THE MAN WITH THE CLUB FOOT.
TALE (THE SECOND) OF ST. LUKE'S.

"You must know, sir, that our family is of very distinguished origin. My father was descended from the ancient L——s, of L—— Hall, in Leicestershire; my mother is from the sole remaining branch of the renowned family of Maxwell;—of course you must remember, sir, what great actions have been achieved by the Maxwells in olden time?"

"My memory is not very good in such particulars," said I, to the elegant young man with whom I was speaking; "pray proceed with your narration, and never mind your ancestors."

"Not mind my ancestors!" returned L——, a little angrily; "but perhaps you are right, sir, after all; the living ought to claim our attention more than the dead. Well! we were left in the deepest distress,—my excellent mother, and myself, her only child. I will not trouble you in detailing how my poor father, by a hundred improvident and extravagant ways contrived to dwindle down his property; too proud to embark in any profession except the army, and afterwards too poor to enter it. He died of—of—a broken heart when I was about twelve years old. I did nothing but devise schemes after this event to retrieve our wretched circumstances when I became old enough. A thousand plans, wild and visionary, passed through my brain; I could not sleep at night for projects and inventions. I became fevered, restless, taciturn, irritable, and absent. One day, when I had arrived at the age of fifteen, on returning from a solitary walk, weary and exhausted, with a lump of clayey substance, wrapped up carefully, in my hands, which I had extracted from the side of a canal at a great distance from my home, believing it to contain some most precious qualities which might lead to my making a rapid fortune, I was forcibly struck with the extreme dejection of my mother, and the want of all preparation in our little parlour. I could not understand it at first; but the truth came home slowly, heavily upon my heart. She had no longer the means of procuring her son and herself another meal!" Here L—— paused, and looked for sympathy.

"Did not the distress of your mother rouse you, L——, into immediate action?" said I.

"No, sir," replied my companion, with an emphasis that made me start; "would you have had a son of the ancient house of L—— go and work upon the highway? to degrade himself with trade? or——"

"Surely this had been better than seeing a mother starve, young gentleman," said I mildly; "but I interrupt you. Tell me what effect was produced upon your mind by the knowledge of your situation. What did you do?"

"You shall hear, sir, in due time," continued he gloomily; "but I suppose the relation will cause you some displeasure. We cannot always be masters of ourselves, or of our own actions."

"But we ought to be so, Mr. L——; there is no slavery so bad as the slavery of the passions. Then are we slaves indeed," and I looked full upon him.

L—— resumed: "You shall know the exact truth, sir; I will at any rate be strictly impartial. When I was convinced that we had not a meal left in the world,—convinced by remembering the bareness of the walls, and now missing several articles of furniture that had disappeared without my before perceiving it,—I seized my hat, and, totally disregarding the pathetic appeal of my mother's voice,—the beseeching accents of her who had never yet spoken to me a reproachful word from my earliest recollections,—'to be calm, and hope that better times would come,' I darted out of the house like an arrow from the bow, and, coward as I was, after wandering about for hours to summon resolution for the act, rushed to the river about a mile from the village, and threw myself into its rapid current. There I soon lost all recollection of myself and my misery. The last sound I heard was the gurgling of waters in my ears and throat; the last sensation I experienced was that I should not now die the languishing death of famine. My mother's image was before me; then it grew indistinct, and all was darkness, vagueness, insensibility." L—— again paused.

"Then you have actually committed the crime of suicide, young man!" I exclaimed reproachfully; "I trust you have been repentant for it. Your intention was to destroy yourself; the motive makes the crime."

"My narrative, sir, is of events, not of my own feelings," replied Mr. L—— proudly; "if you are already disgusted with my conduct as a boy, perhaps it might be better that you knew not of it as a man. Perhaps I had better stop here?"

"That is according to your own pleasure, my dear sir," said I, affecting an indifference that I did not feel; but wishing to curb the irritability of my young companion.

"Most strange were my emotions," continued he, after a pause and a smile, "on life returning to my bosom,—that is active life; for I suppose the principle itself was not absolutely extinct. What is your opinion, sir, as a medical man? Can life be rekindled in the human breast when once fairly extinguished? for my part I think it can, and that mine is a renewed life. You smile, sir, but I should wish an answer to my question;" and again that proud, yet beautiful, lip of his, curled with impatience, whilst he took a stride across the apartment.

"Can life ever be extinguished?" I demanded.

"Certainly," replied Mr. L——, looking at me as if he thought I was insane, or jesting with him. "Are we not living in one great hospital, amidst the dying and the dead? Are we sure of our existence a single hour? Must we not all die at last?"

"Let each one speak for himself, Falkner L——," said I impressively; "I am sure of the perpetuity of mine own existence; it can never perish."

"Oh! that is your meaning, is it?" sarcastically exclaimed my opponent. "I am no divine, and my question related to that existence I know of. I wished to learn whether I have been absolutely dead? since, if so, I can account better for many of those thoughts and sensations that now puzzle and perplex me exceedingly. But I will not press my inquiry further on you; perhaps you know as little about these things as myself;" and he pressed his hand upon his forehead, whilst a sigh he sought to restrain would be heard.

"Go on with your story, L——," said I; "we will discuss this subject about existence and a future state another time; what were your sensations on recovering the use of your senses? for you must have been brought to life, I conclude, somehow or other."

