what I say — serious, fatal reasons, which I cannot divulge. If you would let yourwife lie easy in her grave, if you would avoid a terrible warning, go not to the
masked ball!

“I ask you, and I ask any man, if that is not infamous?” exclaimed Fabio, passionately, as
the priest handed him back the letter. “An attempt to work on my fears through the memory of
my poor dead wife! An insolent assumption that I want to marry again, when I myself have not
even so much as thought of the subject at all! What is the secret object of this letter, and of
the rest here that resemble it? Whose interest is it to keep me away from the ball? What is
the meaning of such a phrase as, ‘If you would let your wife lie easy in her grave’? Have you
no advice to give me — no plan to propose for discovering the vile hand that traced these
lines? Speak to me! Why, in Heaven’s name, don’t you speak?”
The priest leaned his head on his hand, and, turning his face from the light as if it
dazzled his eyes, replied in his lowest and quietest tones:
“I cannot speak till I have had time to think. The mystery of that letter is not to be solved
in a moment. There are things in it that are enough to perplex and amaze any man!”
“What things?”
“It is impossible for me to go into details — at least at the present moment.”
“You speak with a strange air of secrecy. Have you nothing definite to say — no advice
to give me?”
“I should advise you not to go to the ball.”
“You would! Why?”
“If I gave you my reasons, I am afraid I should only be irritating you to no purpose.”
“Father Rocco, neither your words nor your manner satisfy me. You speak in riddles; and
you sit there in the dark with your face hidden from me —”
The priest instantly started up and turned his face to the light.
“I recommend you to control your temper, and to treat me with common courtesy,” he
said, in his quietest, firmest tones, looking at Fabio steadily while he spoke.
“We will not prolong this interview,” said the young man, calming himself by an evident
effort. “I have one question to ask you, and then no more to say.”
The priest bowed his head, in token that he was ready to listen. He still stood up, calm,
pale, and firm, in the full light of the lamp.
“It is just possible,” continued Fabio, “that these letters may refer to some incautious
words which my late wife might have spoken. I ask you as her spiritual director, and as a near
relation who enjoyed her confidence, if you ever heard her express a wish, in the event of my
surviving her, that I should abstain from marrying again?”
“Did she never express such a wish to you?”
“Never. But why do you evade my question by asking me another?”
“It is impossible for me to reply to your question.”
“For what reason?”
“Because it is impossible for me to give answers which must refer, whether they are
affirmative or negative, to what I have heard in confession.”
“We have spoken enough,” said Fabio, turning angrily from the priest. “I expected you to
help me in clearing up these mysteries, and you do your best to thicken them. What your
motives are, what your conduct means, it is impossible for me to know, but I say to you, what
I would say in far other terms, if they were here, to the villains who have written these letters
— no menaces, no mysteries, no conspiracies, will prevent me from being at the ball
tomorrow. I can listen to persuasion, but I scorn threats. There lies my dress for the
masquerade; no power on earth shall prevent me from wearing it tomorrow night!” He pointed,
as he spoke, to the black domino and half-mask lying on the table.
“No power on earth!” repeated Father Rocco, with a smile, and an emphasis on the last
word. “Superstitious still, Count Fabio! Do you suspect the powers of the other world ofinterfering with mortals at masquerades?”
Fabio started, and, turning from the table, fixed his eyes intently on the priest’s face.
“You suggested just now that we had better not prolong this interview,” said Father
Rocco, still smiling. “I think you were right; if we part at once, we may still part friends. You
have had my advice not to go to the ball, and you decline following it. I have nothing more to
say. Good-night.”
Before Fabio could utter the angry rejoinder that rose to his lips, the door of the room
had opened and closed again, and the priest was gone.
Chapter 3

The next night, at the time of assembling specified in the invitations to the masked ball,
Fabio was still lingering in his palace, and still allowing the black domino to lie untouched and
unheeded on his dressing-table. This delay was not produced by any change in his resolution
to go to the Melani Palace. His determination to be present at the ball remained unshaken;
and yet, at the last moment, he lingered and lingered on, without knowing why. Some strange
influence seemed to be keeping him within the walls of his lonely home. It was as if the great,
empty, silent palace had almost recovered on that night the charm which it had lost when its
mistress died.
He left his own apartment and went to the bedroom where his infant child lay asleep in
her little crib. He sat watching her, and thinking quietly and tenderly of many past events in his
life for a long time, then returned to his room. A sudden sense of loneliness came upon him
after his visit to the child’s bedside; but he did not attempt to raise his spirits even then by
going to the ball. He descended instead to his study, lighted his reading-lamp, and then,
opening a bureau, took from one of the drawers in it the letter which Nanina had written to
him. This was not the first time that a sudden sense of his solitude had connected itself
inexplicably with the remembrance of the work-girl’s letter.
He read it through slowly, and when he had done, kept it open in his hand. “I have youth,
titles, wealth,” he thought to himself, sadly; “everything that is sought after in this world. And
yet if I try to think of any human being who really and truly loves me, I can remember but one
— the poor, faithful girl who wrote these lines!”
Old recollections of the first day when he met with Nanina, of the first sitting she had
given him in Luca Lomi’s studio, of the first visit to the neat little room in the by-street, began
to rise more and more vividly in his mind. Entirely absorbed by them, he sat absently drawing
with pen and ink, on some sheets of letter-paper lying under his hand, lines and circles, and
fragments of decorations, and vague remembrances of old ideas for statues, until the sudden
sinking of the flame of his lamp awoke his attention abruptly to present things.
He looked at his watch. It was close on midnight.
This discovery at last aroused him to the necessity of immediate departure. In a few
minutes he had put on his domino and mask, and was on his way to the ball.
Before he reached the Melani Palace the first part of the entertainment had come to an
end. The “Toy Symphony” had been played, the grotesque dance performed, amid universal
laughter; and now the guests were, for the most part, fortifying themselves in the Arcadian
bowers for new dances, in which all persons present were expected to take part. The Marquis
Melani had, with characteristic oddity, divided his two classical refreshment-rooms into what
he termed the Light and Heavy Departments. Fruit, pastry, sweetmeats, salads, and harmless
drinks were included under the first head, and all the stimulating liquors and solid eatables
under the last. The thirty shepherdesses had been, according to the marquis’s order, equally
divided at the outset of the evening between the two rooms. But as the company began to
crowd more and more resolutely in the direction of the Heavy Department, ten of the
shepherdesses attached to the Light Department were told off to assist in attending on the
hungry and thirsty majority of guests who were not to be appeased by pastry and lemonade.
Among the five girls who were left behind in the room for the light refreshments was Nanina.
The steward soon discovered that the novelty of her situation made her really nervous, and he
wisely concluded that if he trusted her where the crowd was greatest and the noise loudest,
she would not only be utterly useless, but also very much in the way of her more confident
and experienced companions.
When Fabio arrived at the palace, the jovial uproar in the Heavy Department was at itsheight, and several gentlemen, fired by the classical costumes of the shepherdesses, were
beginning to speak Latin to them with a thick utterance, and a valorous contempt for all
restrictions of gender, number, and case. As soon as he could escape from the
congratulations on his return to his friends, which poured on him from all sides, Fabio
withdrew to seek some quieter room. The heat, noise, and confusion had so bewildered him,
after the tranquil life he had been leading for many months past, that it was quite a relief to
stroll through the half deserted dancing-rooms, to the opposite extremity of the great suite of
apartments, and there to find himself in a second Arcadian bower, which seemed peaceful
enough to deserve its name.
A few guests were in this room when he first entered it, but the distant sound of some
first notes of dance music drew them all away. After a careless look at the quaint decorations
about him, he sat down alone on a divan near the door, and beginning already to feel the heat
and discomfort of his mask, took it off. He had not removed it more than a moment before he
heard a faint cry in the direction of a long refreshment-table, behind which the five waiting-girls
were standing. He started up directly, and could hardly believe his senses, when he found
himself standing face to face with Nanina.
Her cheeks had turned perfectly colorless. Her astonishment at seeing the young
nobleman appeared to have some sensation of terror mingled with it. The waiting-woman who
happened to stand by her side instinctively stretched out an arm to support her, observing
that she caught at the edge of the table as Fabio hurried round to get behind it and speak to
her. When he drew near, her head drooped on her breast, and she said, faintly: “I never knew
you were at Pisa; I never thought you would be here. Oh, I am true to what I said in my letter,
though I seem so false to it!”
“I want to speak to you about the letter — to tell you how carefully I have kept it, how
often I have read it,” said Fabio.
She turned away her head, and tried hard to repress the tears that would force their way
into her eyes “We should never have met,” she said; “never, never have met again!”
Before Fabio could reply, the waiting-woman by Nanina’s side interposed.
“For Heaven’s sake, don’t stop speaking to her here!” she exclaimed, impatiently. “If the
steward or one of the upper servants was to come in, you would get her into dreadful trouble.
Wait till tomorrow, and find some fitter place than this.”
Fabio felt the justice of the reproof immediately. He tore a leaf out of his pocketbook, and
wrote on it, “I must tell you how I honor and thank you for that letter. To-morrow — ten o’clock
— the wicket-gate at the back of the Ascoli gardens. Believe in my truth and honor, Nanina,
for I believe implicitly in yours.” Having written these lines, he took from among his bunch of
watch-seals a little key, wrapped it up in the note, and pressed it into her hand. In spite of
himself his fingers lingered round hers, and he was on the point of speaking to her again,
when he saw the waiting-woman’s hand, which was just raised to motion him away, suddenly
drop. Her color changed at the same moment, and she looked fixedly across the table.
He turned round immediately, and saw a masked woman standing alone in the room,
dressed entirely in yellow from head to foot. She had a yellow hood, a yellow half-mask with
deep fringe hanging down over her mouth, and a yellow domino, cut at the sleeves and edges
into long flame-shaped points, which waved backward and forward tremulously in the light air
wafted through the doorway. The woman’s black eyes seemed to gleam with an evil
brightness through the sight-holes of the mask, and the tawny fringe hanging before her
mouth fluttered slowly with every breath she drew. Without a word or a gesture she stood
before the table, and her gleaming black eyes fixed steadily on Fabio the instant he
confronted her. A sudden chill struck through him, as he observed that the yellow of the
stranger’s domino and mask was of precisely the same shade as the yellow of the hangings
and furniture which his wife had chosen after their marriage for the decoration of her favorite
sitting-room.“The Yellow Mask!” whispered the waiting-girls nervously, crowding together behind the
table. “The Yellow Mask again!”
“Make her speak!”
“Ask her to have something!”
“This gentleman will ask her. Speak to her, sir. Do speak to her! She glides about in that
fearful yellow dress like a ghost.”
Fabio looked around mechanically at the girl who was whispering to him. He saw at the
same time that Nanina still kept her head turned away, and that she had her handkerchief at
her eyes. She was evidently struggling yet with the agitation produced by their unexpected
meeting, and was, most probably for that reason, the only person in the room not conscious
of the presence of the Yellow Mask.
“Speak to her, sir. Do speak to her!” whispered two of the waiting-girls together.
Fabio turned again toward the table. The black eyes were still gleaming at him from
behind the tawny yellow of the mask. He nodded to the girls who had just spoken, cast one
farewell look at Nanina, and moved down the room to get round to the side of the table at
which the Yellow Mask was standing. Step by step as he moved the bright eyes followed him.
Steadily and more steadily their evil light seemed to shine through and through him, as he
turned the corner of the table and approached the still, spectral figure.
He came close up to the woman, but she never moved; her eyes never wavered for an
instant. He stopped and tried to speak; but the chill struck through him again. An
overpowering dread, an unutterable loathing seized on him; all sense of outer things — the
whispering of the waiting-girls behind the table, the gentle cadence of the dance music, the
distant hum of joyous talk — suddenly left him. He turned away shuddering, and quitted the
Following the sound of the music, and desiring before all things now to join the crowd
wherever it was largest, he was stopped in one of the smaller apartments by a gentleman who
had just risen from the card table, and who held out his hand with the cordiality of an old
“Welcome back to the world, Count Fabio!” he began, gayly, then suddenly checked
himself. “Why, you look pale, and your hand feels cold. Not ill, I hope?”
“No, no. I have been rather startled — I can’t say why — by a very strangely dressed
woman, who fairly stared me out of countenance.”
“You don’t mean the Yellow Mask?”
“Yes I do. Have you seen her?”
“Everybody has seen her; but nobody can make her unmask, or get her to speak. Our
host has not the slightest notion who she is; and our hostess is horribly frightened at her. For
my part, I think she has given us quite enough of her mystery and her grim dress; and if my
name, instead of being nothing but plain Andrea D’Arbino, was Marquis Melani, I would say to
her: ‘Madam, we are here to laugh and amuse ourselves; suppose you open your lips, and
charm us by appearing in a prettier dress!’”
During this conversation they had sat down together, with their backs toward the door, by
the side of one of the card-tables. While D’Arbino was speaking, Fabio suddenly felt himself
shuddering again, and became conscious of a sound of low breathing behind him.
He turned round instantly, and there, standing between them, and peering down at them,
was the Yellow Mask!
Fabio started up, and his friend followed his example. Again the gleaming black eyes
rested steadily on the young nobleman’s face, and again their look chilled him to the heart.
“Yellow Lady, do you know my friend?” exclaimed D’Arbino, with mock solemnity.
There was no answer. The fatal eyes never moved from Fabio’s face.
“Yellow Lady,” continued the other, “listen to the music. Will you dance with me?”
The eyes looked away, and the figure glided slowly from the room.“My dear count,” said D’Arbino, “that woman seems to have quite an effect on you. I
declare she has left you paler than ever. Come into the supper-room with me, and have some
wine; you really look as if you wanted it.”
They went at once to the large refreshment-room. Nearly all the guests had by this time
begun to dance again. They had the whole apartment, therefore, almost entirely to
Among the decorations of the room, which were not strictly in accordance with genuine
Arcadian simplicity, was a large looking-glass, placed over a well-furnished sideboard.
D’Arbino led Fabio in this direction, exchanging greetings as he advanced with a gentleman
who stood near the glass looking into it, and carelessly fanning himself with his mask.
“My dear friend!” cried D’Arbino, “you are the very man to lead us straight to the best
bottle of wine in the palace. Count Fabio, let me present to you my intimate and good friend,
the Cavaliere Finello, with whose family I know you are well acquainted. Finello, the count is a
little out of spirits, and I have prescribed a good dose of wine. I see a whole row of bottles at
your side, and I leave it to you to apply the remedy. Glasses there! three glasses, my lovely
shepherdess with the black eyes — the three largest you have got.”
The glasses were brought; the Cavaliere Finello chose a particular bottle, and filled them.
All three gentlemen turned round to the sideboard to use it as a table, and thus necessarily
faced the looking-glass.
“Now let us drink the toast of toasts,” said D’Arbino. “Finello, Count Fabio — the ladies of
Fabio raised the wine to his lips, and was on the point of drinking it, when he saw
reflected in the glass the figure of the Yellow Mask. The glittering eyes were again fixed on
him, and the yellow-hooded head bowed slowly, as if in acknowledgment of the toast he was
about to drink. For the third time the strange chill seized him, and he set down his glass of
wine untasted.
“What is the matter?” asked D’Arbino.
“Have you any dislike, count, to that particular wine?” inquired the cavaliere.
“The Yellow Mask!” whispered Fabio. “The Yellow Mask again!”
They all three turned round directly toward the door. But it was too late — the figure had
“Does any one know who this Yellow Mask is?” asked Finello. “One may guess by the
walk that the figure is a woman’s. Perhaps it may be the strange color she has chosen for her
dress, or perhaps her stealthy way of moving from room to room; but there is certainly
something mysterious and startling about her.”
“Startling enough, as the count would tell you,” said D’Arbino. “The Yellow Mask has
been responsible for his loss of spirits and change of complexion, and now she has prevented
him even from drinking his wine.”
“I can’t account for it,” said Fabio, looking round him uneasily; “but this is the third room
into which she has followed me — the third time she has seemed to fix her eyes on me alone.
I suppose my nerves are hardly in a fit state yet for masked balls and adventures; the sight of
her seems to chill me. Who can she be?”
“If she followed me a fourth time,” said Finello, “I should insist on her unmasking.”
“And suppose she refused?” asked his friend
“Then I should take her mask off for her.”
“It is impossible to do that with a woman,” said Fabio. “I prefer trying to lose her in the
crowd. Excuse me, gentlemen, if I leave you to finish the wine, and then to meet me, if you
like, in the great ballroom.”
He retired as he spoke, put on his mask, and joined the dancers immediately, taking care
to keep always in the most crowded corner of the apartment. For some time this plan of
action proved successful, and he saw no more of the mysterious yellow domino. Ere long,however, some new dances were arranged, in which the great majority of the persons in the
ballroom took part; the figures resembling the old English country dances in this respect, that
the ladies and gentlemen were placed in long rows opposite to each other. The sets consisted
of about twenty couples each, placed sometimes across, and sometimes along the apartment;
and the spectators were all required to move away on either side, and range themselves close
to the walls. As Fabio among others complied with this necessity, he looked down a row of
dancers waiting during the performance of the orchestral prelude; and there, watching him
again, from the opposite end of the lane formed by the gentlemen on one side and the ladies
on the other, he saw the Yellow Mask.
He moved abruptly back, toward another row of dancers, placed at right angles to the
first row; and there again; at the opposite end of the gay lane of brightly-dressed figures, was
the Yellow Mask. He slipped into the middle of the room, but it was only to find her occupying
his former position near the wall, and still, in spite of his disguise, watching him through row
after row of dancers. The persecution began to grow intolerable; he felt a kind of angry
curiosity mingling now with the vague dread that had hitherto oppressed him. Finello’s advice
recurred to his memory; and he determined to make the woman unmask at all hazards. With
this intention he returned to the supper-room in which he had left his friends.
They were gone, probably to the ballroom, to look for him. Plenty of wine was still left on
the sideboard, and he poured himself out a glass. Finding that his hand trembled as he did so,
he drank several more glasses in quick succession, to nerve himself for the approaching
encounter with the Yellow Mask. While he was drinking he expected every moment to see her
in the looking-glass again; but she never appeared — and yet he felt almost certain that he
had detected her gliding out after him when he left the ballroom.
He thought it possible that she might be waiting for him in one of the smaller apartments,
and, taking off his mask, walked through several of them without meeting her, until he came
to the door of the refreshment-room in which Nanina and he had recognized each other. The
waiting-woman behind the table, who had first spoken to him, caught sight of him now, and
ran round to the door.
“Don’t come in and speak to Nanina again,” she said, mistaking the purpose which had
brought him to the door. “What with frightening her first, and making her cry afterward, you
have rendered her quite unfit for her work. The steward is in there at this moment, very
goodnatured, but not very sober. He says she is pale and red-eyed, and not fit to be a
shepherdess any longer, and that, as she will not be missed now, she may go home if she
likes. We have got her an old cloak, and she is going to try and slip through the rooms
unobserved, to get downstairs and change her dress. Don’t speak to her, pray, or you will only
make her cry again; and what is worse, make the steward fancy —”
She stopped at that last word, and pointed suddenly over Fabio’s shoulder.
“The Yellow Mask!” she exclaimed. “Oh, sir, draw her away into the ballroom, and give
Nanina a chance of getting out!”
Fabio turned directly, and approached the Mask, who, as they looked at each other,
slowly retreated before him. The waiting-woman, seeing the yellow figure retire, hastened
back to Nanina in the refreshment-room.
Slowly the masked woman retreated from one apartment to another till she entered a
corridor brilliantly lighted up and beautifully ornamented with flowers. On the right hand this
corridor led to the ballroom; on the left to an ante-chamber at the head of the palace
staircase. The Yellow Mask went on a few paces toward the left, then stopped. The bright
eyes fixed themselves as before on Fabio’s face, but only for a moment. He heard a light step
behind him, and then he saw the eyes move. Following the direction they took, he turned
round, and discovered Nanina, wrapped up in the old cloak which was to enable her to get
downstairs unobserved.
“Oh, how can I get out? how can I get out?” cried the girl, shrinking back affrightedly asshe saw the Yellow Mask.
“That way,” said Fabio, pointing in the direction of the ballroom. “Nobody will notice you in
the cloak; it will only be thought some new disguise.” He took her arm as he spoke, to
reassure her, and continued in a whisper, “Don’t forget tomorrow.”
At the same moment he felt a hand laid on him. It was the hand of the masked woman,
and it put him back from Nanina.
In spite of himself, he trembled at her touch, but still retained presence of mind enough
to sign to the girl to make her escape. With a look of eager inquiry in the direction of the
mask, and a half suppressed exclamation of terror, she obeyed him, and hastened away
toward the ballroom.
“We are alone,” said Fabio, confronting the gleaming black eyes, and reaching out his
hand resolutely toward the Yellow Mask. “Tell me who you are, and why you follow me, or I
will uncover your face, and solve the mystery for myself.”
The woman pushed his hand aside, and drew back a few paces, but never spoke a word.
He followed her. There was not an instant to be lost, for just then the sound of footsteps
hastily approaching the corridor became audible.
“Now or never,” he whispered to himself, and snatched at the mask.
His arm was again thrust aside; but this time the woman raised her disengaged hand at
the same moment, and removed the yellow mask.
The lamps shed their soft light full on her face.
It was the face of his dead wife.
Chapter 4

Signor Andrea D’Arbino, searching vainly through the various rooms in the palace for
Count Fabio d’Ascoli, and trying as a last resource, the corridor leading to the ballroom and
grand staircase, discovered his friend lying on the floor in a swoon, without any living creature
near him. Determining to avoid alarming the guests, if possible, D’Arbino first sought help in
the antechamber. He found there the marquis’s valet, assisting the Cavaliere Finello (who was
just taking his departure) to put on his cloak.
While Finello and his friend carried Fabio to an open window in the antechamber, the
valet procured some iced water. This simple remedy, and the change of atmosphere, proved
enough to restore the fainting man to his senses, but hardly — as it seemed to his friends —
to his former self. They noticed a change to blankness and stillness in his face, and when he
spoke, an indescribable alteration in the tone of his voice.
“I found you in a room in the corridor,” said D’Arbino. “What made you faint? Don’t you
remember? Was it the heat?”
Fabio waited for a moment, painfully collecting his ideas. He looked at the valet, and
Finello signed to the man to withdraw.
“Was it the heat?” repeated D’Arbino.
“No,” answered Fabio, in strangely hushed, steady tones. “I have seen the face that was
behind the yellow mask.”
“It was the face of my dead wife.”
“Your dead wife!”
“When the mask was removed I saw her face. Not as I remember it in the pride of her
youth and beauty — not even as I remember her on her sick-bed — but as I remember her in
her coffin.”
“Count! for God’s sake, rouse yourself! Collect your thoughts — remember where you
are — and free your mind of its horrible delusion.”
“Spare me all remonstrances; I am not fit to bear them. My life has only one object now
— the pursuing of this mystery to the end. Will you help me? I am scarcely fit to act for
He still spoke in the same unnaturally hushed, deliberate tones. D’Arbino and Finello
exchanged glances behind him as he rose from the sofa on which he had hitherto been lying.
“We will help you in everything,” said D’Arbino, soothingly. “Trust in us to the end. What
do you wish to do first?”
“The figure must have gone through this room. Let us descend the staircase and ask the
servants if they have seen it pass.”
(Both D’Arbino and Finello remarked that he did not say her.)
They inquired down to the very courtyard. Not one of the servants had seen the Yellow
The last resource was the porter at the outer gate. They applied to him; and in answer to
their questions he asserted that he had most certainly seen a lady in a yellow domino and
mask drive away, about half an hour before, in a hired coach.
“Should you remember the coachman again?” asked D’Arbino.
“Perfectly; he is an old friend of mine.”
“And you know where he lives?”
“Yes; as well as I know where I do.”
“Any reward you like, if you can get somebody to mind your lodge, and can take us to
that house.”In a few minutes they were following the porter through the dark, silent streets. “We had
better try the stables first,” said the man. “My friend, the coachman, will hardly have had time
to do more than set the lady down. We shall most likely catch him just putting up his horses.”
The porter turned out to be right. On entering the stable-yard, they found that the empty
coach had just driven into it.
“You have been taking home a lady in a yellow domino from the masquerade?” said
D’Arbino, putting some money into the coachman’s hand.
“Yes, sir; I was engaged by that lady for the evening — engaged to drive her to the ball
as well as to drive her home.”
“Where did you take her from?”
“From a very extraordinary place — from the gate of the Campo Santo burial-ground.”
During this colloquy, Finello and D’Arbino had been standing with Fabio between them,
each giving him an arm. The instant the last answer was given, he reeled back with a cry of
“Where have you taken her to now?” asked D’Arbino. He looked about him nervously as
he put the question, and spoke for the first time in a whisper.
“To the Campo Santo again,” said the coachman.
Fabio suddenly drew his arms out of the arms of his friends, and sank to his knees on
the ground, hiding his face. From some broken ejaculations which escaped him, it seemed as
if he dreaded that his senses were leaving him, and that he was praying to be preserved in his
right mind.
“Why is he so violently agitated?” said Finello, eagerly, to his friend.
“Hush!” returned the other. “You heard him say that when he saw the face behind the
yellow mask, it was the face of his dead wife?”
“Yes. But what then?”
“His wife was buried in the Campo Santo.”
Chapter 5

