Far be it from me to assert that what everybody says must be true. Everybody is, often, as likely to be wrong as right
. In the general experience
, everybody has been wrong so often, and it has taken, in most instances, such a weary
while to find out how wrong, that the authority
is proved to be fallible
. Everybody may sometimes be right
; "but that's no rule," as the ghost of Giles Scroggins says in the ballad
word, Ghost, recalls me.
Everybody said he looked like a haunted man. The extent
of my present claim
for everybody is, that they were so far right
. He did.
Who could have seen his hollow
cheek; his sunken brilliant
eye; his black-attired figure
, indefinably grim
, although well-knit and well-proportioned; his grizzled
hair hanging, like tangled
sea-weed, about his face,-as if he had been, through
his whole life, a lonely
mark for the chafing and beating of the great deep of humanity
have said he looked like a haunted man?
Who could have heard his voice, slow-speaking, deep, and grave
, with a natural
fulness and melody
in it which he seemed to set himself against and stop, but might
have said it was the voice of a haunted man?
Who that had seen him in his inner chamber
, part library and part laboratory
,-for he was, as the world knew, far and wide, a learned
man in chemistry
, and a teacher on whose lips and hands a crowd
ears and eyes hung daily,-who that had seen him there, upon a winter night, alone, surrounded by his drugs and instruments and books; the shadow
of his shaded lamp a monstrous
beetle on the wall, motionless
among a crowd
shapes raised there by the flickering of the fire upon the quaint
objects around him; some of these phantoms (the reflection
of glass vessels that held liquids), trembling at heart
like things that knew his power
to uncombine them, and to give back their component
parts to fire and vapour;-who that had seen him then, his work done, and he pondering in his chair before the rusted grate
and red flame
, moving his thin
mouth as if in speech
, but silent as the dead, would not have said that the man seemed haunted and the chamber
not, by a very easy flight of fancy
, have believed that everything about him took this haunted tone
, and that he lived on haunted ground?
was so solitary
and vault-like,-an old, retired part of an ancient endowment
for students, once a brave edifice
, planted in an open place, but now the obsolete whim
of forgotten architects; smoke-age-and-weather
-darkened, squeezed on every side by the overgrowing of the great city, and choked, like an old well, with stones and bricks; its small quadrangles, lying down in very pits formed by the streets and buildings, which, in course of time, had been constructed above its heavy chimney
stalks; its old trees, insulted by the neighbouring smoke, which deigned to droop
so low when it was very feeble
and the weather
very moody; its grass-plots, struggling with the mildewed earth
to be grass, or to win any show of compromise
; its silent pavements, unaccustomed
to the tread
of feet, and even to the observation
of eyes, except when a stray
face looked down from the upper world, wondering what nook
it was; its sun-dial in a little bricked-up corner
, where no sun had straggled for a hundred years, but where, in compensation
for the sun's neglect
, the snow would lie for weeks when it lay nowhere else, and the black east wind would spin like a huge humming-top, when in all other places it was silent and still.
, at its heart
and core-within doors-at his fireside-was so lowering and old, so crazy, yet so strong, with its worn-eaten beams of wood in the ceiling, and its sturdy
floor shelving downward to the great oak chimney
-piece; so environed and hemmed in by the pressure
of the town yet so remote
, age, and custom
; so quiet, yet so thundering with echoes when a distant
voice was raised or a door was shut,-echoes, not confined
to the many low passages and empty
rooms, but rumbling and grumbling till
they were stifled in the heavy air of the forgotten Crypt where the Norman arches were half-buried in the earth
You should have seen him in his dwelling
, in the dead winter time.
When the wind was blowing, shrill
, with the going down of the blurred sun. When it was just so dark, as that the forms of things were indistinct
and big-but not wholly lost
. When sitters by the fire began to see wild faces and figures, mountains and abysses, ambuscades and armies, in the coals. When people in the streets bent
down their heads and ran before the weather
. When those who were obliged to meet it, were stopped at angry
corners, stung by wandering snow-flakes alighting on the lashes of their eyes,-which fell too sparingly, and were blown away too quickly, to leave a trace
upon the frozen ground. When windows of private
houses closed up tight and warm. When lighted gas began to burst
forth in the busy and the quiet streets, fast blackening otherwise. When stray
pedestrians, shivering along the latter
, looked down at the glowing fires in kitchens, and sharpened their sharp
appetites by sniffing up the fragrance
of whole miles of dinners.
When travellers by land were bitter
cold, and looked wearily on gloomy
landscapes, rustling and shuddering in the blast
. When mariners at sea, outlying upon icy yards, were tossed and swung above the howling ocean dreadfully. When lighthouses, on rocks and headlands, showed solitary
; and benighted
sea-birds breasted on against their ponderous
lanterns, and fell dead. When little readers of story-books, by the firelight, trembled to think of Cassim Baba cut into quarters, hanging in the Robbers' Cave, or had some small misgivings that the fierce
little old woman, with the crutch
, who used to start out of the box in the merchant
Abudah's bedroom, might
, one of these nights, be found upon the stairs, in the long, cold, dusky journey
up to bed.