"I found myself lying on the grass," continued Mr. L——, "quite wet, but with an agreeable warmth within, from some cordial that had been administered to me. I gazed at first, unconsciously, upon the clouds sailing by upon the blue ocean of immensity above my head. I felt myself calm and composed as that depth of sky, fathomless, unsearchable,—for memory was not yet awakened in me,—and the present was to me peaceful, holy. Oh, that such moments should be lost! I thought the moon some new and beautiful appearance just rising from creation. I was roused into recollection thus:

"'Are you able, young man, now to walk?' said a hoarse unpleasing voice near me; 'your mother, perchance, is uneasy at your absence; and she should be spared from the bitter knowledge that her only, her beloved son, intended to have deserted her in her moment of deep affliction. Hide this from her; it will be a pious secret. Conceal your intention of self-destruction from her.'

"During the whole of this speech my entire being seemed to be undergoing a change, rapid and powerful. I awakened as from a trance. I felt the enormity of my past conduct. My mother's tenderness! her uncomplaining sufferings! the sacrifices she had made to procure me the necessaries of life! her total absence of all selfishness! her privations! her patience! all rose before me. And how had I requited her?—by base desertion, by cruel ingratitude! My heart was softened, and, boy-like, I burst into tears.

"'Showers should produce blossoms,—blossoms fruit!' said the same croaking discordant voice close to my ear. 'Tears are showers for good resolutions; they should not be unproductive. Your mother, young man! think of your mother!'

"I started upon my feet, and was going hastily home, when it struck me that this man must have plucked me out of the water; so I turned to thank him. I had not yet set my eyes upon him. A short, squabby figure met my gaze, with a head of extraordinary size, round which hung dark elfish locks; his eyes were immensely large, and had a most melancholy expression, yet they were strongly tinctured with benevolence, and had a most searching quality,—something that seemed not of this earth. My reason still tottered on its throne: the delusion again darted across my mind that I was not in the same state of existence as formerly, and that this strange-looking being was one of the inhabitants of the new one, in which I found myself. I looked at him again curiously, inquiringly; and found that, in addition to his uncouth globular form, enormous head, and eyes with bushy brows, he had an excrescence on his shoulder known commonly by the name of 'a hump,' and had one short, distorted club-foot!"

As Mr. L—— told me this, he turned unusually pale, and a cold shudder passed like a blighting wind over him. I knew he had been subject to all sorts of fancies and wild conjectures, the offspring of a heated imagination; so I only coolly observed,

"Oh! your preserver, then, it seems, was a poor hunchback! I wonder how he fished you out of the river?—how he had the strength to do it?"

Mr. L—— answered me only with a most mysterious look, and another shudder. I took out my watch, and struck the hour; it had the desired effect, for he was sensitive in the highest degree.

"I will not detain you long," said he, in a deprecating tone, "your time is precious;" and thus he continued:—"I stammered out my thanks for the service he had done me; but my knees knocked against each other, and my teeth chattered in my head. I was on the point of falling."

"'You have caught a severe cold, I suppose,' exclaimed the man with the club-foot; 'but it might have been worse. Here, take another draught of this cordial, which has been the means already of doing you some service. Hesitate not; you will find instant relief; I composed it myself in the island of Ceylon, from the rarest spices, and have often proved its efficacy.' He approached me; he only reached my waist; and, what was most strange, I heard not the slightest sound as he moved his feet! Feet!—shall I call them feet?—he had but one; the other resembled the gnarled, disproportioned fragment of the root of an old oak-tree; it had a sort of cradle, on which it rested; it was tipped with brass, and of expensive workmanship. I could draw you the exact pattern of this shoe."

"What matters the shape of a deformed man's shoe?" said I; "a little larger, or a little smaller, makes all the difference, I suppose, between them. They are very expert in manufacturing these helps in Germany; we cannot approach them in such things. There is a man now at Hambro', who——"

"This shoe was never made in Germany!" interrupted Mr. L——, with a deep sepulchral tone of voice; and again he shuddered, whilst a spasm shook his frame.

"Very likely not," said I, with a tone of perfect nonchalance; "perhaps it was one of Sheldrake's shoes; but it is of little consequence:—you and I will never want one of such construction; that is one comfort, however."

"No," he replied musingly, "not for ourselves: but in my family perchance it may be wanted. Tell me, sir, are these deformities hereditary?" and his eyes seemed to penetrate my inmost thoughts.

"Did you mean the shoe or the foot, L——?" I asked jestingly; "one is as likely as the other; but shall we never get beyond or above this piece of leather, or prunella? I declare we have been standing in this man's shoes half an hour at least; they pinch me to death."

"I would not stand in that man's shoes for a single moment, to gain an entire world!" impressively pronounced poor L——, casting up his eyes to heaven.

"Yet," said I, "one of them might fit you better than the other; for I suppose that brass-bitted piece of machinery must be rather uncomfortable to walk with. It would make, too, such a devil of a noise!" and I again had recourse to my watch.

"It made no noise at all, I tell you!" vehemently cried out poor Falkner L——; "no satin slipper of a lady ever trod so silently. A rose-leaf dropping on the ground might have made a louder sound; but you do not credit me."

"Pooh, pooh!" cried I; "the water was still in your ears; that was the reason you could not hear the clatter of the mailed shoe."