Of all the persons who had been present, in any capacity, at the Marquis Melani’s ball,
the earliest riser on the morning after it was Nanina. The agitation produced by the strange
events in which she had been concerned destroyed the very idea of sleep. Through the hours
of darkness she could not even close her eyes; and, as soon as the new day broke, she rose
to breathe the early morning air at her window, and to think in perfect tranquillity over all that
had passed since she entered the Melani Palace to wait on the guests at the masquerade.
On reaching home the previous night, all her other sensations had been absorbed in a
vague feeling of mingled dread and curiosity, produced by the sight of the weird figure in the
yellow mask, which she had left standing alone with Fabio in the palace corridor. The morning
light, however, suggested new thoughts. She now opened the note which the young nobleman
had pressed into her hand, and read over and over again the hurried pencil lines scrawled on
the paper. Could there be any harm, any forgetfulness of her own duty, in using the key
inclosed in the note, and keeping her appointment in the Ascoli gardens at ten o’clock? Surely
not — surely the last sentence he had written, “Believe in my truth and honor, Nanina, for I
believe implicitly in yours,” was enough to satisfy her this time that she could not be doing
wrong in listening for once to the pleading of her own heart. And besides, there in her lap lay
the key of the wicket-gate. It was absolutely necessary to use that, if only for the purpose of
giving it back safely into the hand of its owner.
As this last thought was passing through her mind, and plausibly overcoming any faint
doubts and difficulties which she might still have left, she was startled by a sudden knocking at
the street door; and, looking out of the window immediately, saw a man in livery standing in
the street, anxiously peering up at the house to see if his knocking had aroused anybody.
“Does Marta Angrisani, the sick-nurse, live here?” inquired the man, as soon as Nanina
showed herself at the window.
“Yes,” she answered. “Must I call her up? Is there some person ill?”
“Call her up directly,” said the servant; “she is wanted at the Ascoli Palace. My master,
Count Fabio —”
Nanina waited to hear no more. She flew to the room in which the sick-nurse slept, and
awoke her, almost roughly, in an instant.
“He is ill!” she cried, breathlessly. “Oh, make haste, make haste! He is ill, and he has
sent for you!”
Marta inquired who had sent for her, and on being informed, promised to lose no time.
Nanina ran downstairs to tell the servant that the sick-nurse was getting on her clothes. The
man’s serious expression, when she came close to him, terrified her. All her usual self-distrust
vanished; and she entreated him, without attempting to conceal her anxiety, to tell her
particularly what his master’s illness was, and how it had affected him so suddenly after the
“I know nothing about it,” answered the man, noticing Nanina’s manner as she put her
question, with some surprise, “except that my master was brought home by two gentlemen,
friends of his, about a couple of hours ago, in a very sad state; half out of his mind, as it
seemed to me. I gathered from what was said that he had got a dreadful shock from seeing
some woman take off her mask, and show her face to him at the ball. How that could be I
don’t in the least understand; but I know that when the doctor was sent for, he looked very
serious, and talked about fearing brain-fever.”
Here the servant stopped; for, to his astonishment, he saw Nanina suddenly turn away
from him, and then heard her crying bitterly as she went back into the house.
Marta Angrisani had huddled on her clothes and was looking at herself in the glass to seethat she was sufficiently presentable to appear at the palace, when she felt two arms flung
round her neck; and, before she could say a word, found Nanina sobbing on her bosom.
“He is ill — he is in danger!” cried the girl. “I must go with you to help him. You have
always been kind to me, Marta — be kinder than ever now. Take me with you — take me with
you to the palace!”
“You, child!” exclaimed the nurse, gently unclasping her arms.
“Yes — yes! if it is only for an hour,” pleaded Nanina; “if it is only for one little hour every
day. You have only to say that I am your helper, and they would let me in. Marta! I shall break
my heart if I can’t see him, and help him to get well again.”
The nurse still hesitated. Nanina clasped her round the neck once more, and laid her
cheek — burning hot now, though the tears had been streaming down it but an instant before
— close to the good woman’s face.
“I love him, Marta; great as he is, I love him with all my heart and soul and strength,” she
went on, in quick, eager, whispering tones; “and he loves me. He would have married me if I
had not gone away to save him from it. I could keep my love for him a secret while he was
well; I could stifle it, and crush it down, and wither it up by absence. But now he is ill, it gets
beyond me; I can’t master it. Oh, Marta! don’t break my heart by denying me! I have suffered
so much for his sake, that I have earned the right to nurse him!”
Marta was not proof against this last appeal. She had one great and rare merit for a
middle-aged woman — she had not forgotten her own youth.
“Come, child,” said she, soothingly; “I won’t attempt to deny you. Dry your eyes, put on
your mantilla; and, when we get face to face with the doctor, try to look as old and ugly as you
can, if you want to be let into the sick-room along with me.”
The ordeal of medical scrutiny was passed more easily than Marta Angrisani had
anticipated. It was of great importance, in the doctor’s opinion, that the sick man should see
familiar faces at his bedside. Nanina had only, therefore, to state that he knew her well, and
that she had sat to him as a model in the days when he was learning the art of sculpture, to
be immediately accepted as Marta’s privileged assistant in the sick-room.
The worst apprehensions felt by the doctor for the patient were soon realized. The fever
flew to his brain. For nearly six weeks he lay prostrate, at the mercy of death; now raging with
the wild strength of delirium, and now sunk in the speechless, motionless, sleepless
exhaustion which was his only repose. At last; the blessed day came when he enjoyed his first
sleep, and when the doctor began, for the first time, to talk of the future with hope. Even then,
however, the same terrible peculiarity marked his light dreams which had previously shown
itself in his fierce delirium. From the faintly uttered, broken phrases which dropped from him
when he slept, as from the wild words which burst from him when his senses were deranged,
the one sad discovery inevitably resulted — that his mind was still haunted, day and night,
hour after hour, by the figure in the yellow mask.
As his bodily health improved, the doctor in attendance on him grew more and more
anxious as to the state of his mind. There was no appearance of any positive derangement of
intellect, but there was a mental depression — an unaltering, invincible prostration, produced
by his absolute belief in the reality of the dreadful vision that he had seen at the masked ball
— which suggested to the physician the gravest doubts about the case. He saw with dismay
that the patient showed no anxiety, as he got stronger, except on one subject. He was eagerly
desirous of seeing Nanina every day by his bedside; but, as soon as he was assured that his
wish should be faithfully complied with, he seemed to care for nothing more. Even when they
proposed, in the hope of rousing him to an exhibition of something like pleasure, that the girl
should read to him for an hour every day out of one of his favorite books, he only showed a
languid satisfaction. Weeks passed away, and still, do what they would, they could not make
him so much as smile.
One day Nanina had begun to read to him as usual, but had not proceeded far beforeMarta Angrisani informed her that he had fallen into a doze. She ceased with a sigh, and sat
looking at him sadly, as he lay near her, faint and pale and mournful in his sleep — miserably
altered from what he was when she first knew him. It had been a hard trial to watch by his
bedside in the terrible time of his delirium; but it was a harder trial still to look at him now, and
to feel less and less hopeful with each succeeding day.
While her eyes and thoughts were still compassionately fixed on him, the door of the
bedroom opened, and the doctor came in, followed by Andrea D’Arbino, whose share in the
strange adventure with the Yellow Mask caused him to feel a special interest in Fabio’s
progress toward recovery.
“Asleep, I see; and sighing in his sleep,” said the doctor, going to the bedside. “The
grand difficulty with him,” he continued, turning to D’Arbino, “remains precisely what it was. I
have hardly left a single means untried of rousing him from that fatal depression; yet, for the
last fortnight, he has not advanced a single step. It is impossible to shake his conviction of the
reality of that face which he saw (or rather which he thinks he saw) when the yellow mask was
removed; and, as long as he persists in his own shocking view of the case, so long he will lie
there, getting better, no doubt, as to his body, but worse as to his mind.”
“I suppose, poor fellow, he is not in a fit state to be reasoned with?”
“On the contrary, like all men with a fixed delusion, he has plenty of intelligence to appeal
to on every point, except the one point on which he is wrong. I have argued with him vainly by
the hour together. He possesses, unfortunately, an acute nervous sensibility and a vivid
imagination; and besides, he has, as I suspect, been superstitiously brought up as a child. It
would be probably useless to argue rationally with him on certain spiritual subjects, even if his
mind was in perfect health. He has a good deal of the mystic and the dreamer in his
composition; and science and logic are but broken reeds to depend upon with men of that
“Does he merely listen to you when you reason with him, or does he attempt to answer?”
“He has only one form of answer, and that is, unfortunately, the most difficult of all to
dispose of. Whenever I try to convince him of his delusion, he invariably retorts by asking me
for a rational explanation of what happened to him at the masked ball. Now, neither you nor I,
though we believe firmly that he has been the dupe of some infamous conspiracy, have been
able as yet to penetrate thoroughly into this mystery of the Yellow Mask. Our common sense
tells us that he must be wrong in taking his view of it, and that we must be right in taking ours;
but if we cannot give him actual, tangible proof of that — if we can only theorize, when he
asks us for an explanation — it is but too plain, in his present condition, that every time we
remonstrate with him on the subject we only fix him in his delusion more and more firmly.”
“It is not for want of perseverance on my part,” said D’Arbino, after a moment of silence,
“that we are still left in the dark. Ever since the extraordinary statement of the coachman who
drove the woman home, I have been inquiring and investigating. I have offered the reward of
two hundred scudi for the discovery of her; I have myself examined the servants at the
palace, the night-watchman at the Campo Santo, the police-books, the lists of keepers of
hotels and lodging-houses, to hit on some trace of this woman; and I have failed in all
directions. If my poor friend’s perfect recovery does indeed depend on his delusion being
combated by actual proof, I fear we have but little chance of restoring him. So far as I am
concerned, I confess myself at the end of my resources.”
“I hope we are not quite conquered yet,” returned the doctor. “The proofs we want may
turn up when we least expect them. It is certainly a miserable case,” he continued,
mechanically laying his fingers on the sleeping man’s pulse. “There he lies, wanting nothing
now but to recover the natural elasticity of his mind; and here we stand at his bedside, unable
to relieve him of the weight that is pressing his faculties down. I repeat it, Signor Andrea,
nothing will rouse him from his delusion that he is the victim of a supernatural interposition but
the production of some startling, practical proof of his error. At present he is in the position ofa man who has been imprisoned from his birth in a dark room, and who denies the existence
of daylight. If we cannot open the shutters and show him the sky outside, we shall never
convert him to a knowledge of the truth.”
Saying these words, the doctor turned to lead the way out of the room, and observed
Nanina, who had moved from the bedside on his entrance, standing near the door. He
stopped to look at her, shook his head good-humoredly, and called to Marta, who happened
to be occupied in an adjoining room.
“Signora Marta,” said the doctor, “I think you told me some time ago that your pretty and
careful little assistant lives in your house. Pray, does she take much walking exercise?”
“Very little, Signor Dottore. She goes home to her sister when she leaves the palace.
Very little walking exercise, indeed.”
“I thought so! Her pale cheeks and heavy eyes told me as much. Now, my dear,” said
the doctor, addressing Nanina, “you are a very good girl, and I am sure you will attend to what
I tell you. Go out every morning before you come here, and take a walk in the fresh air. You
are too young not to suffer by being shut up in close rooms every day, unless you get some
regular exercise. Take a good long walk in the morning, or you will fall into my hands as a
patient, and be quite unfit to continue your attendance here. Now, Signor Andrea, I am ready
for you. Mind, my child, a walk every day in the open air outside the town, or you will fall ill,
take my word for it!”
Nanina promised compliance; but she spoke rather absently, and seemed scarcely
conscious of the kind familiarity which marked the doctor’s manner. The truth was, that all her
thoughts were occupied with what he had been saying by Fabio’s bedside. She had not lost
one word of the conversation while the doctor was talking of his patient, and of the conditions
on which his recovery depended. “Oh, if that proof which would cure him could only be found!”
she thought to herself, as she stole back anxiously to the bedside when the room was empty.
On getting home that day she found a letter waiting for her, and was greatly surprised to
see that it was written by no less a person than the master-sculptor, Luca Lomi. It was very
short; simply informing her that he had just returned to Pisa, and that he was anxious to know
when she could sit to him for a new bust — a commission from a rich foreigner at Naples.
Nanina debated with herself for a moment whether she should answer the letter in the
hardest way, to her, by writing, or, in the easiest way, in person; and decided on going to the
studio and telling the master-sculptor that it would be impossible for her to serve him as a
model, at least for some time to come. It would have taken her a long hour to say this with
due propriety on paper; it would only take her a few minutes to say it with her own lips. So she
put on her mantilla again and departed for the studio.
On, arriving at the gate and ringing the bell, a thought suddenly occurred to her, which
she wondered had not struck her before. Was it not possible that she might meet Father
Rocco in his brother’s work-room? It was too late to retreat now, but not too late to ask,
before she entered, if the priest was in the studio. Accordingly, when one of the workmen
opened the door to her, she inquired first, very confusedly and anxiously, for Father Rocco.
Hearing that he was not with his brother then, she went tranquilly enough to make her
apologies to the master-sculptor.
She did not think it necessary to tell him more than that she was now occupied every day
by nursing duties in a sick-room, and that it was consequently out of her power to attend at
the studio. Luca Lomi expressed, and evidently felt, great disappointment at her failing him as
a model, and tried hard to persuade her that she might find time enough, if she chose, to sit
to him, as well as to nurse the sick person. The more she resisted his arguments and
entreaties, the more obstinately he reiterated them. He was dusting his favorite busts and
statues, after his long absence, with a feather-brush when she came in; and he continued this
occupation all the while he was talking — urging a fresh plea to induce Nanina to reconsider
her refusal to sit at every fresh piece of sculpture he came to, and always receiving the sameresolute apology from her as she slowly followed him down the studio toward the door.
Arriving thus at the lower end of the room, Luca stopped with a fresh argument on his
lips before his statue of Minerva. He had dusted it already, but he lovingly returned to dust it
again. It was his favorite work — the only good likeness (although it did assume to represent a
classical subject) of his dead daughter that he possessed. He had refused to part with it for
Maddalena’s sake; and, as he now approached it with his brush for the second time, he
absently ceased speaking, and mounted on a stool to look at the face near and blow some
specks of dust off the forehead. Nanina thought this a good opportunity of escaping from
further importunities. She was on the point of slipping away to the door with a word of farewell,
when a sudden exclamation from Luca Lomi arrested her.
“Plaster!” cried the master-sculptor, looking intently at that part of the hair of the statue
which lay lowest on the forehead. “Plaster here!” He took out his penknife as he spoke, and
removed a tiny morsel of some white substance from an interstice between two folds of the
hair where it touched the face. “It is plaster!” he exclaimed, excitedly. “Somebody has been
taking a cast from the face of my statue!”
He jumped off the stool, and looked all round the studio with an expression of suspicious
inquiry. “I must have this cleared up,” he said. “My statues were left under Rocco’s care, and
he is answerable if there has been any stealing of casts from any one of them. I must
question him directly.”
Nanina, seeing that he took no notice of her, felt that she might now easily effect her
retreat. She opened the studio door, and repeated, for the twentieth time at least, that she
was sorry she could not sit to him.
“I am sorry too, child,” he said, irritably looking about for his hat. He found it apparently
just as Nanina was going out; for she heard him call to one of the workmen in the inner studio,
and order the man to say, if anybody wanted him, that he had gone to Father Rocco’s
Chapter 6

The next morning, when Nanina rose, a bad attack of headache, and a sense of languor
and depression, reminded her of the necessity of following the doctor’s advice, and preserving
her health by getting a little fresh air and exercise. She had more than two hours to spare
before the usual time when her daily attendance began at the Ascoli Palace; and she
determined to employ the interval of leisure in taking a morning walk outside the town. La
Biondella would have been glad enough to go too, but she had a large order for dinner-mats
on hand, and was obliged, for that day, to stop in the house and work. Thus it happened that
when Nanina set forth from home, the learned poodle, Scarammuccia, was her only
She took the nearest way out of the town; the dog trotting along in his usual steady,
observant way close at her side, pushing his great rough muzzle, from time to time,
affectionately into her hand, and trying hard to attract her attention at intervals by barking and
capering in front of her. He got but little notice, however, for his pains. Nanina was thinking
again of all that the physician had said the day before by Fabio’s bedside, and these thoughts
brought with them others, equally absorbing, that were connected with the mysterious story of
the young nobleman’s adventure with the Yellow Mask. Thus preoccupied, she had little
attention left for the gambols of the dog. Even the beauty of the morning appealed to her in
vain. She felt the refreshment of the cool, fragrant air, but she hardly noticed the lovely blue of
the sky, or the bright sunshine that gave a gayety and an interest to the commonest objects
around her.
After walking nearly an hour, she began to feel tired, and looked about for a shady place
to rest in.
Beyond and behind her there was only the high-road and the flat country; but by her side
stood a little wooden building, half inn, half coffee-house, backed by a large, shady
pleasuregarden, the gates of which stood invitingly open. Some workmen in the garden were putting
up a stage for fireworks, but the place was otherwise quiet and lonely enough. It was only
used at night as a sort of rustic Ranelagh, to which the citizens of Pisa resorted for pure air
and amusement after the fatigues of the day. Observing that there were no visitors in the
grounds, Nanina ventured in, intending to take a quarter of an hour’s rest in the coolest place
she could find before returning to Pisa.
She had passed the back of a wooden summer-house in a secluded part of the gardens,
when she suddenly missed the dog from her side; and, looking round after him, saw that he
was standing behind the summer-house with his ears erect and his nose to the ground, having
evidently that instant scented something that excited his suspicion.
Thinking it possible that he might be meditating an attack on some unfortunate cat, she
turned to see what he was watching. The carpenters engaged on the firework stage were just
then hammering at it violently. The noise prevented her from hearing that Scarammuccia was
growling, but she could feel that he was the moment she laid her hand on his back. Her
curiosity was excited, and she stooped down close to him to look through a crack in the
boards before which he stood into the summer-house.
She was startled at seeing a lady and gentleman sitting inside. The place she was
looking through was not high enough up to enable her to see their faces, but she recognized,
or thought she recognized, the pattern of the lady’s dress as one which she had noticed in
former days in the Demoiselle Grifoni’s show-room. Rising quickly, her eye detected a hole in
the boards about the level of her own height, caused by a knot having been forced out of the
wood. She looked through it to ascertain, without being discovered, if the wearer of the
familiar dress was the person she had taken her to be; and saw, not Brigida only, as she hadexpected, but Father Rocco as well. At the same moment the carpenters left off hammering
and began to saw. The new sound from the firework stage was regular and not loud. The
voices of the occupants of the summer-house reached her through it, and she heard Brigida
pronounce the name of Count Fabio.
Instantly stooping down once more by the dog’s side, she caught his muzzle firmly in
both her hands. It was the only way to keep Scarammuccia from growling again, at a time
when there was no din of hammering to prevent him from being heard. Those two words,
“Count Fabio,” in the mouth of another woman, excited a jealous anxiety in her. What could
Brigida have to say in connection with that name? She never came near the Ascoli Palace —
what right or reason could she have to talk of Fabio?
“Did you hear what I said?” she heard Brigida ask, in her coolest, hardest tone.
“No,” the priest answered. “At least, not all of it.”
“I will repeat it, then. I asked what had so suddenly determined you to give up all idea of
making any future experiments on the superstitious fears of Count Fabio?”
“In the first place, the result of the experiment already tried has been so much more
serious than I had anticipated, that I believe the end I had in view in making it has been
answered already.”
“Well; that is not your only reason?”
“Another shock to his mind might be fatal to him. I can use what I believe to be a
justifiable fraud to prevent his marrying again; but I cannot burden myself with a crime.”
“That is your second reason; but I believe you have another yet. The suddenness with
which you sent to me last night to appoint a meeting in this lonely place; the emphatic manner
in which you requested — I may almost say ordered — me to bring the wax mask here,
suggest to my mind that something must have happened. What is it? I am a woman, and my
curiosity must be satisfied. After the secrets you have trusted to me already, you need not
hesitate, I think, to trust me with one more.”
“Perhaps not. The secret this time is, moreover, of no great importance. You know that
the wax mask you wore at the ball was made in a plaster mold taken off the face of my
brother’s statue?”
“Yes, I know that.”
“My brother has just returned to his studio; has found a morsel of the plaster I used for
the mold sticking in the hair of the statue; and has asked me, as the person left in charge of
his work-rooms, for an explanation. Such an explanation as I could offer has not satisfied him,
and he talks of making further inquiries. Considering that it will be used no more, I think it
safest to destroy the wax mask, and I asked you to bring it here, that I might see it burned or
broken up with my own eyes. Now you know all you wanted to know; and now, therefore, it is
my turn to remind you that I have not yet had a direct answer to the first question I addressed
to you when we met here. Have you brought the wax mask with you, or have you not?”
“I have not.”
“And why?”
Just as that question was put, Nanina felt the dog dragging himself free of her grasp on
his mouth. She had been listening hitherto with such painful intensity, with such all-absorbing
emotions of suspense, terror, and astonishment, that she had not noticed his efforts to get
away, and had continued mechanically to hold his mouth shut. But now she was aroused by
the violence of his struggles to the knowledge that, unless she hit upon some new means of
quieting him, he would have his mouth free, and would betray her by a growl.
In an agony of apprehension lest she should lose a word of the momentous
conversation, she made a desperate attempt to appeal to the dog’s fondness for her, by
suddenly flinging both her arms round his neck, and kissing his rough, hairy cheek. The
stratagem succeeded. Scarammuccia had, for many years past, never received any greater
marks of his mistress’s kindness for him than such as a pat on the head or a present of alump of sugar might convey. His dog’s nature was utterly confounded by the unexpected
warmth of Nanina’s caress, and he struggled up vigorously in her arms to try and return it by
licking her face. She could easily prevent him from doing this, and could so gain a few minutes
more to listen behind the summer-house without danger of discovery.
She had lost Brigida’s answer to Father Rocco’s question; but she was in time to hear
her next words.
“We are alone here,” said Brigida. “I am a woman, and I don’t know that you may not
have come armed. It is only the commonest precaution on my part not to give you a chance
of getting at the wax mask till I have made my conditions.”
“You never said a word about conditions before.”
“True. I remember telling you that I wanted nothing but the novelty of going to the
masquerade in the character of my dead enemy, and the luxury of being able to terrify the
man who had brutally ridiculed me in old days in the studio. That was the truth. But it is not
the less the truth that our experiment on Count Fabio has detained me in this city much longer
than I ever intended, that I am all but penniless, and that I deserve to be paid. In plain words,
will you buy the mask of me for two hundred scudi?”
“I have not twenty scudi in the world, at my own free disposal.”
“You must find two hundred if you want the wax mask. I don’t wish to threaten — but
money I must have. I mention the sum of two hundred scudi, because that is the exact
amount offered in the public handbills by Count Fabio’s friends for the discovery of the woman
who wore the yellow mask at the Marquis Melani’s ball. What have I to do but to earn that
money if I please, by going to the palace, taking the wax mask with me, and telling them that I
am the woman. Suppose I confess in that way; they can do nothing to hurt me, and I should
be two hundred scudi the richer. You might be injured, to be sure, if they insisted on knowing
who made the wax model, and who suggested the ghastly disguise —”
“Wretch! do you believe that my character could be injured on the unsupported evidence
of any words from your lips?”
“Father Rocco, for the first time since I have enjoyed the pleasure of your acquaintance,
I find you committing a breach of good manners. I shall leave you until you become more like
yourself. If you wish to apologize for calling me a wretch, and if you want to secure the wax
mask, honor me with a visit before four o’clock this afternoon, and bring two hundred scudi
with you. Delay till after four, and it will be too late.”
An instant of silence followed; and then Nanina judged that Brigida must be departing, for
she heard the rustling of a dress on the lawn in front of the summer-house. Unfortunately,
Scarammuccia heard it too. He twisted himself round in her arms and growled.
The noise disturbed Father Rocco. She heard him rise and leave the summer-house.
There would have been time enough, perhaps, for her to conceal herself among some trees if
she could have recovered her self-possession at once; but she was incapable of making an
effort to regain it. She could neither think nor move — her breath seemed to die away on her
lips — as she saw the shadow of the priest stealing over the grass slowly from the front to the
back of the summer-house. In another moment they were face to face.
He stopped a few paces from her, and eyed her steadily in dead silence. She still
crouched against the summer-house, and still with one hand mechanically kept her hold of the
dog. It was well for the priest that she did so. Scarammuccia’s formidable teeth were in full
view, his shaggy coat was bristling, his eyes were starting, his growl had changed from the
surly to the savage note; he was ready to tear down, not Father Rocco only, but all the clergy
in Pisa, at a moment’s notice.
“You have been listening,” said the priest, calmly. “I see it in your face. You have heard
She could not answer a word; she could not take her eyes from him. There was an
unnatural stillness in his face, a steady, unrepentant, unfathomable despair in his eyes thatstruck her with horror. She would have given worlds to be able to rise to her feet and fly from
his presence.
“I once distrusted you and watched you in secret,” he said, speaking after a short
silence, thoughtfully, and with a strange, tranquil sadness in his voice. “And now, what I did by
you, you do by me. You put the hope of your life once in my hands. Is it because they were
not worthy of the trust that discovery and ruin overtake me, and that you are the instrument of
the retribution? Can this be the decree of Heaven — or is it nothing but the blind justice of
He looked upward, doubtingly, to the lustrous sky above him, and sighed. Nanina’s eyes
still followed his mechanically. He seemed to feel their influence, for he suddenly looked down
at her again.
“What keeps you silent? Why are you afraid?” he said. “I can do you no harm, with your
dog at your side, and the workmen yonder within call. I can do you no harm, and I wish to do
you none. Go back to Pisa; tell what you have heard, restore the man you love to himself, and
ruin me. That is your work; do it! I was never your enemy, even when I distrusted you. I am
not your enemy now. It is no fault of yours that a fatality has been accomplished through you
— no fault of yours that I am rejected as the instrument of securing a righteous restitution to
the Church. Rise, child, and go your way, while I go mine, and prepare for what is to come. If
we never meet again, remember that I parted from you without one hard saying or one harsh
look — parted from you so, knowing that the first words you speak in Pisa will be death to my
character, and destruction to the great purpose of my life.”
Speaking these words, always with the same calmness which had marked his manner
from the first, he looked fixedly at her for a little while, sighed again, and turned away. Just
before he disappeared among the trees, he said “Farewell,” but so softly that she could barely
hear it. Some strange confusion clouded her mind as she lost sight of him. Had she injured
him, or had he injured her? His words bewildered and oppressed her simple heart. Vague
doubts and fears, and a sudden antipathy to remaining any longer near the summer-house,
overcame her. She started to her feet, and, keeping the dog still at her side, hurried from the
garden to the highroad. There, the wide glow of sunshine, the sight of the city lying before her,
changed the current of her thoughts, and directed them all to Fabio and to the future.
A burning impatience to be back in Pisa now possessed her. She hastened toward the
city at her utmost speed. The doctor was reported to be in the palace when she passed the
servants lounging in the courtyard. He saw the moment, she came into his presence, that
something had happened, and led her away from the sick-room into Fabio’s empty study.
There she told him all.
“You have saved him,” said the doctor, joyfully. “I will answer for his recovery. Only let
that woman come here for the reward; and leave me to deal with her as she deserves. In the
meantime, my dear, don’t go away from the palace on any account until I give you permission.
I am going to send a message immediately to Signor Andrea D’Arbino to come and hear the
extraordinary disclosure that you have made to me. Go back to read to the count, as usual,
until I want you again; but, remember, you must not drop a word to him yet of what you have
said to me. He must be carefully prepared for all that we have to tell him; and must be kept
quite in the dark until those preparations are made.”
D’Arbino answered the doctor’s summons in person; and Nanina repeated her story to
him. He and the doctor remained closeted together for some time after she had concluded her
narrative and had retired. A little before four o’clock they sent for her again into the study. The
doctor was sitting by the table with a bag of money before him, and D’Arbino was telling one
of the servants that if a lady called at the palace on the subject of the handbill which he had
circulated, she was to be admitted into the study immediately.
As the clock struck four Nanina was requested to take possession of a window-seat, and
to wait there until she was summoned. When she had obeyed, the doctor loosened one of thewindow-curtains, to hide her from the view of any one entering the room.
About a quarter of an hour elapsed, and then the door was thrown open, and Brigida
herself was shown into the study. The doctor bowed, and D’Arbino placed a chair for her. She
was perfectly collected, and thanked them for their politeness with her best grace.
“I believe I am addressing confidential friends of Count Fabio d’Ascoli?” Brigida began.
“May I ask if you are authorized to act for the count, in relation to the reward which this
handbill offers?”
The doctor, having examined the handbill, said that the lady was quite right, and pointed
significantly to the bag of money.
“You are prepared, then,” pursued Brigida, smiling, “to give a reward of two hundred
scudi to any one able to tell you who the woman is who wore the yellow mask at the Marquis
Melani’s ball, and how she contrived to personate the face and figure of the late Countess
“Of course we are prepared,” answered D’Arbino, a little irritably. “As men of honor, we
are not in the habit of promising anything that we are not perfectly willing, under proper
conditions, to perform.”
“Pardon me, my dear friend,” said the doctor; “I think you speak a little too warmly to the
lady. She is quite right to take every precaution. We have the two hundred scudi here,
madam,” he continued, patting the money-bag; “and we are prepared to pay that sum for the
information we want. But” (here the doctor suspiciously moved the bag of scudi from the table
to his lap) “we must have proofs that the person claiming the reward is really entitled to it.”
Brigida’s eyes followed the money-bag greedily.
“Proofs!” she exclaimed, taking a small flat box from under her cloak, and pushing it
across to the doctor. “Proofs! there you will find one proof that establishes my claim beyond
the possibility of doubt.”
The doctor opened the box, and looked at the wax mask inside it; then handed it to
D’Arbino, and replaced the bag of scudi on the table.
“The contents of that box seem certainly to explain a great deal,” he said, pushing the
bag gently toward Brigida, but always keeping his, hand over it. “The woman who wore the
yellow domino was, I presume, of the same height as the late countess?”
“Exactly,” said Brigida. “Her eyes were also of the same color as the late countess’s; she
wore yellow of the same shade as the hangings in the late countess’s room, and she had on,
under her yellow mask, the colorless wax model of the late countess’s face, now in your
friend’s hand. So much for that part of the secret. Nothing remains now to be cleared up but
the mystery of who the lady was. Have the goodness, sir, to push that bag an inch or two
nearer my way, and I shall be delighted to tell you.”
“Thank you, madam,” said the doctor, with a very perceptible change in his manner. “We
know who the lady was already.”
He moved the bag of scudi while he spoke back to his own side of the table. Brigida’s
cheeks reddened, and she rose from her seat.
“Am I to understand, sir,” she said, haughtily, “that you take advantage of my position
here, as a defenseless woman, to cheat me out of the reward?”
“By no means, madam,” rejoined the doctor. “We have covenanted to pay the reward to
the person who could give us the information we required.”
“Well, sir! have I not given you part of it? And am I not prepared to give you the whole?”
“Certainly; but the misfortune is, that another person has been beforehand with you. We
ascertained who the lady in the yellow domino was, and how she contrived to personate the
face of the late Countess d’Ascoli, several hours ago from another informant. That person has
consequently the prior claim; and, on every principle of justice, that person must also have the
reward. Nanina, this bag belongs to you — come and take it.”
Nanina appeared from the window-seat. Brigida, thunderstruck, looked at her in silencefor a moment; gasped out, “That girl!”— then stopped again, breathless.
“That girl was at the back of the summer-house this morning, while you and your
accomplice were talking together,” said the doctor.
D’Arbino had been watching Brigida’s face intently from the moment of Nanina’s
appearance, and had quietly stolen close to her side. This was a fortunate movement; for the
doctor’s last words were hardly out of his mouth before Brigida seized a heavy ruler lying, with
some writing materials, on the table. In another instant, if D’Arbino had not caught her arm,
she would have hurled it at Nanina’s head.
“You may let go your hold, sir,” she said, dropping the ruler, and turning toward D’Arbino
with a smile on her white lips and a wicked calmness in her steady eyes. “I can wait for a
better opportunity.”
With those words she walked to the door; and, turning round there, regarded Nanina
“I wish I had been a moment quicker with the ruler,” she said, and went out.
“There!” exclaimed the doctor; “I told you I knew how to deal with her as she deserved.
One thing I am certainly obliged to her for — she has saved us the trouble of going to her
house and forcing her to give up the mask. And now, my child,” he continued, addressing
Nanina, “you can go home, and one of the men-servants shall see you safe to your own door,
in case that woman should still be lurking about the palace. Stop! you are leaving the bag of
scudi behind you.”
“I can’t take it, sir.”
“And why not?”
“She would have taken money!” Saying those words, Nanina reddened, and looked
toward the door.
The doctor glanced approvingly at D’Arbino. “Well, well, we won’t argue about that now,”
he said. “I will lock up the money with the mask for today. Come here tomorrow morning as
usual, my dear. By that time I shall have made up my mind on the right means for breaking
your discovery to Count Fabio. Only let us proceed slowly and cautiously, and I answer for
Chapter 7

The next morning, among the first visitors at the Ascoli Palace was the master-sculptor,
Luca Lomi. He seemed, as the servants thought, agitated, and said he was especially
desirous of seeing Count Fabio. On being informed that this was impossible, he reflected a
little, and then inquired if the medical attendant of the count was at the palace, and could be
spoken with. Both questions were answered in the affirmative, and he was ushered into the
doctor’s presence.
“I know not how to preface what I want to say,” Luca began, looking about him
confusedly. “May I ask you, in the first place, if the work-girl named Nanina was here
“She was,” said the doctor.
“Did she speak in private with any one?”
“Yes; with me.”
“Then you know everything?”
“Absolutely everything.”
“I am glad at least to find that my object in wishing to see the count can be equally well
answered by seeing you. My brother, I regret to say —” He stopped perplexedly, and drew
from his pocket a roll of papers.
“You may speak of your brother in the plainest terms,” said the doctor. “I know what
share he has had in promoting the infamous conspiracy of the Yellow Mask.”
“My petition to you, and through you to the count, is, that your knowledge of what my
brother has done may go no further. If this scandal becomes public it will ruin me in my
profession. And I make little enough by it already,” said Luca, with his old sordid smile
breaking out again faintly on his face.
“Pray do you come from your brother with this petition?” inquired the doctor.
“No; I come solely on my own account. My brother seems careless what happens. He
has made a full statement of his share in the matter from the first; has forwarded it to his
ecclesiastical superior (who will send it to the archbishop), and is now awaiting whatever
sentence they choose to pass on him. I have a copy of the document, to prove that he has at
least been candid, and that he does not shrink from consequences which he might have
avoided by flight. The law cannot touch him, but the Church can — and to the Church he has
confessed. All I ask is, that he may be spared a public exposure. Such an exposure would do
no good to the count, and it would do dreadful injury to me. Look over the papers yourself,
and show them, whenever you think proper, to the master of this house. I have every
confidence in his honor and kindness, and in yours.”
He laid the roll of papers open on the table, and then retired with great humility to the
window. The doctor looked over them with some curiosity.
The statement or confession began by boldly avowing the writer’s conviction that part of
the property which the Count Fabio d’Ascoli had inherited from his ancestors had been
obtained by fraud and misrepresentation from the Church. The various authorities on which
this assertion was based were then produced in due order; along with some curious particles
of evidence culled from old manuscripts, which it must have cost much trouble to collect and
The second section was devoted, at great length, to the reasons which induced the writer
to think it his absolute duty, as an affectionate son and faithful servant of the Church, not to
rest until he had restored to the successors of the apostles in his day the property which had
been fraudulently taken from them in days gone by. The writer held himself justified, in the last
resort, and in that only, in using any means for effecting this restoration, except such as mightinvolve him in mortal sin.
The third section described the priest’s share in promoting the marriage of Maddalena
Lomi with Fabio; and the hopes he entertained of securing the restitution of the Church
property through his influence over his niece, in the first place, and, when she had died,
through his influence over her child, in the second. The necessary failure of all his projects, if
Fabio married again, was next glanced at; and the time at which the first suspicion of the
possible occurrence of this catastrophe occurred to his mind was noted with scrupulous
The fourth section narrated the manner in which the conspiracy of the Yellow Mask had
originated. The writer described himself as being in his brother’s studio on the night of his
niece’s death, harassed by forebodings of the likelihood of Fabio’s marrying again, and filled
with the resolution to prevent any such disastrous second union at all hazards. He asserted
that the idea of taking the wax mask from his brother’s statue flashed upon him on a sudden,
and that he knew of nothing to lead to it, except, perhaps, that he had been thinking just
before of the superstitious nature of the young man’s character, as he had himself observed it
in the studio. He further declared that the idea of the wax mask terrified him at first; that he
strove against it as against a temptation of the devil; that, from fear of yielding to this
temptation, he abstained even from entering the studio during his brother’s absence at
Naples, and that he first faltered in his good resolution when Fabio returned to Pisa, and when
it was rumored, not only that the young nobleman was going to the ball, but that he would
certainly marry for the second time.
The fifth section related that the writer, upon this, yielded to temptation rather than
forego the cherished purpose of his life by allowing Fabio a chance of marrying again — that
he made the wax mask in a plaster mold taken from the face of his brother’s statue — and
that he then had two separate interviews with a woman named Brigida (of whom he had some
previous knowledge ), who was ready and anxious, from motives of private malice, to
personate the deceased countess at the masquerade. This woman had suggested that some
anonymous letters to Fabio would pave the way in his mind for the approaching
impersonation, and had written the letters herself. However, even when all the preparations
were made, the writer declared that he shrank from proceeding to extremities; and that he
would have abandoned the whole project but for the woman Brigida informing him one day
that a work-girl named Nanina was to be one of the attendants at the ball. He knew the count
to have been in love with this girl, even to the point of wishing to marry her; he suspected that
her engagement to wait at the ball was preconcerted; and, in consequence, he authorized his
female accomplice to perform her part in the conspiracy.
The sixth section detailed the proceedings at the masquerade, and contained the writer’s
confession that, on the night before it, he had written to the count proposing the reconciliation
of a difference that had taken place between them, solely for the purpose of guarding himself
against suspicion. He next acknowledged that he had borrowed the key of the Campo Santo
gate, keeping the authority to whom it was intrusted in perfect ignorance of the purpose for
which he wanted it. That purpose was to carry out the ghastly delusion of the wax mask (in
the very probable event of the wearer being followed and inquired after) by having the woman
Brigida taken up and set down at the gate of the cemetery in which Fabio’s wife had been
The seventh section solemnly averred that the sole object of the conspiracy was to
prevent the young nobleman from marrying again, by working on his superstitious fears; the
writer repeating, after this avowal, that any such second marriage would necessarily destroy
his project for promoting the ultimate restoration of the Church possessions, by diverting
Count Fabio’s property, in great part, from his first wife’s child, over whom the priest would
always have influence, to another wife and probably other children, over whom he could hope
to have none.The eighth and last section expressed the writer’s contrition for having allowed his zeal
for the Church to mislead him into actions liable to bring scandal on his cloth; reiterated in the
strongest language his conviction that, whatever might be thought of the means employed,
the end he had proposed to himself was a most righteous one; and concluded by asserting his
resolution to suffer with humility any penalties, however severe, which his ecclesiastical
superiors might think fit to inflict on him.
Having looked over this extraordinary statement, the doctor addressed himself again to
Luca Lomi.
“I agree with you,” he said, “that no useful end is to be gained now by mentioning your
brother’s conduct in public — always provided, however, that his ecclesiastical superiors do
their duty. I shall show these papers to the count as soon as he is fit to peruse them, and I
have no doubt that he will be ready to take my view of the matter.”
This assurance relieved Luca Lomi of a great weight of anxiety. He bowed and withdrew.
The doctor placed the papers in the same cabinet in which he had secured the wax
mask. Before he locked the doors again he took out the flat box, opened it, and looked
thoughtfully for a few minutes at the mask inside, then sent for Nanina.
“Now, my child,” he said, when she appeared, “I am going to try our first experiment with
Count Fabio; and I think it of great importance that you should be present while I speak to
He took up the box with the mask in it, and beckoning to Nanina to follow him, led the
way to Fabio’s chamber.
Chapter 8

