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Chapter 6

CHAPTER 6

In which the Occurrence of the Accident mentioned in the last
Chapter, affords an Opportunity to a couple of Gentlemen to tell
Stories against each other


'Wo ho!' cried the guard, on his legs in a minute, and running to
the leaders' heads. 'Is there ony genelmen there as can len' a
hond here? Keep quiet, dang ye! Wo ho!'

'What's the matter?' demanded Nicholas, looking sleepily up.

'Matther mun, matter eneaf for one neight,' replied the guard; 'dang
the wall-eyed bay, he's gane mad wi' glory I think, carse t'coorch
is over. Here, can't ye len' a hond? Dom it, I'd ha' dean it if
all my boans were brokken.'

'Here!' cried Nicholas, staggering to his feet, 'I'm ready. I'm
only a little abroad, that's all.'

'Hoold 'em toight,' cried the guard, 'while ar coot treaces. Hang
on tiv'em sumhoo. Well deane, my lod. That's it. Let'em goa noo.
Dang 'em, they'll gang whoam fast eneaf!'

In truth, the animals were no sooner released than they trotted
back, with much deliberation, to the stable they had just left,
which was distant not a mile behind.

'Can you blo' a harn?' asked the guard, disengaging one of the
coach-lamps.

'I dare say I can,' replied Nicholas.

'Then just blo' away into that 'un as lies on the grund, fit to
wakken the deead, will'ee,' said the man, 'while I stop sum o' this
here squealing inside. Cumin', cumin'. Dean't make that noise,
wooman.'

As the man spoke, he proceeded to wrench open the uppermost door of
the coach, while Nicholas, seizing the horn, awoke the echoes far
and wide with one of the most extraordinary performances on that
instrument ever heard by mortal ears. It had its effect, however,
not only in rousing such of their fall, but in summoning assistance
to their relief; for lights gleamed in the distance, and people were
already astir.

In fact, a man on horseback galloped down, before the passengers
were well collected together; and a careful investigation being
instituted, it appeared that the lady inside had broken her lamp,
and the gentleman his head; that the two front outsides had escaped
with black eyes; the box with a bloody nose; the coachman with a
contusion on the temple; Mr Squeers with a portmanteau bruise on his
back; and the remaining passengers without any injury at all--thanks
to the softness of the snow-drift in which they had been overturned.
These facts were no sooner thoroughly ascertained, than the lady
gave several indications of fainting, but being forewarned that if
she did, she must be carried on some gentleman's shoulders to the
nearest public-house, she prudently thought better of it, and walked
back with the rest.

They found on reaching it, that it was a lonely place with no very
great accommodation in the way of apartments--that portion of its
resources being all comprised in one public room with a sanded
floor, and a chair or two. However, a large faggot and a plentiful
supply of coals being heaped upon the fire, the appearance of things
was not long in mending; and, by the time they had washed off all
effaceable marks of the late accident, the room was warm and light,
which was a most agreeable exchange for the cold and darkness out of
doors.

'Well, Mr Nickleby,' said Squeers, insinuating himself into the
warmest corner, 'you did very right to catch hold of them horses. I
should have done it myself if I had come to in time, but I am very
glad you did it. You did it very well; very well.'

'So well,' said the merry-faced gentleman, who did not seem to
approve very much of the patronising tone adopted by Squeers, 'that
if they had not been firmly checked when they were, you would most
probably have had no brains left to teach with.'

This remark called up a discourse relative to the promptitude
Nicholas had displayed, and he was overwhelmed with compliments and
commendations.

'I am very glad to have escaped, of course,' observed Squeers:
'every man is glad when he escapes from danger; but if any one of my
charges had been hurt--if I had been prevented from restoring any
one of these little boys to his parents whole and sound as I
received him--what would have been my feelings? Why the wheel a-top
of my head would have been far preferable to it.'

'Are they all brothers, sir?' inquired the lady who had carried the
'Davy' or safety-lamp.

'In one sense they are, ma'am,' replied Squeers, diving into his
greatcoat pocket for cards. 'They are all under the same parental
and affectionate treatment. Mrs Squeers and myself are a mother and
father to every one of 'em. Mr Nickleby, hand the lady them cards,
and offer these to the gentleman. Perhaps they might know of some
parents that would be glad to avail themselves of the establishment.'

Expressing himself to this effect, Mr Squeers, who lost no
opportunity of advertising gratuitously, placed his hands upon his
knees, and looked at the pupils with as much benignity as he could
possibly affect, while Nicholas, blushing with shame, handed round
the cards as directed.

'I hope you suffer no inconvenience from the overturn, ma'am?' said
the merry-faced gentleman, addressing the fastidious lady, as though
he were charitably desirous to change the subject.

'No bodily inconvenience,' replied the lady.

'No mental inconvenience, I hope?'

'The subject is a very painful one to my feelings, sir,' replied the
lady with strong emotion; 'and I beg you as a gentleman, not to
refer to it.'

'Dear me,' said the merry-faced gentleman, looking merrier still, 'I
merely intended to inquire--'

'I hope no inquiries will be made,' said the lady, 'or I shall be
compelled to throw myself on the protection of the other gentlemen.
Landlord, pray direct a boy to keep watch outside the door--and if a
green chariot passes in the direction of Grantham, to stop it
instantly.'

The people of the house were evidently overcome by this request, and
when the lady charged the boy to remember, as a means of identifying
the expected green chariot, that it would have a coachman with a
gold-laced hat on the box, and a footman, most probably in silk
stockings, behind, the attentions of the good woman of the inn were
redoubled. Even the box-passenger caught the infection, and growing
wonderfully deferential, immediately inquired whether there was not
very good society in that neighbourhood, to which the lady replied
yes, there was: in a manner which sufficiently implied that she
moved at the very tiptop and summit of it all.