"Has the water been in my ears these ten—nay, more,—eleven summers and winters since, nights and days?" inquired my companion petulantly. "No one can, no one will, understand me,—nay, I scarce can comprehend myself. That accursed cordial that he gave me!"

"I should like to have a glass of it this moment, for I feel much exhausted," said I.

"I beg your pardon, I ought to have thought of it myself;" and he rang the bell for a tray and wine. We partook of some potted meats. I drank a couple of glasses of Madeira, my friend one of water; the tray was removed, and I took up my hat.

"Will you not hear me to the end?" inquired L——, fixing his dejected eyes upon me with an expression so appealing, so touching, that I could not resist them.

"When will that end arrive?" said I, playfully. "Did you drink the cordial that this little rotundity offered to you?"

"Yes, I drained it to the bottom. So very delicious was its taste, so grateful to my exhausted frame and spirits, that I left not a drop in the globular vessel that contained it. I returned to him the flask."

"'Thou art not yet cured of thy selfishness, young man,' said the man with the club-foot, in a severe tone which made his voice appear more harsh and grating even than before. 'Couldst thou not have spared a single drop out of that vessel for the next intended suicide I may chance to meet with? Fortunately I have been more provident than thou hast been considerate; I have not exhausted my whole mine of wealth upon thee. Thy mother, boy, has spoiled thy nature, I see, by indulgence. Go, and think of others as well as of thyself.' With this, the strange being I had been speaking with, shaking his coarse and wiry locks at me, trundled himself away,—for walking it did not seem; and I again perceived that not the slightest sound came from his steps!"

"On entering my mother's small but neat abode, she threw her arms around my neck, and wept for joy at seeing me.

"'My beloved Falkner! I am so glad you are returned! I have such delightful news to tell you;—but you are wet, pale, hungry too I doubt not; but that shall not be for long. I have plenty of every thing good in the house; food of every description, and ready for eating, too,—so we will begin: but change your clothes first, Falkner. Why, my dear, dear boy, you must have tumbled into the river,—perhaps in trying to catch fish for your mother's supper;—but we do not want fish now.'

"After changing my wet apparel for the only other suit I had, and that none of the best, we sat down opposite to each other at the clean-scowered deal table,—the others had been parted with previously. We had no cloth,—they too had disappeared one by one long before; but hunger is not over fastidious. A cold fowl was placed upon the table: a tongue, and a bottle of wine, with plenty of fine wheaten bread, cheese, and butter. The word 'selfishness' rung in my ears during dinner; I was resolved to pluck this abominable vice from my bosom even to the very roots. When we had ate and were filled, I began to question my mother how she had been able to procure these dainties.

"'They were sent from the tavern, Falkner, by a very old friend of mine,—one I have not seen for many, many years. He has taken our spare apartments at a price twenty times beyond their value, and has given me a month's rent in advance. He is gone now to order in furniture from C—— both for himself and us. We shall never know want again! My darling son will now be provided for, according to his birth;' and my mother shed tears of joy.

"All this appeared to me exceedingly strange; but, then, it was delightful also. I complained, however, very soon of fatigue, when my tender mother insisted on having my bed warmed, on account of my 'tumble into the water;' and, bringing me a glass of mulled spiced wine, she kissed my forehead, and departed.

"I did not wake till noon. What a change had been effected ere that time, in our white-washed cottage! New handsome carpets were spread over the floors; chairs and tables placed in perfect order against the walls, and of the best quality. Room was left on one side our parlour for a grand piano, which my mother's friend would procure for her use from London. He had already ransacked a considerable market-town near us, and had contrived to get together tolerable things, but not of the quality he wished: he had gone now to London for the purpose of purchasing the piano, and many other luxuries he thought she needed; but would return in the course of a week, and take up his abode as——

"'And who is this friend of yours, my dear mother?' I inquired. 'You say you have known him long. Why has he not sooner attended to your wants?'

"'For a simple reason, Falkner,' she replied; 'he knew not of them; he is but just arrived in England.'

"'Is he a relation, mother? I trust he is, and a very near one too, or——' and I hesitated. 'I am but a young adviser, yet I feel that a female,—a handsome one, too,—a descendant from the proud family of the Maxwells, ought not to be obliged to any one who is an alien in blood and name. I cannot suffer my mother to be degraded. We may perish, but we will not be disgraced.'

"My mother heard me patiently to the end; then, smiling sweetly on me, told me she admired me for my delicacy of feeling and regard for her honour, but that I need be under no apprehension on her account, as her dear and valued old friend was her very nearest relative; also, 'We are sisters' children, Falkner, and in childhood were most intimate. You should hear him on the organ, Falkner; he would rival St. Cecilia herself on that celestial instrument. He wishes now to know in what way he can benefit my son? Have you ever thought of a profession?'

"'Thought of one! Oh, mother! Have I thought of anything else? Who can look at those bright orbs moving above us without longing to be acquainted with their relative positions, their bearings on each other. Let me be an astronomer, I conjure you, but let me not learn of any common master; let me understand the wonders of magnetic and electrical influence, the causes of universal gravitation; whether the infinite expanse above and around me be an entire void—a vacuum, or full of invisible ether, from which matter is formed the subtle essence which, when called together by its Maker's voice, thickens and hardens into worlds like this I tread on.'