About six months after the events already related, Signor Andrea D’Arbino and the
Cavaliere Finello happened to be staying with a friend, in a seaside villa on the Castellamare
shore of the bay of Naples. Most of their time was pleasantly occupied on the sea, in fishing
and sailing. A boat was placed entirely at their disposal. Sometimes they loitered whole days
along the shore; sometimes made trips to the lovely islands in the bay.
One evening they were sailing near Sorrento, with a light wind. The beauty of the coast
tempted them to keep the boat close inshore. A short time before sunset, they rounded the
most picturesque headland they had yet passed; and a little bay, with a white-sand beach,
opened on their view. They noticed first a villa surrounded by orange and olive trees on the
rocky heights inland; then a path in the cliff-side leading down to the sands; then a little family
party on the beach, enjoying the fragrant evening air.
The elders of the group were a lady and gentleman, sitting together on the sand. The
lady had a guitar in her lap and was playing a simple dance melody. Close at her side a young
child was rolling on the beach in high glee; in front of her a little girl was dancing to the music,
with a very extraordinary partner in the shape of a dog, who was capering on his hind legs in
the most grotesque manner. The merry laughter of the girl, and the lively notes of the guitar
were heard distinctly across the still water.
“Edge a little nearer in shore,” said D’Arbino to his friend, who was steering; “and keep as
I do in the shadow of the sail. I want to see the faces of those persons on the beach without
being seen by them.”
Finello obeyed. After approaching just near enough to see the countenances of the party
on shore, and to be barked at lustily by the dog, they turned the boat’s head again toward the
“A pleasant voyage, gentlemen,” cried the clear voice of the little girl. They waved their
hats in return; and then saw her run to the dog and take him by the forelegs. “Play, Nanina,”
they heard her say. “I have not half done with my partner yet.” The guitar sounded once
more, and the grotesque dog was on his hind legs in a moment.
“I had heard that he was well again, that he had married her lately, and that he was away
with her and her sister, and his child by the first wife,” said D’Arbino; “but I had no suspicion
that their place of retirement was so near us. It is too soon to break in upon their happiness,
or I should have felt inclined to run the boat on shore.”
“I never heard the end of that strange adventure of the Yellow Mask,” said Finello.
“There was a priest mixed up in it, was there not?”
“Yes; but nobody seems to know exactly what has become of him. He was sent for to
Rome, and has never been heard of since. One report is, that he has been condemned to
some mysterious penal seclusion by his ecclesiastical superiors — another, that he has
volunteered, as a sort of Forlorn Hope, to accept a colonial curacy among rough people, and
in a pestilential climate. I asked his brother, the sculptor, about him a little while ago, but he
only shook his head, and said nothing.”
“And the woman who wore the yellow mask?”
“She, too, has ended mysteriously. At Pisa she was obliged to sell off everything she
possessed to pay her debts. Some friends of hers at a milliner’s shop, to whom she applied
for help, would have nothing to do with her. She left the city, alone and penniless.”
The boat had approached the next headland on the coast while they were talking They
looked back for a last glance at the beach. Still the notes of the guitar came gently across the
quiet water; but there mingled with them now the sound of the lady’s voice. She was singing.
The little girl and the dog were at her feet, and the gentleman was still in his old place close ather side.
In a few minutes more the boat rounded the next headland, the beach vanished from
view, and the music died away softly in the distance.
A Plot in Private Life
First published : 1857
a novella

Chapter 1

The first place I got when I began going out to service was not a very profitable one. I
certainly gained the advantage of learning my business thoroughly, but I never had my due in
the matter of wages. My master was made a bankrupt, and his servants suffered with the rest
of his creditors.
My second situation, however, amply compensated me for my want of luck in the first. I
had the good fortune to enter the service of Mr. and Mrs. Norcross. My master was a very
rich gentleman. He had the Darrock house and lands in Cumberland, an estate also in
Yorkshire, and a very large property in Jamaica, which produced, at that time and for some
years afterward, a great income. Out in the West Indies he met with a pretty young lady, a
governess in an English family, and, taking a violent fancy to her, married her, though she
was a good five-and-twenty years younger than himself. After the wedding they came to
England, and it was at this time that I was lucky enough to be engaged by them as a servant.
I lived with my new master and mistress three years. They had no children. At the end of
that period Mr. Norcross died. He was sharp enough to foresee that his young widow would
marry again, and he bequeathed his property so that it all went to Mrs. Norcross first, and
then to any children she might have by a second marriage, and, failing that, to relations and
friends of his own. I did not suffer by my master’s death, for his widow kept me in her service.
I had attended on Mr. Norcross all through his last illness, and had made myself useful
enough to win my mistress’s favor and gratitude. Besides me she also retained her maid in
her service — a quadroon woman named Josephine, whom she brought with her from the
West Indies. Even at that time I disliked the half-breed’s wheedling manners, and her cruel,
tawny face, and wondered how my mistress could be so fond of her as she was. Time showed
that I was right in distrusting this woman. I shall have much more to say about her when I get
further advanced with my story.
Meanwhile I have next to relate that my mistress broke up the rest of her establishment,
and, taking me and the lady’s maid with her, went to travel on the Continent.
Among other wonderful places we visited Paris, Genoa, Venice, Florence, Rome, and
Naples, staying in some of those cities for months together. The fame of my mistress’s riches
followed her wherever she went; and there were plenty of gentlemen, foreigners as well as
Englishmen, who were anxious enough to get into her good graces and to prevail on her to
marry them. Nobody succeeded, however, in producing any very strong or lasting impression
on her; and when we came back to England, after more than two years of absence, Mrs.
Norcross was still a widow, and showed no signs of wanting to change her condition.
We went to the house on the Yorkshire estate first; but my mistress did not fancy some
of the company round about, so we moved again to Darrock Hall, and made excursions from
time to time in the lake district, some miles off. On one of these trips Mrs. Norcross met with
some old friends, who introduced her to a gentleman of their party bearing the very common
and very uninteresting name of Mr. James Smith.
He was a tall, fine young man enough, with black hair, which grew very long, and the
biggest, bushiest pair of black whiskers I ever saw. Altogether he had a rakish, unsettled look,
and a bounceable way of talking which made him the prominent person in company. He was
poor enough himself, as I heard from his servant, but well connected — a gentleman by birth
and education, though his manners were so free. What my mistress saw to like in him I don’t
know; but when she asked her friends to stay with her at Darrock, she included Mr. James
Smith in the invitation. We had a fine, gay, noisy time of it at the Hall, the strange gentleman,
in particular, making himself as much at home as if the place belonged to him. I was surprisedat Mrs. Norcross putting up with him as she did, but I was fairly thunderstruck some months
afterward when I heard that she and her free-and-easy visitor were actually going to be
married! She had refused offers by dozens abroad, from higher, and richer, and
betterbehaved men. It seemed next to impossible that she could seriously think of throwing herself
away upon such a hare-brained, headlong, penniless young gentleman as Mr. James Smith.
Married, nevertheless, they were, in due course of time; and, after spending the
honeymoon abroad, they came back to Darrock Hall.
I soon found that my new master had a very variable temper. There were some days
when he was as easy, and familiar, and pleasant with his servants as any gentleman need be.
At other times some devil within him seemed to get possession of his whole nature. He flew
into violent passions, and took wrong ideas into his head, which no reasoning or remonstrance
could remove. It rather amazed me, considering how gay he was in his tastes, and how
restless his habits were, that he should consent to live at such a quiet, dull place as Darrock.
The reason for this, however, soon came out. Mr. James Smith was not much of a
sportsman; he cared nothing for indoor amusements, such as reading, music, and so forth;
and he had no ambition for representing the county in parliament. The one pursuit that he was
really fond of was yachting. Darrock was within sixteen miles of a sea-port town, with an
excellent harbor, and to this accident of position the Hall was entirely indebted for
recommending itself as a place of residence to Mr. James Smith.
He had such an untiring enjoyment and delight in cruising about at sea, and all his ideas
of pleasure seemed to be so closely connected with his remembrance of the sailing trips he
had taken on board different yachts belonging to his friends, that I verily believe his chief
object in marrying my mistress was to get the command of money enough to keep a vessel
for himself. Be that as it may, it is certain that he prevailed on her, some time after their
marriage, to make him a present of a fine schooner yacht, which was brought round from
Cowes to our coast-town, and kept always waiting ready for him in the harbor.
His wife required some little persuasion before she could make up her mind to let him
have the vessel. She suffered so much from sea-sickness that pleasure-sailing was out of the
question for her; and, being very fond of her husband, she was naturally unwilling that he
should engage in an amusement which took him away from her. However, Mr. James Smith
used his influence over her cleverly, promising that he would never go away without first
asking her leave, and engaging that his terms of absence at sea should never last for more
than a week or ten days at a time. Accordingly, my mistress, who was the kindest and most
unselfish woman in the world, put her own feelings aside, and made her husband happy in the
possession of a vessel of his own.
While my master was away cruising, my mistress had a dull time of it at the Hall. The few
gentlefolks there were in our part of the county lived at a distance, and could only come to
Darrock when they were asked to stay there for some days together. As for the village near
us, there was but one person living in it whom my mistress could think of asking to the Hall,
and that person was the clergyman who did duty at the church.
This gentleman’s name was Mr. Meeke. He was a single man, very young, and very
lonely in his position. He had a mild, melancholy, pasty-looking face, and was as shy and
softspoken as a little girl — altogether, what one may call, without being unjust or severe, a poor,
weak creature, and, out of all sight, the very worst preacher I ever sat under in my life. The
one thing he did, which, as I heard, he could really do well, was playing on the fiddle. He was
uncommonly fond of music — so much so that he often took his instrument out with him when
he went for a walk. This taste of his was his great recommendation to my mistress, who was a
wonderfully fine player on the piano, and who was delighted to get such a performer as Mr.
Meeke to play duets with her. Besides liking his society for this reason, she felt for him in his
lonely position; naturally enough, I think, considering how often she was left in solitude herself.
Mr. Meeke, on his side, when he got over his first shyness, was only too glad to leave hislonesome little parsonage for the fine music-room at the Hall, and for the company of a
handsome, kind-hearted lady, who made much of him, and admired his fiddle-playing with all
her heart. Thus it happened that, whenever my master was away at sea, my mistress and Mr.
Meeke were always together, playing duets as if they had their living to get by it. A more
harmless connection than the connection between those two never existed in this world; and
yet, innocent as it was, it turned out to be the first cause of all the misfortunes that afterward
My master’s treatment of Mr. Meeke was, from the first, the very opposite of my
mistress’s. The restless, rackety, bounceable Mr. James Smith felt a contempt for the weak,
womanish, fiddling little parson, and, what was more, did not care to conceal it. For this
reason, Mr. Meeke (who was dreadfully frightened by my master’s violent language and rough
ways) very seldom visited at the Hall except when my mistress was alone there. Meaning no
wrong, and therefore stooping to no concealment, she never thought of taking any measures
to keep Mr. Meeke out of the way when he happened to be with her at the time of her
husband’s coming home, whether it was only from a riding excursion in the neighborhood or
from a cruise in the schooner. In this way it so turned out that whenever my master came
home, after a long or short absence, in nine cases out of ten he found the parson at the Hall.
At first he used to laugh at this circumstance, and to amuse himself with some coarse
jokes at the expense of his wife and her companion. But, after a while, his variable temper
changed, as usual. He grew sulky, rude, angry, and, at last, downright jealous of Mr. Meeke.
Though too proud to confess it in so many words, he still showed the state of his mind clearly
enough to my mistress to excite her indignation. She was a woman who could be led
anywhere by any one for whom she had a regard, but there was a firm spirit within her that
rose at the slightest show of injustice or oppression, and that resented tyrannical usage of any
sort perhaps a little too warmly. The bare suspicion that her husband could feel any distrust of
her set her all in a flame, and she took the most unfortunate, and yet, at the same time, the
most natural way for a woman, of resenting it. The ruder her husband was to Mr. Meeke the
more kindly she behaved to him. This led to serious disputes and dissensions, and thence, in
time, to a violent quarrel. I could not avoid hearing the last part of the altercation between
them, for it took place in the garden-walk, outside the dining-room window, while I was
occupied in laying the table for lunch.
Without repeating their words — which I have no right to do, having heard by accident
what I had no business to hear — I may say generally, to show how serious the quarrel was,
that my mistress charged my master with having married from mercenary motives, with
keeping out of her company as much as he could, and with insulting her by a suspicion which
it would be hard ever to forgive, and impossible ever to forget. He replied by violent language
directed against herself, and by commanding her never to open the doors again to Mr.
Meeke; she, on her side, declaring that she would never consent to insult a clergyman and a
gentleman in order to satisfy the whim of a tyrannical husband. Upon that, he called out, with
a great oath, to have his horse saddled directly, declaring that he would not stop another
instant under the same roof with a woman who had set him at defiance, and warning his wife
that he would come back, if Mr. Meeke entered the house again, and horsewhip him, in spite
of his black coat, all through the village.
With those words he left her, and rode away to the sea-port where his yacht was lying.
My mistress kept up her spirit till he was out of sight, and then burst into a dreadful screaming
passion of tears, which ended by leaving her so weak that she had to be carried to her bed
like a woman who was at the point of death.
The same evening my master’s horse was ridden back by a messenger, who brought a
scrap of notepaper with him addressed to me. It only contained these lines:
“Pack up my clothes and deliver them immediately to the bearer. You may tell your
mistress that I sail to-night at eleven o’clock for a cruise to Sweden. Forward my letters to thepost-office, Stockholm.”
I obeyed the orders given to me except that relating to my mistress. The doctor had
been sent for, and was still in the house. I consulted him upon the propriety of my delivering
the message. He positively forbade me to do so that night, and told me to give him the slip of
paper, and leave it to his discretion to show it to her or not the next morning.
The messenger had hardly been gone an hour when Mr. Meeke’s housekeeper came to
the Hall with a roll of music for my mistress. I told the woman of my master’s sudden
departure, and of the doctor being in the house. This news brought Mr. Meeke himself to the
Hall in a great flutter.
I felt so angry with him for being the cause — innocent as he might be — of the shocking
scene which had taken place, that I exceeded the bounds of my duty, and told him the whole
truth. The poor, weak, wavering, childish creature flushed up red in the face, then turned as
pale as ashes, and dropped into one of the hall chairs crying — literally crying fit to break his
heart. “Oh, William,” says he, wringing his little frail, trembling white hands as helpless as a
baby, “oh, William, what am I to do?”
“As you ask me that question, sir,” says I, “you will excuse me, I hope, if, being a
servant, I plainly speak my mind notwithstanding. I know my station well enough to be aware
that, strictly speaking, I have done wrong, and far exceeded my duty, in telling you as much
as I have told you already; but I would go through fire and water, sir,” says I, feeling my own
eyes getting moist, “for my mistress’s sake. She has no relation here who can speak to you;
and it is even better that a servant like me should risk being guilty of an impertinence, than
that dreadful and lasting mischief should arise from the right remedy not being applied at the
right time. This is what I should do, sir, in your place. Saving your presence, I should leave off
crying; and go back home and write to Mr. James Smith, saying that I would not, as a
clergyman, give him railing for railing, but would prove how unworthily he had suspected me
by ceasing to visit at the Hall from this time forth, rather than be a cause of dissension
between man and wife. If you will put that into proper language, sir, and will have the letter
ready for me in half an hour’s time, I will call for it on the fastest horse in our stables, and, at
my own risk, will give it to my master before he sails to-night. I have nothing more to say, sir,
except to ask your pardon for forgetting my proper place, and for making bold to speak on a
very serious matter as equal to equal, and as man to man.”
To do Mr. Meeke justice, he had a heart, though it was a very small one. He shook
hands with me, and said he accepted my advice as the advice of a friend, and so went back
to his parsonage to write the letter. In half an hour I called for it on horseback, but it was not
ready for me. Mr. Meeke was ridiculously nice about how he should express himself when he
got a pen into his hand. I found him with his desk littered with rough copies, in a perfect agony
about how to turn his phrases delicately enough in referring to my mistress. Every minute
being precious, I hurried him as much as I could, without standing on any ceremony. It took
half an hour more, with all my efforts, before he could make up his mind that the letter would
do. I started off with it at a gallop, and never drew rein till I got to the sea-port town.
The harbor-clock chimed the quarter past eleven as I rode by it, and when I got down to
the jetty there was no yacht to be seen. She had been cast off from her moorings ten minutes
before eleven, and as the clock struck she had sailed out of the harbor. I would have followed
in a boat, but it was a fine starlight night, with a fresh wind blowing, and the sailors on the pier
laughed at me when I spoke of rowing after a schooner yacht which had got a quarter of an
hour’s start of us, with the wind abeam and the tide in her favor.
I rode back with a heavy heart. All I could do now was to send the letter to the
postoffice, Stockholm.
The next day the doctor showed my mistress the scrap of paper with the message on it
from my master, and an hour or two after that, a letter was sent to her in Mr. Meeke’s
handwriting, explaining the reason why she must not expect to see him at the Hall, andreferring to me in terms of high praise as a sensible and faithful man who had spoken the right
word at the right time. I am able to repeat the substance of the letter, because I heard all
about it from my mistress, under very unpleasant circumstances so far as I was concerned.
The news of my master’s departure did not affect her as the doctor had supposed it
would. Instead of distressing her, it roused her spirit and made her angry; her pride, as I
imagine, being wounded by the contemptuous manner in which her husband had notified his
intention of sailing to Sweden at the end of a message to a servant about packing his clothes.
Finding her in that temper of mind, the letter from Mr. Meeke only irritated her the more. She
insisted on getting up, and as soon as she was dressed and downstairs, she vented her
violent humor on me, reproaching me for impertinent interference in the affairs of my betters,
and declaring that she had almost made up her mind to turn me out of my place for it. I did
not defend myself, because I respected her sorrows and the irritation that came from them;
also, because I knew the natural kindness of her nature well enough to be assured that she
would make amends to me for her harshness the moment her mind was composed again.
The result showed that I was right. That same evening she sent for me and begged me to
forgive and forget the hasty words she had spoken in the morning with a grace and sweetness
that would have won the heart of any man who listened to her.
Weeks passed after this, till it was more than a month since the day of my master’s
departure, and no letter in his handwriting came to Darrock Hall.
My mistress, taking this treatment more angrily than sorrowfully, went to London to
consult her nearest relations, who lived there. On leaving home she stopped the carriage at
the parsonage, and went in (as I thought, rather defiantly) to say good-by to Mr. Meeke. She
had answered his letter, and received others from him, and had answered them likewise. She
had also, of course, seen him every Sunday at church, and had always stopped to speak to
him after the service; but this was the first occasion on which she had visited him at his
house. As the carriage stopped, the little parson came out, in great hurry and agitation, to
meet her at the garden gate.
“Don’t look alarmed, Mr. Meeke,” says my mistress, getting out. “Though you have
engaged not to come near the Hall, I have made no promise to keep away from the
parsonage.” With those words she went into the house.
The quadroon maid, Josephine, was sitting with me in the rumble of the carriage, and I
saw a smile on her tawny face as the parson and his visitor went into the house together.
Harmless as Mr. Meeke was, and innocent of all wrong as I knew my mistress to be, I
regretted that she should be so rash as to despise appearances, considering the situation she
was placed in. She had already exposed herself to be thought of disrespectfully by her own
maid, and it was hard to say what worse consequences might not happen after that.
Half an hour later we were away on our journey. My mistress stayed in London two
months. Throughout all that long time no letter from my master was forwarded to her from the
country house.
Chapter 2

When the two months had passed we returned to Darrock Hall. Nobody there had
received any news in our absence of the whereabouts of my master and his yacht.
Six more weary weeks elapsed, and in that time but one event happened at the Hall to
vary the dismal monotony of the lives we now led in the solitary place. One morning Josephine
came down after dressing my mistress with her face downright livid to look at, except on one
check, where there was a mark as red as burning fire. I was in the kitchen at the time, and I
asked what was the matter.
“The matter!” says she, in her shrill voice and her half-foreign English. “Use your own
eyes, if you please, and look at this cheek of mine. What! have you lived so long a time with
your mistress, and don’t you know the mark of her hand yet?”
I was at a loss to understand what she meant, but she soon explained herself. My
mistress, whose temper had been sadly altered for the worse by the trials and humiliations
she had gone through, had got up that morning more out of humor than usual, and, in answer
to her maid’s inquiry as to how she had passed the night, had begun talking about her weary,
miserable life in an unusually fretful and desperate way. Josephine, in trying to cheer her
spirits, had ventured, most improperly, on making a light, jesting reference to Mr. Meeke,
which had so enraged my mistress that she turned round sharp on the half-breed and gave
her — to use the common phrase — a smart box on the ear. Josephine confessed that, the
moment after she had done this, her better sense appeared to tell her that she had taken a
most improper way of resenting undue familiarity. She had immediately expressed her regret
for having forgotten herself, and had proved the sincerity of it by a gift of half a dozen cambric
handkerchiefs, presented as a peace-offering on the spot. After that I thought it impossible
that Josephine could bear any malice against a mistress whom she had served ever since she
had been a girl, and I said as much to her when she had done telling me what had happened
“I! Malice!” cries Miss Josephine, in her hard, sharp, snappish way. “And why, and
wherefore, if you please? If my mistress smacks my cheek with one hand, she gives me
handkerchiefs to wipe it with the other. My good mistress, my kind mistress, my pretty
mistress! I, the servant, bear malice against her, the mistress! Ah! you bad man, even to think
of such a thing! Ah! fie, fie! I am quite ashamed of you!”
She gave me one look — the wickedest look I ever saw, and burst out laughing — the
harshest laugh I ever heard from a woman’s lips. Turning away from me directly after, she
said no more, and never referred to the subject again on any subsequent occasion.
From that time, however, I noticed an alteration in Miss Josephine; not in her way of
doing her work, for she was just as sharp and careful about it as ever, but in her manners and
habits. She grew amazingly quiet, and passed almost all her leisure time alone. I could bring
no charge against her which authorized me to speak a word of warning; but, for all that, I
could not help feeling that if I had been in my mistress’s place, I would have followed up the
present of the cambric handkerchiefs by paying her a month’s wages in advance, and sending
her away from the house the same evening.
With the exception of this little domestic matter, which appeared trifling enough at the
time, but which led to very serious consequences afterward, nothing happened at all out of the
ordinary way during the six weary weeks to which I have referred. At the beginning of the
seventh week, however, an event occurred at last.
One morning the postman brought a letter to the Hall addressed to my mistress. I took it
upstairs, and looked at the direction as I put it on the salver. The handwriting was not mymaster’s; was not, as it appeared to me, the handwriting of any well-educated person. The
outside of the letter was also very dirty, and the seal a common office-seal of the usual
latticework pattern. “This must be a begging-letter,” I thought to myself as I entered the
breakfastroom and advanced with it to my mistress.
She held up her hand before she opened it as a sign to me that she had some order to
give, and that I was not to leave the room till I had received it. Then she broke the seal and
began to read the letter.
Her eyes had hardly been on it a moment before her face turned as pale as death, and
the paper began to tremble in her fingers. She read on to the end, and suddenly turned from
pale to scarlet, started out of her chair, crumpled the letter up violently in her hand, and took
several turns backward and forward in the room, without seeming to notice me as I stood by
the door. “You villain! you villain! you villain!” I heard her whisper to herself many times over,
in a quick, hissing, fierce way. Then she stopped, and said on a sudden, “Can it be true?”
Then she looked up, and, seeing me standing at the door, started as if I had been a stranger,
changed color again, and told me, in a stifled voice, to leave her and come back again in half
an hour. I obeyed, feeling certain that she must have received some very bad news of her
husband, and wondering, anxiously enough, what it might be.
When I returned to the breakfast-room her face was as much discomposed as ever.
Without speaking a word she handed me two sealed letters: one, a note to be left for Mr.
Meeke at the parsonage; the other, a letter marked “Immediate,” and addressed to her
solicitor in London, who was also, I should add, her nearest living relative.
I left one of these letters and posted the other. When I came back I heard that my
mistress had taken to her room. She remained there for four days, keeping her new sorrow,
whatever it was, strictly to herself. On the fifth day the lawyer from London arrived at the Hall.
My mistress went down to him in the library, and was shut up there with him for nearly two
hours. At the end of that time the bell rang for me.
“Sit down, William,” said my mistress, when I came into the room. “I feel such entire
confidence in your fidelity and attachment that I am about, with the full concurrence of this
gentleman, who is my nearest relative and my legal adviser, to place a very serious secret in
your keeping, and to employ your services on a matter which is as important to me as a
matter of life and death.”
Her poor eyes were very red, and her lips quivered as she spoke to me. I was so startled
by what she had said that I hardly knew which chair to sit in. She pointed to one placed near
herself at the table, and seemed about to speak to me again, when the lawyer interfered.
“Let me entreat you,” he said, “not to agitate yourself unnecessarily. I will put this person
in possession of the facts, and, if I omit anything, you shall stop me and set me right.”
My mistress leaned back in her chair and covered her face with her handkerchief. The
lawyer waited a moment, and then addressed himself to me.
“You are already aware,” he said, “of the circumstances under which your master left this
house, and you also know, I have no doubt, that no direct news of him has reached your
mistress up to this time?”
I bowed to him and said I knew of the circumstances so far.
“Do you remember,” he went on, “taking a letter to your mistress five days ago?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied; “a letter which seemed to distress and alarm her very seriously.”
“I will read you that letter before we say any more,” continued the lawyer. “I warn you
beforehand that it contains a terrible charge against your master, which, however, is not
attested by the writer’s signature. I have already told your mistress that she must not attach
too much importance to an anonymous letter; and I now tell you the same thing.”
Saying that, he took up a letter from the table and read it aloud. I had a copy of it given
to me afterward, which I looked at often enough to fix the contents of the letter in my memory.
I can now repeat them, I think, word for word.
I cannot reconcile it to my conscience to leave you in total ignorance of your
husband ‘s atrocious conduct toward you. If you have ever been disposed to regret
his absence do so no longer. Hope and pray, rather, that you and he may never
meet face to face again in this world. I write in great haste and in great fear of being
observed. Time fails me to prepare you as you ought to be prepared for what I have
now to disclose. I must tell you plainly, with much respect for you and sorrow for
your misfortune, that your husband has married another wife. I saw the ceremony
performed, unknown to him. If I could not have spoken of this infamous act as an
eye-witness, I would not have spoken of it at all.
I dare not acknowledge who I am, for I believe Mr. James Smith would stick at
no crime to revenge himself on me if he ever came to a knowledge of the step I am
now taking, and of the means by which I got my information; neither have I time to
enter into particulars. I simply warn you of what has happened, and leave you to act
on that warning as you please. You may disbelieve this letter, because it is not
signed by any name. In that case, if Mr. James Smith should ever venture into your
presence, I recommend you to ask him suddenly what he has done with his new
wife, and to see if his countenance does not immediately testify that the truth has
been spoken by
Your unknown friend.