'As the guard has gone on horseback to Grantham to get another
coach,' said the good-tempered gentleman when they had been all
sitting round the fire, for some time, in silence, 'and as he must
be gone a couple of hours at the very least, I propose a bowl of hot
punch. What say you, sir?'

This question was addressed to the broken-headed inside, who was a
man of very genteel appearance, dressed in mourning. He was not
past the middle age, but his hair was grey; it seemed to have been
prematurely turned by care or sorrow. He readily acceded to the
proposal, and appeared to be prepossessed by the frank good-nature
of the individual from whom it emanated.

This latter personage took upon himself the office of tapster when
the punch was ready, and after dispensing it all round, led the
conversation to the antiquities of York, with which both he and the
grey-haired gentleman appeared to be well acquainted. When this
topic flagged, he turned with a smile to the grey-headed gentleman,
and asked if he could sing.

'I cannot indeed,' replied gentleman, smiling in his turn.

'That's a pity,' said the owner of the good-humoured countenance.
'Is there nobody here who can sing a song to lighten the time?'

The passengers, one and all, protested that they could not; that
they wished they could; that they couldn't remember the words of
anything without the book; and so forth.

'Perhaps the lady would not object,' said the president with great
respect, and a merry twinkle in his eye. 'Some little Italian thing
out of the last opera brought out in town, would be most acceptable
I am sure.'

As the lady condescended to make no reply, but tossed her head
contemptuously, and murmured some further expression of surprise
regarding the absence of the green chariot, one or two voices urged
upon the president himself, the propriety of making an attempt for
the general benefit.

'I would if I could,' said he of the good-tempered face; 'for I hold
that in this, as in all other cases where people who are strangers
to each other are thrown unexpectedly together, they should
endeavour to render themselves as pleasant, for the joint sake of
the little community, as possible.'

'I wish the maxim were more generally acted on, in all cases,' said
the grey-headed gentleman.

'I'm glad to hear it,' returned the other. 'Perhaps, as you can't
sing, you'll tell us a story?'

'Nay. I should ask you.'

'After you, I will, with pleasure.'

'Indeed!' said the grey-haired gentleman, smiling, 'Well, let it be
so. I fear the turn of my thoughts is not calculated to lighten the
time you must pass here; but you have brought this upon yourselves,
and shall judge. We were speaking of York Minster just now. My
story shall have some reference to it. Let us call it


THE FIVE SISTERS OF YORK


After a murmur of approbation from the other passengers, during
which the fastidious lady drank a glass of punch unobserved, the
grey-headed gentleman thus went on:

'A great many years ago--for the fifteenth century was scarce two
years old at the time, and King Henry the Fourth sat upon the throne
of England--there dwelt, in the ancient city of York, five maiden
sisters, the subjects of my tale.

'These five sisters were all of surpassing beauty. The eldest was
in her twenty-third year, the second a year younger, the third a
year younger than the second, and the fourth a year younger than the
third. They were tall stately figures, with dark flashing eyes and
hair of jet; dignity and grace were in their every movement; and the
fame of their great beauty had spread through all the country round.

'But, if the four elder sisters were lovely, how beautiful was the
youngest, a fair creature of sixteen! The blushing tints in the
soft bloom on the fruit, or the delicate painting on the flower, are
not more exquisite than was the blending of the rose and lily in her
gentle face, or the deep blue of her eye. The vine, in all its
elegant luxuriance, is not more graceful than were the clusters of
rich brown hair that sported round her brow.

'If we all had hearts like those which beat so lightly in the bosoms
of the young and beautiful, what a heaven this earth would be! If,
while our bodies grow old and withered, our hearts could but retain
their early youth and freshness, of what avail would be our sorrows
and sufferings! But, the faint image of Eden which is stamped upon
them in childhood, chafes and rubs in our rough struggles with the
world, and soon wears away: too often to leave nothing but a
mournful blank remaining.

'The heart of this fair girl bounded with joy and gladness. Devoted
attachment to her sisters, and a fervent love of all beautiful
things in nature, were its pure affections. Her gleesome voice and
merry laugh were the sweetest music of their home. She was its very
light and life. The brightest flowers in the garden were reared by
her; the caged birds sang when they heard her voice, and pined when
they missed its sweetness. Alice, dear Alice; what living thing
within the sphere of her gentle witchery, could fail to love her!

'You may seek in vain, now, for the spot on which these sisters
lived, for their very names have passed away, and dusty antiquaries
tell of them as of a fable. But they dwelt in an old wooden house--
old even in those days--with overhanging gables and balconies of
rudely-carved oak, which stood within a pleasant orchard, and was
surrounded by a rough stone wall, whence a stout archer might have
winged an arrow to St Mary's Abbey. The old abbey flourished then;
and the five sisters, living on its fair domains, paid yearly dues
to the black monks of St Benedict, to which fraternity it belonged.

'It was a bright and sunny morning in the pleasant time of summer,
when one of those black monks emerged from the abbey portal, and
bent his steps towards the house of the fair sisters. Heaven above
was blue, and earth beneath was green; the river glistened like a
path of diamonds in the sun; the birds poured forth their songs from
the shady trees; the lark soared high above the waving corn; and the
deep buzz of insects filled the air. Everything looked gay and
smiling; but the holy man walked gloomily on, with his eyes bent
upon the ground. The beauty of the earth is but a breath, and man
is but a shadow. What sympathy should a holy preacher have with
either?