When, in rustic
places, the last glimmering of daylight died away from the ends of avenues; and the trees, arching overhead, were sullen
and black. When, in parks and woods, the high wet fern
moss, and beds of fallen
leaves, and trunks of trees, were lost
to view, in masses of impenetrable
shade. When mists arose from dyke, and fen
, and river. When lights in old halls and in cottage
windows, were a cheerful sight
. When the mill
stopped, the wheelwright and the blacksmith shut their workshops, the turnpike-gate closed, the plough and harrow were left lonely
in the fields, the labourer and team went home, and the striking
of the church clock had a deeper sound
than at noon, and the churchyard wicket would be swung no more that night.
everywhere released the shadows, prisoned up all day, that now closed in and gathered like mustering swarms of ghosts. When they stood lowering, in corners of rooms, and frowned out from behind half-opened doors. When they had full possession
of unoccupied apartments. When they danced upon the floors, and walls, and ceilings of inhabited chambers, while the fire was low, and withdrew like ebbing waters when it sprang into a blaze
. When they fantastically mocked the shapes of household
objects, making the nurse an ogress, the rocking-horse a monster
, the wondering child, half-scared and half-amused, a stranger
to itself,-the very tongs upon the hearth
, a straddling giant with his arms a-kimbo, evidently smelling the blood of Englishmen, and wanting to grind
people's bones to make his bread.
When these shadows brought into the minds of older people, other thoughts, and showed them different
images. When they stole
from their retreats, in the likenesses of forms and faces from the past, from the grave
, from the deep, deep gulf
, where the things that might
have been, and never were, are always wandering.
When he sat, as already mentioned, gazing at the fire. When, as it rose and fell, the shadows went and came. When he took no heed
of them, with his bodily eyes; but, let them come or let them go, looked fixedly at the fire. You should have seen him, then.When the sounds that had arisen with the shadows, and come out of their lurking-places at the twilight summons
, seemed to make a deeper stillness all about him. When the wind was rumbling in the chimney
, and sometimes crooning, sometimes howling, in the house. When the old trees outside were so shaken and beaten, that one querulous
, unable to sleep, protested now and then, in a feeble
, dozy, high-up "Caw!" When, at intervals, the window trembled, the rusty vane
upon the turret-top complained, the clock beneath it recorded that another quarter
of an hour was gone, or the fire collapsed and fell in with a rattle. When a knock came at his door, in short, as he was sitting so, and roused him.
"Who's that?" said he. "Come in!"
Surely there had been no figure
leaning on the back of his chair; no face looking over it. It is certain
that no gliding footstep touched the floor, as he lifted up his head, with a start, and spoke
. And yet there was no mirror in the room on whose surface
his own form could have cast its shadow
for a moment
; and, Something had passed darkly and gone!
"I'm humbly fearful, sir," said a fresh
-coloured busy man, holding the door open with his foot for the admission
of himself and a wooden tray he carried, and letting it go again by very gentle
degrees, when he and the tray had got in, lest it should close noisily, "that it's a good bit past the time to-night. But Mrs. William has been taken off her legs so often"-
"By the wind? Ay! I have heard it rising."
"-By the wind, sir-that it's a mercy
she got home at all. Oh dear, yes. Yes. It was by the wind, Mr. Redlaw. By the wind."
He had, by this time, put down the tray for dinner, and was employed in lighting the lamp, and spreading a cloth on the table
. From this employment
he desisted in a hurry, to stir
and feed the fire, and then resumed it; the lamp he had lighted, and the blaze
that rose under his hand, so quickly changing the appearance
of the room, that it seemed as if the mere
coming in of his fresh
red face and active
manner had made the pleasant alteration
"Mrs. William is of course subject
at any time, sir, to be taken off her balance
by the elements. She is not formed superior
"No," returned Mr. Redlaw good-naturedly, though abruptly
"No, sir. Mrs. William may be taken off her balance
by Earth; as for example
, last Sunday week, when sloppy and greasy, and she going out to tea with her newest sister-in-law, and having a pride
in herself, and wishing to appear perfectly spotless though pedestrian
. Mrs. William may be taken off her balance
by Air; as being once over-persuaded by a friend to try a swing at Peckham Fair, which acted on her constitution
instantly like a steam-boat. Mrs. William may be taken off her balance
by Fire; as on a false alarm
of engines at her mother's, when she went two miles in her nightcap. Mrs. William may be taken off her balance
by Water; as at Battersea, when rowed into the piers by her young nephew, Charley Swidger junior, aged twelve, which had no idea of boats whatever. But these are elements. Mrs. William must be taken out of elements for the strength
of her character
to come into play."
As he stopped for a reply, the reply was "Yes," in the same tone
"Yes, sir. Oh dear, yes!" said Mr. Swidger, still proceeding with his preparations, and checking them off as he made them. "That's where it is, sir. That's what I always say myself, sir. Such a many of us Swidgers!-Pepper. Why there's my father, sir, superannuated
keeper and custodian
of this Institution, eighty-seven year old. He's a Swidger!-Spoon."
"True, William," was the patient
and abstracted answer, when he stopped again.