Poor as my opinion was of my master, I had never believed him to be capable of such
villainy as this, and I could not believe it when the lawyer had done reading the letter.
“Oh, sir,” I said, “surely that is some base imposition? Surely it cannot be true?”
“That is what I have told your mistress,” he answered. “But she says in return —”
“That I feel it to be true,” my mistress broke in, speaking behind the handkerchief in a
faint, smothered voice.
“We need not debate the question,” the lawyer went on. “Our business now is to prove
the truth or falsehood of this letter. That must be done at once. I have written to one of my
clerks, who is accustomed to conducting delicate investigations, to come to this house without
loss of time. He is to be trusted with anything, and he will pursue the needful inquiries
“It is absolutely necessary, to make sure of committing no mistakes, that he should be
accompanied by some one who is well acquainted with Mr. James Smith’s habits and personal
appearance, and your mistress has fixed upon you to be that person. However well the inquiry
is managed, it may be attended by much trouble and delay, may necessitate a long journey,
and may involve some personal danger. Are you,” said the lawyer, looking hard at me, “ready
to suffer any inconvenience and to run any risk for your mistress’s sake?”
“There is nothing I can do, sir,” said I, “that I will not do. I am afraid I am not clever
enough to be of much use; but, so far as troubles and risks are concerned, I am ready for
anything from this moment.”
My mistress took the handkerchief from her face, looked at me with her eyes full of
tears, and held out her hand. How I came to do it I don’t know, but I stooped down and kissed
the hand she offered me, feeling half startled, half ashamed at my own boldness the moment
“You will do, my man,” said the lawyer, nodding his head. “Don’t trouble yourself about
the cleverness or the cunning that may be wanted. My clerk has got head enough for two. I
have only one word more to say before you go downstairs again. Remember that this
investigation and the cause that leads to it must be kept a profound secret. Except us three,
and the clergyman here (to whom your mistress has written word of what has happened),nobody knows anything about it. I will let my clerk into the secret when he joins us. As soon as
you and he are away from the house, you may talk about it. Until then, you will close your lips
on the subject.”
The clerk did not keep us long waiting. He came as fast as the mail from London could
bring him.
I had expected, from his master’s description, to see a serious, sedate man, rather sly in
his looks, and rather reserved in his manner. To my amazement, this practiced hand at
delicate investigations was a brisk, plump, jolly little man, with a comfortable double chin, a
pair of very bright black eyes, and a big bottle-nose of the true groggy red color. He wore a
suit of black, and a limp, dingy white cravat; took snuff perpetually out of a very large box;
walked with his hands crossed behind his back; and looked, upon the whole, much more like a
parson of free-and-easy habits than a lawyer’s clerk.
“How d’ye do?” says he, when I opened the door to him. “I’m the man you expect from
the office in London. Just say Mr. Dark, will you? I’ll sit down here till you come back; and,
young man, if there is such a thing as a glass of ale in the house, I don’t mind committing
myself so far as to say that I’ll drink it.”
I got him the ale before I announced him. He winked at me as he put it to his lips.
“Your good health,” says he. “I like you. Don’t forget that the name’s Dark; and just leave
the jug and glass, will you, in case my master keeps me waiting.”
I announced him at once, and was told to show him into the library.
When I got back to the hall the jug was empty, and Mr. Dark was comforting himself with
a pinch of snuff, snorting over it like a perfect grampus. He had swallowed more than a pint of
the strongest old ale in the house; and, for all the effect it seemed to have had on him, he
might just as well have been drinking so much water.
As I led him along the passage to the library Josephine passed us. Mr. Dark winked at
me again, and made her a low bow.
“Lady’s maid,” I heard him whisper to himself. “A fine woman to look at, but a damned
bad one to deal with.” I turned round on him, rather angry at his cool ways, and looked hard at
him just before I opened the library door. Mr. Dark looked hard at me. “All right,” says he. “I
can show myself in.” And he knocks at the door, and opens it, and goes in with another
wicked wink, all in a moment.
Half an hour later the bell rang for me. Mr. Dark was sitting between my mistress (who
was looking at him in amazement) and the lawyer (who was looking at him with approval). He
had a map open on his knee, and a pen in his hand. Judging by his face, the communication
of the secret about my master did not seem to have made the smallest impression on him.
“I’ve got leave to ask you a question,” says he, the moment I appeared. “When you
found your master’s yacht gone, did you hear which way she had sailed? Was it northward
toward Scotland? Speak up, young man, speak up!”
“Yes,” I answered. “The boatmen told me that when I made inquiries at the harbor.”
“Well, sir,” says Mr. Dark, turning to the lawyer, “if he said he was going to Sweden, he
seems to have started on the road to it, at all events. I think I have got my instructions now?”
The lawyer nodded, and looked at my mistress, who bowed her head to him. He then
said, turning to me:
“Pack up your bag for traveling at once, and have a conveyance got ready to go to the
nearest post-town. Look sharp, young man — look sharp!”
“And, whatever happens in the future,” added my mistress, her kind voice trembling a
little, “believe, William, that I shall never forget the proof you now show of your devotion to
me. It is still some comfort to know that I have your fidelity to depend on in this dreadful trial
— your fidelity and the extraordinary intelligence and experience of Mr. Dark.”
Mr. Dark did not seem to hear the compliment. He was busy writing, with his paper upon
the map on his knee.A quarter of an hour later, when I had ordered the dog-cart, and had got down into the
hall with my bag packed, I found him there waiting for me. He was sitting in the same chair
which he had occupied when he first arrived, and he had another jug of the old ale on the
table by his side.
“Got any fishing-rods in the house?” says he, when I put my bag down in the hall.
“Yes,” I replied, astonished at the question. “What do you want with them?”
“Pack a couple in cases for traveling,” says Mr. Dark, “with lines, and hooks, and
flybooks all complete. Have a drop of the ale before you go — and don’t stare, William, don’t
stare. I’ll let the light in on you as soon as we are out of the house. Off with you for the rods! I
want to be on the road in five minutes.”
When I came back with the rods and tackle I found Mr. Dark in the dog-cart.
“Money, luggage, fishing-rods, papers of directions, copy of anonymous letter,
guidebook, map,” says he, running over in his mind the things wanted for the journey —“all right so
far. Drive off.”
I took the reins and started the horse. As we left the house I saw my mistress and
Josephine looking after us from two of the windows on the second floor. The memory of those
two attentive faces — one so fair and so good, the other so yellow and so wicked — haunted
my mind perpetually for many days afterward.
“Now, William,” says Mr. Dark, when we were clear of the lodge gates, “I’m going to
begin by telling you that you must step out of your own character till further notice. You are a
clerk in a bank, and I’m another. We have got our regular holiday, that comes, like Christmas,
once a year, and we are taking a little tour in Scotland to see the curiosities, and to breathe
the sea air, and to get some fishing whenever we can. I’m the fat cashier who digs holes in a
drawerful of gold with a copper shovel, and you’re the arithmetical young man who sits on a
perch behind me and keeps the books. Scotland’s a beautiful country, William. Can you make
whisky-toddy? I can; and, what’s more, unlikely as the thing may seem to you, I can actually
drink it into the bargain.”
“Scotland!” says I. “What are we going to Scotland for?”
“Question for question,” says Mr. Dark. “What are we starting on a journey for?”
“To find my master,” I answered, “and to make sure if the letter about him is true.”
“Very good,” says he. “How would you set about doing that, eh?”
“I should go and ask about him at Stockholm in Sweden, where he said his letters were
to be sent.”
“Should you, indeed?” says Mr. Dark. “If you were a shepherd, William, and had lost a
sheep in Cumberland, would you begin looking for it at the Land’s End, or would you try a little
nearer home?”
“You’re attempting to make a fool of me now,” says I.
“No,” says Mr. Dark, “I’m only letting the light in on you, as I said I would. Now listen to
reason, William, and profit by it as much as you can. Mr. James Smith says he is going on a
cruise to Sweden, and makes his word good, at the beginning, by starting northward toward
the coast of Scotland. What does he go in? A yacht. Do yachts carry live beasts and a
butcher on board? No. Will joints of meat keep fresh all the way from Cumberland to Sweden?
No. Do gentlemen like living on salt provisions? No. What follows from these three Noes? That
Mr. James Smith must have stopped somewhere on the way to Sweden to supply his
sealarder with fresh provisions. Where, in that case, must he stop? Somewhere in Scotland,
supposing he didn’t alter his course when he was out of sight of your seaport. Where in
Scotland? Northward on the main land, or westward at one of the islands? Most likely on the
main land, where the seaside places are largest, and where he is sure of getting all the stores
he wants. Next, what is our business? Not to risk losing a link in the chain of evidence by
missing any place where he has put his foot on shore. Not to overshoot the mark when we
want to hit it in the bull’s-eye. Not to waste money and time by taking a long trip to Sweden tillwe know that we must absolutely go there. Where is our journey of discovery to take us to
first, then? Clearly to the north of Scotland. What do you say to that, Mr. William? Is my
catechism all correct, or has your strong ale muddled my head?”
It was evident by this time that no ale could do that, and I told him so. He chuckled,
winked at me, and, taking another pinch of snuff, said he would now turn the whole case over
in his mind again, and make sure that he had got all the bearings of it quite clear.
By the time we reached the post-town he had accomplished this mental effort to his own
perfect satisfaction, and was quite ready to compare the ale at the inn with the ale at Darrock
Hall. The dog-cart was left to be taken back the next morning by the hostler. A post-chaise
and horses were ordered out. A loaf of bread, a Bologna sausage, and two bottles of sherry
were put into the pockets of the carriage; we took our seats, and started briskly on our
doubtful journey.
“One word more of friendly advice,” says Mr. Dark, settling himself comfortably in his
corner of the carriage. “Take your sleep, William, whenever you feel that you can get it. You
won’t find yourself in bed again till we get to Glasgow.”
Chapter 3

Although the events that I am now relating happened many years ago, I shall still, for
caution’s sake, avoid mentioning by name the various places visited by Mr. Dark and myself
for the purpose of making inquiries. It will be enough if I describe generally what we did, and if
I mention in substance only the result at which we ultimately arrived.
On reaching Glasgow, Mr. Dark turned the whole case over in his mind once more. The
result was that he altered his original intention of going straight to the north of Scotland,
considering it safer to make sure, if possible, of the course the yacht had taken in her cruise
along the western coast.
The carrying out of this new resolution involved the necessity of delaying our onward
journey by perpetually diverging from the direct road. Three times we were sent uselessly to
wild places in the Hebrides by false reports. Twice we wandered away inland, following
gentlemen who answered generally to the description of Mr. James Smith, but who turned out
to be the wrong men as soon as we set eyes on them. These vain excursions — especially
the three to the western islands — consumed time terribly. It was more than two months from
the day when we had left Darrock Hall before we found ourselves up at the very top of
Scotland at last, driving into a considerable sea-side town, with a harbor attached to it. Thus
far our journey had led to no results, and I began to despair of success. As for Mr. Dark, he
never got to the end of his sweet temper and his wonderful patience.
“You don’t know how to wait, William,” was his constant remark whenever he heard me
complaining. “I do.”
We drove into the town toward evening in a modest little gig, and put up, according to
our usual custom, at one of the inferior inns.
“We must begin at the bottom,” Mr. Dark used to say. “High company in a coffee-room
won’t be familiar with us; low company in a tap-room will.” And he certainly proved the truth of
his own words. The like of him for making intimate friends of total strangers at the shortest
notice I have never met with before or since. Cautious as the Scotch are, Mr. Dark seemed to
have the knack of twisting them round his finger as he pleased. He varied his way artfully with
different men, but there were three standing opinions of his which he made a point of
expressing in all varieties of company while we were in Scotland. In the first place, he thought
the view of Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat the finest in the world. In the second place, he
considered whisky to be the most wholesome spirit in the world. In the third place, he believed
his late beloved mother to be the best woman in the world. It may be worthy of note that,
whenever he expressed this last opinion in Scotland, he invariably added that her maiden
name was Macleod.
Well, we put up at a modest little inn near the harbor. I was dead tired with the journey,
and lay down on my bed to get some rest. Mr. Dark, whom nothing ever fatigued, left me to
take his toddy and pipe among the company in the taproom.
I don’t know how long I had been asleep when I was roused by a shake on my shoulder.
The room was pitch dark, and I felt a hand suddenly clapped over my mouth. Then a strong
smell of whisky and tobacco saluted my nostrils, and a whisper stole into my ear —
“William, we have got to the end of our journey.”
“Mr. Dark,” I stammered out, “is that you? What, in Heaven’s name, do you mean?”
“The yacht put in here,” was the answer, still in a whisper, “and your blackguard of a
master came ashore —”
“Oh, Mr. Dark,” I broke in, “don’t tell me that the letter is true!”
“Every word of it,” says he. “He was married here, and was off again to theMediterranean with Number Two a good three weeks before we left your mistress’s house.
Hush! don’t say a word, Go to sleep again, or strike a light, if you like it better. Do anything but
come downstairs with me. I’m going to find out all the particulars without seeming to want to
know one of them. Yours is a very good-looking face, William, but it’s so infernally honest that
I can’t trust it in the tap-room. I’m making friends with the Scotchmen already. They know my
opinion of Arthur’s Seat; they see what I think of whisky; and I rather think it won’t be long
before they hear that my mother’s maiden name was Macleod.”
With those words he slipped out of the room, and left me, as he had found me, in the
I was far too much agitated by what I had heard to think of going to sleep again, so I
struck a light, and tried to amuse myself as well as I could with an old newspaper that had
been stuffed into my carpet bag. It was then nearly ten o’clock. Two hours later, when the
house shut up, Mr. Dark came back to me again in high spirits.
“I have got the whole case here,” says he, tapping his forehead —“the whole case, as
neat and clean as if it was drawn in a brief. That master of yours doesn’t stick at a trifle,
William. It’s my opinion that your mistress and you have not seen the last of him yet.”
We were sleeping that night in a double-bedded room. As soon as Mr. Dark had secured
the door and disposed himself comfortably in his bed, he entered on a detailed narrative of the
particulars communicated to him in the tap-room. The substance of what he told me may be
related as follows:
The yacht had had a wonderful run all the way to Cape Wrath. On rounding that
headland she had met the wind nearly dead against her, and had beaten every inch of the
way to the sea-port town, where she had put in to get a supply of provisions, and to wait for a
change in the wind.
Mr. James Smith had gone ashore to look about him, and to see whether the principal
hotel was the sort of house at which he would like to stop for a few days. In the course of his
wandering about the town, his attention had been attracted to a decent house, where lodgings
were to be let, by the sight of a very pretty girl sitting at work at the parlor window. He was so
struck by her face that he came back twice to look at it, determining, the second time, to try if
he could not make acquaintance with her by asking to see the lodgings. He was shown the
rooms by the girl’s mother, a very respectable woman, whom he discovered to be the wife of
the master and part owner of a small coasting vessel, then away at sea. With a little
maneuvering he managed to get into the parlor where the daughter was at work, and to
exchange a few words with her. Her voice and manner completed the attraction of her face.
Mr. James Smith decided, in his headlong way, that he was violently in love with her, and,
without hesitating another instant, he took the lodgings on the spot for a month certain.
It is unnecessary to say that his designs on the girl were of the most disgraceful kind,
and that he represented himself to the mother and daughter as a single man. Helped by his
advantages of money, position, and personal appearance, he had made sure that the ruin of
the girl might be effected with very little difficulty; but he soon found that he had undertaken
no easy conquest.
The mother’s watchfulness never slept, and the daughter’s presence of mind never failed
her. She admired Mr. James Smith’s tall figure and splendid whiskers; she showed the most
encouraging partiality for his society; she smiled at his compliments, and blushed whenever he
looked at her; but, whether it was cunning or whether it was innocence, she seemed incapable
of understanding that his advances toward her were of any other than an honorable kind. At
the slightest approach to undue familiarity, she drew back with a kind of contemptuous
surprise in her face, which utterly perplexed Mr. James Smith. He had not calculated on that
sort of resistance, and he could not see his way to overcoming it. The weeks passed; the
month for which he had taken the lodgings expired. Time had strengthened the girl’s hold on
him till his admiration for her amounted to downright infatuation, and he had not advanced onestep yet toward the fulfillment of the vicious purpose with which he had entered the house.
At this time he must have made some fresh attempt on the girl’s virtue, which produced:
a coolness between them; for, instead of taking the lodgings for another term, he removed to
his yacht, in the harbor, and slept on board for two nights.
The wind was now fair, and the stores were on board, but he gave no orders to the
sailing-master to weigh anchor. On the third day, the cause of the coolness, whatever it was,
appears to have been removed, and he returned to his lodgings on shore. Some of the more
inquisitive among the townspeople observed soon afterward, when they met him in the street,
that he looked rather anxious and uneasy. The conclusion had probably forced itself upon his
mind, by this time, that he must decide on pursuing one of two courses: either he must
resolve to make the sacrifice of leaving the girl altogether, or he must commit the villainy of
marrying her.
Scoundrel as he was, he hesitated at encountering the risk — perhaps, also, at being
guilty of the crime — involved in this last alternative. While he was still in doubt, the father’s
coasting vessel sailed into the harbor, and the father’s presence on the scene decided him at
last. How this new influence acted it was impossible to find out from the imperfect evidence of
persons who were not admitted to the family councils. The fact, however, was certain that the
date of the father’s return and the date of Mr. James Smith’s first wicked resolution to marry
the girl might both be fixed, as nearly as possible, at one and the same time.
Having once made up his mind to the commission of the crime, he proceeded with all
possible coolness and cunning to provide against the chances of detection.
Returning on board his yacht he announced that he had given up his intention of cruising
to Sweden and that he intended to amuse himself by a long fishing tour in Scotland. After this
explanation, he ordered the vessel to be laid up in the harbor, gave the sailing-master leave of
absence to return to his family at Cowes, and paid off the whole of the crew from the mate to
the cabin-boy. By these means he cleared the scene, at one blow, of the only people in the
town who knew of the existence of his unhappy wife. After that the news of his approaching
marriage might be made public without risk of discovery, his own common name being of itself
a sufficient protection in case the event was mentioned in the Scotch newspapers. All his
friends, even his wife herself, might read a report of the marriage of Mr. James Smith without
having the slightest suspicion of who the bridegroom really was.
A fortnight after the paying off of the crew he was married to the merchant-captain’s
daughter. The father of the girl was well known among his fellow-townsmen as a selfish,
grasping man, who was too anxious to secure a rich son-in-law to object to any proposals for
hastening the marriage. He and his wife, and a few intimate relations had been present at the
ceremony; and after it had been performed the newly-married couple left the town at once for
a honeymoon trip to the Highland lakes.
Two days later, however, they unexpectedly returned, announcing a complete change in
their plans. The bridegroom (thinking, probably, that he would be safer out of England than in
it) had been pleasing the bride’s fancy by his descriptions of the climate and the scenery of
southern parts. The new Mrs. James Smith was all curiosity to see Spain and Italy; and,
having often proved herself an excellent sailor on board her father’s vessel, was anxious to go
to the Mediterranean in the easiest way by sea. Her affectionate husband, having now no
other object in life than to gratify her wishes, had given up the Highland excursion, and had
returned to have his yacht got ready for sea immediately. In this explanation there was
nothing to awaken the suspicions of the lady’s parents. The mother thought Mr. James Smith
a model among bridegrooms. The father lent his assistance to man the yacht at the shortest
notice with as smart a crew as could be picked up about the town. Principally through his
exertions, the vessel was got ready for sea with extraordinary dispatch. The sails were bent,
the provisions were put on board, and Mr. James Smith sailed for the Mediterranean with the
unfortunate woman who believed herself to be his wife, before Mr. Dark and myself set forthto look after him from Darrock Hall.
Such was the true account of my master’s infamous conduct in Scotland as it was
related to me. On concluding, Mr. Dark hinted that he had something still left to tell me, but
declared that he was too sleepy to talk any more that night. As soon as we were awake the
next morning he returned to the subject.
“I didn’t finish all I had to say last night, did I?” he began.
“You unfortunately told me enough, and more than enough, to prove the truth of the
statement in the anonymous letter,” I answered.
“Yes,” says Mr. Dark, “but did I tell you who wrote the anonymous letter?”
“You don’t mean to say that you have found that out!” says I.
“I think I have,” was the cool answer. “When I heard about your precious master paying
off the regular crew of the yacht I put the circumstance by in my mind, to be brought out again
and sifted a little as soon as the opportunity offered. It offered in about half an hour. Says I to
the gauger, who was the principal talker in the room: ‘How about those men that Mr. Smith
paid off? Did they all go as soon as they got their money, or did they stop here till they had
spent every farthing of it in the public-houses?’ The gauger laughs. ‘No such luck,’ says he, in
the broadest possible Scotch (which I translate into English, William, for your benefit); ‘no
such luck; they all went south, to spend their money among finer people than us — all, that is
to say, with one exception. It was thought the steward of the yacht had gone along with the
rest, when, the very day Mr. Smith sailed for the Mediterranean, who should turn up
unexpectedly but the steward himself! Where he had been hiding, and why he had been
hiding, nobody could tell.’ ‘Perhaps he had been imitating his master, and looking out for a
wife,’ says I. ‘Likely enough,’ says the gauger; ‘he gave a very confused account of himself,
and he cut all questions short by going away south in a violent hurry.’ That was enough for
me: I let the subject drop. Clear as daylight, isn’t it, William? The steward suspected
something wrong — the steward waited and watched — the steward wrote that anonymous
letter to your mistress. We can find him, if we want him, by inquiring at Cowes; and we can
send to the church for legal evidence of the marriage as soon as we are instructed to do so.
All that we have got to do now is to go back to your mistress, and see what course she means
to take under the circumstances. It’s a pretty case, William, so far — an uncommonly pretty
case, as it stands at present.”
We returned to Darrock Hall as fast as coaches and post-horses could carry us.
Having from the first believed that the statement in the anonymous letter was true, my
mistress received the bad news we brought calmly and resignedly — so far, at least, as
outward appearances went. She astonished and disappointed Mr. Dark by declining to act in
any way on the information that he had collected for her, and by insisting that the whole affair
should still be buried in the profoundest secrecy. For the first time since I had known my
traveling companion, he became depressed in spirits on hearing that nothing more was to be
done, and, although he left the Hall with a handsome present, he left it discontentedly.
“Such a pretty case, William,” says he, quite sorrowfully, as we shook hands —“such an
uncommonly pretty case — it’s a thousand pities to stop it, in this way, before it’s half over!”
“You don’t know what a proud lady and what a delicate lady my mistress is,” I answered.
“She would die rather than expose her forlorn situation in a public court for the sake of
punishing her husband.”
“Bless your simple heart!” says Mr. Dark, “do you really think, now, that such a case as
this can be hushed up?”
“Why not,” I asked, “if we all keep the secret?”
“That for the secret!” cries Mr. Dark, snapping his fingers. “Your master will let the cat
out of the bag, if nobody else does.”
“My master!” I repeated, in amazement.
“Yes, your master!” says Mr. Dark. “I have had some experience in my time, and I sayyou have not seen the last of him yet. Mark my words, William, Mr. James Smith will come
With that prophecy, Mr. Dark fretfully treated himself to a last pinch of snuff, and
departed in dudgeon on his journey back to his master in London. His last words hung heavily
on my mind for days after he had gone. It was some weeks before I got over a habit of
starting whenever the bell was rung at the front door.
Chapter 4

Our life at the Hall soon returned to its old, dreary course. The lawyer in London wrote to
my mistress to ask her to come and stay for a little while with his wife; but she declined the
invitation, being averse to facing company after what had happened to her. Though she tried
hard to keep the real state of her mind concealed from all about her, I, for one, could see
plainly enough that she was pining under the bitter injury that had been inflicted on her. What
effect continued solitude might have had on her spirits I tremble to think.
Fortunately for herself, it occurred to her, before long, to send and invite Mr. Meeke to
resume his musical practicing with her at the Hall. She told him — and, as it seemed to me,
with perfect truth — that any implied engagement which he had made with Mr. James Smith
was now canceled, since the person so named had morally forfeited all his claims as a
husband, first, by his desertion of her, and, secondly, by his criminal marriage with another
woman. After stating this view of the matter, she left it to Mr. Meeke to decide whether the
perfectly innocent connection between them should be resumed or not. The little parson, after
hesitating and pondering in his helpless way, ended by agreeing with my mistress, and by
coming back once more to the Hall with his fiddle under his arm. This renewal of their old
habits might have been imprudent enough, as tending to weaken my mistress’s case in the
eyes of the world, but, for all that, it was the most sensible course she could take for her own
sake. The harmless company of Mr. Meeke, and the relief of playing the old tunes again in the
old way, saved her, I verily believe, from sinking altogether under the oppression of the
shocking situation in which she was now placed.
So, with the assistance of Mr. Meeke and his fiddle, my mistress got though the weary
time. The winter passed, the spring came, and no fresh tidings reached us of Mr. James
Smith. It had been a long, hard winter that year, and the spring was backward and rainy. The
first really fine day we had was the day that fell on the fourteenth of March.
I am particular in mentioning this date merely because it is fixed forever in my memory.
As long as there is life in me I shall remember that fourteenth of March, and the smallest
circumstances connected with it.
The day began ill, with what superstitious people would think a bad omen. My mistress
remained late in her room in the morning, amusing herself by looking over her clothes, and by
setting to rights some drawers in her cabinet which she had not opened for some time past.
Just before luncheon we were startled by hearing the drawing-room bell rung violently. I ran
up to see what was the matter, and the quadroon, Josephine, who had heard the bell in
another part of the house, hastened to answer it also. She got into the drawing-room first, and
I followed close on her heels. My mistress was standing alone on the hearth-rug, with an
appearance of great discomposure in her face and manner.
“I have been robbed!” she said, vehemently, “I don’t know when or how; but I miss a pair
of bracelets, three rings, and a quantity of old-fashioned lace pocket-handkerchiefs.”
“If you have any suspicions, ma’am,” said Josephine, in a sharp, sudden way, “say who
they point at. My boxes, for one, are quite at your disposal.”
“Who asked about your boxes?” said my mistress, angrily. “Be a little less ready with
your answer, if you please, the next time I speak.”
She then turned to me, and began explaining the circumstances under which she had
discovered her loss. I suggested that the missing things should be well searched for first, and
then, if nothing came of that, that I should go for the constable, and place the matter under
his direction.
My mistress agreed to this plan, and the search was undertaken immediately. It lasted tilldinner-time, and led to no results. I then proposed going for the constable. But my mistress
said it was too late to do anything that day, and told me to wait at table as usual, and to go on
my errand the first thing the next morning. Mr. Meeke was coming with some new music in
the evening, and I suspect she was not willing to be disturbed at her favorite occupation by
the arrival of the constable.
When dinner was over the parson came, and the concert went on as usual through the
evening. At ten o’clock I took up the tray, with the wine, and soda-water, and biscuits. Just as
I was opening one of the bottles of soda-water, there was a sound of wheels on the drive
outside, and a ring at the bell.
I had unfastened the wires of the cork, and could not put the bottle down to run at once
to the door. One of the female servants answered it. I heard a sort of half scream — then the
sound of a footstep that was familiar to me.
My mistress turned round from the piano, and looked me hard in the face.
“William,” she said, “do you know that step?” Before I could answer the door was pushed
open, and Mr. James Smith walked into the room.
He had his hat on. His long hair flowed down under it over the collar of his coat; his bright
black eyes, after resting an instant on my mistress, turned to Mr. Meeke. His heavy eyebrows
met together, and one of his hands went up to one of his bushy black whiskers, and pulled at
it angrily.
“You here again!” he said, advancing a few steps toward the little parson, who sat
trembling all over, with his fiddle hugged up in his arms as if it had been a child.
Seeing her villainous husband advance, my mistress moved, too, so as to face him. He
turned round on her at the first step she took, as quick as lightning.
“You shameless woman!” he said. “Can you look me in the face in the presence of that
man?” He pointed, as he spoke, to Mr. Meeke.
My mistress never shrank when he turned upon her. Not a sign of fear was in her face
when they confronted each other. Not the faintest flush of anger came into her cheeks when
he spoke. The sense of the insult and injury that he had inflicted on her, and the
consciousness of knowing his guilty secret, gave her all her self-possession at that trying
“I ask you again,” he repeated, finding that she did not answer him, “how dare you look
me in the face in the presence of that man?”
She raised her steady eyes to his hat, which he still kept on his head.
“Who has taught you to come into a room and speak to a lady with your hat on?” she
asked, in quiet, contemptuous tones. “Is that a habit which is sanctioned by your new wife?”
My eyes were on him as she said those last words. His complexion, naturally dark and
swarthy, changed instantly to a livid yellow white; his hand caught at the chair nearest to him,
and he dropped into it heavily.
“I don’t understand you,” he said, after a moment of silence, looking about the room
unsteadily while he spoke.
“You do,” said my mistress. “Your tongue lies, but your face speaks the truth.”
He called back his courage and audacity by a desperate effort, and started up from the
chair again with an oath.
The instant before this happened I thought I heard the sound of a rustling dress in the
passage outside, as if one of the women servants was stealing up to listen outside the door. I
should have gone at once to see whether this was the case or not, but my master stopped me
just after he had risen from the chair.
“Get the bed made in the Red Room, and light a fire there directly,” he said, with his
fiercest look and in his roughest tones. “When I ring the bell, bring me a kettle of boiling water
and a bottle of brandy. As for you,” he continued, turning toward Mr. Meeke, who still sat pale
and speechless with his fiddle hugged up in his arms, “leave the house, or you won’t find yourcloth any protection to you.”
At this insult the blood flew into my mistress’s face. Before she could say anything, Mr.
James Smith raised his voice loud enough to drown hers.
“I won’t hear another word from you,” he cried out, brutally. “You have been talking like a
mad woman, and you look like a mad woman. You are out of your senses. As sure as you
live, I’ll have you examined by the doctors to-morrow. Why the devil do you stand there, you
scoundrel?” he roared, wheeling round on his heel to me. “Why don’t you obey my orders?”
I looked at my mistress. If she had directed me to knock Mr. James Smith down, big as
he was, I think at that moment I could have done it.
“Do as he tells you, William,” she said, squeezing one of her hands firmly over her
bosom, as if she was trying to keep down the rising indignation in that way. “This is the last
order of his giving that I shall ask you to obey.”
“Do you threaten me, you mad —”
He finished the question by a word I shall not repeat.
“I tell you,” she answered, in clear, ringing, resolute tones, “that you have outraged me
past all forgiveness and all endurance, and that you shall never insult me again as you have
insulted me to-night.”
After saying those words she fixed one steady look on him, then turned away and walked
slowly to the door.
A minute previously Mr. Meeke had summoned courage enough to get up and leave the
room quietly. I noticed him walking demurely away, close to the wall, with his fiddle held under
one tail of his long frock-coat, as if he was afraid that the savage passions of Mr. James
Smith might be wreaked on that unoffending instrument. He got to the door before my
mistress. As he softly pulled it open, I saw him start, and the rustling of the gown caught my
ear again from the outside.
My mistress followed him into the passage, turning, however, in the opposite direction to
that taken by the little parson, in order to reach the staircase that led to her own room. I went
out next, leaving Mr. James Smith alone.
I overtook Mr. Meeke in the hall, and opened the door for him.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” I said, “but did you come upon anybody listening outside the
music-room when you left it just now?”
“Yes, William,” said Mr. Meeke, in a faint voice, “I think it was Josephine; but I was so
dreadfully agitated that I can’t be quite certain about it.”
Had she surprised our secret? That was the question I asked myself as I went away to
light the fire in the Red Room. Calling to mind the exact time at which I had first detected the
rustling outside the door, I came to the conclusion that she had only heard the last part of the
quarrel between my mistress and her rascal of a husband. Those bold words about the “new
wife” had been assuredly spoken before I heard Josephine stealing up to the door.
As soon as the fire was alight and the bed made, I went back to the music-room to
announce that my orders had been obeyed. Mr. James Smith was walking up and down in a
perturbed way, still keeping his hat on. He followed me to the Red Room without saying a
Ten minutes later he rang for the kettle and the bottle of brandy. When I took them in I
found him unpacking a small carpet-bag, which was the only luggage he had brought with him.
He still kept silence, and did not appear to take any notice of me. I left him immediately
without our having so much as exchanged a single word.
So far as I could tell, the night passed quietly. The next morning I heard that my mistress
was suffering so severely from a nervous attack that she was unable to rise from her bed. It
was no surprise to me to be told that, knowing as I did what she had gone through the night
About nine o’clock I went with the hot water to the Red Room. After knocking twice I triedthe door, and, finding it not locked, went in with the jug in my hand.
I looked at the bed — I looked all round the room. Not a sign of Mr. James Smith was to
be seen anywhere.
Judging by appearances, the bed had certainly been occupied. Thrown across the
counterpane lay the nightgown he had worn. I took it up and saw some spots on it. I looked at
them a little closer. They were spots of blood.
Chapter 5