'With eyes bent upon the ground, then, or only raised enough to
prevent his stumbling over such obstacles as lay in his way, the
religious man moved slowly forward until he reached a small postern
in the wall of the sisters' orchard, through which he passed,
closing it behind him. The noise of soft voices in conversation,
and of merry laughter, fell upon his ears ere he had advanced many
paces; and raising his eyes higher than was his humble wont, he
descried, at no great distance, the five sisters seated on the
grass, with Alice in the centre: all busily plying their customary
task of embroidering.

'"Save you, fair daughters!" said the friar; and fair in truth they
were. Even a monk might have loved them as choice masterpieces of
his Maker's hand.

'The sisters saluted the holy man with becoming reverence, and the
eldest motioned him to a mossy seat beside them. But the good friar
shook his head, and bumped himself down on a very hard stone,--at
which, no doubt, approving angels were gratified.

'"Ye were merry, daughters," said the monk.

'"You know how light of heart sweet Alice is," replied the eldest
sister, passing her fingers through the tresses of the smiling girl.

'"And what joy and cheerfulness it wakes up within us, to see all
nature beaming in brightness and sunshine, father," added Alice,
blushing beneath the stern look of the recluse.

'The monk answered not, save by a grave inclination of the head, and
the sisters pursued their task in silence.

'"Still wasting the precious hours," said the monk at length,
turning to the eldest sister as he spoke, "still wasting the
precious hours on this vain trifling. Alas, alas! that the few
bubbles on the surface of eternity--all that Heaven wills we should
see of that dark deep stream--should be so lightly scattered!'

'"Father," urged the maiden, pausing, as did each of the others, in
her busy task, "we have prayed at matins, our daily alms have been
distributed at the gate, the sick peasants have been tended,--all
our morning tasks have been performed. I hope our occupation is a
blameless one?'

'"See here," said the friar, taking the frame from her hand,
"an intricate winding of gaudy colours, without purpose or object,
unless it be that one day it is destined for some vain ornament, to
minister to the pride of your frail and giddy sex. Day after day
has been employed upon this senseless task, and yet it is not half
accomplished. The shade of each departed day falls upon our graves,
and the worm exults as he beholds it, to know that we are hastening
thither. Daughters, is there no better way to pass the fleeting
hours?"

'The four elder sisters cast down their eyes as if abashed by the
holy man's reproof, but Alice raised hers, and bent them mildly on
the friar.

'"Our dear mother," said the maiden; "Heaven rest her soul!"

'"Amen!" cried the friar in a deep voice.

'"Our dear mother," faltered the fair Alice, "was living when these
long tasks began, and bade us, when she should be no more, ply them
in all discretion and cheerfulness, in our leisure hours; she said
that if in harmless mirth and maidenly pursuits we passed those
hours together, they would prove the happiest and most peaceful of
our lives, and that if, in later times, we went forth into the
world, and mingled with its cares and trials--if, allured by its
temptations and dazzled by its glitter, we ever forgot that love and
duty which should bind, in holy ties, the children of one loved
parent--a glance at the old work of our common girlhood would awaken
good thoughts of bygone days, and soften our hearts to affection and
love."

'"Alice speaks truly, father," said the elder sister, somewhat
proudly. And so saying she resumed her work, as did the others.

'It was a kind of sampler of large size, that each sister had before
her; the device was of a complex and intricate description, and the
pattern and colours of all five were the same. The sisters bent
gracefully over their work; the monk, resting his chin upon his
hands, looked from one to the other in silence.

'"How much better," he said at length, "to shun all such thoughts
and chances, and, in the peaceful shelter of the church, devote your
lives to Heaven! Infancy, childhood, the prime of life, and old
age, wither as rapidly as they crowd upon each other. Think how
human dust rolls onward to the tomb, and turning your faces steadily
towards that goal, avoid the cloud which takes its rise among the
pleasures of the world, and cheats the senses of their votaries.
The veil, daughters, the veil!"

'"Never, sisters," cried Alice. "Barter not the light and air of
heaven, and the freshness of earth and all the beautiful things
which breathe upon it, for the cold cloister and the cell. Nature's
own blessings are the proper goods of life, and we may share them
sinlessly together. To die is our heavy portion, but, oh, let us
die with life about us; when our cold hearts cease to beat, let warm
hearts be beating near; let our last look be upon the bounds which
God has set to his own bright skies, and not on stone walls and bars
of iron! Dear sisters, let us live and die, if you list, in this
green garden's compass; only shun the gloom and sadness of a
cloister, and we shall be happy."

'The tears fell fast from the maiden's eyes as she closed her
impassioned appeal, and hid her face in the bosom of her sister.

'"Take comfort, Alice," said the eldest, kissing her fair forehead.
"The veil shall never cast its shadow on thy young brow. How say
you, sisters? For yourselves you speak, and not for Alice, or for
me."

'The sisters, as with one accord, cried that their lot was cast
together, and that there were dwellings for peace and virtue beyond
the convent's walls.

'"Father," said the eldest lady, rising with dignity, "you hear our
final resolve. The same pious care which enriched the abbey of St
Mary, and left us, orphans, to its holy guardianship, directed that
no constraint should be imposed upon our inclinations, but that we
should be free to live according to our choice. Let us hear no more
of this, we pray you. Sisters, it is nearly noon. Let us take
shelter until evening!" With a reverence to the friar, the lady rose
and walked towards the house, hand in hand with Alice; the other
sisters followed.

