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