The first amazement and alarm produced by this discovery deprived me of my presence
of mind. Without stopping to think what I ought to do first, I ran back to the servants’ hall,
calling out that something had happened to my master.
All the household hurried directly into the Red Room, Josephine among the rest. I was
first brought to my senses, as it were, by observing the strange expression of her
countenance when she saw the bed-gown and the empty room. All the other servants were
bewildered and frightened. She alone, after giving a little start, recovered herself directly. A
look of devilish satisfaction broke out on her face, and she left the room quickly and quietly,
without exchanging a word with any of us. I saw this, and it aroused my suspicions. There is
no need to mention what they were, for, as events soon showed, they were entirely wide of
the mark.
Having come to myself a little, I sent them all out of the room except the coachman. We
two then examined the place.
The Red Room was usually occupied by visitors. It was on the ground floor, and looked
out into the garden. We found the window-shutters, which I had barred overnight, open, but
the window itself was down. The fire had been out long enough for the grate to be quite cold.
Half the bottle of brandy had been drunk. The carpet-bag was gone. There were no marks of
violence or struggling anywhere about the bed or the room. We examined every corner
carefully, but made no other discoveries than these.
When I returned to the servants’ hall, bad news of my mistress was awaiting me there.
The unusual noise and confusion in the house had reached her ears, and she had been told
what had happened without sufficient caution being exercised in preparing her to hear it. In
her weak, nervous state, the shock of the intelligence had quite prostrated her. She had fallen
into a swoon, and had been brought back to her senses with the greatest difficulty. As to
giving me or anybody else directions what to do under the embarrassing circumstances which
had now occurred, she was totally incapable of the effort.
I waited till the middle of the day, in the hope that she might get strong enough to give
her orders; but no message came from her. At last I resolved to send and ask her what she
thought it best to do. Josephine was the proper person to go on this errand; but when I asked
for Josephine, she was nowhere to be found. The housemaid, who had searched for her
ineffectually, brought word that her bonnet and shawl were not hanging in their usual places.
The parlor-maid, who had been in attendance in my mistress’s room, came down while we
were all aghast at this new disappearance. She could only tell us that Josephine had begged
her to do lady’s-maid’s duty that morning, as she was not well. Not well! And the first result of
her illness appeared to be that she had left the house!
I cautioned the servants on no account to mention this circumstance to my mistress, and
then went upstairs myself to knock at her door. My object was to ask if I might count on her
approval if I wrote in her name to the lawyer in London, and if I afterward went and gave
information of what had occurred to the nearest justice of the peace. I might have sent to
make this inquiry through one of the female servants; but by this time, though not naturally
suspicious, I had got to distrust everybody in the house, whether they deserved it or not.
So I asked the question myself, standing outside the door. My mistress thanked me in a
faint voice, and begged me to do what I had proposed immediately.
I went into my own bedroom and wrote to the lawyer, merely telling him that Mr. James
Smith had appeared unexpectedly at the Hall, and that events had occurred in consequence
which required his immediate presence. I made the letter up like a parcel, and sent thecoachman with it to catch the mail on its way through to London.
The next thing was to go to the justice of the peace. The nearest lived about five miles
off, and was well acquainted with my mistress. He was an old bachelor, and he kept house
with his brother, who was a widower. The two were much respected and beloved in the
county, being kind, unaffected gentlemen, who did a great deal of good among the poor. The
justice was Mr. Robert Nicholson, and his brother, the widower, was Mr. Philip.
I had got my hat on, and was asking the groom which horse I had better take, when an
open carriage drove up to the house. It contained Mr. Philip Nicholson and two persons in
plain clothes, not exactly servants and not exactly gentlemen, as far as I could judge. Mr.
Philip looked at me, when I touched my hat to him, in a very grave, downcast way, and asked
for my mistress. I told him she was ill in bed. He shook his head at hearing that, and said he
wished to speak to me in private. I showed him into the library. One of the men in plain
clothes followed us, and sat in the hall. The other waited with the carriage.
“I was just going out, sir,” I said, as I set a chair for him, “to speak to Mr. Robert
Nicholson about a very extraordinary circumstance —”
“I know what you refer to,” said Mr. Philip, cutting me short rather abruptly; “and I must
beg, for reasons which will presently appear, that you will make no statement of any sort to
me until you have first heard what I have to say. I am here on a very serious and a very
shocking errand, which deeply concerns your mistress and you.”
His face suggested something worse than his words expressed. My heart began to beat
fast, and I felt that I was turning pale.
“Your master, Mr. James Smith,” he went on, “came here unexpectedly yesterday
evening, and slept in this house last night. Before he retired to rest he and your mistress had
high words together, which ended, I am sorry to hear, in a threat of a serious nature
addressed by Mrs. James Smith to her husband. They slept in separate rooms. This morning
you went into your master’s room and saw no sign of him there. You only found his nightgown
on the bed, spotted with blood.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, in as steady a voice as I could command. “Quite true.”
“I am not examining you,” said Mr. Philip. “I am only making a certain statement, the
truth of which you can admit or deny before my brother.”
“Before your brother, sir!” I repeated. “Am I suspected of anything wrong?”
“There is a suspicion that Mr. James Smith has been murdered,” was the answer I
received to that question.
My flesh began to creep all over from head to foot.
“I am shocked — I am horrified to say,” Mr. Philip went on, “that the suspicion affects
your mistress in the first place, and you in the second.”
I shall not attempt to describe what I felt when he said that. No words of mine, no words
of anybody’s, could give an idea of it. What other men would have done in my situation I don’t
know. I stood before Mr. Philip, staring straight at him, without speaking, without moving,
almost without breathing. If he or any other man had struck me at that moment, I do not
believe I should have felt the blow.
“Both my brother and myself,” said Mr. Philip, “have such unfeigned respect for your
mistress, such sympathy for her under these frightful circumstances, and such an implicit
belief in her capability of proving her innocence, that we are desirous of sparing her in this
dreadful emergency as much as possible. For those reasons, I have undertaken to come here
with the persons appointed to execute my brother’s warrant —”
“Warrant, sir!” I said, getting command of my voice as he pronounced that word —“a
warrant against my mistress!”
“Against her and against you,” said Mr. Philip. “The suspicious circumstances have been
sworn to by a competent witness, who has declared on oath that your mistress is guilty, and
that you are an accomplice.”“What witness, sir?”
“Your mistress’s quadroon maid, who came to my brother this morning, and who has
made her deposition in due form.”
“And who is as false as hell,” I cried out passionately, “in every word she says against my
mistress and against me.”
“I hope — no, I will go further, and say I believe she is false,” said Mr. Philip. “But her
perjury must be proved, and the necessary examination must take place. My carriage is going
back to my brother’s, and you will go in it, in charge of one of my men, who has the warrant to
take you in custody. I shall remain here with the man who is waiting in the hall; and before any
steps are taken to execute the other warrant, I shall send for the doctor to ascertain when
your mistress can be removed.”
“Oh, my poor mistress!” I said, “this will be the death of her, sir.”
“I will take care that the shock shall strike her as tenderly as possible,” said Mr. Philip. “I
am here for that express purpose. She has my deepest sympathy and respect, and shall have
every help and alleviation that I can afford her.”
The hearing him say that, and the seeing how sincerely he meant what he said, was the
first gleam of comfort in the dreadful affliction that had befallen us. I felt this; I felt a burning
anger against the wretch who had done her best to ruin my mistress’s fair name and mine,
but in every other respect I was like a man who had been stunned, and whose faculties had
not perfectly recovered from the shock. Mr. Philip was obliged to remind me that time was of
importance, and that I had better give myself up immediately, on the merciful terms which his
kindness offered to me. I acknowledged that, and wished him good morning. But a mist
seemed to come over my eyes as I turned round to go away — a mist that prevented me
from finding my way to the door. Mr. Philip opened it for me, and said a friendly word or two
which I could hardly hear. The man waiting outside took me to his companion in the carriage
at the door, and I was driven away, a prisoner for the first time in my life.
On our way to the justice’s, what little thinking faculty I had left in me was all occupied in
the attempt to trace a motive for the inconceivable treachery and falsehood of which
Josephine had been guilty.
Her words, her looks, and her manner, on that unfortunate day when my mistress so far
forget herself as to strike, her, came back dimly to my memory, and led to the inference that
part of the motive, at least, of which I was in search, might be referred to what had happened
on that occasion. But was this the only reason for her devilish vengeance against my
mistress? And, even if it were so, what fancied injuries had I done her? Why should I be
included in the false accusation? In the dazed state of my faculties at that time, I was quite
incapable of seeking the answer to these questions. My mind was clouded all over, and I gave
up the attempt to clear it in despair.
I was brought before Mr. Robert Nicholson that day, and the fiend of a quadroon was
examined in my presence. The first sight of her face, with its wicked self-possession, with its
smooth leering triumph, so sickened me that I turned my head away and never looked at her
a second time throughout the proceedings. The answers she gave amounted to a mere
repetition of the deposition to which she had already sworn. I listened to her with the most
breathless attention, and was thunderstruck at the inconceivable artfulness with which she
had mixed up truth and falsehood in her charge against my mistress and me.
This was, in substance, what she now stated in my presence:
After describing the manner of Mr. James Smith’s arrival at the Hall, the witness,
Josephine Durand, confessed that she had been led to listen at the music-room door by
hearing angry voices inside, and she then described, truly enough, the latter part of the
altercation between husband and wife. Fearing, after this, that something serious might
happen, she had kept watch in her room, which was on the same floor as her mistress’s. She
had heard her mistress’s door open softly between one and two in the morning — hadfollowed her mistress, who carried a small lamp, along the passage and down the stairs into
the hall — had hidden herself in the porter’s chair — had seen her mistress take a dagger in a
green sheath from a collection of Eastern curiosities kept in the hall — had followed her again,
and seen her softly enter the Red Room — had heard the heavy breathing of Mr. James
Smith, which gave token that he was asleep — had slipped into an empty room, next door to
the Red Roam, and had waited there about a quarter of an hour, when her mistress came out
again with the dagger in her hand — had followed her mistress again into the hall, where she
had put the dagger back into its place — had seen her mistress turn into a side passage that
led to my room — had heard her knock at my door, and heard me answer and open it — had
hidden again in the porter’s chair — had, after a while, seen me and my mistress pass
together into the passage that led to the Red Room — had watched us both into the Red
Room — and had then, through fear of being discovered and murdered herself, if she risked
detection any longer, stolen back to her own room for the rest of the night.
After deposing on oath to the truth of these atrocious falsehoods, and declaring, in
conclusion, that Mr. James Smith had been murdered by my mistress, and that I was an
accomplice, the quadroon had further asserted, in order to show a motive for the crime, that
Mr. Meeke was my mistress’s lover; that he had been forbidden the house by her husband,
and that he was found in the house, and alone with her, on the evening of Mr. James Smith’s
return. Here again there were some grains of truth cunningly mixed up with a revolting lie, and
they had their effect in giving to the falsehood a look of probability.
I was cautioned in the usual manner and asked if I had anything to say.
I replied that I was innocent, but that I would wait for legal assistance before I defended
myself. The justice remanded me and the examination was over. Three days later my
unhappy mistress was subjected to the same trial. I was not allowed to communicate with her.
All I knew was that the lawyer had arrived from London to help her. Toward the evening he
was admitted to see me. He shook his head sorrowfully when I asked after my mistress.
“I am afraid,” he said, “that she has sunk under the horror of the situation in which that
vile woman has placed her. Weakened by her previous agitation, she seems to have given
way under this last shock, tenderly and carefully as Mr. Philip Nicholson broke the bad news
to her. All her feelings appeared to be strangely blunted at the examination to-day. She
answered the questions put to her quite correctly, but at the same time quite mechanically,
with no change in her complexion, or in her tone of voice, or in her manner, from beginning to
end. It is a sad thing, William, when women cannot get their natural vent of weeping, and your
mistress has not shed a tear since she left Darrock Hall.”
“But surely, sir,” I said, “if my examination has not proved Josephine’s perjury, my
mistress’s examination must have exposed it?”
“Nothing will expose it,” answered the lawyer, “but producing Mr. James Smith, or, at
least, legally proving that he is alive. Morally speaking, I have no doubt that the justice before
whom you have been examined is as firmly convinced as we can be that the quadroon has
perjured herself. Morally speaking, he believes that those threats which your mistress
unfortunately used referred (as she said they did to-day) to her intention of leaving the Hall
early in the morning, with you for her attendant, and coming to me, if she had been well
enough to travel, to seek effectual legal protection from her husband for the future. Mr.
Nicholson believes that; and I, who know more of the circumstances than he does, believe
also that Mr. James Smith stole away from Darrock Hall in the night under fear of being
indicted for bigamy. But if I can’t find him — if I can’t prove him to be alive — if I can’t account
for those spots of blood on the night-gown, the accidental circumstances of the case remain
unexplained — your mistress’s rash language, the bad terms on which she has lived with her
husband, and her unlucky disregard of appearances in keeping up her intercourse with Mr.
Meeke, all tell dead against us — and the justice has no alternative, in a legal point of view,
but to remand you both, as he has now done, for the production of further evidence.”“But how, then, in Heaven’s name, is our innocence to be proved, sir?” I asked.
“In the first place,” said the lawyer, “by finding Mr. James Smith; and, in the second
place, by persuading him, when he is found, to come forward and declare himself.”
“Do you really believe, sir,” said I, “that he would hesitate to do that, when he knows the
horrible charge to which his disappearance has exposed his wife? He is a heartless villain, I
know; but surely —”
“I don’t suppose,” said the lawyer, cutting me short, “that he is quite scoundrel enough to
decline coming forward, supposing he ran no risk by doing so. But remember that he has
placed himself in a position to be tried for bigamy, and that he believes your mistress will put
the law in force against him.”
I had forgotten that circumstance. My heart sank within me when it was recalled to my
memory, and I could say nothing more.
“It is a very serious thing,” the lawyer went on —“it is a downright offense against the law
of the land to make any private offer of a compromise to this man. Knowing what we know,
our duty as good citizens is to give such information as may bring him to trial. I tell you plainly
that, if I did not stand toward your mistress in the position of a relation as well as a legal
adviser, I should think twice about running the risk — the very serious risk — on which I am
now about to venture for her sake. As it is, I have taken the right measures to assure Mr.
James Smith that he will not be treated according to his deserts. When he knows what the
circumstances are, he will trust us — supposing always that we can find him. The search
about this neighborhood has been quite useless. I have sent private instructions by to-day’s
post to Mr. Dark in London, and with them a carefully-worded form of advertisement for the
public newspapers. You may rest assured that every human means of tracing him will be tried
forthwith. In the meantime, I have an important question to put to you about Josephine. She
may know more than we think she does; she may have surprised the secret of the second
marriage, and may be keeping it in reserve to use against us. If this should turn out to be the
case, I shall want some other chance against her besides the chance of indicting her for
perjury. As to her motive now for making this horrible accusation, what can you tell me about
that, William?”
“Her motive against me, sir?”
“No, no, not against you. I can see plainly enough that she accuses you because it is
necessary to do so to add to the probability of her story, which, of course, assumes that you
helped your mistress to dispose of the dead body. You are coolly sacrificed to some devilish
vengeance against her mistress. Let us get at that first. Has there ever been a quarrel
between them?”
I told him of the quarrel, and of how Josephine had looked and talked when she showed
me her cheek.
“Yes,” he said, “that is a strong motive for revenge with a naturally pitiless, vindictive
woman. But is that all? Had your mistress any hold over her? Is there any self-interest mixed
up along with this motive of vengeance? Think a little, William. Has anything ever happened in
the house to compromise this woman, or to make her fancy herself compromised?”
The remembrance of my mistress’s lost trinkets and handkerchiefs, which later and
greater troubles had put out of my mind, flashed back into my memory while he spoke. I told
him immediately of the alarm in the house when the loss was discovered.
“Did your mistress suspect Josephine and question her?” he asked, eagerly.
“No, sir,” I replied. “Before she could say a word, Josephine impudently asked who she
suspected, and boldly offered her own boxes to be searched.”
The lawyer’s face turned red as scarlet. He jumped out of his chair, and hit me such a
smack on the shoulder that I thought he had gone mad.
“By Jupiter!” he cried out, “we have got the whip-hand of that she-devil at last.”
I looked at him in astonishment.“Why, man alive,” he said, “don’t you see how it is? Josephine’s the thief! I am as sure of
it as that you and I are talking together. This vile accusation against your mistress answers
another purpose besides the vindictive one — it is the very best screen that the wretch could
possibly set up to hide herself from detection. It has stopped your mistress and you from
moving in the matter; it exhibits her in the false character of an honest witness against a
couple of criminals; it gives her time to dispose of the goods, or to hide them, or to do
anything she likes with them. Stop! let me be quite sure that I know what the lost things are. A
pair of bracelets, three rings, and a lot of lace pocket-handkerchiefs — is that what you said?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Your mistress will describe them particularly, and I will take the right steps the first thing
to-morrow morning. Good-evening, William, and keep up your spirits. It shan’t be my fault if
you don’t soon see the quadroon in the right place for her — at the prisoner’s bar.”
With that farewell he went out.
The days passed, and I did not see him again until the period of my remand had expired.
On this occasion, when I once more appeared before the justice, my mistress appeared with
me. The first sight of her absolutely startled me, she was so sadly altered. Her face looked so
pinched and thin that it was like the face of an old woman. The dull, vacant resignation of her
expression was something shocking to see. It changed a little when her eyes first turned
heavily toward me, and she whispered, with a faint smile, “I am sorry for you, William — I am
very, very sorry for you.” But as soon as she had said those words the blank look returned,
and she sat with her head drooping forward, quiet, and inattentive, and hopeless — so
changed a being that her oldest friends would hardly have known her.
Our examination was a mere formality. There was no additional evidence either for or
against us, and we were remanded again for another week.
I asked the lawyer, privately, if any chance had offered itself of tracing Mr. James Smith.
He looked mysterious, and only said in answer, “Hope for the best.” I inquired next if any
progress had been made toward fixing the guilt of the robbery on Josephine.
“I never boast,” he replied. “But, cunning as she is, I should not be surprised if Mr. Dark
and I, together, turned out to be more than a match for her.”
Mr. Dark! There was something in the mere mention of his name that gave me
confidence in the future. If I could only have got my poor mistress’s sad, dazed face out of my
mind, I should not have had much depression of spirits to complain of during the interval of
time that elapsed between the second examination and the third.
Chapter 6

On the third appearance of my mistress and myself before the justice, I noticed some
faces in the room which I had not seen there before. Greatly to my astonishment — for the
previous examinations had been conducted as privately as possible — I remarked the
presence of two of the servants from the Hall, and of three or four of the tenants on the
Darrock estate, who lived nearest to the house. They all sat together on one side of the
justice-room. Opposite to them and close at the side of a door, stood my old acquaintance,
Mr. Dark, with his big snuff-box, his jolly face, and his winking eye. He nodded to me, when I
looked at him, as jauntily as if we were meeting at a party of pleasure. The quadroon woman,
who had been summoned to the examination, had a chair placed opposite to the witness-box,
and in a line with the seat occupied by my poor mistress, whose looks, as I was grieved to
see, were not altered for the better. The lawyer from London was with her, and I stood behind
her chair.
We were all quietly disposed in the room in this way, when the justice, Mr. Robert
Nicholson, came in with his brother. It might have been only fancy, but I thought I could see in
both their faces that something remarkable had happened since we had met at the last
The deposition of Josephine Durand was read over by the clerk, and she was asked if
she had anything to add to it. She replied in the negative. The justice then appealed to my
mistress’s relation, the lawyer, to know if he could produce any evidence relating to the charge
against his clients.
“I have evidence,” answered the lawyer, getting briskly on his legs, “which I believe, sir,
will justify me in asking for their discharge.”
“Where are your witnesses?” inquired the justice, looking hard at Josephine while he
“One of them is in waiting, your worship,” said Mr. Dark, opening the door near which he
was standing.
He went out of the room, remained away about a minute, and returned with his witness
at his heels.
My heart gave a bound as if it would jump out of my body. There, with his long hair cut
short, and his bushy whiskers shaved off — there, in his own proper person, safe and sound
as ever, was Mr. James Smith!
The quadroon’s iron nature resisted the shock of his unexpected presence on the scene
with a steadiness that was nothing short of marvelous. Her thin lips closed together
convulsively, and there was a slight movement in the muscles of her throat. But not a word,
not a sign betrayed her. Even the yellow tinge of her complexion remained unchanged.
“It is not necessary, sir, that I should waste time and words in referring to the wicked and
preposterous charge against my clients,” said the lawyer, addressing Mr. Robert Nicholson.
“The one sufficient justification for discharging them immediately is before you at this moment
in the person of that gentleman. There, sir, stands the murdered Mr. James Smith, of Darrock
Hall, alive and well, to answer for himself.”
“That is not the man!” cried Josephine, her shrill voice just as high, clear, and steady as
ever, “I denounce that man as an impostor. Of my own knowledge, I deny that he is Mr.
James Smith.”
“No doubt you do,” said the lawyer; “but we will prove his identity for all that.”
The first witness called was Mr. Philip Nicholson. He could swear that he had seen Mr.
James Smith, and spoken to him at least a dozen times. The person now before h im was Mr.James Smith, altered as to personal appearance by having his hair cut short and his whiskers
shaved off, but still unmistakably the man he assumed to be.
“Conspiracy!” interrupted the prisoner, hissing the word out viciously between her teeth.
“If you are not silent,” said Mr. Robert Nicholson, “you will be removed from the room. It
will sooner meet the ends of justice,” he went on, addressing the lawyer, “if you prove the
question of identity by witnesses who have been in habits of daily communication with Mr.
James Smith.”
Upon this, one of the servants from the Hall was placed in the box.
The alteration in his master’s appearance evidently puzzled the man. Besides the
perplexing change already adverted to, there was also a change in Mr. James Smith’s
expression and manner. Rascal as he was, I must do him the justice to say that he looked
startled and ashamed when he first caught sight of his unfortunate wife. The servant, who was
used to be eyed tyrannically by him, and ordered about roughly, seeing him now for the first
time abashed and silent, stammered and hesitated on being asked to swear to his identity.
“I can hardly say for certain, sir,” said the man, addressing the justice in a bewildered
manner. “He is like my master, and yet he isn’t. If he wore whiskers and had his hair long, and
if he was, saying your presence, sir, a little more rough and ready in his way, I could swear to
him anywhere with a safe conscience.”
Fortunately for us, at this moment Mr. James Smith’s feeling of uneasiness at the
situation in which he was placed changed to a feeling of irritation at being coolly surveyed and
then stupidly doubted in the matter of his identity by one of his own servants.
“Can’t you say in plain words, you idiot, whether you know me or whether you don’t?” he
called out, angrily.
“That’s his voice!” cried the servant, starting in the box. “Whiskers or no whiskers, that’s
“If there’s any difficulty, your worship, about the gentleman’s hair,” said Mr. Dark, coming
forward with a grin, “here’s a small parcel which, I may make so bold as to say, will remove it.”
Saying that, he opened the parcel, took some locks of hair out of it, and held them up close to
Mr. James Smith’s head. “A pretty good match, your worship,” continued Mr. Dark. “I have no
doubt the gentleman’s head feels cooler now it’s off. We can’t put the whiskers on, I’m afraid,
but they match the hair; and they are in the paper (if one may say such a thing of whiskers) to
speak for themselves.”
“Lies! lies! lies!” screamed Josephine, losing her wicked self-control at this stage of the
The justice made a sign to two of the constables present as she burst out with those
exclamations, and the men removed her to an adjoining room.
The second servant from the Hall was then put in the box, and was followed by one of
the tenants. After what they had heard and seen, neither of these men had any hesitation in
swearing positively to their master’s identity.
“It is quite unnecessary,” said the justice, as soon as the box was empty again, “to
examine any more witnesses as to the question of identity. All the legal formalities are
accomplished, and the charge against the prisoners falls to the ground. I have great pleasure
in ordering the immediate discharge of both the accused persons, and in declaring from this
place that they leave the court without the slightest stain on their characters.”
He bowed low to my mistress as he said that, paused a moment, and then looked
inquiringly at Mr. James Smith.
“I have hitherto abstained from making any remark unconnected with the immediate
matter in hand,” he went on. “But, now that my duty is done, I cannot leave this chair without
expressing my strong sense of disapprobation of the conduct of Mr. James Smith — conduct
which, whatever may be the motives that occasioned it, has given a false color of probability
to a most horrible charge against a lady of unspotted reputation, and against a person in alower rank of life whose good character ought not to have been imperiled even for a moment.
Mr. Smith may or may not choose to explain his mysterious disappearance from Darrock Hall,
and the equally unaccountable change which he has chosen to make in his personal
appearance. There is no legal charge against him; but, speaking morally, I should be unworthy
of the place I hold if I hesitated to declare my present conviction that his conduct has been
deceitful, inconsiderate, and unfeeling in the highest degree.”
To this sharp reprimand Mr. James Smith (evidently tutored beforehand as to what he
was to say) replied that, in attending before the justice, he wished to perform a plain duty and
to keep himself strictly within the letter of the law. He apprehended that the only legal
obligation laid on him was to attend in that court to declare himself, and to enable competent
witnesses to prove his identity. This duty accomplished, he had merely to add that he
preferred submitting to a reprimand from the bench to entering into explanations which would
involve the disclosure of domestic circumstances of a very unhappy nature. After that brief
reply he had nothing further to say, and he would respectfully request the justice’s permission
to withdraw.
The permission was accorded. As he crossed the room he stopped near his wife, and
said, confusedly, in a very low tone:
“I have done you many injuries, but I never intended this. I am sorry for it. Have you
anything to say to me before I go?”
My mistress shuddered and hid her face. He waited a moment, and, finding that she did
not answer him, bowed his head politely and went out. I did not know it then, but I had seen
him for the last time.
After he had gone, the lawyer, addressing Mr. Robert Nicholson, said that he had an
application to make in reference to the woman Josephine Durand.
At the mention of that name my mistress hurriedly whispered a few words into her
relation’s ear. He looked toward Mr. Philip Nicholson, who immediately advanced, offered his
arm to my mistress, and led her out. I was about to follow, when Mr. Dark stopped me, and
begged that I would wait a few minutes longer, in order to give myself the pleasure of seeing
“the end of the case.”
In the meantime, the justice had pronounced the necessary order to have the quadroon
brought back. She came in, as bold and confident as ever. Mr. Robert Nicholson looked away
from her in disgust and said to the lawyer:
“Your application is to have her committed for perjury, of course?”
“For perjury?” said Josephine, with her wicked smile. “Very good. I shall explain some
little matters that I have not explained before. You think I am quite at your mercy now? Bah! I
shall make myself a thorn in your sides yet.”
“She has got scent of the second marriage,” whispered Mr. Dark to me.
There could be no doubt of it. She had evidently been listening at the door on the night
when my master came back longer than I had supposed. She must have heard those words
about “the new wife”— she might even have seen the effect of them on Mr. James Smith.
“We do not at present propose to charge Josephine Durand with perjury,” said the
lawyer, “but with another offense, for which it is important to try her immediately, in order to
effect the restoration of property that has been stolen. I charge her with stealing from her
mistress, while in her service at Darrock Hall, a pair of bracelets, three rings, and a dozen and
a half of lace pocket-handkerchiefs. The articles in question were taken this morning from
between the mattresses of her bed; and a letter was found in the same place which clearly
proves that she had represented the property as belonging to herself, and that she had tried
to dispose of it to a purchaser in London.” While he was speaking, Mr. Dark produced the
jewelry, the handkerchiefs and the letter, and laid them before the justice.
Even Josephine’s extraordinary powers of self-control now gave way at last. At the first
words of the unexpected charge against her she struck her hands together violently, gnashedher sharp white teeth, and burst out with a torrent of fierce-sounding words in some foreign
language, the meaning of which I did not understand then and cannot explain now.
“I think that’s checkmate for marmzelle,” whispered Mr. Dark, with his invariable wink.
“Suppose you go back to the Hall, now, William, and draw a jug of that very remarkable old
ale of yours? I’ll be after you in five minutes, as soon as the charge is made out.”
I could hardly realize it when I found myself walking back to Darrock a free man again.
In a quarter of an hour’s time Mr. Dark joined me, and drank to my health, happiness
and prosperity in three separate tumblers. After performing this ceremony, he wagged his
head and chuckled with an appearance of such excessive enjoyment that I could not avoid
remarking on his high spirits.
“It’s the case, William — it’s the beautiful neatness of the case that quite intoxicates me.
Oh, Lord, what a happiness it is to be concerned in such a job as this!” cries Mr. Dark,
slapping his stumpy hands on his fat knees in a sort of ecstasy.
I had a very different opinion of the case for my own part, but I did not venture on
expressing it. I was too anxious to know how Mr. James Smith had been discovered and
produced at the examination to enter into any arguments. Mr. Dark guessed what was
passing in my mind, and, telling me to sit down and make myself comfortable, volunteered of
his own accord to inform me of all that I wanted to know.
“When I got my instructions and my statement of particulars,” he began, “I was not at all
surprised to hear that Mr. James Smith had come back. (I prophesied that, if you remember,
William, the last time we met?) But I was a good deal astonished, nevertheless, at the turn
things had taken, and I can’t say I felt very hopeful about finding our man. However, I followed
my master’s directions, and put the advertisement in the papers. It addressed Mr. James
Smith by name, but it was very carefully worded as to what was wanted of him. Two days
after it appeared, a letter came to our office in a woman’s handwriting. It was my business to
open the letters, and I opened that. The writer was short and mysterious. She requested that
somebody would call from our office at a certain address, between the hours of two and four
that afternoon, in reference to the advertisement which we had inserted in the newspapers. Of
course, I was the somebody who went. I kept myself from building up hopes by the way,
knowing what a lot of Mr. James Smiths there were in London. On getting to the house, I was
shown into the drawing-room, and there, dressed in a wrapper and lying on a sofa, was an
uncommonly pretty woman, who looked as if she was just recovering from an illness. She had
a newspaper by her side, and came to the point at once: ‘My husband’s name is James
Smith,’ she says, ‘and I have my reasons for wanting to know if he is the person you are in
search of.’ I described our man as Mr. James Smith, of Darrock Hall, Cumberland. ‘I know no
such person,’ says she —”
“What! was it not the second wife, after all?” I broke out.
“Wait a bit,” says Mr. Dark. “I mentioned the name of the yacht next, and she started up
on the sofa as if she had been shot. ‘I think you were married in Scotland, ma’am,’ says I. She
turns as pale as ashes, and drops back on the sofa, and says, faintly: ‘It is my husband. Oh,
sir, what has happened? What do you want with him? Is he in debt?’ I took a minute to think,
and then made up my mind to tell her everything, feeling that she would keep her husband (as
she called him) out of the way if I frightened her by any mysteries. A nice job I had, William,
as you may suppose, when she knew about the bigamy business. What with screaming,
fainting, crying, and blowing me up (as if I was to blame!), she kept me by that sofa of hers
the best part of an hour — kept me there, in short, till Mr. James Smith himself came back. I
leave you to judge if that mended matters. He found me mopping the poor woman’s temples
with scent and water; and he would have pitched me out of the window, as sure as I sit here,
if I had not met him and staggered him at once with the charge of murder against his wife.
That stopped him when he was in full cry, I can promise you. ‘Go and wait in the next room,’
says he, ‘and I’ll come in and speak to you directly.’”“And did you go?” I asked.
“Of course I did,” said Mr. Dark. “I knew he couldn’t get out by the drawing-room
windows, and I knew I could watch the door; so away I went, leaving him alone with the lady,
who didn’t spare him by any manner of means, as I could easily hear in the next room.
However, all rows in this world come to an end sooner or later, and a man with any brains in
his head may do what he pleases with a woman who is fond of him. Before long I heard her
crying and kissing him. ‘I can’t go home,’ she says, after this. ‘You have behaved like a villain
and a monster to me — but oh, Jemmy, I can’t give you up to anybody! Don’t go back to your
wife! Oh, don’t, don’t go back to your wife!’ ‘No fear of that,’ says he. ‘My wife wouldn’t have
me if I did go back to her.’ After that I heard the door open, and went out to meet him on the
landing. He began swearing the moment he saw me, as if that was any good. ‘Business first, if
you please, sir,’ says I, ‘and any pleasure you like, in the way of swearing, afterward.’ With
that beginning, I mentioned our terms to him, and asked the pleasure of his company to
Cumberland in return, he was uncommonly suspicious at first, but I promised to draw out a
legal document (mere waste paper, of no earthly use except to pacify him), engaging to hold
him harmless throughout the proceedings; and what with that, and telling him of the frightful
danger his wife was in, I managed, at last, to carry my point.”
“But did the second wife make no objection to his going away with you?” I inquired.
“Not she,” said Mr. Dark. “I stated the case to her just as it stood, and soon satisfied her
that there was no danger of Mr. James Smith’s first wife laying any claim to him. After hearing
that, she joined me in persuading him to do his duty, and said she pitied your mistress from
the bottom of her heart. With her influence to back me, I had no great fear of our man
changing his mind. I had the door watched that night, however, so as to make quite sure of
him. The next morning he was ready to time when I called, and a quarter of an hour after that
we were off together for the north road. We made the journey with post-horses, being afraid
of chance passengers, you know, in public conveyances. On the way down, Mr. James Smith
and I got on as comfortably together as if we had been a pair of old friends. I told the story of
our tracing him to the north of Scotland, and he gave me the particulars, in return, of his
bolting from Darrock Hall. They are rather amusing, William; would you like to hear them?”
I told Mr. Dark that he had anticipated the very question I was about to ask him.
“Well,” he said, “this is how it was: To begin at the beginning, our man really took Mrs.
Smith, Number Two, to the Mediterranean, as we heard. He sailed up the Spanish coast, and,
after short trips ashore, stopped at a seaside place in France called Cannes. There he saw a
house and grounds to be sold which took his fancy as a nice retired place to keep Number
Two in. Nothing particular was wanted but the money to buy it; and, not having the little
amount in his own possession, Mr. James Smith makes a virtue of necessity, and goes back
overland to his wife with private designs on her purse-strings. Number Two, who objects to be
left behind, goes with him as far as London. There he trumps up the first story that comes into
his head about rents in the country, and a house in Lincolnshire that is too damp for her to
trust herself in; and so, leaving her for a few days in London, starts boldly for Darrock Hall. His
notion was to wheedle your mistress out of the money by good behavior; but it seems he
started badly by quarreling with her about a fiddle-playing parson —”
“Yes, yes, I know all about that part of the story,” I broke in, seeing by Mr. Dark’s
manner that he was likely to speak both ignorantly and impertinently of my mistress’s unlucky
friend ship for Mr. Meeke. “Go on to the time when I left my master alone in the Red Room,
and tell me what he did between midnight and nine the next morning.”
“Did?” said Mr. Dark. “Why, he went to bed with the unpleasant conviction on his mind
that your mistress had found him out, and with no comfort to speak of except what he could
get out of the brandy bottle. He couldn’t sleep; and the more he tossed and tumbled, the more
certain he felt that his wife intended to have him tried for bigamy. At last, toward the gray of
the morning, he could stand it no longer, and he made up his mind to give the law the slipwhile he had the chance. As soon as he was dressed, it struck him that there might be a
reward offered for catching him, and he determined to make that slight change in his personal
appearance which puzzled the witnesses so much before the magistrate to-day. So he opens
his dressing-case and crops his hair in no time, and takes off his whiskers next. The fire was
out, and he had to shave in cold water. What with that, and what with the flurry of his mind,
naturally enough he cut himself —”
“And dried the blood with his nightgown?” says I.
“With his nightgown,” repeated Mr. Dark. “It was the first thing that lay handy, and he
snatched it up. Wait a bit, though; the cream of the thing is to come. When he had done being
his own barber, he couldn’t for the life of him hit on a way of getting rid of the loose hair. The
fire was out, and he had no matches; so he couldn’t burn it. As for throwing it away, he didn’t
dare do that in the house or about the house, for fear of its being found, and betraying what
he had done. So he wraps it all up in paper, crams it into his pocket to be disposed of when
he is at a safe distance from the Hall, takes his bag, gets out at the window, shuts it softly
after him, and makes for the road as fast as his long legs will carry him. There he walks on till
a coach overtakes him, and so travels back to London to find himself in a fresh scrape as
soon as he gets there. An interesting situation, William, and hard traveling from one end of
France to the other, had not agreed together in the case of Number Two. Mr. James Smith
found her in bed, with doctor’s orders that she was not to be moved. There was nothing for it
after that but to lie by in London till the lady got better. Luckily for us, she didn’t hurry herself;
so that, after all, your mistress has to thank the very woman who supplanted her for clearing
her character by helping us to find Mr. James Smith.”
“And, pray, how did you come by that loose hair of his which you showed before the
justice to-day?” I asked.
“Thank Number Two again,” says Mr. Dark. “I was put up to asking after it by what she
told me. While we were talking about the advertisement, I made so bold as to inquire what
first set her thinking that her husband and the Mr. James Smith whom we wanted might be
one and the same man. ‘Nothing,’ says she, ‘but seeing him come home with his hair cut short
and his whiskers shaved off, and finding that he could not give me any good reason for
disfiguring himself in that way. I had my suspicions that something was wrong, and the sight
of your advertisement strengthened them directly.’ The hearing her say that suggested to my
mind that there might be a difficulty in identifying him after the change in his looks, and I
asked him what he had done with the loose hair before we left London. It was found in the
pocket of his traveling coat just as he had huddled it up there on leaving the Hall, worry, and
fright, and vexation, having caused him to forget all about it. Of course I took charge of the
parcel, and you know what good it did as well as I do. So to speak, William, it just completed
this beautifully neat case. Looking at the matter in a professional point of view, I don’t hesitate
to say that we have managed our business with Mr. James Smith to perfection. We have
produced him at the right time, and we are going to get rid of him at the right time. By to-night
he will be on his way to foreign parts with Number Two, and he won’t show his nose in
England again if he lives to the age of Methuselah.”
It was a relief to hear that and it was almost as great a comfort to find, from what Mr.
Dark said next, that my mistress need fear nothing that Josephine could do for the future.
The charge of theft, on which she was about to be tried, did not afford the shadow of an
excuse in law any more than in logic for alluding to the crime which her master had
committed. If she meant to talk about it she might do so in her place of transportation, but she
would not have the slightest chance of being listened to previously in a court of law.
“In short,” said Mr. Dark, rising to take his leave, “as I have told you already, William, it’s
checkmate for marmzelle. She didn’t manage the business of the robbery half as sharply as I
should have expected. She certainly began well enough by staying modestly at a lodging in
the village to give her attendance at the examinations, as it might be required; nothing couldlook more innocent and respectable so far; but her hiding the property between the
mattresses of her bed — the very first place that any experienced man would think of looking
in — was such an amazingly stupid thing to do, that I really can’t account for it, unless her
mind had more weighing on it than it was able to bear, which, considering the heavy stakes
she played for, is likely enough. Anyhow, her hands are tied now, and her tongue too, for the
matter of that. Give my respects to your mistress, and tell her that her runaway husband and
her lying maid will never either of them harm her again as long as they live. She has nothing
to do now but to pluck up her spirits and live happy. Here’s long life to her and to you, William,
in the last glass of ale; and here’s the same toast to myself in the bottom of the jug.”
With those words Mr. Dark pocketed his large snuff-box, gave a last wink with his bright
eye, and walked rapidly away, whistling, to catch the London coach. From that time to this he
and I have never met again.
A few last words relating to my mistress and to the other persons chiefly concerned in
this narrative will conclude all that it is now necessary for me to say.
For some months the relatives and friends, and I myself, felt sad misgivings on my poor
mistress’s account. We doubted if it was possible, with such a quick, sensitive nature as hers,
that she could support the shock which had been inflicted on her. But our powers of
endurance are, as I have learned to believe, more often equal to the burdens laid upon us
than we are apt to imagine. I have seen many surprising recoveries from illness after all hope
had been lost, and I have lived to see my mistress recover from the grief and terror which we
once thought would prove fatal to her. It was long before she began to hold up her head
again; but care and kindness, and time and change wrought their effect on her at last. She is
not now, and never will be again, the woman she was once; her manner is altered, and she
looks older by many a year than she really is. But her health causes us no anxiety now; her
spirits are calm and equal, and I have good hope that many quiet years of service in her
house are left for me still. I myself have married during the long interval of time which I am
now passing over in a few words. This change in my life is, perhaps, not worth mentioning, but
I am reminded of my two little children when I speak of my mistress in her present position. I
really think they make the great happiness, and interest, and amusement of her life, and
prevent her from feeling lonely and dried up at heart. It is a pleasant reflection to me to
remember this, and perhaps it may be the same to you, for which reason only I speak of it.
As for the other persons connected with the troubles at Darrock Hall, I may mention the
vile woman Josephine first, so as to have the sooner done with her. Mr. Dark’s guess, when
he tried to account for her want of cunning in hiding the stolen property, by saying that her
mind might have had more weighing on it than she was able to bear, turned out to b e nothing
less than the plain and awful truth. After she had been found guilty of the robbery, and had
been condemned to seven years’ transportation, a worse sentence fell upon her from a higher
tribunal than any in this world. While she was still in the county jail, previous to her removal,
her mind gave way, the madness breaking out in an attempt to set fire to the prison. Her case
was pronounced to be hopeless from the first. The lawful asylum received her, and the lawful
asylum will keep her to the end of her days.
Mr. James Smith, who, in my humble opinion, deserved hanging by law, or drowning by
accident at least, lived quietly abroad with his Scotch wife (or no wife) for two years, and then
died in the most quiet and customary manner, in his bed, after a short illness. His end was
described to me as a “highly edifying one.” But as he was also reported to have sent his
forgiveness to his wife — which was as much as to say that he was the injured person of the
two — I take leave to consider that he was the same impudent vagabond in his last moments
that he had been all his life. His Scotch widow has married again, and is now settled in
London. I hope her husband is all her own property this time.
Mr. Meeke must not be forgotten, although he has dropped out of the latter part of my
story because he had nothing to do with the serious events which followed Josephine’sperjury. In the confusion and wretchedness of that time, he was treated with very little
ceremony, and was quite passed over when we left the neighborhood. After pining and fretting
some time, as we afterward heard, in his lonely parsonage, he resigned his living at the first
chance he got, and took a sort of under-chaplain’s place in an English chapel abroad. He
writes to my mistress once or twice a year to ask after her health and well-being, and she
writes back to him. That is all the communication they are ever likely to have with each other.
The music they once played together will never sound again. Its last notes have long since
faded away and the last words of this story, trembling on the lips of the teller, may now fade
with them.
The Woman in White
First published : 1860
a novel

