English Cathedral Tower? How can the ancient
English Cathedral tower
be here! The well-known massive
gray square tower
of its old Cathedral? How can that be here! There is no spike of rusty iron
in the air, between the eye and it, from any point of the real prospect
. What is the spike that intervenes, and who has set it up? Maybe it is set up by the Sultan's orders for the impaling of a horde
of Turkish robbers, one by one. It is so, for cymbals clash, and the Sultan goes by to his palace
in long procession
. Ten thousand scimitars flash
in the sunlight, and thrice
ten thousand dancing-girls strew
flowers. Then, follow white elephants caparisoned in countless gorgeous
colours, and infinite
in number and attendants. Still the Cathedral Tower rises in the background
, where it cannot be, and still no writhing figure
is on the grim
spike. Stay! Is the spike so low a thing as the rusty
spike on the top of a post of an old bedstead that has tumbled all awry
? Some vague period
laughter must be devoted
to the consideration
of this possibility
Shaking from head to foot, the man whose scattered consciousness
fantastically pieced itself together, at length
rises, supports his trembling frame upon his arms, and looks around. He is in the meanest and closest of small rooms. Through the ragged
window-curtain, the light of early day steals in from a miserable court
. He lies, dressed, across a large unseemly
bed, upon a bedstead that has indeed given way under the weight
upon it. Lying, also dressed and also across the bed, not longwise, are a Chinaman, a Lascar, and a haggard
woman. The two first are in a sleep or stupor
; the last is blowing at a kind of pipe, to kindle
it. And as she blows, and shading it with her lean
hand, concentrates its red spark
of light, it serves in the dim
morning as a lamp to show him what he sees of her.
'Another?' says this woman, in a querulous
, rattling whisper
. 'Have another?'
He looks about him, with his hand to his forehead.
'Ye've smoked as many as five since ye come in at midnight,' the woman goes on, as she chronically complains. 'Poor me, poor me, my head is so bad. Them two come in after ye. Ah, poor me, the business is slack
, is slack
! Few Chinamen about the Docks, and fewer Lascars, and no ships coming in, these say! Here's another ready for ye, deary. Ye'll remember
like a good soul
, won't ye, that the market price is dreffle high just now? More nor three shillings and sixpence for a thimbleful! And ye'll remember
that nobody but me (and Jack Chinaman t'other side the court
; but he can't do it as well as me) has the true secret of mixing it? Ye'll pay up accordingly
, deary, won't ye?'
She blows at the pipe as she speaks, and, occasionally
bubbling at it, inhales much of its contents.
'O me, O me, my lungs is weak, my lungs is bad! It's nearly ready for ye, deary. Ah, poor me, poor me, my poor hand shakes like to drop
off! I see ye coming-to, and I ses to my poor self, "I'll have another ready for him, and he'll bear in mind
the market price of opium, and pay according
." O my poor head! I makes my pipes of old penny ink-bottles, ye see, deary-this is one-and I fits-in a mouthpiece, this way, and I takes my mixter out of this thimble
with this little horn spoon; and so I fills, deary. Ah, my poor nerves! I got Heavens-hard drunk for sixteen year afore I took to this; but this don't hurt me, not to speak of. And it takes away the hunger as well as wittles, deary.'
She hands him the nearly-emptied pipe, and sinks back, turning over on her face.
He rises unsteadily from the bed, lays the pipe upon the hearth-stone, draws back the ragged
curtain, and looks with repugnance
at his three companions. He notices that the woman has opium-smoked herself into a strange likeness
of the Chinaman. His form of cheek, eye, and temple
, and his colour, are repeated
in her. Said Chinaman convulsively wrestles with one of his many Gods or Devils, perhaps, and snarls horribly. The Lascar laughs and dribbles at the mouth. The hostess is still.
'What visions can she have?' the waking man muses, as he turns her face towards him, and stands looking down at it. 'Visions of many butchers' shops, and public-houses, and much credit
? Of an increase
customers, and this horrible
bedstead set upright
again, and this horrible court
swept clean? What can she rise to, under any quantity
of opium, higher than that!-Eh?'
He bends down his ear, to listen to her mutterings.
As he watches the spasmodic
shoots and darts that break out of her face and limbs, like fitful lightning
out of a dark sky, some contagion
in them seizes upon him: insomuch that he has to withdraw
himself to a lean
arm-chair by the hearth-placed there, perhaps, for such emergencies-and to sit in it, holding tight, until he has got the better of this unclean spirit
Then he comes back, pounces on the Chinaman, and seizing him with both hands by the throat, turns him violently on the bed. The Chinaman clutches the aggressive
hands, resists, gasps, and protests.
'What do you say?'
A watchful pause
Slowly loosening his grasp
as he listens to the incoherent jargon
with an attentive frown
, he turns to the Lascar and fairly drags him forth upon the floor. As he falls, the Lascar starts into a half-risen attitude
, glares with his eyes, lashes about him fiercely with his arms, and draws a phantom
knife. It then becomes apparent
that the woman has taken possession
of this knife, for safety's sake; for, she too starting up, and restraining and expostulating with him, the knife is visible
in her dress, not in his, when they drowsily drop
back, side by side.
There has been chattering and clattering enough between them, but to no purpose
. When any distinct
word has been flung into the air, it has had no sense or sequence
. Wherefore 'unintelligible
!' is again the of the watcher, made with some reassured nodding of his head, and a gloomy
smile. He then lays certain
silver money on the table
, finds his hat, gropes his way down the broken stairs, gives a good morning to some rat-ridden doorkeeper, in bed in a black hutch beneath the stairs, and passes out.
That same afternoon, the massive
gray square tower
of an old Cathedral rises before the sight
of a jaded
traveller. The bells are going for daily vesper service
, and he must needs attend
it, one would say, from his haste
to reach the open Cathedral door. The choir
are getting on their sullied white robes, in a hurry, when he arrives among them, gets on his own robe, and falls into the procession filing
in to service
. Then, the Sacristan locks the iron
-barred gates that divide
from the chancel, and all of the procession
having scuttled into their places, hide
their faces; and then the intoned words, 'When the Wicked Man-' rise among groins of arches and beams of roof, awakening