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Chapter 4

When Mr. Goodchild had looked out of the Lancaster Inn window for
two hours on end, with great perseverance, he begun to entertain a
misgiving that he was growing industrious. He therefore set
himself next, to explore the country from the tops of all the steep
hills in the neighbourhood.

He came back at dinner-time, red and glowing, to tell Thomas Idle
what he had seen. Thomas, on his back reading, listened with great
composure, and asked him whether he really had gone up those hills,
and bothered himself with those views, and walked all those miles?

'Because I want to know,' added Thomas, 'what you would say of it,
if you were obliged to do it?'

'It would be different, then,' said Francis. 'It would be work,
then; now, it's play.'

'Play!' replied Thomas Idle, utterly repudiating the reply. 'Play!
Here is a man goes systematically tearing himself to pieces, and
putting himself through an incessant course of training, as if he
were always under articles to fight a match for the champion's
belt, and he calls it Play! Play!' exclaimed Thomas Idle,
scornfully contemplating his one boot in the air. 'You CAN'T play.
You don't know what it is. You make work of everything.'

The bright Goodchild amiably smiled.

'So you do,' said Thomas. 'I mean it. To me you are an absolutely
terrible fellow. You do nothing like another man. Where another
fellow would fall into a footbath of action or emotion, you fall
into a mine. Where any other fellow would be a painted butterfly,
you are a fiery dragon. Where another man would stake a sixpence,
you stake your existence. If you were to go up in a balloon, you
would make for Heaven; and if you were to dive into the depths of
the earth, nothing short of the other place would content you.
What a fellow you are, Francis!' The cheerful Goodchild laughed.

'It's all very well to laugh, but I wonder you don't feel it to be
serious,' said Idle. 'A man who can do nothing by halves appears
to me to be a fearful man.'

'Tom, Tom,' returned Goodchild, 'if I can do nothing by halves, and
be nothing by halves, it's pretty clear that you must take me as a
whole, and make the best of me.'

With this philosophical rejoinder, the airy Goodchild clapped Mr.
Idle on the shoulder in a final manner, and they sat down to
dinner.

'By-the-by,' said Goodchild, 'I have been over a lunatic asylum
too, since I have been out.'

'He has been,' exclaimed Thomas Idle, casting up his eyes, 'over a
lunatic asylum! Not content with being as great an Ass as Captain
Barclay in the pedestrian way, he makes a Lunacy Commissioner of
himself--for nothing!'

'An immense place,' said Goodchild, 'admirable offices, very good
arrangements, very good attendants; altogether a remarkable place.'

'And what did you see there?' asked Mr. Idle, adapting Hamlet's
advice to the occasion, and assuming the virtue of interest, though
he had it not.

'The usual thing,' said Francis Goodchild, with a sigh. 'Long
groves of blighted men-and-women-trees; interminable avenues of
hopeless faces; numbers, without the slightest power of really
combining for any earthly purpose; a society of human creatures who
have nothing in common but that they have all lost the power of
being humanly social with one another.'

'Take a glass of wine with me,' said Thomas Idle, 'and let US be
social.'

'In one gallery, Tom,' pursued Francis Goodchild, 'which looked to
me about the length of the Long Walk at Windsor, more or less--'

'Probably less,' observed Thomas Idle.