The Story Begun by Walter Hartright, of Clement’s Inn, Teacher of Drawing
The Story Continued by Vincent Gilmore, of Chancery Lane, Solicitor
The Story Continued by Marian Halcombe, in Extracts from her Diary
The Story Continued by Marian Halcombe
Postscript by a Sincere Friend
The Story Continued by Frederick Fairlie, Esq., of Limmeridge House
The Story Continued by Eliza Michelson, Housekeeper at Blackwater Park
The Story Continued in Several Narratives1 — The Narrative of Hester Pinhorn, Cook in the Service of Count Fosco
2 — The Narrative of the Doctor
3 — The Narrative of Jane Gould
4 — The Narrative of the Tombstone
5 — head sank on her bosom. She h The Narrative of Walter Hartright
The Story Continued by Walter Hartright
The Story Continued by Mrs. Catherick
The Story Continued by Walter Hartright
The Story Continued by Isidor Ottavio Baldassare Fosco
The Story Concluded by Walter Hartright
Part 1
The Story Begun by Walter Hartright, of Clement’s Inn, Teacher of

This is the story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and what a Man’s resolution
can achieve.
If the machinery of the Law could be depended on to fathom every case of suspicion,
and to conduct every process of inquiry, with moderate assistance only from the lubricating
influences of oil of gold, the events which fill these pages might have claimed their share of
the public attention in a Court of Justice.
But the Law is still, in certain inevitable cases, the pre-engaged servant of the long
purse; and the story is left to be told, for the first time, in this place. As the Judge might once
have heard it, so the Reader shall hear it now. No circumstance of importance, from the
beginning to the end of the disclosure, shall be related on hearsay evidence. When the writer
of these introductory lines (Walter Hartright by name) happens to be more closely connected
than others with the incidents to be recorded, he will describe them in his own person. When
his experience fails, he will retire from the position of narrator; and his task will be continued,
from the point at which he has left it off, by other persons who can speak to the
circumstances under notice from their own knowledge, just as clearly and positively as he has
spoken before them.
Thus, the story here presented will be told by more than one pen, as the story of an
offence against the laws is told in Court by more than one witness — with the same object, in
both cases, to present the truth always in its most direct and most intelligible aspect; and to
trace the course of one complete series of events, by making the persons who have been
most closely connected with them, at each successive stage, relate their own experience,
word for word.
Let Walter Hartright, teacher of drawing, aged twenty-eight years, be heard first.2

It was the last day of July. The long hot summer was drawing to a close; and we, the
weary pilgrims of the London pavement, were beginning to think of the cloud-shadows on the
corn-fields, and the autumn breezes on the sea-shore.
For my own poor part, the fading summer left me out of health, out of spirits, and, if the
truth must be told, out of money as well. During the past year I had not managed my
professional resources as carefully as usual; and my extravagance now limited me to the
prospect of spending the autumn economically between my mother’s cottage at Hampstead
and my own chambers in town.
The evening, I remember, was still and cloudy; the London air was at its heaviest; the
distant hum of the street-traffic was at its faintest; the small pulse of the life within me, and
the great heart of the city around me, seemed to be sinking in unison, languidly and more
languidly, with the sinking sun. I roused myself from the book which I was dreaming over
rather than reading, and left my chambers to meet the cool night air in the suburbs. It was
one of the two evenings in every week which I was accustomed to spend with my mother and
my sister. So I turned my steps northward in the direction of Hampstead.
Events which I have yet to relate make it necessary to mention in this place that my
father had been dead some years at the period of which I am now writing; and that my sister
Sarah and I were the sole survivors of a family of five children. My father was a
drawingmaster before me. His exertions had made him highly successful in his profession; and his
affectionate anxiety to provide for the future of those who were dependent on his labours had
impelled him, from the time of his marriage, to devote to the insuring of his life a much larger
portion of his income than most men consider it necessary to set aside for that purpose.
Thanks to his admirable prudence and self-denial my mother and sister were left, after his
death, as independent of the world as they had been during his lifetime. I succeeded to his
connection, and had every reason to feel grateful for the prospect that awaited me at my
starting in life.
The quiet twilight was still trembling on the topmost ridges of the heath; and the view of
London below me had sunk into a black gulf in the shadow of the cloudy night, when I stood
before the gate of my mother’s cottage. I had hardly rung the bell before the house door was
opened violently; my worthy Italian friend, Professor Pesca, appeared in the servant’s place;
and darted out joyously to receive me, with a shrill foreign parody on an English cheer.
On his own account, and, I must be allowed to add, on mine also, the Professor merits
the honour of a formal introduction. Accident has made him the starting-point of the strange
family story which it is the purpose of these pages to unfold.
I had first become acquainted with my Italian friend by meeting him at certain great
houses where he taught his own language and I taught drawing. All I then knew of the history
of his life was, that he had once held a situation in the University of Padua; that he had left
Italy for political reasons (the nature of which he uniformly declined to mention to any one);
and that he had been for many years respectably established in London as a teacher of
Without being actually a dwarf — for he was perfectly well proportioned from head to foot
— Pesca was, I think, the smallest human being I ever saw out of a show-room. Remarkable
anywhere, by his personal appearance, he was still further distinguished among the rank and
file of mankind by the harmless eccentricity of his character. The ruling idea of his life
appeared to be, that he was bound to show his gratitude to the country which had afforded
him an asylum and a means of subsistence by doing his utmost to turn himself into an
Englishman. Not content with paying the nation in general the compliment of invariablycarrying an umbrella, and invariably wearing gaiters and a white hat, the Professor further
aspired to become an Englishman in his habits and amusements, as well as in his personal
appearance. Finding us distinguished, as a nation, by our love of athletic exercises, the little
man, in the innocence of his heart, devoted himself impromptu to all our English sports and
pastimes whenever he had the opportunity of joining them; firmly persuaded that he could
adopt our national amusements of the field by an effort of will precisely as he had adopted our
national gaiters and our national white hat.
I had seen him risk his limbs blindly at a fox-hunt and in a cricket-field; and soon
afterwards I saw him risk his life, just as blindly, in the sea at Brighton.
We had met there accidentally, and were bathing together. If we had been engaged in
any exercise peculiar to my own nation I should, of course, have looked after Pesca carefully;
but as foreigners are generally quite as well able to take care of themselves in the water as
Englishmen, it never occurred to me that the art of swimming might merely add one more to
the list of manly exercises which the Professor believed that he could learn impromptu. Soon
after we had both struck out from shore, I stopped, finding my friend did not gain on me, and
turned round to look for him. To my horror and amazement, I saw nothing between me and
the beach but two little white arms which struggled for an instant above the surface of the
water, and then disappeared from view. When I dived for him, the poor little man was lying
quietly coiled up at the bottom, in a hollow of shingle, looking by many degrees smaller than I
had ever seen him look before. During the few minutes that elapsed while I was taking him in,
the air revived him, and he ascended the steps of the machine with my assistance. With the
partial recovery of his animation came the return of his wonderful delusion on the subject of
swimming. As soon as his chattering teeth would let him speak, he smiled vacantly, and said
he thought it must have been the Cramp.
When he had thoroughly recovered himself, and had joined me on the beach, his warm
Southern nature broke through all artificial English restraints in a moment. He overwhelmed
me with the wildest expressions of affection — exclaimed passionately, in his exaggerated
Italian way, that he would hold his life henceforth at my disposal — and declared that he
should never be happy again until he had found an opportunity of proving his gratitude by
rendering me some service which I might remember, on my side, to the end of my days.
I did my best to stop the torrent of his tears and protestations by persisting in treating the
whole adventure as a good subject for a joke; and succeeded at last, as I imagined, in
lessening Pesca’s overwhelming sense of obligation to me. Little did I think then — little did I
think afterwards when our pleasant holiday had drawn to an end — that the opportunity of
serving me for which my grateful companion so ardently longed was soon to come; that he
was eagerly to seize it on the instant; and that by so doing he was to turn the whole current of
my existence into a new channel, and to alter me to myself almost past recognition.
Yet so it was. If I had not dived for Professor Pesca when he lay under water on his
shingle bed, I should in all human probability never have been connected with the story which
these pages will relate — I should never, perhaps, have heard even the name of the woman
who has lived in all my thoughts, who has possessed herself of all my energies, who has
become the one guiding influence that now directs the purpose of my life.

Pesca’s face and manner, on the evening when we confronted each other at my
mother’s gate, were more than sufficient to inform me that something extraordinary had
happened. It was quite useless, however, to ask him for an immediate explanation. I could
only conjecture, while he was dragging me in by both hands, that (knowing my habits) he had
come to the cottage to make sure of meeting me that night, and that he had some news to tell
of an unusually agreeable kind.
We both bounced into the parlour in a highly abrupt and undignified manner. My mother
sat by the open window laughing and fanning herself. Pesca was one of her especial
favourites and his wildest eccentricities were always pardonable in her eyes. Poor dear soul!
from the first moment when she found out that the little Professor was deeply and gratefully
attached to her son, she opened her heart to him unreservedly, and took all his puzzling
foreign peculiarities for granted, without so much as attempting to understand any one of
My sister Sarah, with all the advantages of youth, was, strangely enough, less pliable.
She did full justice to Pesca’s excellent qualities of heart; but she could not accept him
implicitly, as my mother accepted him, for my sake. Her insular notions of propriety rose in
perpetual revolt against Pesca’s constitutional contempt for appearances; and she was always
more or less undisguisedly astonished at her mother’s familiarity with the eccentric little
foreigner. I have observed, not only in my sister’s case, but in the instances of others, that we
of the young generation are nothing like so hearty and so impulsive as some of our elders. I
constantly see old people flushed and excited by the prospect of some anticipated pleasure
which altogether fails to ruffle the tranquillity of their serene grandchildren. Are we, I wonder,
quite such genuine boys and girls now as our seniors were in their time? Has the great
advance in education taken rather too long a stride; and are we in these modern days, just the
least trifle in the world too well brought up?
Without attempting to answer those questions decisively, I may at least record that I
never saw my mother and my sister together in Pesca’s society, without finding my mother
much the younger woman of the two. On this occasion, for example, while the old lady was
laughing heartily over the boyish manner in which we tumbled into the parlour, Sarah was
perturbedly picking up the broken pieces of a teacup, which the Professor had knocked off the
table in his precipitate advance to meet me at the door.
“I don’t know what would have happened, Walter,” said my mother, “if you had delayed
much longer. Pesca has been half mad with impatience, and I have been half mad with
curiosity. The Professor has brought some wonderful news with him, in which he says you are
concerned; and he has cruelly refused to give us the smallest hint of it till his friend Walter
“Very provoking: it spoils the Set,” murmured Sarah to herself, mournfully absorbed over
the ruins of the broken cup.
While these words were being spoken, Pesca, happily and fussily unconscious of the
irreparable wrong which the crockery had suffered at his hands, was dragging a large
armchair to the opposite end of the room, so as to command us all three, in the character of a
public speaker addressing an audience. Having turned the chair with its back towards us, he
jumped into it on his knees, and excitedly addressed his small congregation of three from an
impromptu pulpit.
“Now, my good dears,” began Pesca (who always said “good dears” when he meant
“worthy friends”), “listen to me. The time has come — I recite my good news — I speak at
last.”“Hear, hear!” said my mother, humouring the joke.
“The next thing he will break, mamma,” whispered Sarah, “will be the back of the best
“I go back into my life, and I address myself to the noblest of created beings,” continued
Pesca, vehemently apostrophising my unworthy self over the top rail of the chair. “Who found
me dead at the bottom of the sea (through Cramp); and who pulled me up to the top; and
what did I say when I got into my own life and my own clothes again?”
“Much more than was at all necessary,” I answered as doggedly as possible; for the least
encouragement in connection with this subject invariably let loose the Professor’s emotions in
a flood of tears.
“I said,” persisted Pesca, “that my life belonged to my dear friend, Walter, for the rest of
my days — and so it does. I said that I should never be happy again till I had found the
opportunity of doing a good Something for Walter — and I have never been contented with
myself till this most blessed day. Now,” cried the enthusiastic little man at the top of his voice,
“the overflowing happiness bursts out of me at every pore of my skin, like a perspiration; for
on my faith, and soul, and honour, the something is done at last, and the only word to say
now is — Right — all-right!”
It may be necessary to explain here that Pesca prided himself on being a perfect
Englishman in his language, as well as in his dress, manners, and amusements. Having
picked up a few of our most familiar colloquial expressions, he scattered them about over his
conversation whenever they happened to occur to him, turning them, in his high relish for their
sound and his general ignorance of their sense, into compound words and repetitions of his
own, and always running them into each other, as if they consisted of one long syllable.
“Among the fine London Houses where I teach the language of my native country,” said
the Professor, rushing into his long-deferred explanation without another word of preface,
“there is one, mighty fine, in the big place called Portland. You all know where that is? Yes,
yes — course-of-course. The fine house, my good dears, has got inside it a fine family. A
Mamma, fair and fat; three young Misses, fair and fat; two young Misters, fair and fat; and a
Papa, the fairest and the fattest of all, who is a mighty merchant, up to his eyes in gold — a
fine man once, but seeing that he has got a naked head and two chins, fine no longer at the
present time. Now mind! I teach the sublime Dante to the young Misses, and ah! —
my-soulbless-my-soul! — it is not in human language to say how the sublime Dante puzzles the pretty
heads of all three! No matter — all in good time — and the more lessons the better for me.
Now mind! Imagine to yourselves that I am teaching the young Misses to-day, as usual. We
are all four of us down together in the Hell of Dante. At the Seventh Circle — but no matter for
that: all the Circles are alike to the three young Misses, fair and fat — at the Seventh Circle,
nevertheless, my pupils are sticking fast; and I, to set them going again, recite, explain, and
blow myself up red-hot with useless enthusiasm, when — a creak of boots in the passage
outside, and in comes the golden Papa, the mighty merchant with the naked head and the two
chins. — Ha! my good dears, I am closer than you think for to the business, now. Have you
been patient so far? or have you said to yourselves, ‘Deuce-what-the-deuce! Pesca is
longwinded to-night?’”
We declared that we were deeply interested. The Professor went on:
“In his hand, the golden Papa has a letter; and after he has made his excuse for
disturbing us in our Infernal Region with the common mortal Business of the house, he
addresses himself to the three young Misses, and begins, as you English begin everything in
this blessed world that you have to say, with a great O. ‘O, my dears,’ says the mighty
merchant, ‘I have got here a letter from my friend, Mr. ——’(the name has slipped out of my
mind; but no matter; we shall come back to that; yes, yes — right-all-right). So the Papa says,
‘I have got a letter from my friend, the Mister; and he wants a recommend from me, of a
drawing-master, to go down to his house in the country.’ My-soul-bless-my-soul! when I heardthe golden Papa say those words, if I had been big enough to reach up to him, I should have
put my arms round his neck, and pressed him to my bosom in a long and grateful hug! As it
was, I only bounced upon my chair. My seat was on thorns, and my soul was on fire to speak
but I held my tongue, and let Papa go on. ‘Perhaps you know,’ says this good man of money,
twiddling his friend’s letter this way and that, in his golden fingers and thumbs, ‘perhaps you
know, my dears, of a drawing-master that I can recommend?’ The three young Misses all look
at each other, and then say (with the indispensable great O to begin) “O, dear no, Papa! But
here is Mr. Pesca’ At the mention of myself I can hold no longer — the thought of you, my
good dears, mounts like blood to my head — I start from my seat, as if a spike had grown up
from the ground through the bottom of my chair — I address myself to the mighty merchant,
and I say (English phrase) ‘Dear sir, I have the man! The first and foremost drawing-master of
the world! Recommend him by the post to-night, and send him off, bag and baggage (English
phrase again — ha!), send him off, bag and baggage, by the train to-morrow!’ ‘Stop, stop,’
says Papa; ‘is he a foreigner, or an Englishman?’ ‘English to the bone of his back,’ I answer.
‘Respectable?’ says Papa. ‘Sir,’ I say (for this last question of his outrages me, and I have
done being familiar with him —’Sir! the immortal fire of genius burns in this Englishman’s
bosom, and, what is more, his father had it before him!’ ‘Never mind,’ says the golden
barbarian of a Papa, ‘never mind about his genius, Mr. Pesca. We don’t want genius in this
country, unless it is accompanied by respectability — and then we are very glad to have it,
very glad indeed. Can your friend produce testimonials — letters that speak to his character?’
I wave my hand negligently. ‘Letters?’ I say. ‘Ha! my-soul-bless-my-soul! I should think so,
indeed! Volumes of letters and portfolios of testimonials, if you like!’ ‘One or two will do,’ says
this man of phlegm and money. ‘Let him send them to me, with his name and address. And —
stop, stop, Mr. Pesca — before you go to your friend, you had better take a note.’
‘Banknote!’ I say, indignantly. ‘No bank-note, if you please, till my brave Englishman has earned it
first.’ ‘Bank-note!’ says Papa, in a great surprise, ‘who talked of bank-note? I mean a note of
the terms — a memorandum of what he is expected to do. Go on with your lesson, Mr.
Pesca, and I will give you the necessary extract from my friend’s letter.’ Down sits the man of
merchandise and money to his pen, ink, and paper; and down I go once again into the Hell of
Dante, with my three young Misses after me. In ten minutes’ time the note is written, and the
boots of Papa are creaking themselves away in the passage outside. From that moment, on
my faith, and soul, and honour, I know nothing more! The glorious thought that I have caught
my opportunity at last, and that my grateful service for my dearest friend in the world is as
good as done already, flies up into my head and makes me drunk. How I pull my young
Misses and myself out of our Infernal Region again, how my other business is done
afterwards, how my little bit of dinner slides itself down my throat, I know no more than a man
in the moon. Enough for me, that here I am, with the mighty merchant’s note in my hand, as
large as life, as hot as fire, and as happy as a king! Ha! ha! ha! right-right-right-all-right!” Here
the Professor waved the memorandum of terms over his head, and ended his long and
voluble narrative with his shrill Italian parody on an English cheer.
My mother rose the moment he had done, with flushed cheeks and brightened eyes. She
caught the little man warmly by both hands.
“My dear, good Pesca,” she said, “I never doubted your true affection for Walter — but I
am more than ever persuaded of it now!”
“I am sure we are very much obliged to Professor Pesca, for Walter’s sake,” added
Sarah. She half rose, while she spoke, as if to approach the armchair, in her turn; but,
observing that Pesca was rapturously kissing my, mother’s hands, looked serious, and
resumed her seat. “If the familiar little man treats my mother in that way, how will he treat
ME?” Faces sometimes tell truth; and that was unquestionably the thought in Sarah’s mind, as
she sat down again.
Although I myself was gratefully sensible of the kindness of Pesca’s motives, my spiritswere hardly so much elevated as they ought to have been by the prospect of future
employment now placed before me. When the Professor had quite done with my mother’s
hand, and when I had warmly thanked him for his interference on my behalf, I asked to be
allowed to look at the note of terms which his respectable patron had drawn up for my
Pesca handed me the paper, with a triumphant flourish of the hand.
“Read!” said the little man majestically. “I promise you my friend, the writing of the golden
Papa speaks with a tongue of trumpets for itself.”
The note of terms was plain, straightforward, and comprehensive, at any rate. It
informed me,
First, That Frederick Fairlie, Esquire, of Limmeridge House. Cumberland, wanted to
engage the services of a thoroughly competent drawing-master, for a period of four months
Secondly, That the duties which the master was expected to perform would be of a
twofold kind. He was to superintend the instruction of two young ladies in the art of painting in
water-colours; and he was to devote his leisure time, afterwards, to the business of repairing
and mounting a valuable collection of drawings, which had been suffered to fall into a condition
of total neglect.
Thirdly, That the terms offered to the person who should undertake and properly perform
these duties were four guineas a week; that he was to reside at Limmeridge House; and that
he was to be treated there on the footing of a gentleman.
Fourthly, and lastly, That no person need think of applying for this situation unless he
could furnish the most unexceptionable references to character and abilities. The references
were to be sent to Mr. Fairlie’s friend in London, who was empowered to conclude all
necessary arrangements. These instructions were followed by the name and address of
Pesca’s employer in Portland Place — and there the note, or memorandum, ended.
The prospect which this offer of an engagement held out was certainly an attractive one.
The employment was likely to be both easy and agreeable; it was proposed to me at the
autumn time of the year when I was least occupied; and the terms, judging by my personal
experience in my profession, were surprisingly liberal. I knew this; I knew that I ought to
consider myself very fortunate if I succeeded in securing the offered employment — and yet,
no sooner had I read the memorandum than I felt an inexplicable unwillingness within me to
stir in the matter. I had never in the whole of my previous experience found my duty and my
inclination so painfully and so unaccountably at variance as I found them now.
“Oh, Walter, your father never had such a chance as this!” said my mother, when she
had read the note of terms and had handed it back to me.
“Such distinguished people to know,” remarked Sarah, straightening herself in the chair;
“and on such gratifying terms of equality too!”
“Yes, yes; the terms, in every sense, are tempting enough,” I replied impatiently. “But
before I send in my testimonials, I should like a little time to consider ——”
“Consider!” exclaimed my mother. “Why, Walter, what is the matter with you?”
“Consider!” echoed my sister. “What a very extraordinary thing to say, under the
“Consider!” chimed in the Professor. “What is there to consider about? Answer me this!
Have you not been complaining of your health, and have you not been longing for what you
call a smack of the country breeze? Well! there in your hand is the paper that offers you
perpetual choking mouthfuls of country breeze for four months’ time. Is it not so? Ha! Again
— you want money. Well! Is four golden guineas a week nothing? My-soul-bless-my-soul! only
give it to me — and my boots shall creak like the golden Papa’s, with a sense of the
overpowering richness of the man who walks in them! Four guineas a week, and, more than
that, the charming society of two young misses! and, more than that, your bed, yourbreakfast, your dinner, your gorging English teas and lunches and drinks of foaming beer, all
for nothing — why, Walter, my dear good friend — deuce-what-the-deuce! — for the first time
in my life I have not eyes enough in my head to look, and wonder at you!”
Neither my mother’s evident astonishment at my behaviour, nor Pesca’s fervid
enumeration of the advantages offered to me by the new employment, had any effect in
shaking my unreasonable disinclination to go to Limmeridge House. After starting all the petty
objections that I could think of to going to Cumberland, and after hearing them answered, one
after another, to my own complete discomfiture, I tried to set up a last obstacle by asking
what was to become of my pupils in London while I was teaching Mr. Fairlie’s young ladies to
sketch from nature. The obvious answer to this was, that the greater part of them would be
away on their autumn travels, and that the few who remained at home might be confided to
the care of one of my brother drawing-masters, whose pupils I had once taken off his hands
under similar circumstances. My sister reminded me that this gentleman had expressly placed
his services at my disposal, during the present season, in case I wished to leave town; my
mother seriously appealed to me not to let an idle caprice stand in the way of my own
interests and my own health; and Pesca piteously entreated that I would not wound him to the
heart by rejecting the first grateful offer of service that he had been able to make to the friend
who had saved his life.
The evident sincerity and affection which inspired these remonstrances would have
influenced any man with an atom of good feeling in his composition. Though I could not
conquer my own unaccountable perversity, I had at least virtue enough to be heartily
ashamed of it, and to end the discussion pleasantly by giving way, and promising to do all that
was wanted of me.
The rest of the evening passed merrily enough in humorous anticipations of my coming
life with the two young ladies in Cumberland. Pesca, inspired by our national grog, which
appeared to get into his head, in the most marvellous manner, five minutes after it had gone
down his throat, asserted his claims to be considered a complete Englishman by making a
series of speeches in rapid succession, proposing my mother’s health, my sister’s health, my
health, and the healths, in mass, of Mr. Fairlie and the two young Misses, pathetically
returning thanks himself, immediately afterwards, for the whole party. “A secret, Walter,” said
my little friend confidentially, as we walked home together. “I am flushed by the recollection of
my own eloquence. My soul bursts itself with ambition. One of these days I go into your noble
Parliament. It is the dream of my whole life to be Honourable Pesca, M.P.!”
The next morning I sent my testimonials to the Professor’s employer in Portland Place.
Three days passed, and I concluded, with secret satisfaction, that my papers had not been
found sufficiently explicit. On the fourth day, however, an answer came. It announced that Mr.
Fairlie accepted my services, and requested me to start for Cumberland immediately. All the
necessary instructions for my journey were carefully and clearly added in a postscript.
I made my arrangements, unwillingly enough, for leaving London early the next day.
Towards evening Pesca looked in, on his way to a dinner-party, to bid me good-bye.
“I shall dry my tears in your absence,” said the Professor gaily, “with this glorious
thought. It is my auspicious hand that has given the first push to your fortune in the world. Go,
my friend! When your sun shines in Cumberland (English proverb), in the name of heaven
make your hay. Marry one of the two young Misses; become Honourable Hartright, M.P.; and
when you are on the top of the ladder remember that Pesca, at the bottom, has done it all!”
I tried to laugh with my little friend over his parting jest, but my spirits were not to be
commanded. Something jarred in me almost painfully while he was speaking his light farewell
When I was left alone again nothing remained to be done but to walk to the Hampstead
cottage and bid my mother and Sarah good-bye.