"Yes, sir," said Mr. Swidger. "That's what I always say, sir. You may call him the trunk
of the tree!-Bread. Then you come to his successor
, my unworthy self-Salt-and Mrs. William, Swidgers both.-Knife and fork. Then you come to all my brothers and their families, Swidgers, man and woman, boy and girl. Why, what with cousins, uncles, aunts, and relationships of this, that, and t'other degree
, and whatnot degree
, and marriages, and lyings-in, the Swidgers-Tumbler-might
take hold of hands, and make a ring round England!"
Receiving no reply at all here, from the thoughtful
man whom he addressed, Mr. William approached, him nearer, and made a feint
knocking the table
with a decanter
, to rouse
him. The moment
he succeeded, he went on, as if in great alacrity
"Yes, sir! That's just what I say myself, sir. Mrs. William and me have often said so. 'There's Swidgers enough,' we say, 'without our voluntary
contributions,'-Butter. In fact
, sir, my father is a family in himself-Castors-to take care of; and it happens all for the best that we have no child of our own, though it's made Mrs. William rather quiet-like, too. Quite ready for the fowl
and mashed potatoes, sir? Mrs. William said she'd dish in ten minutes when I left the Lodge."
"I am quite ready," said the other, waking as from a dream
, and walking slowly to and fro.
"Mrs. William has been at it again, sir!" said the keeper, as he stood warming a plate
at the fire, and pleasantly shading his face with it. Mr. Redlaw stopped in his walking, and an expression
appeared in him.
"What I always say myself, sir. She will do it! There's a motherly feeling in Mrs. William's breast that must and will have went."
"What has she done?"
"Why, sir, not satisfied
with being a sort of mother to all the young gentlemen that come up from a variety
of parts, to attend
your courses of lectures at this ancient
foundation-its surprising how stone-chaney catches the heat
this frosty weather
, to be sure!" Here he turned the plate
, and cooled his fingers.
"Well?" said Mr. Redlaw.
"That's just what I say myself, sir," returned Mr. William, speaking over his shoulder, as if in ready and delighted assent
. "That's exactly where it is, sir! There ain't one of our students but appears to regard Mrs. William in that light. Every day, right through
the course, they puts their heads into the Lodge, one after another, and have all got something to tell her, or something to ask her. 'Swidge' is the appellation
by which they speak of Mrs. William in general
, among themselves, I'm told; but that's what I say, sir. Better be called ever so far out of your name, if it's done in real liking, than have it made ever so much of, and not cared about! What's a name for? To know a person by. If Mrs. William is known by something better than her name-I allude
to Mrs. William's qualities and disposition-never mind
her name, though it is Swidger, by rights. Let 'em call her Swidge, Widge, Bridge-Lord! London Bridge, Blackfriars, Chelsea, Putney, Waterloo, or Hammersmith Suspension-if they like."
The close of this triumphant oration
brought him and the plate
to the table
, upon which he half laid and half dropped it, with a lively
sense of its being thoroughly
heated, just as the subject
of his praises entered the room, bearing
another tray and a lantern
, and followed by a venerable
old man with long grey hair.
Mrs. William, like Mr. William, was a simple
-looking person, in whose smooth
cheeks the cheerful red of her husband
's official waistcoat
was very pleasantly repeated
. But whereas Mr. William's light hair stood on end all over his head, and seemed to draw his eyes up with it in an excess
of bustling readiness
for anything, the dark brown hair of Mrs. William was carefully smoothed down, and waved away under a trim tidy
cap, in the most exact
and quiet manner imaginable
. Whereas Mr. William's very trousers hitched themselves up at the ankles, as if it were not in their iron-grey nature
to rest without looking about them, Mrs. William's neatly-flowered skirts-red and white, like her own pretty face-were as composed
, as if the very wind that blew so hard out of doors could not disturb
one of their folds. Whereas his coat had something of a fly-away and half-off appearance
about the collar and breast, her little bodice
was so placid
and neat, that there should have been protection
for her, in it, had she needed any, with the roughest people. Who could have had the heart
to make so calm a bosom swell
, or throb
with fear, or flutter
with a thought
! To whom would its repose
and peace have not appealed against disturbance
, like the innocent slumber
of a child!
"Punctual, of course, Milly," said her husband
, relieving her of the tray, "or it wouldn't be you. Here's Mrs. William, sir!-He looks lonelier than ever to-night," whispering to his wife, as he was taking the tray, "and ghostlier altogether."
Without any show of hurry or noise, or any show of herself even, she was so calm and quiet, Milly set the dishes she had brought upon the table
,-Mr. William, after much clattering and running about, having only gained possession
of a butter-boat of gravy, which he stood ready to serve
"What is that the old man has in his arms?" asked Mr. Redlaw, as he sat down to his solitary
"Holly, sir," replied the quiet voice of Milly.
"That's what I say myself, sir," interposed Mr. William, striking
in with the butter-boat. "Berries is so seasonable to the time of year!-Brown gravy!"
"Another Christmas come, another year gone!" murmured the Chemist, with a gloomy sigh
. "More figures in the lengthening sum
that we work and work at to our torment
Death idly jumbles all together, and rubs all out. So, Philip!" breaking off, and raising his voice as he addressed the old man, standing apart, with his glistening burden
in his arms, from which the quiet Mrs. William took small branches, which she noiselessly
trimmed with her scissors, and decorated the room with, while her aged father-in-law looked on much interested
in the ceremony
to you, sir," returned the old man. "Should have spoke
before, sir, but know your ways, Mr. Redlaw-proud to say-and wait till spoke
to! Merry Christmas, sir, and Happy New Year, and many of 'em. Have had a pretty many of 'em myself-ha, ha!-and may take the liberty
of wishing 'em. I'm eighty-seven!"