'The holy man, who had often urged the same point before, but had
never met with so direct a repulse, walked some little distance
behind, with his eyes bent upon the earth, and his lips moving AS IF
in prayer. As the sisters reached the porch, he quickened his pace,
and called upon them to stop.

'"Stay!" said the monk, raising his right hand in the air, and
directing an angry glance by turns at Alice and the eldest sister.
"Stay, and hear from me what these recollections are, which you
would cherish above eternity, and awaken--if in mercy they
slumbered--by means of idle toys. The memory of earthly things is
charged, in after life, with bitter disappointment, affliction,
death; with dreary change and wasting sorrow. The time will one day
come, when a glance at those unmeaning baubles will tear open deep
wounds in the hearts of some among you, and strike to your inmost
souls. When that hour arrives--and, mark me, come it will--turn
from the world to which you clung, to the refuge which you spurned.
Find me the cell which shall be colder than the fire of mortals
grows, when dimmed by calamity and trial, and there weep for the
dreams of youth. These things are Heaven's will, not mine," said
the friar, subduing his voice as he looked round upon the shrinking
girls. "The Virgin's blessing be upon you, daughters!"

'With these words he disappeared through the postern; and the
sisters hastening into the house were seen no more that day.

'But nature will smile though priests may frown, and next day the
sun shone brightly, and on the next, and the next again. And in the
morning's glare, and the evening's soft repose, the five sisters
still walked, or worked, or beguiled the time by cheerful
conversation, in their quiet orchard.

'Time passed away as a tale that is told; faster indeed than many
tales that are told, of which number I fear this may be one. The
house of the five sisters stood where it did, and the same trees
cast their pleasant shade upon the orchard grass. The sisters too
were there, and lovely as at first, but a change had come over their
dwelling. Sometimes, there was the clash of armour, and the
gleaming of the moon on caps of steel; and, at others, jaded
coursers were spurred up to the gate, and a female form glided
hurriedly forth, as if eager to demand tidings of the weary
messenger. A goodly train of knights and ladies lodged one night
within the abbey walls, and next day rode away, with two of the fair
sisters among them. Then, horsemen began to come less frequently,
and seemed to bring bad tidings when they did, and at length they
ceased to come at all, and footsore peasants slunk to the gate after
sunset, and did their errand there, by stealth. Once, a vassal was
dispatched in haste to the abbey at dead of night, and when morning
came, there were sounds of woe and wailing in the sisters' house;
and after this, a mournful silence fell upon it, and knight or lady,
horse or armour, was seen about it no more.

'There was a sullen darkness in the sky, and the sun had gone
angrily down, tinting the dull clouds with the last traces of his
wrath, when the same black monk walked slowly on, with folded arms,
within a stone's-throw of the abbey. A blight had fallen on the
trees and shrubs; and the wind, at length beginning to break the
unnatural stillness that had prevailed all day, sighed heavily from
time to time, as though foretelling in grief the ravages of the
coming storm. The bat skimmed in fantastic flights through the
heavy air, and the ground was alive with crawling things, whose
instinct brought them forth to swell and fatten in the rain.

'No longer were the friar's eyes directed to the earth; they were
cast abroad, and roamed from point to point, as if the gloom and
desolation of the scene found a quick response in his own bosom.
Again he paused near the sisters' house, and again he entered by the
postern.

'But not again did his ear encounter the sound of laughter, or his
eyes rest upon the beautiful figures of the five sisters. All was
silent and deserted. The boughs of the trees were bent and broken,
and the grass had grown long and rank. No light feet had pressed it
for many, many a day.

'With the indifference or abstraction of one well accustomed to the
change, the monk glided into the house, and entered a low, dark
room. Four sisters sat there. Their black garments made their pale
faces whiter still, and time and sorrow had worked deep ravages.
They were stately yet; but the flush and pride of beauty were gone.

'And Alice--where was she? In Heaven.

'The monk--even the monk--could bear with some grief here; for it
was long since these sisters had met, and there were furrows in
their blanched faces which years could never plough. He took his
seat in silence, and motioned them to continue their speech.

'"They are here, sisters," said the elder lady in a trembling voice.
"I have never borne to look upon them since, and now I blame myself
for my weakness. What is there in her memory that we should dread?
To call up our old days shall be a solemn pleasure yet."

'She glanced at the monk as she spoke, and, opening a cabinet,
brought forth the five frames of work, completed long before. Her
step was firm, but her hand trembled as she produced the last one;
and, when the feelings of the other sisters gushed forth at sight of
it, her pent-up tears made way, and she sobbed "God bless her!"

'The monk rose and advanced towards them. "It was almost the last
thing she touched in health," he said in a low voice.

'"It was," cried the elder lady, weeping bitterly.

'The monk turned to the second sister.

'"The gallant youth who looked into thine eyes, and hung upon thy
very breath when first he saw thee intent upon this pastime, lies
buried on a plain whereof the turf is red with blood. Rusty
fragments of armour, once brightly burnished, lie rotting on the
ground, and are as little distinguishable for his, as are the bones
that crumble in the mould!"

'The lady groaned, and wrung her hands.

'"The policy of courts," he continued, turning to the two other
sisters, "drew ye from your peaceful home to scenes of revelry and
splendour. The same policy, and the restless ambition of--proud and
fiery men, have sent ye back, widowed maidens, and humbled outcasts.
Do I speak truly?"

'The sobs of the two sisters were their only reply.

'"There is little need," said the monk, with a meaning look, "to
fritter away the time in gewgaws which shall raise up the pale
ghosts of hopes of early years. Bury them, heap penance and
mortification on their heads, keep them down, and let the convent be
their grave!"