The heat had been painfully oppressive all day, and it was now a close and sultry night.
My mother and sister had spoken so many last words, and had begged me to wait
another five minutes so many times, that it was nearly midnight when the servant locked the
garden-gate behind me. I walked forward a few paces on the shortest way back to London,
then stopped and hesitated.
The moon was full and broad in the dark blue starless sky, and the broken ground of the
heath looked wild enough in the mysterious light to be hundreds of miles away from the great
city that lay beneath it. The idea of descending any sooner than I could help into the heat and
gloom of London repelled me. The prospect of going to bed in my airless chambers, and the
prospect of gradual suffocation, seemed, in my present restless frame of mind and body, to
be one and the same thing. I determined to stroll home in the purer air by the most
roundabout way I could take; to follow the white winding paths across the lonely heath; and to
approach London through its most open suburb by striking into the Finchley Road, and so
getting back, in the cool of the new morning, by the western side of the Regent’s Park.
I wound my way down slowly over the heath, enjoying the divine stillness of the scene,
and admiring the soft alternations of light and shade as they followed each other over the
broken ground on every side of me. So long as I was proceeding through this first and
prettiest part of my night walk my mind remained passively open to the impressions produced
by the view; and I thought but little on any subject — indeed, so far as my own sensations
were concerned, I can hardly say that I thought at all.
But when I had left the heath and had turned into the by-road, where there was less to
see, the ideas naturally engendered by the approaching change in my habits and occupations
gradually drew more and more of my attention exclusively to themselves. By the time I had
arrived at the end of the road I had become completely absorbed in my own fanciful visions of
Limmeridge House, of Mr. Fairlie, and of the two ladies whose practice in the art of
watercolour painting I was so soon to superintend.
I had now arrived at that particular point of my walk where four roads met — the road to
Hampstead, along which I had returned, the road to Finchley, the road to West End, and the
road back to London. I had mechanically turned in this latter direction, and was strolling along
the lonely high-road — idly wondering, I remember, what the Cumberland young ladies would
look like — when, in one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop by
the touch of a hand laid lightly and suddenly on my shoulder from behind me.
I turned on the instant, with my fingers tightening round the handle of my stick.
There, in the middle of the broad bright high-road — there, as if it had that moment
sprung out of the earth or dropped from the heaven — stood the figure of a solitary Woman,
dressed from head to foot in white garments, her face bent in grave inquiry on mine, her hand
pointing to the dark cloud over London, as I faced her.
I was far too seriously startled by the suddenness with which this extraordinary apparition
stood before me, in the dead of night and in that lonely place, to ask what she wanted. The
strange woman spoke first.
“Is that the road to London?” she said.
I looked attentively at her, as she put that singular question to me. It was then nearly one
o’clock. All I could discern distinctly by the moonlight was a colourless, youthful face, meagre
and sharp to look at about the cheeks and chin; large, grave, wistfully attentive eyes; nervous,
uncertain lips; and light hair of a pale, brownish-yellow hue. There was nothing wild, nothing
immodest in her manner: it was quiet and self-controlled, a little melancholy and a little
touched by suspicion; not exactly the manner of a lady, and, at the same time, not themanner of a woman in the humblest rank of life. The voice, little as I had yet heard of it, had
something curiously still and mechanical in its tones, and the utterance was remarkably rapid.
She held a small bag in her hand: and her dress — bonnet, shawl, and gown all of white —
was, so far as I could guess, certainly not composed of very delicate or very expensive
materials. Her figure was slight, and rather above the average height — her gait and actions
free from the slightest approach to extravagance. This was all that I could observe of her in
the dim light and under the perplexingly strange circumstances of our meeting. What sort of a
woman she was, and how she came to be out alone in the high-road, an hour after midnight, I
altogether failed to guess. The one thing of which I felt certain was, that the grossest of
mankind could not have misconstrued her motive in speaking, even at that suspiciously late
hour and in that suspiciously lonely place.
“Did you hear me?” she said, still quietly and rapidly, and without the least fretfulness or
impatience. “I asked if that was the way to London.”
“Yes,” I replied, “that is the way: it leads to St. John’s Wood and the Regent’s Park. You
must excuse my not answering you before. I was rather startled by your sudden appearance
in the road; and I am, even now, quite unable to account for it.”
“You don’t suspect me of doing anything wrong, do you? have done nothing wrong. I
have met with an accident — I am very unfortunate in being here alone so late. Why do you
suspect me of doing wrong?”
She spoke with unnecessary earnestness and agitation, and shrank back from me
several paces. I did my best to reassure her.
“Pray don’t suppose that I have any idea of suspecting you,” I said, “or any other wish
than to be of assistance to you, if I can. I only wondered at your appearance in the road,
because it seemed to me to be empty the instant before I saw you.”
She turned, and pointed back to a place at the junction of the road to London and the
road to Hampstead, where there was a gap in the hedge.
“I heard you coming,” she said, “and hid there to see what sort of man you were, before I
risked speaking. I doubted and feared about it till you passed; and then I was obliged to steal
after you, and touch you.”
Steal after me and touch me? Why not call to me? Strange, to say the least of it.
“May I trust you?” she asked. “You don’t think the worse of me because I have met with
an accident?” She stopped in confusion; shifted her bag from one hand to the other; and
sighed bitterly.
The loneliness and helplessness of the woman touched me. The natural impulse to assist
her and to spare her got the better of the judgment, the caution, the worldly tact, which an
older, wiser, and colder man might have summoned to help him in this strange emergency.
“You may trust me for any harmless purpose,” I said. “If it troubles you to explain your
strange situation to me, don’t think of returning to the subject again. I have no right to ask you
for any explanations. Tell me how I can help you; and if I can, I will.”
“You are very kind, and I am very, very thankful to have met you.” The first touch of
womanly tenderness that I had heard from her trembled in her voice as she said the words;
but no tears glistened in those large, wistfully attentive eyes of hers, which were still fixed on
me. “I have only been in London once before,” she went on, more and more rapidly, “and I
know nothing about that side of it, yonder. Can I get a fly, or a carriage of any kind? Is it too
late? I don’t know. If you could show me where to get a fly — and if you will only promise not
to interfere with me, and to let me leave you, when and how I please — I have a friend in
London who will be glad to receive me — I want nothing else — will you promise?”
She looked anxiously up and down the road; shifted her bag again from one hand to the
other; repeated the words, “Will you promise?” and looked hard in my face, with a pleading
fear and confusion that it troubled me to see.
What could I do? Here was a stranger utterly and helplessly at my mercy — and thatstranger a forlorn woman. No house was near; no one was passing whom I could consult; and
no earthly right existed on my part to give me a power of control over her, even if I had known
how to exercise it. I trace these lines, self-distrustfully, with the shadows of after-events
darkening the very paper I write on; and still I say, what could I do?
What I did do, was to try and gain time by questioning her. “Are you sure that your friend
in London will receive you at such a late hour as this?” I said.
“Quite sure. Only say you will let me leave you when and how I please — only say you
won’t interfere with me. Will you promise?”
As she repeated the words for the third time, she came close to me and laid her hand,
with a sudden gentle stealthiness, on my bosom — a thin hand; a cold hand (when I removed
it with mine) even on that sultry night. Remember that I was young; remember that the hand
which touched me was a woman’s.
“Will you promise?”
One word! The little familiar word that is on everybody’s lips, every hour in the day. Oh
me! and I tremble, now, when I write it.
We set our faces towards London, and walked on together in the first still hour of the
new day — I, and this woman, whose name, whose character, whose story, whose objects in
life, whose very presence by my side, at that moment, were fathomless mysteries to me. It
was like a dream. Was I Walter Hartright? Was this the well-known, uneventful road, where
holiday people strolled on Sundays? Had I really left, little more than an hour since, the quiet,
decent, conventionally domestic atmosphere of my mother’s cottage? I was too bewildered —
too conscious also of a vague sense of something like self-reproach — to speak to my
strange companion for some minutes. It was her voice again that first broke the silence
between us.
“I want to ask you something,” she said suddenly. “Do you know many people in
“Yes, a great many.”
“Many men of rank and title?” There was an unmistakable tone of suspicion in the
strange question. I hesitated about answering it.
“Some,” I said, after a moment’s silence.
“Many”— she came to a full stop, and looked me searchingly in the face —”many men of
the rank of Baronet?”
Too much astonished to reply, I questioned her in my turn.
“Why do you ask?”
“Because I hope, for my own sake, there is one Baronet that you don’t know.”
“Will you tell me his name?”
“I can’t — I daren’t — I forget myself when I mention it.” She spoke loudly and almost
fiercely, raised her clenched hand in the air, and shook it passionately; then, on a sudden,
controlled herself again, and added, in tones lowered to a whisper “Tell me which of them
YOU know.”
I could hardly refuse to humour her in such a trifle, and I mentioned three names. Two,
the names of fathers of families whose daughters I taught; one, the name of a bachelor who
had once taken me a cruise in his yacht, to make sketches for him.
“Ah! you DON’T know him,” she said, with a sigh of relief. “Are you a man of rank and
title yourself?”
“Far from it. I am only a drawing-master.”
As the reply passed my lips — a little bitterly, perhaps — she took my arm with the
abruptness which characterised all her actions.
“Not a man of rank and title,” she repeated to herself. “Thank God! I may trust HIM.”
I had hitherto contrived to master my curiosity out of consideration for my companion;but it got the better of me now.
“I am afraid you have serious reason to complain of some man of rank and title?” I said.
“I am afraid the baronet, whose name you are unwilling to mention to me, has done you some
grievous wrong? Is he the cause of your being out here at this strange time of night?”
“Don’t ask me: don’t make me talk of it,” she answered. “I’m not fit now. I have been
cruelly used and cruelly wronged. You will be kinder than ever, if you will walk on fast, and not
speak to me. I sadly want to quiet myself, if I can.”
We moved forward again at a quick pace; and for half an hour, at least, not a word
passed on either side. From time to time, being forbidden to make any more inquiries, I stole
a look at her face. It was always the same; the lips close shut, the brow frowning, the eyes
looking straight forward, eagerly and yet absently. We had reached the first houses, and were
close on the new Wesleyan college, before her set features relaxed and she spoke once
“Do you live in London?” she said.
“Yes.” As I answered, it struck me that she might have formed some intention of
appealing to me for assistance or advice, and that I ought to spare her a possible
disappointment by warning her of my approaching absence from home. So I added, “But
tomorrow I shall be away from London for some time. I am going into the country.”
“Where?” she asked. “North or south?”
“North — to Cumberland.”
“Cumberland!” she repeated the word tenderly. “Ah! wish I was going there too. I was
once happy in Cumberland.”
I tried again to lift the veil that hung between this woman and me.
“Perhaps you were born,” I said, “in the beautiful Lake country.”
“No,” she answered. “I was born in Hampshire; but I once went to school for a little while
in Cumberland. Lakes? I don’t remember any lakes. It’s Limmeridge village, and Limmeridge
House, I should like to see again.”
It was my turn now to stop suddenly. In the excited state of my curiosity, at that moment,
the chance reference to Mr. Fairlie’s place of residence, on the lips of my strange companion,
staggered me with astonishment.
“Did you hear anybody calling after us?” she asked, looking up and down the road
affrightedly, the instant I stopped.
“No, no. I was only struck by the name of Limmeridge House. I heard it mentioned by
some Cumberland people a few days since.”
“Ah! not my people. Mrs. Fairlie is dead; and her husband is dead; and their little girl may
be married and gone away by this time. I can’t say who lives at Limmeridge now. If any more
are left there of that name, I only know I love them for Mrs. Fairlie’s sake.”
She seemed about to say more; but while she was speaking, we came within view of the
turnpike, at the top of the Avenue Road. Her hand tightened round my arm, and she looked
anxiously at the gate before us.
“Is the turnpike man looking out?” she asked.
He was not looking out; no one else was near the place when we passed through the
gate. The sight of the gas-lamps and houses seemed to agitate her, and to make her
“This is London,” she said. “Do you see any carriage I can get? I am tired and frightened.
I want to shut myself in and be driven away.”
I explained to her that we must walk a little further to get to a cab-stand, unless we were
fortunate enough to meet with an empty vehicle; and then tried to resume the subject of
Cumberland. It was useless. That idea of shutting herself in, and being driven away, had now
got full possession of her mind. She could think and talk of nothing else.
We had hardly proceeded a third of the way down the Avenue Road when I saw a cabdraw up at a house a few doors below us, on the opposite side of the way. A gentleman got
out and let himself in at the garden door. I hailed the cab, as the driver mounted the box
again. When we crossed the road, my companion’s impatience increased to such an extent
that she almost forced me to run.
“It’s so late,” she said. “I am only in a hurry because it’s so late.”
“I can’t take you, sir, if you’re not going towards Tottenham Court Road,” said the driver
civilly, when I opened the cab door. “My horse is dead beat, and I can’t get him no further
than the stable.”
“Yes, yes. That will do for me. I’m going that way — I’m going that way.” She spoke with
breathless eagerness, and pressed by me into the cab.
I had assured myself that the man was sober as well as civil before I let her enter the
vehicle. And now, when she was seated inside, I entreated her to let me see her set down
safely at her destination.
“No, no, no,” she said vehemently. “I’m quite safe, and quite happy now. If you are a
gentleman, remember your promise. Let him drive on till I stop him. Thank you — oh! thank
you, thank you!”
My hand was on the cab door. She caught it in hers, kissed it, and pushed it away. The
cab drove off at the same moment — I started into the road, with some vague idea of
stopping it again, I hardly knew why — hesitated from dread of frightening and distressing her
— called, at last, but not loudly enough to attract the driver’s attention. The sound of the
wheels grew fainter in the distance — the cab melted into the black shadows on the road —
the woman in white was gone.
Ten minutes or more had passed. I was still on the same side of the way; now
mechanically walking forward a few paces; now stopping again absently. At one moment I
found myself doubting the reality of my own adventure; at another I was perplexed and
distressed by an uneasy sense of having done wrong, which yet left me confusedly ignorant of
how I could have done right. I hardly knew where I was going, or what I meant to do next; I
was conscious of nothing but the confusion of my own thoughts, when I was abruptly recalled
to myself — awakened, I might almost say — by the sound of rapidly approaching wheels
close behind me.
I was on the dark side of the road, in the thick shadow of some garden trees, when I
stopped to look round. On the opposite and lighter side of the way, a short distance below me,
a policeman was strolling along in the direction of the Regent’s Park.
The carriage passed me — an open chaise driven by two men.
“Stop!” cried one. “There’s a policeman. Let’s ask him.”
The horse was instantly pulled up, a few yards beyond the dark place where I stood.
“Policeman!” cried the first speaker. “Have you seen a woman pass this way?”
“What sort of woman, sir?”
“A woman in a lavender-coloured gown ——”
“No, no,” interposed the second man. “The clothes we gave her were found on her bed.
She must have gone away in the clothes she wore when she came to us. In white, policeman.
A woman in white.”
“I haven’t seen her, sir.”
“If you or any of your men meet with the woman, stop her, and send her in careful
keeping to that address. I’ll pay all expenses, and a fair reward into the bargain.”
The policeman looked at the card that was handed down to him.
“Why are we to stop her, sir? What has she done?”
“Done! She has escaped from my Asylum. Don’t forget; a woman in white. Drive on.”

“She has escaped from my Asylum!”
I cannot say with truth that the terrible inference which those words suggested flashed
upon me like a new revelation. Some of the strange questions put to me by the woman in
white, after my ill-considered promise to leave her free to act as she pleased, had suggested
the conclusion either that she was naturally flighty and unsettled, or that some recent shock of
terror had disturbed the balance of her faculties. But the idea of absolute insanity which we all
associate with the very name of an Asylum, had, I can honestly declare, never occurred to
me, in connection with her. I had seen nothing, in her language or her actions, to justify it at
the time; and even with the new light thrown on her by the words which the stranger had
addressed to the policeman, I could see nothing to justify it now.
What had I done? Assisted the victim of the most horrible of all false imprisonments to
escape; or cast loose on the wide world of London an unfortunate creature, whose actions it
was my duty, and every man’s duty, mercifully to control? I turned sick at heart when the
question occurred to me, and when I felt self-reproachfully that it was asked too late.
In the disturbed state of my mind, it was useless to think of going to bed, when I at last
got back to my chambers in Clement’s Inn. Before many hours elapsed it would be necessary
to start on my journey to Cumberland. I sat down and tried, first to sketch, then to read — but
the woman in white got between me and my pencil, between me and my book. Had the forlorn
creature come to any harm? That was my first thought, though I shrank selfishly from
confronting it. Other thoughts followed, on which it was less harrowing to dwell. Where had
she stopped the cab? What had become of her now? Had she been traced and captured by
the men in the chaise? Or was she still capable of controlling her own actions; and were we
two following our widely parted roads towards one point in the mysterious future, at which we
were to meet once more?
It was a relief when the hour came to lock my door, to bid farewell to London pursuits,
London pupils, and London friends, and to be in movement again towards new interests and a
new life. Even the bustle and confusion at the railway terminus, so wearisome and bewildering
at other times, roused me and did me good.
My travelling instructions directed me to go to Carlisle, and then to diverge by a branch
railway which ran in the direction of the coast. As a misfortune to begin with, our engine broke
down between Lancaster and Carlisle. The delay occasioned by this accident caused me to be
too late for the branch train, by which I was to have gone on immediately. I had to wait some
hours; and when a later train finally deposited me at the nearest station to Limmeridge House,
it was past ten, and the night was so dark that I could hardly see my way to the pony-chaise
which Mr. Fairlie had ordered to be in waiting for me.
The driver was evidently discomposed by the lateness of my arrival. He was in that state
of highly respectful sulkiness which is peculiar to English servants. We drove away slowly
through the darkness in perfect silence. The roads were bad, and the dense obscurity of the
night increased the difficulty of getting over the ground quickly. It was, by my watch, nearly an
hour and a half from the time of our leaving the station before I heard the sound of the sea in
the distance, and the crunch of our wheels on a smooth gravel drive. We had passed one
gate before entering the drive, and we passed another before we drew up at the house. I was
received by a solemn man-servant out of livery, was informed that the family had retired for
the night, and was then led into a large and lofty room where my supper was awaiting me, in a
forlorn manner, at one extremity of a lonesome mahogany wilderness of dining-table.
I was too tired and out of spirits to eat or drink much, especially with the solemn servant
waiting on me as elaborately as if a small dinner party had arrived at the house instead of asolitary man. In a quarter of an hour I was ready to be taken up to my bedchamber. The
solemn servant conducted me into a prettily furnished room — said, “Breakfast at nine
o’clock, sir”— looked all round him to see that everything was in its proper place, and
noiselessly withdrew.
“What shall I see in my dreams to-night?” I thought to myself, as I put out the candle;
“the woman in white? or the unknown inhabitants of this Cumberland mansion?” It was a
strange sensation to be sleeping in the house, like a friend of the family, and yet not to know
one of the inmates, even by sight!

When I rose the next morning and drew up my blind, the sea opened before me joyously
under the broad August sunlight, and the distant coast of Scotland fringed the horizon with its
lines of melting blue.
The view was such a surprise, and such a change to me, after my weary London
experience of brick and mortar landscape, that I seemed to burst into a new life and a new set
of thoughts the moment I looked at it. A confused sensation of having suddenly lost my
familiarity with the past, without acquiring any additional clearness of idea in reference to the
present or the future, took possession of my mind. Circumstances that were but a few days
old faded back in my memory, as if they had happened months and months since. Pesca’s
quaint announcement of the means by which he had procured me my present employment;
the farewell evening I had passed with my mother and sister; even my mysterious adventure
on the way home from Hampstead — had all become like events which might have occurred
at some former epoch of my existence. Although the woman in white was still in my mind, the
image of her seemed to have grown dull and faint already.
A little before nine o’clock, I descended to the ground-floor of the house. The solemn
man-servant of the night before met me wandering among the passages, and
compassionately showed me the way to the breakfast-room.
My first glance round me, as the man opened the door, disclosed a well-furnished
breakfast-table, standing in the middle of a long room, with many windows in it. I looked from
the table to the window farthest from me, and saw a lady standing at it, with her back turned
towards me. The instant my eyes rested on her, I was struck by the rare beauty of her form,
and by the unaffected grace of her attitude. Her figure was tall, yet not too tall; comely and
well-developed, yet not fat; her head set on her shoulders with an easy, pliant firmness; her
waist, perfection in the eyes of a man, for it occupied its natural place, it filled out its natural
circle, it was visibly and delightfully undeformed by stays. She had not heard my entrance into
the room; and I allowed myself the luxury of admiring her for a few moments, before I moved
one of the chairs near me, as the least embarrassing means of attracting her attention. She
turned towards me immediately. The easy elegance of every movement of her limbs and body
as soon as she began to advance from the far end of the room, set me in a flutter of
expectation to see her face clearly. She left the window — and I said to myself, The lady is
dark. She moved forward a few steps — and I said to myself, The lady is young. She
approached nearer — and I said to myself (with a sense of surprise which words fail me to
express), The lady is ugly!
Never was the old conventional maxim, that Nature cannot err, more flatly contradicted
— never was the fair promise of a lovely figure more strangely and startlingly belied by the
face and head that crowned it. The lady’s complexion was almost swarthy, and the dark down
on her upper lip was almost a moustache. She had a large, firm, masculine mouth and jaw;
prominent, piercing, resolute brown eyes; and thick, coal-black hair, growing unusually low
down on her forehead. Her expression — bright, frank, and intelligent — appeared, while she
was silent, to be altogether wanting in those feminine attractions of gentleness and pliability,
without which the beauty of the handsomest woman alive is beauty incomplete. To see such a
face as this set on shoulders that a sculptor would have longed to model — to be charmed by
the modest graces of action through which the symmetrical limbs betrayed their beauty when
they moved, and then to be almost repelled by the masculine form and masculine look of the
features in which the perfectly shaped figure ended — was to feel a sensation oddly akin to
the helpless discomfort familiar to us all in sleep, when we recognise yet cannot reconcile the
anomalies and contradictions of a dream.“Mr. Hartright?” said the lady interrogatively, her dark face lighting up with a smile, and
softening and growing womanly the moment she began to speak. “We resigned all hope of
you last night, and went to bed as usual. Accept my apologies for our apparent want of
attention; and allow me to introduce myself as one of your pupils. Shall we shake hands? I
suppose we must come to it sooner or later — and why not sooner?”
These odd words of welcome were spoken in a clear, ringing, pleasant voice. The offered
hand — rather large, but beautifully formed — was given to me with the easy, unaffected
selfreliance of a highly-bred woman. We sat down together at the breakfast-table in as cordial
and customary a manner as if we had known each other for years, and had met at
Limmeridge House to talk over old times by previous appointment.
“I hope you come here good-humouredly determined to make the best of your position,”
continued the lady. “You will have to begin this morning by putting up with no other company
at breakfast than mine. My sister is in her own room, nursing that essentially feminine malady,
a slight headache; and her old governness, Mrs. Vesey, is charitably attending on her with
restorative tea. My uncle, Mr. Fairlie, never joins us at any of our meals: he is an invalid, and
keeps bachelor state in his own apartments. There is nobody else in the house but me. Two
young ladies have been staying here, but they went away yesterday, in despair; and no
wonder. All through their visit (in consequence of Mr. Fairlie’s invalid condition) we produced
no such convenience in the house as a flirtable, danceable, small-talkable creature of the
male sex; and the consequence was, we did nothing but quarrel, especially at dinner-time.
How can you expect four women to dine together alone every day, and not quarrel? We are
such fools, we can’t entertain each other at table. You see I don’t think much of my own sex,
Mr. Hartright — which will you have, tea or coffee? — no woman does think much of her own
sex, although few of them confess it as freely as I do. Dear me, you look puzzled. Why? Are
you wondering what you will have for breakfast? or are you surprised at my careless way of
talking? In the first case, I advise you, as a friend, to have nothing to do with that cold ham at
your elbow, and to wait till the omelette comes in. In the second case, I will give you some tea
to compose your spirits, and do all a woman can (which is very little, by-the-bye) to hold my
She handed me my cup of tea, laughing gaily. Her light flow of talk, and her lively
familiarity of manner with a total stranger, were accompanied by an unaffected naturalness
and an easy inborn confidence in herself and her position, which would have secured her the
respect of the most audacious man breathing. While it was impossible to be formal and
reserved in her company, it was more than impossible to take the faintest vestige of a liberty
with her, even in thought. I felt this instinctively, even while I caught the infection of her own
bright gaiety of spirits — even while I did my best to answer her in her own frank, lively way.
“Yes, yes,” she said, when I had suggested the only explanation I could offer, to account
for my perplexed looks, “I understand. You are such a perfect stranger in the house, that you
are puzzled by my familiar references to the worthy inhabitants. Natural enough: I ought to
have thought of it before. At any rate, I can set it right now. Suppose I begin with myself, so
as to get done with that part of the subject as soon as possible? My name is Marian
Halcombe; and I am as inaccurate as women usually are, in calling Mr. Fairlie my uncle, and
Miss Fairlie my sister. My mother was twice married: the first time to Mr. Halcombe, my
father; the second time to Mr. Fairlie, my half-sister’s father. Except that we are both orphans,
we are in every respect as unlike each other as possible. My father was a poor man, and Miss
Fairlie’s father was a rich man. I have got nothing, and she has a fortune. I am dark and ugly,
and she is fair and pretty. Everybody thinks me crabbed and odd (with perfect justice); and
everybody thinks her sweet-tempered and charming (with more justice still). In short, she is an
angel; and I am —— Try some of that marmalade, Mr. Hartright, and finish the sentence, in
the name of female propriety, for yourself. What am I to tell you about Mr. Fairlie? Upon my
honour, I hardly know. He is sure to send for you after breakfast, and you can study him foryourself. In the meantime, I may inform you, first, that he is the late Mr. Fairlie’s younger
brother; secondly, that he is a single man; and thirdly, that he is Miss Fairlie’s guardian. I
won’t live without her, and she can’t live without me; and that is how I come to be at
Limmeridge House. My sister and I are honestly fond of each other; which, you will say, is
perfectly unaccountable, under the circumstances, and I quite agree with you — but so it is.
You must please both of us, Mr. Hartright, or please neither of us: and, what is still more
trying, you will be thrown entirely upon our society. Mrs. Vesey is an excellent person, who
possesses all the cardinal virtues, and counts for nothing; and Mr. Fairlie is too great an
invalid to be a companion for anybody. I don’t know what is the matter with him, and the
doctors don’t know what is the matter with him, and he doesn’t know himself what is the
matter with him. We all say it’s on the nerves, and we none of us know what we mean when
we say it. However, I advise you to humour his little peculiarities, when you see him to-day.
Admire his collection of coins, prints, and water-colour drawings, and you will win his heart.
Upon my word, if you can be contented with a quiet country life, I don’t see why you should
not get on very well here. From breakfast to lunch, Mr. Fairlie’s drawings will occupy you. After
lunch, Miss Fairlie and I shoulder our sketch-books, and go out to misrepresent Nature, under
your directions. Drawing is her favourite whim, mind, not mine. Women can’t draw — their
minds are too flighty, and their eyes are too inattentive. No matter — my sister likes it; so I
waste paint and spoil paper, for her sake, as composedly as any woman in England. As for
the evenings, I think we can help you through them. Miss Fairlie plays delightfully. For my own
poor part, I don’t know one note of music from the other; but I can match you at chess,
backgammon, ecarte, and (with the inevitable female drawbacks) even at billiards as well.
What do you think of the programme? Can you reconcile yourself to our quiet, regular life? or
do you mean to be restless, and secretly thirst for change and adventure, in the humdrum
atmosphere of Limmeridge House?”
She had run on thus far, in her gracefully bantering way, with no other interruptions on
my part than the unimportant replies which politeness required of me. The turn of the
expression, however, in her last question, or rather the one chance word, “adventure,” lightly
as it fell from her lips, recalled my thoughts to my meeting with the woman in white, and urged
me to discover the connection which the stranger’s own reference to Mrs. Fairlie informed me
must once have existed between the nameless fugitive from the Asylum, and the former
mistress of Limmeridge House.
“Even if I were the most restless of mankind,” I said, “I should be in no danger of thirsting
after adventures for some time to come. The very night before I arrived at this house, I met
with an adventure; and the wonder and excitement of it, I can assure you, Miss Halcombe, will
last me for the whole term of my stay in Cumberland, if not for a much longer period.”
“You don’t say so, Mr. Hartright! May I hear it?”
“You have a claim to hear it. The chief person in the adventure was a total stranger to
me, and may perhaps be a total stranger to you; but she certainly mentioned the name of the
late Mrs. Fairlie in terms of the sincerest gratitude and regard.”
“Mentioned my mother’s name! You interest me indescribably. Pray go on.”
I at once related the circumstances under which I had met the woman in white, exactly
as they had occurred; and I repeated what she had said to me about Mrs. Fairlie and
Limmeridge House, word for word.
Miss Halcombe’s bright resolute eyes looked eagerly into mine, from the beginning of the
narrative to the end. Her face expressed vivid interest and astonishment, but nothing more.
She was evidently as far from knowing of any clue to the mystery as I was myself.
“Are you quite sure of those words referring to my mother?” she asked.
“Quite sure,” I replied. “Whoever she may be, the woman was once at school in the
village of Limmeridge, was treated with especial kindness by Mrs. Fairlie, and, in grateful
remembrance of that kindness, feels an affectionate interest in all surviving members of thefamily. She knew that Mrs. Fairlie and her husband were both dead; and she spoke of Miss
Fairlie as if they had known each other when they were children.”
“You said, I think, that she denied belonging to this place?”
“Yes, she told me she came from Hampshire.”
“And you entirely failed to find out her name?”
“Very strange. I think you were quite justified, Mr. Hartright, in giving the poor creature
her liberty, for she seems to have done nothing in your presence to show herself unfit to enjoy
it. But I wish you had been a little more resolute about finding out her name. We must really
clear up this mystery, in some way. You had better not speak of it yet to Mr. Fairlie, or to my
sister. They are both of them, I am certain, quite as ignorant of who the woman is, and of
what her past history in connection with us can be, as I am myself. But they are also, in widely
different ways, rather nervous and sensitive; and you would only fidget one and alarm the
other to no purpose. As for myself, I am all aflame with curiosity, and I devote my whole
energies to the business of discovery from this moment. When my mother came here, after
her second marriage, she certainly established the village school just as it exists at the
present time. But the old teachers are all dead, or gone elsewhere; and no enlightenment is to
be hoped for from that quarter. The only other alternative I can think of ——”
At this point we were interrupted by the entrance of the servant, with a message from
Mr. Fairlie, intimating that he would be glad to see me, as soon as I had done breakfast.
“Wait in the hall,” said Miss Halcombe, answering the servant for me, in her quick, ready
way. “Mr. Hartright will come out directly. I was about to say,” she went on, addressing me
again, “that my sister and I have a large collection of my mother’s letters, addressed to my
father and to hers. In the absence of any other means of getting information, I will pass the
morning in looking over my mother’s correspondence with Mr. Fairlie. He was fond of London,
and was constantly away from his country home; and she was accustomed, at such times, to
write and report to him how things went on at Limmeridge. Her letters are full of references to
the school in which she took so strong an interest; and I think it more than likely that I may
have discovered something when we meet again. The luncheon hour is two, Mr. Hartright. I
shall have the pleasure of introducing you to my sister by that time, and we will occupy the
afternoon in driving round the neighbourhood and showing you all our pet points of view. Till
two o’clock, then, farewell.”
She nodded to me with the lively grace, the delightful refinement of familiarity, which
characterised all that she did and all that she said; and disappeared by a door at the lower
end of the room. As soon as she had left me, I turned my steps towards the hall, and followed
the servant, on my way, for the first time, to the presence of Mr. Fairlie.