"I was now mounted on the hobby that had for the last three years—nay, more, from my very infancy,—carried me on its back, enjoying my day-dreams, and bearing me oft into dark labyrinths of abstruse speculations. This was the first time I had ever ventured to mount it, except in privacy; for there is a secret delight in keeping these same ambling nags, you know, from the sight of others. They are ready at all hours during the day, as well as night, saddled and bridled for our use."

"And so is my Bucephalus, Mr. L——," said I, interrupting him. "I dare say the poor beast is wondering what his master is about this length of time."

"I beg your pardon; I am a long time telling my story," said my companion; "but I wished to show you how very soon the favourite occupation of my mind, indulging in vain abstractions, put to flight all my prudence, my high sense of honour, and delicacy to my mother's fame. To have my ardent wishes gratified with regard to my studies made me forget that perhaps it might be improper to purchase them at such expense; but my selfishness was not wholly departed from me.

"My mother seemed perfectly astonished at hearing what was my desire for the future; but she wrote off that night to consult 'her friend,' whose answer was most propitious. 'He knew a very learned man in Germany, who could instruct me in all these matters, a Dr. Hettmann, a great philosopher and astronomer,—something, too, of an astrologer to boot,—who was certain to receive as a pupil any relative of Mr. Maxwell's; and, as for the means, he begged my mother not to consider about those, but to prepare my equipment, and he would himself take me over to the doctor, by way of Rotterdam, to Vienna, and settle every arrangement on my account.' And so the preparations were begun immediately.

"With that inconsistency with which very young men generally act and think, it struck me forcibly that I could not, ought not, to leave my mother thus domesticated in the same house even with her near relation, and I absent; so, with a very high air of importance, conceit, as well as temper, I told her, 'I should not go to Germany after all, for I should have enough to do to protect her against the evil designs of this accursed relative of hers, who I wished heartily was at the bottom of the Black Sea—the Red one was too good for him.'

"'Do not alarm yourself, my dear Falkner,' said she meekly, and confusedly casting down her eyes; 'there shall be no impropriety on my part. You shall never have cause to blush for your mother. The morning previous to your setting off under the escort of my friend, I intend giving him my hand at C—— church, and trust you will be present at our nuptials.'

"I have no doubt, sir, I jumped from my chair a foot and a half at hearing this proposition," said L——. "I asked her if I had heard aright? and felt that my lips quivered with emotion, and that a cold damp was on my brow.

"'It is a long story, Falkner,' said my mother, 'and I have not the heart to enter into it now; suffice it to say I was engaged to my cousin, Mr. Maxwell, before I saw your father: after I had seen him, I could not fulfil my prior engagement. With a generosity I could not copy, I was relieved from it by him, and he went abroad. But now, though late, I shall do my best to make my first affianced lover happy.' 'Lover!' thought I. From my very soul I detested this abominable Mr. Maxwell. Once or twice I contemplated shooting him, as a kind of rival; at any rate to interpose my authority—to interdict the ceremony, to me so loathsome; but then again I thought of our former poverty, our threatened starvation, of my wretched prospects without the aid of this odious father-in-law. In the end, after a fearful tempest in my mind, and then a fit of gloom and ill-humour, I moodily made up my mind not to prevent my mother's marriage with her cousin; especially as a box of Dollond's best mathematical instruments, with a quadrant and telescope, were sent down to me as a present from this hated Mr. Maxwell. 'I will endeavour to behave decently when he arrives, and give her to him, if I can, at the altar,' thought I.

"Two days after, a plain travelling-carriage stopped at our garden gate; my heart beat wildly—I looked at my mother; she was calm and pale as usual, but her eyes were anxiously, deprecatingly, cast on me. I understood the appealing glances that came from them. 'Mother,' said I, 'fear not; I will behave magnificently!—you shall see how well I will treat him.' I heard the carriage-door slap to; I expected to hear the footsteps of the ardent, thriving bridegroom coming up the little gravel-walk leading from the gate to the parlour; but all was quiet. 'Shall I go to meet him?' I inquired in the plenitude of my intended patronage. There was no need; the intended bridegroom stood before me,—the man to whom I was to give away my tender, my beloved, my beautiful mother. There, in all his native deformity, with his large head, enormous eyes, and dark elf looks, stood the man with the club-foot!

"I will tell you the rest of my story another time—not now—not now!" and Falkner L—— rushed from the apartment. I left the house immediately.

As I rode home to my own house, half a dozen miles distant, I pondered upon the narrative I had just heard. "Perchance," thought I, "the root of this malady is left; it may grow again. I fear he is not quite recovered. I will see him at any rate to-morrow."

L—— fully expected me, and smiled as I entered; but he looked paler than usual, and his hand was feverish. I spoke cheerfully to him; told him some little gossip I had picked up by the way; read him a paragraph or two from a London paper—the crack article of the day; descanted on the weather, as all Englishmen do, and prophesied respecting it for the next four-and-twenty hours. It was his turn next. After a moment's silence, and a sort of struggle with his feelings, he took up the thread of his discourse, but not where he had left off.

"You must have perceived, sir," began my young friend, "that I am of a wayward temper, and have been spoiled by overweening indulgence. My father—but he is in the grave; let me not disturb his ashes more than necessary;—I told you he had died of a broken heart. I am ashamed of the prevarication; his heart certainly was broken, but his own hand assisted the slower operations of nature. He would not brook delay; so ran a sword into that princely organ, and made it stop."