'In one gallery, which was otherwise clear of patients (for they
were all out), there was a poor little dark-chinned, meagre man,
with a perplexed brow and a pensive face, stooping low over the
matting on the floor, and picking out with his thumb and forefinger
the course of its fibres. The afternoon sun was slanting in at the
large end-window, and there were cross patches of light and shade
all down the vista, made by the unseen windows and the open doors
of the little sleeping-cells on either side. In about the centre
of the perspective, under an arch, regardless of the pleasant
weather, regardless of the solitude, regardless of approaching
footsteps, was the poor little dark-chinned, meagre man, poring
over the matting. "What are you doing there?" said my conductor,
when we came to him. He looked up, and pointed to the matting. "I
wouldn't do that, I think," said my conductor, kindly; "if I were
you, I would go and read, or I would lie down if I felt tired; but
I wouldn't do that." The patient considered a moment, and vacantly
answered, "No, sir, I won't; I'll--I'll go and read," and so he
lamely shuffled away into one of the little rooms. I turned my
head before we had gone many paces. He had already come out again,
and was again poring over the matting, and tracking out its fibres
with his thumb and forefinger. I stopped to look at him, and it
came into my mind, that probably the course of those fibres as they
plaited in and out, over and under, was the only course of things
in the whole wide world that it was left to him to understand--that
his darkening intellect had narrowed down to the small cleft of
light which showed him, "This piece was twisted this way, went in
here, passed under, came out there, was carried on away here to the
right where I now put my finger on it, and in this progress of
events, the thing was made and came to be here." Then, I wondered
whether he looked into the matting, next, to see if it could show
him anything of the process through which HE came to be there, so
strangely poring over it. Then, I thought how all of us, GOD help
us! in our different ways are poring over our bits of matting,
blindly enough, and what confusions and mysteries we make in the
pattern. I had a sadder fellow-feeling with the little dark-
chinned, meagre man, by that time, and I came away.'

Mr. Idle diverting the conversation to grouse, custards, and bride-
cake, Mr. Goodchild followed in the same direction. The bride-cake
was as bilious and indigestible as if a real Bride had cut it, and
the dinner it completed was an admirable performance.

The house was a genuine old house of a very quaint description,
teeming with old carvings, and beams, and panels, and having an
excellent old staircase, with a gallery or upper staircase, cut off
from it by a curious fence-work of old oak, or of the old Honduras
Mahogany wood. It was, and is, and will be, for many a long year
to come, a remarkably picturesque house; and a certain grave
mystery lurking in the depth of the old mahogany panels, as if they
were so many deep pools of dark water--such, indeed, as they had
been much among when they were trees--gave it a very mysterious
character after nightfall.

When Mr. Goodchild and Mr. Idle had first alighted at the door, and
stepped into the sombre, handsome old hall, they had been received
by half-a-dozen noiseless old men in black, all dressed exactly
alike, who glided up the stairs with the obliging landlord and
waiter--but without appearing to get into their way, or to mind
whether they did or no--and who had filed off to the right and left
on the old staircase, as the guests entered their sitting-room. It
was then broad, bright day. But, Mr. Goodchild had said, when
their door was shut, 'Who on earth are those old men?' And
afterwards, both on going out and coming in, he had noticed that
there were no old men to be seen.

Neither, had the old men, or any one of the old men, reappeared
since. The two friends had passed a night in the house, but had
seen nothing more of the old men. Mr. Goodchild, in rambling about
it, had looked along passages, and glanced in at doorways, but had
encountered no old men; neither did it appear that any old men
were, by any member of the establishment, missed or expected.

Another odd circumstance impressed itself on their attention. It
was, that the door of their sitting-room was never left untouched
for a quarter of an hour. It was opened with hesitation, opened
with confidence, opened a little way, opened a good way,--always
clapped-to again without a word of explanation. They were reading,
they were writing, they were eating, they were drinking, they were
talking, they were dozing; the door was always opened at an
unexpected moment, and they looked towards it, and it was clapped-
to again, and nobody was to be seen. When this had happened fifty
times or so, Mr. Goodchild had said to his companion, jestingly:
'I begin to think, Tom, there was something wrong with those six
old men.'

Night had come again, and they had been writing for two or three
hours: writing, in short, a portion of the lazy notes from which
these lazy sheets are taken. They had left off writing, and
glasses were on the table between them. The house was closed and
quiet. Around the head of Thomas Idle, as he lay upon his sofa,
hovered light wreaths of fragrant smoke. The temples of Francis
Goodchild, as he leaned back in his chair, with his two hands
clasped behind his head, and his legs crossed, were similarly
decorated.

They had been discussing several idle subjects of speculation, not
omitting the strange old men, and were still so occupied, when Mr.
Goodchild abruptly changed his attitude to wind up his watch. They
were just becoming drowsy enough to be stopped in their talk by any
such slight check. Thomas Idle, who was speaking at the moment,
paused and said, 'How goes it?'

'One,' said Goodchild.