"Have you had so many that were merry
and happy?" asked the other.
"Ay, sir, ever so many," returned the old man.
"Is his memory impaired
with age? It is to be expected
now," said Mr. Redlaw, turning to the son, and speaking lower.
"Not a morsel
of it, sir," replied Mr. William. "That's exactly what I say myself, sir. There never was such a memory
as my father's. He's the most wonderful
man in the world. He don't know what forgetting means. It's the very observation
I'm always making to Mrs. William, sir, if you'll believe me!"
Mr. Swidger, in his polite desire
to seem to acquiesce
at all events, delivered this as if there were no iota
in it, and it were all said in unbounded and unqualified assent
The Chemist pushed his plate
away, and, rising from the table
, walked across the room to where the old man stood looking at a little sprig
of holly in his hand.
"It recalls the time when many of those years were old and new, then?" he said, observing him attentively
, and touching him on the shoulder. "Does it?"
"Oh many, many!" said Philip, half awaking from his reverie
. "I'm eighty-seven!"
"Merry and happy, was it?" asked the Chemist in a low voice. "Merry and happy, old man?"
"Maybe as high as that, no higher," said the old man, holding out his hand a little way above the level
of his knee, and looking retrospectively at his questioner, "when I first remember
'em! Cold, sunshiny day it was, out a-walking, when some one-it was my mother as sure as you stand there, though I don't know what her blessed face was like, for she took ill and died that Christmas-time-told me they were food for birds. The pretty little fellow thought
-that's me, you understand-that birds' eyes were so bright, perhaps, because the berries that they lived on in the winter were so bright. I recollect
that. And I'm eighty-seven!"
"Merry and happy!" mused the other, bending his dark eyes upon the stooping figure
, with a smile of compassion
. "Merry and happy-and remember
"Ay, ay, ay!" resumed the old man, catching the last words. "I remember
'em well in my school time, year after year, and all the merry
-making that used to come along with them. I was a strong chap
then, Mr. Redlaw; and, if you'll believe me, hadn't my match
at football within ten mile. Where's my son William? Hadn't my match
at football, William, within ten mile!"
"That's what I always say, father!" returned the son promptly
, and with great respect
. "You ARE a Swidger, if ever there was one of the family!"
"Dear!" said the old man, shaking his head as he again looked at the holly. "His mother-my son William's my youngest son-and I, have sat among 'em all, boys and girls, little children and babies, many a year, when the berries like these were not shining half so bright all round us, as their bright faces. Many of 'em are gone; she's gone; and my son George (our eldest, who was her pride
more than all the rest!) is fallen
very low: but I can see them, when I look here, alive and healthy
, as they used to be in those days; and I can see him, thank God, in his innocence
. It's a blessed thing to me, at eighty-seven."
look that had been fixed upon him with so much earnestness, had gradually sought the ground.
"When my circumstances got to be not so good as formerly
not being honestly dealt by, and I first come here to be custodian
," said the old man, "-which was upwards of fifty years ago-where's my son William? More than half a century
"That's what I say, father," replied the son, as promptly
and dutifully as before, "that's exactly where it is. Two times ought's an ought, and twice five ten, and there's a hundred of 'em."
"It was quite a pleasure to know that one of our founders-or more correctly speaking," said the old man, with a great glory
in his subject
and his knowledge
of it, "one of the learned
gentlemen that helped endow
us in Queen Elizabeth's time, for we were founded afore her day-left in his will, among the other bequests he made us, so much to buy holly, for garnishing the walls and windows, come Christmas. There was something homely
and friendly in it. Being but strange
here, then, and coming at Christmas time, we took a liking for his very picter that hangs in what used to be, anciently, afore our ten poor gentlemen commuted for an annual stipend
in money, our great Dinner Hall.-A sedate
gentleman in a peaked beard, with a ruff round his neck, and a scroll
below him, in old English letters, 'Lord! keep my memory
green!' You know all about him, Mr. Redlaw?"
"I know the portrait
hangs there, Philip."
"Yes, sure, it's the second on the right
, above the panelling. I was going to say-he has helped to keep my memory
green, I thank him; for going round the building every year, as I'm a doing now, and freshening up the bare rooms with these branches and berries, freshens up my bare old brain
. One year brings back another, and that year another, and those others numbers! At last, it seems to me as if the birth-time of our Lord was the birth-time of all I have ever had affection
for, or mourned for, or delighted
in,-and they're a pretty many, for I'm eighty-seven!"
"Merry and happy," murmured Redlaw to himself.
The room began to darken strangely.
"So you see, sir," pursued old Philip, whose hale wintry
cheek had warmed into a ruddier glow
, and whose blue eyes had brightened while he spoke
, "I have plenty
to keep, when I keep this present season. Now, where's my quiet Mouse? Chattering's the sin of my time of life, and there's half the building to do yet, if the cold don't freeze us first, or the wind don't blow us away, or the darkness don't swallow
The quiet Mouse had brought her calm face to his side, and silently taken his arm, before he finished speaking.