So fearfully pale now looked poor Falkner, that I handed him a glass of wine standing ready on the table, and made him drink it, saying in as cheerful a tone as I could muster up, "Come, come, my dear L——, you have begun now at quite a different part of your story; we must not retrograde. I want to know what you said or did to this same extraordinary-looking being who wanted to be your father-in-law,—this man with the club-foot; what did you say to him?"

"Astonishment chained up my tongue," answered L——, "and disgust to his person turned me sick. On the other hand, gratitude whispered to me that he had saved my life: and self-interest suggested that without his aid, however revolting his person might be, there was nothing left to us but penury and wretchedness. Suspended as between two attractive powers did I stand, my eyes wildly gazing on him, and my brain actually whirling amidst these conflicting emotions."

"'Falkner,' said my mother, 'speak to me!—you alarm me greatly! Why do you look as if you saw a spirit? Randolph, has my son ever beheld you before this moment, for there is recognition in his gaze? He was an infant only when you saved his life thirteen years ago.' 'He has seen me only for two minutes,' croaked out that same harsh unmusical voice: 'he fell by some chance into the millstream the other day, and I helped him out again. To judge by his looks, he would not have done the same thing by me, if I had given him the same chance;' and the monster laughed.

"I roused myself at length from the spell that bound me. 'Mother,' cried I vehemently, 'I must speak to you alone;' the man with the club-foot moved instantly and silently from the apartment.

"'This cannot be,' I exclaimed passionately, 'that you can call this hideous wretch your husband! Nature herself must shudder only at the thought. Deformed, stunted, odious, revolting!—Mother, the very touch of his hand would be a profanation to the dead. My mother sighed. 'And yet, Falkner, how much happier should I have been had I not been dazzled from my plighted faith by exterior advantages alone, and passed my life with one whose qualities are like the fairest diamond placed in a rude shagreen casket. My son, you have not yet looked upon the brilliancy within. Read that paper, Falkner, and be just.' My mother quitted the room as she spoke.

"For the first time in my life I perceived a counteracting influence in opposition to my own in the breast of my tender mother, and the thought enraged me beyond all bounds. Again I meditated self-destruction; again gloomily conceived the thought that I would immolate this intruding wretch, and thus free us both from his persevering attentions. 'It shall be done,' I exclaimed aloud, clenching my hands together in a delirium of passion; 'I have learned a few secrets from Nature in my wanderings alone with her, and one of them I will prove this very evening on——'

"'Your benefactor, Falkner!' interrupted the raven-like croaking of Randolph Maxwell, looking up into my face with those large melancholy eyes of his, and laying his hand on mine. I was taken unawares, and was surprised to find that this same hand of his was delicately white, and soft as that of a woman's. It had on a ring of surpassing brilliancy, which attracted my eyes even in the midst of this exciting scene, so boyish and unfixed at that time was my mind. Was it that the ring itself possessed some powerful spell over my wayward thoughts? or that the hand, looking like a human one,—nay, even beautiful in its kind,—made the owner of it appear at that moment like a being of the same nature as my own? By an impulse I could not control, I extended my own towards him, and I fancied I saw a moisture in those large melancholy eyes of his. 'Emma, my betrothed Emma,' called out that voice, made only for the society of crocodiles and croaking birds of prey, 'come hither, Emma, and behold thy Randolph and thy son friends.' She entered at the call, and pressed our united hands between her own. Then all the loathing and abhorrence of my nature against that inexplicable being returned, and with as much violence as before. But I covered it over with artifice, cloaked it with politeness, obscured it from observation by taciturnity and sullenness. Like a martyr I submitted to my fate; so, the next morning I accompanied this ill-matched pair to the church of C——, and saw them married, forcing myself to give away my almost idolised parent to a thing resembling an ourang-outang. How did I long to spurn the reptile I looked down upon, with my foot! to crush him to pieces as I would a bloated toad!

"That very evening my new father-in-law and myself set off to Germany, my mother having previously put into my hands once more, that paper she had before wished me to read. I thrust it into my pocket. Her blessing to us both, as we seated ourselves in the carriage of the dwarf, still rings in my ears.

"'Farewell, dear Randolph! Farewell, beloved son! For my sake, Randolph, be kind to this unfortunate boy!' Thus did the dwarf answer: 'I swear to you by that faith which has been so powerfully proved, to be careful and indulgent to your son. Write to me, my——' he would have added 'beloved wife;' but catching, I suppose, some strange and threatening expression in my eyes, he changed it into 'my dear and earliest friend!' I felt choking, but would not give way to the tenderness of nature;—I would not say, 'God bless you, best and kindest of mothers!' I threw myself back into the carriage, and, overpowered with various emotions, I wept like an infant. But be it remembered, sir, I was not then sixteen years old. At length a healing slumber closed up my senses. I know not how long it lasted, for when I awoke I was alone; the carriage was standing without horses in an inn-yard; my companion would not have me disturbed, and was gone himself into the house to give orders for our accommodation there that night.