'The sisters asked for three days to deliberate; and felt, that
night, as though the veil were indeed the fitting shroud for their
dead joys. But, morning came again, and though the boughs of the
orchard trees drooped and ran wild upon the ground, it was the same
orchard still. The grass was coarse and high, but there was yet the
spot on which they had so often sat together, when change and sorrow
were but names. There was every walk and nook which Alice had made
glad; and in the minster nave was one flat stone beneath which she
slept in peace.

'And could they, remembering how her young heart had sickened at the
thought of cloistered walls, look upon her grave, in garbs which
would chill the very ashes within it? Could they bow down in
prayer, and when all Heaven turned to hear them, bring the dark
shade of sadness on one angel's face? No.

'They sent abroad, to artists of great celebrity in those times, and
having obtained the church's sanction to their work of piety, caused
to be executed, in five large compartments of richly stained glass,
a faithful copy of their old embroidery work. These were fitted
into a large window until that time bare of ornament; and when the
sun shone brightly, as she had so well loved to see it, the familiar
patterns were reflected in their original colours, and throwing a
stream of brilliant light upon the pavement, fell warmly on the name
of Alice.

'For many hours in every day, the sisters paced slowly up and down
the nave, or knelt by the side of the flat broad stone. Only three
were seen in the customary place, after many years; then but two,
and, for a long time afterwards, but one solitary female bent with
age. At length she came no more, and the stone bore five plain
Christian names.

'That stone has worn away and been replaced by others, and many
generations have come and gone since then. Time has softened down
the colours, but the same stream of light still falls upon the
forgotten tomb, of which no trace remains; and, to this day, the
stranger is shown in York Cathedral, an old window called the Five
Sisters.'


'That's a melancholy tale,' said the merry-faced gentleman, emptying
his glass.

'It is a tale of life, and life is made up of such sorrows,'
returned the other, courteously, but in a grave and sad tone of
voice.

'There are shades in all good pictures, but there are lights too, if
we choose to contemplate them,' said the gentleman with the merry
face. 'The youngest sister in your tale was always light-hearted.'

'And died early,' said the other, gently.

'She would have died earlier, perhaps, had she been less happy,'
said the first speaker, with much feeling. 'Do you think the
sisters who loved her so well, would have grieved the less if her
life had been one of gloom and sadness? If anything could soothe
the first sharp pain of a heavy loss, it would be--with me--the
reflection, that those I mourned, by being innocently happy here,
and loving all about them, had prepared themselves for a purer and
happier world. The sun does not shine upon this fair earth to meet
frowning eyes, depend upon it.'

'I believe you are right,' said the gentleman who had told the
story.

'Believe!' retorted the other, 'can anybody doubt it? Take any
subject of sorrowful regret, and see with how much pleasure it is
associated. The recollection of past pleasure may become pain--'

'It does,' interposed the other.

'Well; it does. To remember happiness which cannot be restored, is
pain, but of a softened kind. Our recollections are unfortunately
mingled with much that we deplore, and with many actions which we
bitterly repent; still in the most chequered life I firmly think
there are so many little rays of sunshine to look back upon, that I
do not believe any mortal (unless he had put himself without the
pale of hope) would deliberately drain a goblet of the waters of
Lethe, if he had it in his power.'

'Possibly you are correct in that belief,' said the grey-haired
gentleman after a short reflection. 'I am inclined to think you
are.'

'Why, then,' replied the other, 'the good in this state of existence
preponderates over the bad, let miscalled philosophers tell us what
they will. If our affections be tried, our affections are our
consolation and comfort; and memory, however sad, is the best and
purest link between this world and a better. But come! I'll tell
you a story of another kind.'

After a very brief silence, the merry-faced gentleman sent round the
punch, and glancing slyly at the fastidious lady, who seemed
desperately apprehensive that he was going to relate something
improper, began


THE BARON OF GROGZWIG


'The Baron Von Koeldwethout, of Grogzwig in Germany, was as likely a
young baron as you would wish to see. I needn't say that he lived
in a castle, because that's of course; neither need I say that he
lived in an old castle; for what German baron ever lived in a new
one? There were many strange circumstances connected with this
venerable building, among which, not the least startling and
mysterious were, that when the wind blew, it rumbled in the
chimneys, or even howled among the trees in the neighbouring forest;
and that when the moon shone, she found her way through certain
small loopholes in the wall, and actually made some parts of the
wide halls and galleries quite light, while she left others in
gloomy shadow. I believe that one of the baron's ancestors, being
short of money, had inserted a dagger in a gentleman who called one
night to ask his way, and it WAS supposed that these miraculous
occurrences took place in consequence. And yet I hardly know how
that could have been, either, because the baron's ancestor, who was
an amiable man, felt very sorry afterwards for having been so rash,
and laying violent hands upon a quantity of stone and timber which
belonged to a weaker baron, built a chapel as an apology, and so
took a receipt from Heaven, in full of all demands.

'Talking of the baron's ancestor puts me in mind of the baron's
great claims to respect, on the score of his pedigree. I am afraid
to say, I am sure, how many ancestors the baron had; but I know that
he had a great many more than any other man of his time; and I only
wish that he had lived in these latter days, that he might have had
more. It is a very hard thing upon the great men of past centuries,
that they should have come into the world so soon, because a man who
was born three or four hundred years ago, cannot reasonably be
expected to have had as many relations before him, as a man who is
born now. The last man, whoever he is--and he may be a cobbler or
some low vulgar dog for aught we know--will have a longer pedigree
than the greatest nobleman now alive; and I contend that this is not
fair.