"Come away, my dear," said the old man. "Mr. Redlaw won't settle
to his dinner, otherwise, till
it's cold as the winter. I hope you'll excuse
on, sir, and I wish you good night, and, once again, a merry
"Stay!" said Mr. Redlaw, resuming his place at the table
, more, it would have seemed from his manner, to reassure
the old keeper, than in any remembrance
of his own appetite
. "Spare me another moment
, Philip. William, you were going to tell me something to your excellent
wife's honour. It will not be disagreeable
to her to hear you praise
her. What was it?"
"Why, that's where it is, you see, sir," returned Mr. William Swidger, looking towards his wife in considerable embarrassment
. "Mrs. William's got her eye upon me."
"But you're not afraid of Mrs. William's eye?"
"Why, no, sir," returned Mr. Swidger, "that's what I say myself. It wasn't made to be afraid of. It wouldn't have been made so mild, if that was the intention
. But I wouldn't like to-Milly!-him, you know. Down in the Buildings."
Mr. William, standing behind the table
, and rummaging disconcertedly among the objects upon it, directed persuasive
glances at Mrs. William, and secret jerks of his head and thumb at Mr. Redlaw, as alluring
her towards him.
"Him, you know, my love," said Mr. William. "Down in the Buildings. Tell, my dear! You're the works of Shakespeare in comparison
with myself. Down in the Buildings, you know, my love.-Student."
Mr. Redlaw, raising his head.
"That's what I say, sir!" cried Mr. William, in the utmost animation
. "If it wasn't the poor student down in the Buildings, why should you wish to hear it from Mrs. William's lips? Mrs. William, my dear-Buildings."
"I didn't know," said Milly, with a quiet frankness, free from any haste
, "that William had said anything about it, or I wouldn't have come. I asked him not to. It's a sick young gentleman, sir-and very poor, I am afraid-who is too ill to go home this holiday-time, and lives, unknown to any one, in but a common
kind of lodging for a gentleman, down in Jerusalem Buildings. That's all, sir."
"Why have I never heard of him?" said the Chemist, rising hurriedly. "Why has he not made his situation
known to me? Sick!-give me my hat and cloak
. Poor!-what house?-what number?"
"Oh, you mustn't go there, sir," said Milly, leaving her father-in-law, and calmly confronting him with her collected
little face and folded hands.
"Not go there?"
"Oh dear, no!" said Milly, shaking her head as at a most manifest
impossibility. "It couldn't be thought
"What do you mean
? Why not?"
"Why, you see, sir," said Mr. William Swidger, persuasively and confidentially, "that's what I say. Depend upon it, the young gentleman would never have made his situation
known to one of his own sex. Mrs. Williams has got into his confidence
, but that's quite different
. They all confide
in Mrs. William; they all trust
her. A man, sir, couldn't have got a whisper
out of him; but woman, sir, and Mrs. William combined-!"
"There is good sense and delicacy
in what you say, William," returned Mr. Redlaw, observant
of the gentle
face at his shoulder. And laying his finger on his lip, he secretly put his purse
into her hand.
"Oh dear no, sir!" cried Milly, giving it back again. "Worse and worse! Couldn't be dreamed of!"
Such a staid
housewife she was, and so unruffled by the momentary haste
of this rejection
, that, an instant
afterwards, she was tidily picking up a few leaves which had strayed from between her scissors and her apron, when she had arranged the holly.
Finding, when she rose from her stooping posture
, that Mr. Redlaw was still regarding her with doubt
, she quietly repeated
-looking about, the while, for any other fragments that might
have escaped her observation
"Oh dear no, sir! He said that of all the world he would not be known to you, or receive
help from you-though he is a student in your class. I have made no terms of secrecy
with you, but I trust
to your honour completely
"Why did he say so?"
"Indeed I can't tell, sir," said Milly, after thinking a little, "because I am not at all clever
, you know; and I wanted to be useful to him in making things neat and comfortable
about him, and employed myself that way. But I know he is poor, and lonely
, and I think he is somehow neglected
too.-How dark it is!"
The room had darkened more and more. There was a very heavy gloom
gathering behind the Chemist's chair.
"What more about him?" he asked.
"He is engaged
to be married when he can afford
it," said Milly, "and is studying, I think, to qualify
himself to earn
a living. I have seen, a long time, that he has studied
hard and denied himself much.-How very dark it is!"
"It's turned colder, too," said the old man, rubbing his hands. "There's a chill and dismal
feeling in the room. Where's my son William? William, my boy, turn the lamp, and rouse
Milly's voice resumed, like quiet music very softly played:
"He muttered in his broken sleep yesterday afternoon, after talking to me" (this was to herself) "about some one dead, and some great wrong done that could never be forgotten; but whether to him or to another person, I don't know. Not by him, I am sure."