"My mother had used a word in parting that became to me as a constant goad; nay, it entered into my very soul. 'Her unfortunate boy!' Why should she use the word unfortunate? I had been told from infancy, (and I firmly believed what had been so often asserted,) that I was eminently handsome. Both my parents had been distinguished for their great personal attractions, and I had been assured that I possessed in a still higher degree than they did the exterior gifts and graces of nature. Then, as to mental ones, had I not been born a poet, philosopher, everything that was great and noble?—for so my doting parents always said in my hearing. Why then did she now call me unfortunate, especially when she had provided for me so august a patron in her second husband? I have since fully known what she meant by this term unfortunate."

Poor L—— at this time rose from his chair, and gazed up vacantly into the clouds. I knew what he was thinking of, but the subject was too delicate for me to touch on.

He continued:

"I forgot the paper I had thrust into my pocket when I left my mother. We travelled on together wrapt up each in our own thoughts, for I could not force myself to converse with him, although sometimes I was astonished at the depth and genius of his observations. They fell like brilliant gems around me, but I would not pick them up, or even admire their lustre. At length wearied, I suppose, with my obstinacy, he took a book out of the pocket of the carriage, and began to read. This I considered an indignity, an insult, and with marks of temper sought immediately for another. In this mood we reached the house of the celebrated Scheele, in Vienna, where it was agreed I should for some months reside, that I might learn something of chemistry before I began my astronomical researches.

"Not a word was said to me on money matters; all this was arranged without my knowledge. I found a pocket-book on my toilet, containing most ample means for my private expenses, but it was unaccompanied with a single line. No leave was taken of me; but when I arose one morning I was told by the family of the Professor Scheele that 'my friend' had departed at an early hour, leaving me in charge of them, bespeaking their kindest attentions for me, and paying most liberally for me in advance.

"'Tis all beyond my comprehension," said Falkner L—— after a pause, and repeating to himself that line of Milton,

"And found no end, in wandering mazes lost."

Then abruptly he continued thus:

"I learned all sorts of splendid nonsense from Professor Scheele, for I know not its utility. I went from him to the renowned Berzelius, and laid in a stock of more. I studied astronomy under a relation of the famous Schiller, and alchemy from a nephew of Jang Stilling. But what availed all these acquisitions? One fixed idea was ever like an incubus upon my soul,—the thought of my mother's marriage with this club-footed hunchback. Years passed on; and though invited, implored, to return to England, yet I could not endure the thought of seeing her the wife of so distorted a little wretch. She wrote to me ever 'of his nobleness, his generosity:' I felt the latter in the plenitude of his allowance to her son; but I was haunted perpetually by his image, hovering like an imp of darkness over a form moulded by the Graces. I hated my own country because it contained him, and yet I could think of nothing else. I became melancholy, morose, obstinate, taciturn, irritable to excess.

"One day, in clearing out my writing-desk, a paper came into my hand that I had no recollection of; it turned out to be the very one my mother had put into my hands just before my departure. These were the words. It was a letter from 'the Man with the club-foot' to herself.

"'To Emma, the beloved of my heart,—Think you that I am blind to my own imperfections?—that I am fool enough to suppose that this warped and twisted person of mine is a thing to be beloved, to be caressed? I have been conscious of my own deformities from a very child; and then it was that you, many years my junior, and accustomed to the sight of my exterior hideousness from your birth, cared not for it, but gave me the blessing of your companionship, and taught me to hope you could endure my presence through life. So did I delude myself; so did you guilelessly assist me in the delusion. I believed I should call you my own; you sanctioned this belief. But when the fascinating L—— arrived, how soon did I perceive my fatal mistake! I saw it long before my Emma even suspected it, and—why should I pain you now by telling you what I then suffered? enough, you know how I acted;—the hunchback preferred your happiness to his own.

"'Emma, it is unnecessary now to tell you how I employed myself during seventeen years, and how much I thought of those days when my beautiful cousin would gaze fondly in my eyes, and call me 'her dear Randolph!' Need I say what unexpected delight I experienced when once I was enabled to save her child, then a very cherub, and still beautiful as herself, from destruction? You know all this; and how, after this transaction, blessed with her gratitude, I departed for Ceylon. Was I not loaded also with the knowledge and the misery that she, my beloved one, was not happy? I could not stay to witness her regrets.

"'I went to Ceylon. It was with a miser's feeling that I hoarded up riches in that island, which contains more riches than any other part of the world. I trafficked in diamonds; I tried experiments with spices; I found hidden treasure; and, as I amassed wealth almost beyond calculation, I constantly said to myself, 'All this is for her,—she will need it.'

"'And is it not thine own, thou idol of my heart?—and is it not thy darling son's? But think not that Randolph Maxwell's love is tainted by vile selfishness. I know, I feel my person must be abhorrent to my lovely cousin now—it is not like her L——'s; my mind she has some knowledge of. Let our marriage, then, beloved one! be only of the mind; let me live with you, gaze on you, hope that I disgust you not, and you will make your faithful cousin happy. I ask no more. Your child is mine; I have no other; he is the heir of my possessions, and herewith I make over to him and you, wealth enough to satisfy the most craving of our species;—everything, except a small pittance in case you should wish my absence, is yours. And now, Emma, we understand each other, and I think we ever shall. If your son——'

"But here the paper was skilfully divided; my mother would not suffer me to know the opinion Randolph Maxwell had of her wayward Falkner. Oh! that I had read this letter before!—it would have saved me hundreds of hours of anguish; but, now that I had done so, I formed an instant resolution of returning to England and my mother. Having always the means by me, I put no curb to my inclinations; I never had done so in my life, and, to my mother's astonishment, arrived there without informing her she might expect me. Enchantment seemed to have been used, for a palace had risen up close to our former white-washed cottage. I forgot my mother had apprised me. By an expensive process, full-grown trees of every kind had been transplanted to the new abode; it was imbedded in the midst of costly firs and flowering shrubs. I flew to her and tenderly embraced her. I even inquired respectfully for the man with the club-foot. I began myself to honour him. My mother's countenance changed as I mentioned his name, and an unknown kind of dread came over me. 'Let me know the worst at once,' said I, 'for,'—in short, I thought then, as now, that he had more than mortal agency.