'Well, but the Baron Von Koeldwethout of Grogzwig! He was a fine
swarthy fellow, with dark hair and large moustachios, who rode
a-hunting in clothes of Lincoln green, with russet boots on his feet,
and a bugle slung over his shoulder like the guard of a long stage.
When he blew this bugle, four-and-twenty other gentlemen of inferior
rank, in Lincoln green a little coarser, and russet boots with a
little thicker soles, turned out directly: and away galloped the
whole train, with spears in their hands like lacquered area
railings, to hunt down the boars, or perhaps encounter a bear: in
which latter case the baron killed him first, and greased his
whiskers with him afterwards.

'This was a merry life for the Baron of Grogzwig, and a merrier
still for the baron's retainers, who drank Rhine wine every night
till they fell under the table, and then had the bottles on the
floor, and called for pipes. Never were such jolly, roystering,
rollicking, merry-making blades, as the jovial crew of Grogzwig.

'But the pleasures of the table, or the pleasures of under the
table, require a little variety; especially when the same five-and-
twenty people sit daily down to the same board, to discuss the same
subjects, and tell the same stories. The baron grew weary, and
wanted excitement. He took to quarrelling with his gentlemen, and
tried kicking two or three of them every day after dinner. This was
a pleasant change at first; but it became monotonous after a week or
so, and the baron felt quite out of sorts, and cast about, in
despair, for some new amusement.

'One night, after a day's sport in which he had outdone Nimrod or
Gillingwater, and slaughtered "another fine bear," and brought him
home in triumph, the Baron Von Koeldwethout sat moodily at the head
of his table, eyeing the smoky roof of the hall with a discontended
aspect. He swallowed huge bumpers of wine, but the more he
swallowed, the more he frowned. The gentlemen who had been honoured
with the dangerous distinction of sitting on his right and left,
imitated him to a miracle in the drinking, and frowned at each
other.

'"I will!" cried the baron suddenly, smiting the table with his
right hand, and twirling his moustache with his left. "Fill to the
Lady of Grogzwig!"

'The four-and-twenty Lincoln greens turned pale, with the exception
of their four-and-twenty noses, which were unchangeable.

'"I said to the Lady of Grogzwig," repeated the baron, looking round
the board.

'"To the Lady of Grogzwig!" shouted the Lincoln greens; and down
their four-and-twenty throats went four-and-twenty imperial pints of
such rare old hock, that they smacked their eight-and-forty lips,
and winked again.

'"The fair daughter of the Baron Von Swillenhausen," said
Koeldwethout, condescending to explain. "We will demand her in
marriage of her father, ere the sun goes down tomorrow. If he
refuse our suit, we will cut off his nose."

'A hoarse murmur arose from the company; every man touched, first
the hilt of his sword, and then the tip of his nose, with appalling
significance.

'What a pleasant thing filial piety is to contemplate! If the
daughter of the Baron Von Swillenhausen had pleaded a preoccupied
heart, or fallen at her father's feet and corned them in salt tears,
or only fainted away, and complimented the old gentleman in frantic
ejaculations, the odds are a hundred to one but Swillenhausen Castle
would have been turned out at window, or rather the baron turned out
at window, and the castle demolished. The damsel held her peace,
however, when an early messenger bore the request of Von
Koeldwethout next morning, and modestly retired to her chamber, from
the casement of which she watched the coming of the suitor and his
retinue. She was no sooner assured that the horseman with the large
moustachios was her proffered husband, than she hastened to her
father's presence, and expressed her readiness to sacrifice herself
to secure his peace. The venerable baron caught his child to his
arms, and shed a wink of joy.

'There was great feasting at the castle, that day. The four-and-
twenty Lincoln greens of Von Koeldwethout exchanged vows of eternal
friendship with twelve Lincoln greens of Von Swillenhausen, and
promised the old baron that they would drink his wine "Till all was
blue"--meaning probably until their whole countenances had acquired
the same tint as their noses. Everybody slapped everybody else's
back, when the time for parting came; and the Baron Von Koeldwethout
and his followers rode gaily home.

'For six mortal weeks, the bears and boars had a holiday. The
houses of Koeldwethout and Swillenhausen were united; the spears
rusted; and the baron's bugle grew hoarse for lack of blowing.

'Those were great times for the four-and-twenty; but, alas! their
high and palmy days had taken boots to themselves, and were already
walking off.

'"My dear," said the baroness.

'"My love," said the baron.

'"Those coarse, noisy men--"

'"Which, ma'am?" said the baron, starting.

'The baroness pointed, from the window at which they stood, to the
courtyard beneath, where the unconscious Lincoln greens were taking
a copious stirrup-cup, preparatory to issuing forth after a boar or
two.

'"My hunting train, ma'am," said the baron.

'"Disband them, love," murmured the baroness.

'"Disband them!" cried the baron, in amazement.

'"To please me, love," replied the baroness.

'"To please the devil, ma'am," answered the baron.

'Whereupon the baroness uttered a great cry, and swooned away at the
baron's feet.

'What could the baron do? He called for the lady's maid, and roared
for the doctor; and then, rushing into the yard, kicked the two
Lincoln greens who were the most used to it, and cursing the others
all round, bade them go--but never mind where. I don't know the
German for it, or I would put it delicately that way.