"And, in short, Mrs. William, you see-which she wouldn't say herself, Mr. Redlaw, if she was to stop here till
the new year after this next one-" said Mr. William, coming up to him to speak in his ear, "has done him worlds of good! Bless you, worlds of good! All at home just the same as ever-my father made as snug
-not a crumb of litter
to be found in the house, if you were to offer fifty pound ready money for it-Mrs. William apparently
never out of the way-yet Mrs. William backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, up and down, up and down, a mother to him!"
The room turned darker and colder, and the gloom
gathering behind the chair was heavier.
with this, sir, Mrs. William goes and finds, this very night, when she was coming home (why it's not above a couple
of hours ago), a creature
more like a young wild beast
than a young child, shivering upon a door-step. What does Mrs. William do, but brings it home to dry it, and feed it, and keep it till
our old Bounty of food and flannel is given away, on Christmas morning! If it ever felt a fire before, it's as much as ever it did; for it's sitting in the old Lodge chimney
, staring at ours as if its ravenous
eyes would never shut again. It's sitting there, at least," said Mr. William, correcting himself, on reflection
, "unless it's bolted!"
"Heaven keep her happy!" said the Chemist aloud
, "and you too, Philip! and you, William! I must consider
what to do in this. I may desire
to see this student, I'll not detain
you any longer now. Good-night!"
"I thank'ee, sir, I thank'ee!" said the old man, "for Mouse, and for my son William, and for myself. Where's my son William? William, you take the lantern
and go on first, through
them long dark passages, as you did last year and the year afore. Ha ha! I remember
-though I'm eighty-seven! 'Lord, keep my memory
green!' It's a very good prayer, Mr. Redlaw, that of the learned
gentleman in the peaked beard, with a ruff round his neck-hangs up, second on the right
above the panelling, in what used to be, afore our ten poor gentlemen commuted, our great Dinner Hall. 'Lord, keep my memory
green!' It's very good and pious
, sir. Amen! Amen!"
As they passed out and shut the heavy door, which, however carefully withheld, fired a long train
of thundering reverberations when it shut at last, the room turned darker.
As he fell a musing
in his chair alone, the healthy
on the wall, and dropped-dead branches.
As the gloom
thickened behind him, in that place where it had been gathering so darkly, it took, by slow degrees,-or out of it there came, by some unreal, unsubstantial process-not to be traced by any human
sense,-an awful likeness
Ghastly and cold, colourless in its leaden
face and hands, but with his features, and his bright eyes, and his grizzled
hair, and dressed in the gloomy shadow
of his dress, it came into his terrible appearance
, without a sound
. As he leaned his arm upon the elbow of his chair, ruminating before the fire, it leaned upon the chair-back, close above him, with its appalling
copy of his face looking where his face looked, and bearing
his face bore
This, then, was the Something that had passed and gone already. This was the dread companion
of the haunted man!
It took, for some moments, no more apparent heed
of him, than he of it. The Christmas Waits were playing somewhere in the distance
, and, through
, he seemed to listen to the music. It seemed to listen too.
; without moving or lifting up his face.
"Here again!" he said.
"Here again," replied the Phantom.
"I see you in the fire," said the haunted man; "I hear you in music, in the wind, in the dead stillness of the night."
The Phantom moved its head, assenting.
"Why do you come, to haunt
"I come as I am called," replied the Ghost.
"No. Unbidden," exclaimed the Chemist.
"Unbidden be it," said the Spectre. "It is enough. I am here."
Hitherto the light of the fire had shone on the two faces-if the dread
lineaments behind the chair might
be called a face-both addressed towards it, as at first, and neither looking at the other. But, now, the haunted man turned, suddenly
, and stared upon the Ghost. The Ghost, as sudden in its motion
, passed to before the chair, and stared on him.
The living man, and the animated image
of himself dead, might
so have looked, the one upon the other. An awful survey
, in a lonely
part of an empty
of building, on a winter night, with the loud wind going by upon its journey
or whither, no man knowing since the world began-and the stars, in unimaginable millions, glittering through
it, from eternal
space, where the world's bulk
is as a grain
, and its hoary
age is infancy
Look upon me!" said the Spectre. "I am he, neglected
in my youth, and miserably poor, who strove and suffered, and still strove and suffered, until I hewed out knowledge
from the mine
where it was buried, and made rugged
steps thereof, for my worn feet to rest and rise on."
"I am that man," returned the Chemist.
"No mother's self-denying love," pursued the Phantom, "no father's counsel
, aided me. A stranger
came into my father's place when I was but a child, and I was easily an alien
from my mother's heart
. My parents, at the best, were of that sort whose care soon ends, and whose duty
is soon done; who cast their offspring
loose, early, as birds do theirs; and, if they do well, claim
; and, if ill, the pity
It paused, and seemed to tempt
him with its look, and with the manner of its speech
, and with its smile.
"I am he," pursued the Phantom, "who, in this struggle
upward, found a friend. I made him-won him-bound him to me! We worked together, side by side. All the love and confidence
that in my earlier youth had had no outlet
, and found no expression
, I bestowed on him."
"Not all," said Redlaw, hoarsely.
"No, not all," returned the Phantom. "I had a sister."