"'The worst will soon be told you, Falkner,' said my mother sadly. 'My cousin Randolph is dying: he has been in a declining state for the last two years. He eats nothing, never sleeps, and I shall soon lose a being of such exemplary worth, that I fear it will break my heart. It is impossible to describe to you the nobleness, the disinterested attachment of this creature, now at the very point of death. But here comes Dr. E——; he has been with my poor Randolph for the last two hours; he will tell us what he thinks of his malady;'—and you, sir, came into the room."

"Do you remember this circumstance, doctor?" said Falkner to me, "do you remember coming in from the bedside of your patient to the room where my mother and myself were sitting,—do you remember how closely I questioned you?"

"I do," answered I dryly, "and also what passed in the sick man's chamber. But proceed with your narration—I think you have not much more to say."

"Is it then still a profound secret what that man, or devil,—I know not which he is,—communicated to you at that time?" inquired poor L——, looking at me with eyes that seemed to search my very soul. "You told us, doctor, he was dying, and I thought so too myself afterwards; for I was prevailed on to visit him you both called my benefactor!—Oh God! oh God! what is the reason that he did not die?—that in a few days he—this hunchback—rose from that couch where we all expected he would close for ever those melancholy eyes? Instead of our carrying him to the churchyard, and burying him deep, deep there, he broke his plighted faith to my ill-used mother, and rose from his couch to become the partner of hers—her veritable husband! Was it not this accursed knowledge that utterly destroyed me? Did I not rave then, beat my breast, and become a madman? Did I not attempt the life of her who gave me birth? And was I not prevented from fulfilling my design by this same loathsome being, who bound my hands together with a strength as if he had been a giant; not the pigmy that he is?—He overcame me—I remember this, now, full well."

"All this is nothing new to me," said I, "for I attended you all the time of your illness, and you have been very bad indeed. But what then? These clouds will pass away, and the sun, the brilliant star of your mind, will be much brighter than it has ever been. Can you bear Falkner L—— to hear what passed in the sick chamber of him you have called by such opprobrious names?"

"Before I answer you, doctor, you must resolve me one question," and the brow of the young man darkened:—"How long have I been ill?" This was whispered rather than spoken.

"Exactly ten months," I replied. "Is that your question?" and I smiled upon him, for I knew what was in his mind.

"No," he answered; "it is only the scaffolding about it. It shall out," cried poor L—— furiously, "and on its reply depends whether I will ever speak again to man or woman during my short remnant of life. It is a question to me of vital importance indeed!" I am reluctant to give it utterance, so much disgust do I feel with this whole affair; yet I have a burning desire to know, and I will be satisfied."

"So had our first parents, L——," said I; "but they found the fruit of the tree of knowledge bitter and indigestive. Wisdom is always preferable to knowledge; for it yields content, calmness, holiness. But what is your question? I think I know its purport—out with it."

"Has my mother given birth to a child of that abominable man with the club-foot?" cried poor L—— almost inaudibly, with a lip quivering, an eye flaming; "is there another little wretch upon this earth inheriting the deformities of that monster?—a creature doomed to walk in shoes that give no sound, and therefore of magic and unlawful make?"

"What nonsense you talk, L——!" cried I. "Why, I took up those very shoes and examined them curiously, when I visited the sick chamber of their owner. I was struck with their strange make, and was much pleased with the invention, which is a German one; and I mean to write over for a pair or two of boots, made on this same construction, as I dislike creaking appendages to my feet of all things; for it sounds so material, you know. The soles of these are elastic and hollow, filled, moreover, with gas, which makes the wearer light-footed. We—that is, you and I—do not want such inventions to our heads, you know," I said a little archly; "we are light-headed enough without the assistance of German mechanists; but for their shoes we thank them."

"Perhaps they have helped us a little to be light-headed too, notwithstanding," retorted L—— with a spirit I was delighted to see. "German philosophy may produce the same effects on the head as German boots on the feet. But you astonish me by what you say! Elastic hollow soles!—then there was no necromancy in them after all! But still you have not answered my question, doctor."

"All in good time, L——; let me first put one category to you. What should make you have such a dreadful abhorrence to infants?—are they not the most interesting beings in the universe?—does not heaven lie about them then? As for inheriting a club-foot, that is all stuff. The children of Socrates did not inherit his snub nose, nor the mind either of him who chanced to have this nez retroussť."

"What am I to infer from this preamble?" demanded L—— with a face as white as death.

"Why, that you have as lovely a little sister as ever opened a pair of eyes upon this earthly scene—such a pair of eyes, too!—large, dark, magnificent eyes,—much handsomer than yours, L——, and they are not much to be found fault with. In short, my little god-daughter Emma is a perfect beauty, of about three weeks old,—and I am ready to enter the lists with any one who is bold enough to deny the full power of her infantine charms."