'It is not for me to say by what means, or by what degrees, some
wives manage to keep down some husbands as they do, although I may
have my private opinion on the subject, and may think that no Member
of Parliament ought to be married, inasmuch as three married members
out of every four, must vote according to their wives' consciences
(if there be such things), and not according to their own. All I
need say, just now, is, that the Baroness Von Koeldwethout somehow
or other acquired great control over the Baron Von Koeldwethout, and
that, little by little, and bit by bit, and day by day, and year by
year, the baron got the worst of some disputed question, or was
slyly unhorsed from some old hobby; and that by the time he was a
fat hearty fellow of forty-eight or thereabouts, he had no feasting,
no revelry, no hunting train, and no hunting--nothing in short that
he liked, or used to have; and that, although he was as fierce as a
lion, and as bold as brass, he was decidedly snubbed and put down,
by his own lady, in his own castle of Grogzwig.

'Nor was this the whole extent of the baron's misfortunes. About a
year after his nuptials, there came into the world a lusty young
baron, in whose honour a great many fireworks were let off, and a
great many dozens of wine drunk; but next year there came a young
baroness, and next year another young baron, and so on, every year,
either a baron or baroness (and one year both together), until the
baron found himself the father of a small family of twelve. Upon
every one of these anniversaries, the venerable Baroness Von
Swillenhausen was nervously sensitive for the well-being of her
child the Baroness Von Koeldwethout; and although it was not found
that the good lady ever did anything material towards contributing
to her child's recovery, still she made it a point of duty to be as
nervous as possible at the castle of Grogzwig, and to divide her
time between moral observations on the baron's housekeeping, and
bewailing the hard lot of her unhappy daughter. And if the Baron of
Grogzwig, a little hurt and irritated at this, took heart, and
ventured to suggest that his wife was at least no worse off than the
wives of other barons, the Baroness Von Swillenhausen begged all
persons to take notice, that nobody but she, sympathised with her
dear daughter's sufferings; upon which, her relations and friends
remarked, that to be sure she did cry a great deal more than her
son-in-law, and that if there were a hard-hearted brute alive, it
was that Baron of Grogzwig.

'The poor baron bore it all as long as he could, and when he could
bear it no longer lost his appetite and his spirits, and sat himself
gloomily and dejectedly down. But there were worse troubles yet in
store for him, and as they came on, his melancholy and sadness
increased. Times changed. He got into debt. The Grogzwig coffers
ran low, though the Swillenhausen family had looked upon them as
inexhaustible; and just when the baroness was on the point of making
a thirteenth addition to the family pedigree, Von Koeldwethout
discovered that he had no means of replenishing them.

'"I don't see what is to be done," said the baron. "I think I'll
kill myself."

'This was a bright idea. The baron took an old hunting-knife from a
cupboard hard by, and having sharpened it on his boot, made what
boys call "an offer" at his throat.

'"Hem!" said the baron, stopping short. "Perhaps it's not sharp
enough."

'The baron sharpened it again, and made another offer, when his hand
was arrested by a loud screaming among the young barons and
baronesses, who had a nursery in an upstairs tower with iron bars
outside the window, to prevent their tumbling out into the moat.

'"If I had been a bachelor," said the baron sighing, "I might have
done it fifty times over, without being interrupted. Hallo! Put a
flask of wine and the largest pipe in the little vaulted room behind
the hall."

'One of the domestics, in a very kind manner, executed the baron's
order in the course of half an hour or so, and Von Koeldwethout
being apprised thereof, strode to the vaulted room, the walls of
which, being of dark shining wood, gleamed in the light of the
blazing logs which were piled upon the hearth. The bottle and pipe
were ready, and, upon the whole, the place looked very comfortable.

'"Leave the lamp," said the baron.

'"Anything else, my lord?" inquired the domestic.

'"The room," replied the baron. The domestic obeyed, and the baron
locked the door.

'"I'll smoke a last pipe," said the baron, "and then I'll be off."
So, putting the knife upon the table till he wanted it, and tossing
off a goodly measure of wine, the Lord of Grogzwig threw himself
back in his chair, stretched his legs out before the fire, and
puffed away.

'He thought about a great many things--about his present troubles
and past days of bachelorship, and about the Lincoln greens, long
since dispersed up and down the country, no one knew whither: with
the exception of two who had been unfortunately beheaded, and four
who had killed themselves with drinking. His mind was running upon
bears and boars, when, in the process of draining his glass to the
bottom, he raised his eyes, and saw, for the first time and with
unbounded astonishment, that he was not alone.

'No, he was not; for, on the opposite side of the fire, there sat
with folded arms a wrinkled hideous figure, with deeply sunk and
bloodshot eyes, and an immensely long cadaverous face, shadowed by
jagged and matted locks of coarse black hair. He wore a kind of
tunic of a dull bluish colour, which, the baron observed, on
regarding it attentively, was clasped or ornamented down the front
with coffin handles. His legs, too, were encased in coffin plates
as though in armour; and over his left shoulder he wore a short
dusky cloak, which seemed made of a remnant of some pall. He took
no notice of the baron, but was intently eyeing the fire.

'"Halloa!" said the baron, stamping his foot to attract attention.

'"Halloa!" replied the stranger, moving his eyes towards the baron,
but not his face or himself "What now?"

'"What now!" replied the baron, nothing daunted by his hollow voice
and lustreless eyes. "I should ask that question. How did you get
here?"

'"Through the door," replied the figure.

'"What are you?" says the baron.

'"A man," replied the figure.

'"I don't believe it," says the baron.

'"Disbelieve it then," says the figure.

'"I will," rejoined the baron.

'The figure looked at the bold Baron of Grogzwig for some time, and
then said familiarly,

'"There's no coming over you, I see. I'm not a man!"

'"What are you then?" asked the baron.

'"A genius," replied the figure.

'"You don't look much like one," returned the baron scornfully.