The haunted man, with his head resting on his hands, replied "I had!" The Phantom, with an evil
smile, drew closer to the chair, and resting its chin upon its folded hands, its folded hands upon the back, and looking down into his face with searching eyes, that seemed instinct
with fire, went on:
"Such glimpses of the light of home as I had ever known, had streamed from her. How young she was, how fair
, how loving! I took her to the first poor roof that I was master
of, and made it rich. She came into the darkness of my life, and made it bright.-She is before me!"
"I saw her, in the fire, but now. I hear her in music, in the wind, in the dead stillness of the night," returned the haunted man.
"Did he love her?" said the Phantom, echoing his contemplative tone
. "I think he did, once. I am sure he did. Better had she loved him less-less secretly, less dearly, from the shallower depths of a more divided heart
"Let me forget
it!" said the Chemist, with an angry motion
of his hand. "Let me blot it from my memory
The Spectre, without stirring, and with its unwinking, cruel
eyes still fixed upon his face, went on:
, like hers, stole
upon my own life."
"It did," said Redlaw.
"A love, as like hers," pursued the Phantom, "as my inferior nature might cherish
, arose in my own heart
. I was too poor to bind
to my fortune
then, by any thread
. I loved her far too well, to seek
to do it. But, more than ever I had striven in my life, I strove to climb! Only an inch
gained, brought me something nearer to the height
. I toiled up! In the late pauses of my labour at that time,-my sister (sweet companion
!) still sharing with me the expiring embers and the cooling hearth
,-when day was breaking, what pictures of the future
did I see!"
"I saw them, in the fire, but now," he murmured. "They come back to me in music, in the wind, in the dead stillness of the night, in the revolving years."
"-Pictures of my own domestic
life, in aftertime, with her who was the inspiration
of my toil
. Pictures of my sister, made the wife of my dear friend, on equal
terms-for he had some inheritance
, we none-pictures of our sobered age and mellowed happiness
, and of the golden links, extending back so far, that should bind
us, and our children, in a radiant garland
," said the Phantom.
"Pictures," said the haunted man, "that were delusions. Why is it my doom
them too well!"
"Delusions," echoed the Phantom in its changeless voice, and glaring
on him with its changeless eyes. "For my friend (in whose breast my confidence
was locked as in my own), passing between me and the centre of the system
of my hopes and struggles, won her to himself, and shattered my frail universe
. My sister, doubly dear, doubly devoted
, doubly cheerful in my home, lived on to see me famous
, and my old ambition
so rewarded when its spring was broken, and then-"
"Then died," he interposed. "Died, gentle
as ever; happy; and with no concern
but for her brother. Peace!"
The Phantom watched him silently.
"Remembered!" said the haunted man, after a pause
. "Yes. So well remembered, that even now, when years have passed, and nothing is more idle
or more visionary
to me than the boyish
love so long outlived, I think of it with sympathy
, as if it were a younger brother's or a son's. Sometimes I even wonder
when her heart
to him, and how it had been affected
towards me.-Not lightly, once, I think.-But that is nothing. Early unhappiness, a wound
from a hand I loved and trusted, and a loss that nothing can replace
, outlive such fancies."
"Thus," said the Phantom, "I bear within me a Sorrow and a Wrong. Thus I prey
upon myself. Thus, memory
is my curse
; and, if I could forget
and my wrong, I would!"
"Mocker!" said the Chemist, leaping up, and making, with a wrathful hand, at the throat of his other self. "Why have I always that taunt
in my ears?"
"Forbear!" exclaimed the Spectre in an awful voice. "Lay a hand on Me, and die!"
He stopped midway
, as if its words had paralysed him, and stood looking on it. It had glided from him; it had its arm raised high in warning
; and a smile passed over its unearthly
features, as it reared its dark figure
"If I could forget
and wrong, I would," the Ghost repeated
. "If I could forget
and my wrong, I would!"
of myself," returned the haunted man, in a low, trembling tone
, "my life is darkened by that incessant whisper
"It is an echo," said the Phantom.
"If it be an echo of my thoughts-as now, indeed, I know it is," rejoined the haunted man, "why should I, therefore, be tormented
? It is not a selfish thought
. I suffer
it to range
beyond myself. All men and women have their sorrows,-most of them their wrongs; ingratitude, and sordid jealousy
, and interest
, besetting all degrees of life. Who would not forget
their sorrows and their wrongs?"
"Who would not, truly, and be happier and better for it?" said the Phantom.
"These revolutions of years, which we commemorate
," proceeded Redlaw, "what do they recall
! Are there any minds in which they do not re-awaken some sorrow
, or some trouble? What is the remembrance
of the old man who was here to-night? A tissue
natures," said the Phantom, with its evil
smile upon its glassy face, "unenlightened minds and ordinary
spirits, do not feel or reason
on these things like men of higher cultivation
and profounder thought
"Tempter," answered Redlaw, "whose hollow
look and voice I dread
more than words can express
, and from whom some dim
foreshadowing of greater fear is stealing over me while I speak, I hear again an echo of my own mind
"Receive it as a proof
that I am powerful
," returned the Ghost. "Hear what I offer! Forget the sorrow
, wrong, and trouble you have known!"
"Forget them!" he repeated
"I have the power
-to leave but very faint
traces of them, that will die out soon," returned the Spectre. "Say! Is it done?"