My conductor led me upstairs into a passage which took us back to the bedchamber in
which I had slept during the past night; and opening the door next to it, begged me to look in.
“I have my master’s orders to show you your own sitting-room, sir,” said the man, “and
to inquire if you approve of the situation and the light.”
I must have been hard to please, indeed, if I had not approved of the room, and of
everything about it. The bow-window looked out on the same lovely view which I had admired,
in the morning, from my bedroom. The furniture was the perfection of luxury and beauty; the
table in the centre was bright with gaily bound books, elegant conveniences for writing, and
beautiful flowers; the second table, near the window, was covered with all the necessary
materials for mounting water-colour drawings, and had a little easel attached to it, which I
could expand or fold up at will; the walls were hung with gaily tinted chintz; and the floor was
spread with Indian matting in maize-colour and red. It was the prettiest and most luxurious
little sitting-room I had ever seen; and I admired it with the warmest enthusiasm.
The solemn servant was far too highly trained to betray the slightest satisfaction. He
bowed with icy deference when my terms of eulogy were all exhausted, and silently opened
the door for me to go out into the passage again.
We turned a corner, and entered a long second passage, ascended a short flight of
stairs at the end, crossed a small circular upper hall, and stopped in front of a door covered
with dark baize. The servant opened this door, and led me on a few yards to a second;
opened that also, and disclosed two curtains of pale sea-green silk hanging before us; raised
one of them noiselessly; softly uttered the words, “Mr. Hartright,” and left me.
I found myself in a large, lofty room, with a magnificent carved ceiling, and with a carpet
over the floor, so thick and soft that it felt like piles of velvet under my feet. One side of the
room was occupied by a long bookcase of some rare inlaid wood that was quite new to me. It
was not more than six feet high, and the top was adorned with statuettes in marble, ranged at
regular distances one from the other. On the opposite side stood two antique cabinets; and
between them, and above them, hung a picture of the Virgin and Child, protected by glass,
and bearing Raphael’s name on the gilt tablet at the bottom of the frame. On my right hand
and on my left, as I stood inside the door, were chiffoniers and little stands in buhl and
marquetterie, loaded with figures in Dresden china, with rare vases, ivory ornaments, and toys
and curiosities that sparkled at all points with gold, silver, and precious stones. At the lower
end of the room, opposite to me, the windows were concealed and the sunlight was tempered
by large blinds of the same pale sea-green colour as the curtains over the door. The light thus
produced was deliciously soft, mysterious, and subdued; it fell equally upon all the objects in
the room; it helped to intensify the deep silence, and the air of profound seclusion that
possessed the place; and it surrounded, with an appropriate halo of repose, the solitary figure
of the master of the house, leaning back, listlessly composed, in a large easy-chair, with a
reading-easel fastened on one of its arms, and a little table on the other.
If a man’s personal appearance, when he is out of his dressing-room, and when he has
passed forty, can be accepted as a safe guide to his time of life — which is more than
doubtful — Mr. Fairlie’s age, when I saw him, might have been reasonably computed at over
fifty and under sixty years. His beardless face was thin, worn, and transparently pale, but not
wrinkled; his nose was high and hooked; his eyes were of a dim greyish blue, large,
prominent, and rather red round the rims of the eyelids; his hair was scanty, soft to look at,
and of that light sandy colour which is the last to disclose its own changes towards grey. He
was dressed in a dark frock-coat, of some substance much thinner than cloth, and in
waistcoat and trousers of spotless white. His feet were effeminately small, and were clad inbuff-coloured silk stockings, and little womanish bronze-leather slippers. Two rings adorned
his white delicate hands, the value of which even my inexperienced observation detected to be
all but priceless. Upon the whole, he had a frail, languidly-fretful, over-refined look —
something singularly and unpleasantly delicate in its association with a man, and, at the same
time, something which could by no possibility have looked natural and appropriate if it had
been transferred to the personal appearance of a woman. My morning’s experience of Miss
Halcombe had predisposed me to be pleased with everybody in the house; but my sympathies
shut themselves up resolutely at the first sight of Mr. Fairlie.
On approaching nearer to him, I discovered that he was not so entirely without
occupation as I had at first supposed. Placed amid the other rare and beautiful objects on a
large round table near him, was a dwarf cabinet in ebony and silver, containing coins of all
shapes and sizes, set out in little drawers lined with dark purple velvet. One of these drawers
lay on the small table attached to his chair; and near it were some tiny jeweller’s brushes, a
wash-leather “stump,” and a little bottle of liquid, all waiting to be used in various ways for the
removal of any accidental impurities which might be discovered on the coins. His frail white
fingers were listlessly toying with something which looked, to my uninstructed eyes, like a dirty
pewter medal with ragged edges, when I advanced within a respectful distance of his chair,
and stopped to make my bow.
“So glad to possess you at Limmeridge, Mr. Hartright,” he said in a querulous, croaking
voice, which combined, in anything but an agreeable manner, a discordantly high tone with a
drowsily languid utterance. “Pray sit down. And don’t trouble yourself to move the chair,
please. In the wretched state of my nerves, movement of any kind is exquisitely painful to me.
Have you seen your studio? Will it do?”
“I have just come from seeing the room, Mr. Fairlie; and I assure you ——”
He stopped me in the middle of the sentence, by closing his eyes, and holding up one of
his white hands imploringly. I paused in astonishment; and the croaking voice honoured me
with this explanation —
“Pray excuse me. But could you contrive to speak in a lower key? In the wretched state
of my nerves, loud sound of any kind is indescribable torture to me. You will pardon an
invalid? I only say to you what the lamentable state of my health obliges me to say to
everybody. Yes. And you really like the room?”
“I could wish for nothing prettier and nothing more comfortable,” I answered, dropping
my voice, and beginning to discover already that Mr. Fairlie’s selfish affectation and Mr.
Fairlie’s wretched nerves meant one and the same thing.
“So glad. You will find your position here, Mr. Hartright, properly recognised. There is
none of the horrid English barbarity of feeling about the social position of an artist in this
house. So much of my early life has been passed abroad, that I have quite cast my insular
skin in that respect. I wish I could say the same of the gentry — detestable word, but I
suppose I must use it — of the gentry in the neighbourhood. They are sad Goths in Art, Mr.
Hartright. People, I do assure you, who would have opened their eyes in astonishment, if they
had seen Charles the Fifth pick up Titian’s brush for him. Do you mind putting this tray of
coins back in the cabinet, and giving me the next one to it? In the wretched state of my
nerves, exertion of any kind is unspeakably disagreeable to me. Yes. Thank you.”
As a practical commentary on the liberal social theory which he had just favoured me by
illustrating, Mr. Fairlie’s cool request rather amused me. I put back one drawer and gave him
the other, with all possible politeness. He began trifling with the new set of coins and the little
brushes immediately; languidly looking at them and admiring them all the time he was
speaking to me.
“A thousand thanks and a thousand excuses. Do you like coins? Yes. So glad we have
another taste in common besides our taste for Art. Now, about the pecuniary arrangements
between us — do tell me — are they satisfactory?”“Most satisfactory, Mr. Fairlie.”
“So glad. And — what next? Ah! I remember. Yes. In reference to the consideration
which you are good enough to accept for giving me the benefit of your accomplishments in
art, my steward will wait on you at the end of the first week, to ascertain your wishes. And —
what next? Curious, is it not? I had a great deal more to say: and I appear to have quite
forgotten it. Do you mind touching the bell? In that corner. Yes. Thank you.”
I rang; and a new servant noiselessly made his appearance — a foreigner, with a set
smile and perfectly brushed hair — a valet every inch of him.
“Louis,” said Mr. Fairlie, dreamily dusting the tips of his fingers with one of the tiny
brushes for the coins, “I made some entries in my tablettes this morning. Find my tablettes. A
thousand pardons, Mr. Hartright, I’m afraid I bore you.”
As he wearily closed his eyes again, before I could answer, and as he did most assuredly
bore me, I sat silent, and looked up at the Madonna and Child by Raphael. In the meantime,
the valet left the room, and returned shortly with a little ivory book. Mr. Fairlie, after first
relieving himself by a gentle sigh, let the book drop open with one hand, and held up the tiny
brush with the other, as a sign to the servant to wait for further orders.
“Yes. Just so!” said Mr. Fairlie, consulting the tablettes. “Louis, take down that portfolio.”
He pointed, as he spoke, to several portfolios placed near the window, on mahogany stands.
“No. Not the one with the green back — that contains my Rembrandt etchings, Mr. Hartright.
Do you like etchings? Yes? So glad we have another taste in common. The portfolio with the
red back, Louis. Don’t drop it! You have no idea of the tortures I should suffer, Mr. Hartright, if
Louis dropped that portfolio. Is it safe on the chair? Do YOU think it safe, Mr. Hartright? Yes?
So glad. Will you oblige me by looking at the drawings, if you really think they are quite safe.
Louis, go away. What an ass you are. Don’t you see me holding the tablettes? Do you
suppose I want to hold them? Then why not relieve me of the tablettes without being told? A
thousand pardons, Mr. Hartright; servants are such asses, are they not? Do tell me — what
do you think of the drawings? They have come from a sale in a shocking state — I thought
they smelt of horrid dealers’ and brokers’ fingers when I looked at them last. CAN you
undertake them?”
Although my nerves were not delicate enough to detect the odour of plebeian fingers
which had offended Mr. Fairlie’s nostrils, my taste was sufficiently educated to enable me to
appreciate the value of the drawings, while I turned them over. They were, for the most part,
really fine specimens of English water-colour art; and they had deserved much better
treatment at the hands of their former possessor than they appeared to have received.
“The drawings,” I answered, “require careful straining and mounting; and, in my opinion,
they are well worth ——”
“I beg your pardon,” interposed Mr. Fairlie. “Do you mind my closing my eyes while you
speak? Even this light is too much for them. Yes?”
“I was about to say that the drawings are well worth all the time and trouble ——”
Mr. Fairlie suddenly opened his eyes again, and rolled them with an expression of
helpless alarm in the direction of the window.
“I entreat you to excuse me, Mr. Hartright,” he said in a feeble flutter. “But surely I hear
some horrid children in the garden — my private garden — below?”
“I can’t say, Mr. Fairlie. I heard nothing myself.”
“Oblige me — you have been so very good in humouring my poor nerves — oblige me
by lifting up a corner of the blind. Don’t let the sun in on me, Mr. Hartright! Have you got the
blind up? Yes? Then will you be so very kind as to look into the garden and make quite sure?”
I complied with this new request. The garden was carefully walled in, all round. Not a
human creature, large or small, appeared in any part of the sacred seclusion. I reported that
gratifying fact to Mr. Fairlie.
“A thousand thanks. My fancy, I suppose. There are no children, thank Heaven, in thehouse; but the servants (persons born without nerves) will encourage the children from the
village. Such brats — oh, dear me, such brats! Shall I confess it, Mr. Hartright? — I sadly
want a reform in the construction of children. Nature’s only idea seems to be to make them
machines for the production of incessant noise. Surely our delightful Raffaello’s conception is
infinitely preferable?”
He pointed to the picture of the Madonna, the upper part of which represented the
conventional cherubs of Italian Art, celestially provided with sitting accommodation for their
chins, on balloons of buff-coloured cloud.
“Quite a model family!” said Mr. Fairlie, leering at the cherubs. “Such nice round faces,
and such nice soft wings, and — nothing else. No dirty little legs to run about on, and no noisy
little lungs to scream with. How immeasurably superior to the existing construction! I will close
my eyes again, if you will allow me. And you really can manage the drawings? So glad. Is
there anything else to settle? if there is, I think I have forgotten it. Shall we ring for Louis
Being, by this time, quite as anxious, on my side, as Mr. Fairlie evidently was on his, to
bring the interview to a speedy conclusion, I thought I would try to render the summoning of
the servant unnecessary, by offering the requisite suggestion on my own responsibility.
“The only point, Mr. Fairlie, that remains to be discussed,” I said, “refers, I think, to the
instruction in sketching which I am engaged to communicate to the two young ladies.”
“Ah! just so,” said Mr. Fairlie. “I wish I felt strong enough to go into that part of the
arrangement — but I don’t. The ladies who profit by your kind services, Mr. Hartright, must
settle, and decide, and so on, for themselves. My niece is fond of your charming art. She
knows just enough about it to be conscious of her own sad defects. Please take pains with
her. Yes. Is there anything else? No. We quite understand each other — don’t we? I have no
right to detain you any longer from your delightful pursuit — have I? So pleasant to have
settled everything — such a sensible relief to have done business. Do you mind ringing for
Louis to carry the portfolio to your own room?”
“I will carry it there myself, Mr. Fairlie, if you will allow me.”
“Will you really? Are you strong enough? How nice to be so strong! Are you sure you
won’t drop it? So glad to possess you at Limmeridge, Mr. Hartright. I am such a sufferer that I
hardly dare hope to enjoy much of your society. Would you mind taking great pains not to let
the doors bang, and not to drop the portfolio? Thank you. Gently with the curtains, please —
the slightest noise from them goes through me like a knife. Yes. GOOD morning!”
When the sea-green curtains were closed, and when the two baize doors were shut
behind me, I stopped for a moment in the little circular hall beyond, and drew a long, luxurious
breath of relief. It was like coming to the surface of the water after deep diving, to find myself
once more on the outside of Mr. Fairlie’s room.
As soon as I was comfortably established for the morning in my pretty little studio, the
first resolution at which I arrived was to turn my steps no more in the direction of the
apartments occupied by the master of the house, except in the very improbable event of his
honouring me with a special invitation to pay him another visit. Having settled this satisfactory
plan of future conduct in reference to Mr. Fairlie, I soon recovered the serenity of temper of
which my employer’s haughty familiarity and impudent politeness had, for the moment,
deprived me. The remaining hours of the morning passed away pleasantly enough, in looking
over the drawings, arranging them in sets, trimming their ragged edges, and accomplishing
the other necessary preparations in anticipation of the business of mounting them. I ought,
perhaps, to have made more progress than this; but, as the luncheon-time drew near, I grew
restless and unsettled, and felt unable to fix my attention on work, even though that work was
only of the humble manual kind.
At two o’clock I descended again to the breakfast-room, a little anxiously. Expectations of
some interest were connected with my approaching reappearance in that part of the house.My introduction to Miss Fairlie was now close at hand; and, if Miss Halcombe’s search through
her mother’s letters had produced the result which she anticipated, the time had come for
clearing up the mystery of the woman in white.

When I entered the room, I found Miss Halcombe and an elderly lady seated at the
The elderly lady, when I was presented to her, proved to be Miss Fairlie’s former
governess, Mrs. Vesey, who had been briefly described to me by my lively companion at the
breakfast-table, as possessed of “all the cardinal virtues, and counting for nothing.” I can do
little more than offer my humble testimony to the truthfulness of Miss Halcombe’s sketch of
the old lady’s character. Mrs. Vesey looked the personification of human composure and
female amiability. A calm enjoyment of a calm existence beamed in drowsy smiles on her
plump, placid face. Some of us rush through life, and some of us saunter through life. Mrs.
Vesey SAT through life. Sat in the house, early and late; sat in the garden; sat in unexpected
window-seats in passages; sat (on a camp-stool) when her friends tried to take her out
walking; sat before she looked at anything, before she talked of anything, before she
answered Yes, or No, to the commonest question — always with the same serene smile on
her lips, the same vacantly-attentive turn of the head, the same snugly-comfortable position of
her hands and arms, under every possible change of domestic circumstances. A mild, a
compliant, an unutterably tranquil and harmless old lady, who never by any chance suggested
the idea that she had been actually alive since the hour of her birth. Nature has so much to do
in this world, and is engaged in generating such a vast variety of co-existent productions, that
she must surely be now and then too flurried and confused to distinguish between the
different processes that she is carrying on at the same time. Starting from this point of view, it
will always remain my private persuasion that Nature was absorbed in making cabbages when
Mrs. Vesey was born, and that the good lady suffered the consequences of a vegetable
preoccupation in the mind of the Mother of us all.
“Now, Mrs. Vesey,” said Miss Halcombe, looking brighter, sharper, and readier than
ever, by contrast with the undemonstrative old lady at her side, “what will you have? A cutlet?”
Mrs. Vesey crossed her dimpled hands on the edge of the table, smiled placidly, and
said, “Yes, dear.”
“What is that opposite Mr. Hartright? Boiled chicken, is it not? I thought you liked boiled
chicken better than cutlet, Mrs. Vesey?”
Mrs. Vesey took her dimpled hands off the edge of the table and crossed them on her
lap instead; nodded contemplatively at the boiled chicken, and said, “Yes, dear.”
“Well, but which will you have, to-day? Shall Mr. Hartright give you some chicken? or
shall I give you some cutlet?”
Mrs. Vesey put one of her dimpled hands back again on the edge of the table; hesitated
drowsily, and said, “Which you please, dear.”
“Mercy on me! it’s a question for your taste, my good lady, not for mine. Suppose you
have a little of both? and suppose you begin with the chicken, because Mr. Hartright looks
devoured by anxiety to carve for you.”
Mrs. Vesey put the other dimpled hand back on the edge of the table; brightened dimly
one moment; went out again the next; bowed obediently, and said, “If you please, sir.”
Surely a mild, a compliant, an unutterably tranquil and harmless old lady! But enough,
perhaps, for the present, of Mrs. Vesey.
All this time, there were no signs of Miss Fairlie. We finished our luncheon; and still she
never appeared. Miss Halcombe, whose quick eye nothing escaped, noticed the looks that I
cast, from time to time, in the direction of the door.
“I understand you, Mr. Hartright,” she said; “you are wondering what has become of your
other pupil. She has been downstairs, and has got over her headache; but has not sufficientlyrecovered her appetite to join us at lunch. If you will put yourself under my charge, I think I
can undertake to find her somewhere in the garden.”
She took up a parasol lying on a chair near her, and led the way out, by a long window at
the bottom of the room, which opened on to the lawn. It is almost unnecessary to say that we
left Mrs. Vesey still seated at the table, with her dimpled hands still crossed on the edge of it;
apparently settled in that position for the rest of the afternoon.
As we crossed the lawn, Miss Halcombe looked at me significantly, and shook her head.
“That mysterious adventure of yours,” she said, “still remains involved in its own
appropriate midnight darkness. I have been all the morning looking over my mother’s letters,
and I have made no discoveries yet. However, don’t despair, Mr. Hartright. This is a matter of
curiosity; and you have got a woman for your ally. Under such conditions success is certain,
sooner or later. The letters are not exhausted. I have three packets still left, and you may
confidently rely on my spending the whole evening over them.”
Here, then, was one of my anticipations of the morning still unfulfilled. I began to wonder,
next, whether my introduction to Miss Fairlie would disappoint the expectations that I had
been forming of her since breakfast-time.
“And how did you get on with Mr. Fairlie?” inquired Miss Halcombe, as we left the lawn
and turned into a shrubbery. “Was he particularly nervous this morning? Never mind
considering about your answer, Mr. Hartright. The mere fact of your being obliged to consider
is enough for me. I see in your face that he WAS particularly nervous; and, as I am amiably
unwilling to throw you into the same condition, I ask no more.”
We turned off into a winding path while she was speaking, and approached a pretty
summer-house, built of wood, in the form of a miniature Swiss chalet. The one room of the
summer-house, as we ascended the steps of the door, was occupied by a young lady. She
was standing near a rustic table, looking out at the inland view of moor and hill presented by a
gap in the trees, and absently turning over the leaves of a little sketch-book that lay at her
side. This was Miss Fairlie.
How can I describe her? How can I separate her from my own sensations, and from all
that has happened in the later time? How can I see her again as she looked when my eyes
first rested on her — as she should look, now, to the eyes that are about to see her in these
The water-colour drawing that I made of Laura Fairlie, at an after period, in the place and
attitude in which I first saw her, lies on my desk while I write. I look at it, and there dawns
upon me brightly, from the dark greenish-brown background of the summer-house, a light,
youthful figure, clothed in a simple muslin dress, the pattern of it formed by broad alternate
stripes of delicate blue and white. A scarf of the same material sits crisply and closely round
her shoulders, and a little straw hat of the natural colour, plainly and sparingly trimmed with
ribbon to match the gown, covers her head, and throws its soft pearly shadow over the upper
part of her face. Her hair is of so faint and pale a brown — not flaxen, and yet almost as light;
not golden, and yet almost as glossy — that it nearly melts, here and there, into the shadow
of the hat. It is plainly parted and drawn back over her ears, and the line of it ripples naturally
as it crosses her forehead. The eyebrows are rather darker than the hair; and the eyes are of
that soft, limpid, turquoise blue, so often sung by the poets, so seldom seen in real life. Lovely
eyes in colour, lovely eyes in form — large and tender and quietly thoughtful — but beautiful
above all things in the clear truthfulness of look that dwells in their inmost depths, and shines
through all their changes of expression with the light of a purer and a better world. The charm
— most gently and yet most distinctly expressed — which they shed over the whole face, so
covers and transforms its little natural human blemishes elsewhere, that it is difficult to
estimate the relative merits and defects of the other features. It is hard to see that the lower
part of the face is too delicately refined away towards the chin to be in full and fair proportion
with the upper part; that the nose, in escaping the aquiline bend (always hard and cruel in awoman, no matter how abstractedly perfect it may be), has erred a little in the other extreme,
and has missed the ideal straightness of line; and that the sweet, sensitive lips are subject to
a slight nervous contraction, when she smiles, which draws them upward a little at one corner,
towards the cheek. It might be possible to note these blemishes in another woman’s face but
it is not easy to dwell on them in hers, so subtly are they connected with all that is individual
and characteristic in her expression, and so closely does the expression depend for its full
play and life, in every other feature, on the moving impulse of the eyes.
Does my poor portrait of her, my fond, patient labour of long and happy days, show me
these things? Ah, how few of them are in the dim mechanical drawing, and how many in the
mind with which I regard it! A fair, delicate girl, in a pretty light dress, trifling with the leaves of
a sketch-book, while she looks up from it with truthful, innocent blue eyes — that is all the
drawing can say; all, perhaps, that even the deeper reach of thought and pen can say in their
language, either. The woman who first gives life, light, and form to our shadowy conceptions
of beauty, fills a void in our spiritual nature that has remained unknown to us till she appeared.
Sympathies that lie too deep for words, too deep almost for thoughts, are touched, at such
times, by other charms than those which the senses feel and which the resources of
expression can realise. The mystery which underlies the beauty of women is never raised
above the reach of all expression until it has claimed kindred with the deeper mystery in our
own souls. Then, and then only, has it passed beyond the narrow region on which light falls, in
this world, from the pencil and the pen.
Think of her as you thought of the first woman who quickened the pulses within you that
the rest of her sex had no art to stir. Let the kind, candid blue eyes meet yours, as they met
mine, with the one matchless look which we both remember so well. Let her voice speak the
music that you once loved best, attuned as sweetly to your ear as to mine. Let her footstep,
as she comes and goes, in these pages, be like that other footstep to whose airy fall your own
heart once beat time. Take her as the visionary nursling of your own fancy; and she will grow
upon you, all the more clearly, as the living woman who dwells in mine.
Among the sensations that crowded on me, when my eyes first looked upon her —
familiar sensations which we all know, which spring to life in most of our hearts, die again in so
many, and renew their bright existence in so few — there was one that troubled and
perplexed me: one that seemed strangely inconsistent and unaccountably out of place in Miss
Fairlie’s presence.
Mingling with the vivid impression produced by the charm of her fair face and head, her
sweet expression, and her winning simplicity of manner, was another impression, which, in a
shadowy way, suggested to me the idea of something wanting. At one time it seemed like
something wanting in HER: at another, like something wanting in myself, which hindered me
from understanding her as I ought. The impression was always strongest in the most
contradictory manner, when she looked at me; or, in other words, when I was most conscious
of the harmony and charm of her face, and yet, at the same time, most troubled by the sense
of an incompleteness which it was impossible to discover. Something wanting, something
wanting — and where it was, and what it was, I could not say.
The effect of this curious caprice of fancy (as I thought it then) was not of a nature to set
me at my ease, during a first interview with Miss Fairlie. The few kind words of welcome which
she spoke found me hardly self-possessed enough to thank her in the customary phrases of
reply. Observing my hesitation, and no doubt attributing it, naturally enough, to some
momentary shyness on my part, Miss Halcombe took the business of talking, as easily and
readily as usual, into her own hands.
“Look there, Mr. Hartright,” she said, pointing to the sketch-book on the table, and to the
little delicate wandering hand that was still trifling with it. “Surely you will acknowledge that
your model pupil is found at last? The moment she hears that you are in the house, she
seizes her inestimable sketch-book looks universal Nature straight in the face, and longs tobegin!”
Miss Fairlie laughed with a ready good-humour, which broke out as brightly as if it had
been part of the sunshine above us, over her lovely face.
“I must not take credit to myself where no credit is due,” she said, her clear, truthful blue
eyes looking alternately at Miss Halcombe and at me. “Fond as I am of drawing, I am so
conscious of my own ignorance that I am more afraid than anxious to begin. Now I know you
are here, Mr. Hartright, I find myself looking over my sketches, as I used to look over my
lessons when I was a little girl, and when I was sadly afraid that I should turn out not fit to be
She made the confession very prettily and simply, and, with quaint, childish earnestness,
drew the sketch-book away close to her own side of the table. Miss Halcombe cut the knot of
the little embarrassment forthwith, in her resolute, downright way.
“Good, bad, or indifferent,” she said, “the pupil’s sketches must pass through the fiery
ordeal of the master’s judgment — and there’s an end of it. Suppose we take them with us in
the carriage, Laura, and let Mr. Hartright see them, for the first time, under circumstances of
perpetual jolting and interruption? If we can only confuse him all through the drive, between
Nature as it is, when he looks up at the view, and Nature as it is not when he looks down
again at our sketch-books, we shall drive him into the last desperate refuge of paying us
compliments, and shall slip through his professional fingers with our pet feathers of vanity all
“I hope Mr. Hartright will pay ME no compliments,” said Miss Fairlie, as we all left the
“May I venture to inquire why you express that hope?” I asked.
“Because I shall believe all that you say to me,” she answered simply.
In those few words she unconsciously gave me the key to her whole character: to that
generous trust in others which, in her nature, grew innocently out of the sense of her own
truth. I only knew it intuitively then. I know it by experience now.
We merely waited to rouse good Mrs. Vesey from the place which she still occupied at
the deserted luncheon-table, before we entered the open carriage for our promised drive. The
old lady and Miss Halcombe occupied the back seat, and Miss Fairlie and I sat together in
front, with the sketch-book open between us, fairly exhibited at last to my professional eyes.
All serious criticism on the drawings, even if I had been disposed to volunteer it, was rendered
impossible by Miss Halcombe’s lively resolution to see nothing but the ridiculous side of the
Fine Arts, as practised by herself, her sister, and ladies in general. I can remember the
conversation that passed far more easily than the sketches that I mechanically looked over.
That part of the talk, especially, in which Miss Fairlie took any share, is still as vividly
impressed on my memory as if I had heard it only a few hours ago.
Yes! let me acknowledge that on this first day I let the charm of her presence lure me
from the recollection of myself and my position. The most trifling of the questions that she put
to me, on the subject of using her pencil and mixing her colours; the slightest alterations of
expression in the lovely eyes that looked into mine with such an earnest desire to learn all that
I could teach, and to discover all that I could show, attracted more of my attention than the
finest view we passed through, or the grandest changes of light and shade, as they flowed
into each other over the waving moorland and the level beach. At any time, and under any
circumstances of human interest, is it not strange to see how little real hold the objects of the
natural world amid which we live can gain on our hearts and minds? We go to Nature for
comfort in trouble, and sympathy in joy, only in books. Admiration of those beauties of the
inanimate world, which modern poetry so largely and so eloquently describes, is not, even in
the best of us, one of the original instincts of our nature. As children, we none of us possess
it. No uninstructed man or woman possesses it. Those whose lives are most exclusively
passed amid the ever-changing wonders of sea and land are also those who are most