'"I am the Genius of Despair and Suicide," said the apparition.
"Now you know me."

'With these words the apparition turned towards the baron, as if
composing himself for a talk--and, what was very remarkable, was,
that he threw his cloak aside, and displaying a stake, which was run
through the centre of his body, pulled it out with a jerk, and laid
it on the table, as composedly as if it had been a walking-stick.

'"Now," said the figure, glancing at the hunting-knife, "are you
ready for me?"

'"Not quite," rejoined the baron; "I must finish this pipe first."

'"Look sharp then," said the figure.

'"You seem in a hurry," said the baron.

'"Why, yes, I am," answered the figure; "they're doing a pretty
brisk business in my way, over in England and France just now, and
my time is a good deal taken up."

'"Do you drink?" said the baron, touching the bottle with the bowl
of his pipe.

'"Nine times out of ten, and then very hard," rejoined the figure,
drily.

'"Never in moderation?" asked the baron.

'"Never," replied the figure, with a shudder, "that breeds
cheerfulness."

'The baron took another look at his new friend, whom he thought an
uncommonly queer customer, and at length inquired whether he took
any active part in such little proceedings as that which he had in
contemplation.

'"No," replied the figure evasively; "but I am always present."

'"Just to see fair, I suppose?" said the baron.

'"Just that," replied the figure, playing with his stake, and
examining the ferule. "Be as quick as you can, will you, for
there's a young gentleman who is afflicted with too much money and
leisure wanting me now, I find."

'"Going to kill himself because he has too much money!" exclaimed
the baron, quite tickled. "Ha! ha! that's a good one." (This was
the first time the baron had laughed for many a long day.)

'"I say," expostulated the figure, looking very much scared; "don't
do that again."

'"Why not?" demanded the baron.

'"Because it gives me pain all over," replied the figure. "Sigh as
much as you please: that does me good."

'The baron sighed mechanically at the mention of the word; the
figure, brightening up again, handed him the hunting-knife with most
winning politeness.

'"It's not a bad idea though," said the baron, feeling the edge of
the weapon; "a man killing himself because he has too much money."

'"Pooh!" said the apparition, petulantly, "no better than a man's
killing himself because he has none or little."

'Whether the genius unintentionally committed himself in saying
this, or whether he thought the baron's mind was so thoroughly made
up that it didn't matter what he said, I have no means of knowing.
I only know that the baron stopped his hand, all of a sudden, opened
his eyes wide, and looked as if quite a new light had come upon him
for the first time.

'"Why, certainly," said Von Koeldwethout, "nothing is too bad to be
retrieved."

'"Except empty coffers," cried the genius.

'"Well; but they may be one day filled again," said the baron.

'"Scolding wives," snarled the genius.

'"Oh! They may be made quiet," said the baron.

'"Thirteen children," shouted the genius.

'"Can't all go wrong, surely," said the baron.

'The genius was evidently growing very savage with the baron, for
holding these opinions all at once; but he tried to laugh it off,
and said if he would let him know when he had left off joking he
should feel obliged to him.

'"But I am not joking; I was never farther from it," remonstrated
the baron.

'"Well, I am glad to hear that," said the genius, looking very grim,
"because a joke, without any figure of speech, IS the death of me.
Come! Quit this dreary world at once."

'"I don't know," said the baron, playing with the knife; "it's a
dreary one certainly, but I don't think yours is much better, for
you have not the appearance of being particularly comfortable. That
puts me in mind--what security have I, that I shall be any the
better for going out of the world after all!" he cried, starting up;
"I never thought of that."

'"Dispatch," cried the figure, gnashing his teeth.

'"Keep off!" said the baron. 'I'll brood over miseries no longer,
but put a good face on the matter, and try the fresh air and the
bears again; and if that don't do, I'll talk to the baroness
soundly, and cut the Von Swillenhausens dead.' With this the baron
fell into his chair, and laughed so loud and boisterously, that the
room rang with it.

'The figure fell back a pace or two, regarding the baron meanwhile
with a look of intense terror, and when he had ceased, caught up the
stake, plunged it violently into its body, uttered a frightful howl,
and disappeared.

'Von Koeldwethout never saw it again. Having once made up his mind
to action, he soon brought the baroness and the Von Swillenhausens
to reason, and died many years afterwards: not a rich man that I am
aware of, but certainly a happy one: leaving behind him a numerous
family, who had been carefully educated in bear and boar-hunting
under his own personal eye. And my advice to all men is, that if
ever they become hipped and melancholy from similar causes (as very
many men do), they look at both sides of the question, applying a
magnifying-glass to the best one; and if they still feel tempted to
retire without leave, that they smoke a large pipe and drink a full
bottle first, and profit by the laudable example of the Baron of
Grogzwig.'


'The fresh coach is ready, ladies and gentlemen, if you please,'
said a new driver, looking in.

This intelligence caused the punch to be finished in a great hurry,
and prevented any discussion relative to the last story. Mr Squeers
was observed to draw the grey-headed gentleman on one side, and to
ask a question with great apparent interest; it bore reference to
the Five Sisters of York, and was, in fact, an inquiry whether he
could inform him how much per annum the Yorkshire convents got in
those days with their boarders.

The journey was then resumed. Nicholas fell asleep towards morning,
and, when he awoke, found, with great regret, that, during his nap,
both the Baron of Grogzwig and the grey-haired gentleman had got
down and were gone. The day dragged on uncomfortably enough. At
about six o'clock that night, he and Mr Squeers, and the little
boys, and their united luggage, were all put down together at the
George and New Inn, Greta Bridge.


Charles Dickens