"Stay!" cried the haunted man, arresting
by a terrified gesture
the uplifted hand. "I tremble
with distrust and doubt
of you; and the dim
fear you cast upon me deepens into a nameless horror
I can hardly bear.-I would not deprive
myself of any kindly recollection
, or any sympathy
that is good for me, or others. What shall I lose, if I assent
to this? What else will pass from my remembrance
; no result
; nothing but the intertwisted chain of feelings and associations, each in its turn dependent
on, and nourished by, the banished recollections. Those will go."
"Are they so many?" said the haunted man, reflecting in alarm
"They have been wont
to show themselves in the fire, in music, in the wind, in the dead stillness of the night, in the revolving years," returned the Phantom scornfully.
"In nothing else?"
The Phantom held its peace.
But having stood before him, silent, for a little while, it moved towards the fire; then stopped.
"Decide!" it said, "before the opportunity
! I call Heaven to witness
," said the agitated
man, "that I have never been a hater of any kind,-never morose
, or hard, to anything around me. If, living here alone, I have made too much of all that was and might
have been, and too little of what is, the evil
, I believe, has fallen
on me, and not on others. But, if there were poison
in my body, should I not, possessed of antidotes and knowledge
how to use them, use them? If there be poison
in my mind
, and through
this fearful shadow
I can cast it out, shall I not cast it out?"
"Say," said the Spectre, "is it done?"
longer!" he answered hurriedly. "I would forget
it if I could! Have I thought
that, alone, or has it been the thought
of thousands upon thousands, generation
? All human memory
and trouble. My memory
is as the memory
of other men, but other men have not this choice
. Yes, I close the bargain
. Yes! I WILL forget
, wrong, and trouble!"
"Say," said the Spectre, "is it done?"
"It is. And take this with you, man whom I here renounce
! The gift that I have given, you shall give again, go where you will. Without recovering yourself the power
that you have yielded up, you shall henceforth destroy
its like in all whom you approach
. Your wisdom
has discovered that the memory
, wrong, and trouble is the lot of all mankind, and that mankind would be the happier, in its other memories, without it. Go! Be its benefactor
! Freed from such remembrance
, from this hour, carry involuntarily
the blessing of such freedom
with you. Its diffusion
from you. Go! Be happy in the good you have won, and in the good you do!"
The Phantom, which had held its bloodless hand above him while it spoke
, as if in some unholy invocation
, or some ban
; and which had gradually advanced its eyes so close to his, that he could see how they did not participate
in the terrible smile upon its face, but were a fixed, unalterable
, steady horror
melted before him and was gone.
As he stood rooted to the spot, possessed by fear and wonder
, and imagining he heard repeated
echoes, dying away fainter and fainter, the words, "Destroy its like in all whom you approach
!" a shrill
cry reached his ears. It came, not from the passages beyond the door, but from another part of the old building, and sounded like the cry of some one in the dark who had lost
He looked confusedly upon his hands and limbs, as if to be assured of his identity
, and then shouted in reply, loudly and wildly
; for there was a strangeness and terror
upon him, as if he too were lost
The cry responding, and being nearer, he caught up the lamp, and raised a heavy curtain in the wall, by which he was accustomed
to pass into and out of the theatre where he lectured,-which adjoined his room. Associated with youth and animation
, and a high amphitheatre of faces which his entrance
charmed to interest
in a moment
, it was a ghostly
place when all this life was faded out of it, and stared upon him like an emblem
"Halloa!" he cried. "Halloa! This way! Come to the light!" When, as he held the curtain with one hand, and with the other raised the lamp and tried to pierce
that filled the place, something rushed past him into the room like a wild-cat, and crouched down in a corner
"What is it?" he said, hastily
have asked "What is it?" even had he seen it well, as presently
he did when he stood looking at it gathered up in its corner
of tatters, held together by a hand, in size and form almost an infant's, but in its greedy
, a bad old man's. A face rounded and smoothed by some half-dozen years, but pinched and twisted by the experiences of a life. Bright eyes, but not youthful. Naked feet, beautiful in their childish delicacy
,-ugly in the blood and dirt that cracked upon them. A baby savage
, a young monster
, a child who had never been a child, a creature
live to take the outward form of man, but who, within, would live and perish
a mere beast
Used, already, to be worried
and hunted like a beast
, the boy crouched down as he was looked at, and looked back again, and interposed his arm to ward
off the expected
"I'll bite," he said, "if you hit me!"
The time had been, and not many minutes since, when such a sight
as this would have wrung the Chemist's heart
. He looked upon it now, coldly; but with a heavy effort
something-he did not know what-he asked the boy what he did there, and whence
"Where's the woman?" he replied. "I want to find the woman."
"The woman. Her that brought me here, and set me by the large fire. She was so long gone, that I went to look for her, and lost
myself. I don't want you. I want the woman."
He made a spring, so suddenly
, to get away, that the dull sound
of his naked feet upon the floor was near the curtain, when Redlaw caught him by his rags.
"Come! you let me go!" muttered the boy, struggling, and clenching his teeth. "I've done nothing to you. Let me go, will you, to the woman!"
"That is not the way. There is a nearer one," said Redlaw, detaining him, in the same blank effort
that ought, of right
, to bear upon this monstrous object
. "What is your name?"