There was a long pause after this.

"And her feet?" inquired L——, gasping for breath, "has she—club feet?"

"Pshaw! you never expected more than one; her father——" But he wildly interrupted me.

"Oh! name him not!—name him not!—Deceiver!—liar!—hypocrite!—I knew it would come to this!—this is what has maddened me—I knew it would be so!"

"Then you have been a seer and a prophet," replied I, "all along. Allow me to bow to your superior wisdom. I never dreamed of such a thing; yet would it not have been as it has turned out, but for my advice, my judgment."

"What on earth could you have had to do with this wretched business?" inquired L——. "Pray, pray, do not confuse me more than you can help."

"I am going rather to enlighten you, L——," said I, "and must beg you seriously to attend now to me. You know that I was summoned to attend upon Mr. Randolph Maxwell, the first cousin of your mother. Well, I found him in almost a dying state,—weak, exhausted, dejected in the extreme, without a wish to live. I inquired into the symptoms of his malady. I could gain no information from his words; but those melancholy yet beautiful eyes of his gave me a suspicion. Having obtained a clue, and not having the same contemptible and erroneous opinion of my patient as yourself, I arrived at length at the truth, and found that this 'demon,' as you are pleased to call him, was falling a sacrifice to his high sense of honour, and delicacy to his idolised wife's feelings. He had adored her ever, and believed firmly, when he wrote that last epistle to her which you saw, that he was capable of keeping his word; that the society of his Emma as a friend and sister only would fully satisfy every desire of his heart. But in living with her, in receiving her smiles, and hearing himself called 'Randolph,' 'dear Randolph,' by lips so lovely and beloved, he found that he was human, and had human wishes to gratify. Thus, like Tantalus, did he languish and droop, yet without a hope, uttering a complaint, or making a single effort to draw her compassion, or even to let his sufferings be understood by her. By heavens! L——, that man, small as he is in stature, deformed and unpleasant to look upon, is one of the greatest heroes, ay, martyrs, let it be added,—I speak as a medical man,—that history has to boast of!"—I paused as I said this, and waited for some observation from my young friend; but he merely leaned his cheek upon his hand, and cast his eyes upon the ground.—"Shall I proceed?" asked I.

"I can finish the narrative myself," said he: "you communicated the state of her friend, of course, to my mother, and she,—to save his life,——"

"—Told me," cried I, "that she had now been so long accustomed to his presence, so familiarised with his uncouth appearance, that she scarcely noticed his deformities; that his attentions, his delicacy, his devotedness to her for so long a time, had taken from her all repugnance to his person; and that she could truly say, 'she loved him even as he was.'" L—— groaned aloud. "Oh!" continued I, "I wish I could describe to you the feelings of this man with the club-foot,—this being so despised, so loathed by you,—when I repeated to him, word for word, what his adored wife had imparted to me,—when the delightful conviction stole into his mind that there was one woman in the world, and that one the most valued and the most lovely, who could look upon him, dwarf, hunchback as he was, with eyes of returning affection,—that he was loved in some measure with a return.—After all, L——, what is there in the outside?"

"Is my mother happy?" at length inquired L—— with a burning cheek, but a softening tone of voice.

"The only drawback on her felicity is from the waywardness, the morbid temper, and the cruel prejudices of her only son," said I. "What is there in a mere form, the husk, the shell, the covering of the immortal mind? Would you have treated Socrates as you have treated Mr. Maxwell?—thus have despised Alexander Pope?"

"Socrates had not a club-foot," answered he; but I fancied that an air of pleasantry accompanied the observation: "Pope had not this deformity."

"But other great men had," I replied, "who were as inferior to the gentleman we have been speaking of in true heroism, as they excelled him in other mere personal attractions. Remember the adage, L——, 'Handsome is who handsome does.'"

"Doctor E——" exclaimed Falkner L——, after a pause of an entire minute, for I noted it by my stop-watch,—"Doctor E——, I will see this infant sister of mine; I will see its—its father also; I will be one of that happy family.—Oh, what a monster of prejudice have I been until this very hour!"

"You say right, my dear L——; prejudice does make monsters of mankind,—it has made you mad,—but happily you are restored. Look not in future on the outside of the cup and platter; for be assured that the pearl beyond all price is to be found within. Prejudice and pride are, according to my experience, the causes of more lunacy even than the use of ardent spirits, or the goad of poverty, that eateth into the very soul."

I had the great satisfaction of seeing that very evening a lovely female infant, dressed in a white cassimere cloak and hood, trimmed with swansdown and rich lace, in the arms of the young man, who caressed the child with every mark of affection, and called her "his dear, dear little sister!" I smiled to myself also at seeing this same young man looking with pleased delight on its small perfect ivory feet, which I took care to display; and much pleased was I in hearing him for the first time in his life say with sincerity,

"My dear Mr. Maxwell, I thank you from my very heart for the kindness you have shown to this beloved lady, your happy wife, and the forbearance you have evinced towards her wayward and insulting son.—Am I forgiven?"

"From my very soul!" said a voice, now heard without disgust, notwithstanding its croaking and discordant tone. It was that of "The Man with the Club-Foot."