As if he had ordered One old man, and the order were promptly
executed (truly, all orders were so, in that excellent hotel), the
door opened, and One old man stood there.

He did not come in, but stood with the door in his hand.

'One of the six, Tom, at last!' said Mr. Goodchild, in a surprised
whisper.--'Sir, your pleasure?'

'Sir, YOUR pleasure?' said the One old man.

'I didn't ring.'

'The bell did,' said the One old man.

He said BELL, in a deep, strong way, that would have expressed the
church Bell.

'I had the pleasure, I believe, of seeing you, yesterday?' said
Goodchild.

'I cannot undertake to say for certain,' was the grim reply of the
One old man.

'I think you saw me? Did you not?'

'Saw YOU?' said the old man. 'O yes, I saw you. But, I see many
who never see me.'

A chilled, slow, earthy, fixed old man. A cadaverous old man of
measured speech. An old man who seemed as unable to wink, as if
his eyelids had been nailed to his forehead. An old man whose
eyes--two spots of fire--had no more motion than if they had been
connected with the back of his skull by screws driven through it,
and rivetted and bolted outside, among his grey hair.

The night had turned so cold, to Mr. Goodchild's sensations, that
he shivered. He remarked lightly, and half apologetically, 'I
think somebody is walking over my grave.'

'No,' said the weird old man, 'there is no one there.'

Mr. Goodchild looked at Idle, but Idle lay with his head enwreathed
in smoke.

'No one there?' said Goodchild.

'There is no one at your grave, I assure you,' said the old man.

He had come in and shut the door, and he now sat down. He did not
bend himself to sit, as other people do, but seemed to sink bolt
upright, as if in water, until the chair stopped him.

'My friend, Mr. Idle,' said Goodchild, extremely anxious to
introduce a third person into the conversation.

'I am,' said the old man, without looking at him, 'at Mr. Idle's
service.'

'If you are an old inhabitant of this place,' Francis Goodchild
resumed.

'Yes.'

'Perhaps you can decide a point my friend and I were in doubt upon,
this morning. They hang condemned criminals at the Castle, I
believe?'

'_I_ believe so,' said the old man.

'Are their faces turned towards that noble prospect?'

'Your face is turned,' replied the old man, 'to the Castle wall.
When you are tied up, you see its stones expanding and contracting
violently, and a similar expansion and contraction seem to take
place in your own head and breast. Then, there is a rush of fire
and an earthquake, and the Castle springs into the air, and you
tumble down a precipice.'

His cravat appeared to trouble him. He put his hand to his throat,
and moved his neck from side to side. He was an old man of a
swollen character of face, and his nose was immoveably hitched up
on one side, as if by a little hook inserted in that nostril. Mr.
Goodchild felt exceedingly uncomfortable, and began to think the
night was hot, and not cold.

'A strong description, sir,' he observed.

'A strong sensation,' the old man rejoined.

Again, Mr. Goodchild looked to Mr. Thomas Idle; but Thomas lay on
his back with his face attentively turned towards the One old man,
and made no sign. At this time Mr. Goodchild believed that he saw
threads of fire stretch from the old man's eyes to his own, and
there attach themselves. (Mr. Goodchild writes the present
account of his experience, and, with the utmost solemnity, protests
that he had the strongest sensation upon him of being forced to
look at the old man along those two fiery films, from that moment.)

'I must tell it to you,' said the old man, with a ghastly and a
stony stare.

'What?' asked Francis Goodchild.

'You know where it took place. Yonder!'

Whether he pointed to the room above, or to the room below, or to
any room in that old house, or to a room in some other old house in
that old town, Mr. Goodchild was not, nor is, nor ever can be,
sure. He was confused by the circumstance that the right
forefinger of the One old man seemed to dip itself in one of the
threads of fire, light itself, and make a fiery start in the air,
as it pointed somewhere. Having pointed somewhere, it went out.

'You know she was a Bride,' said the old man.

'I know they still send up Bride-cake,' Mr. Goodchild faltered.
'This is a very oppressive air.'

'She was a Bride,' said the old man. 'She was a fair, flaxen-
haired, large-eyed girl, who had no character, no purpose. A weak,
credulous, incapable, helpless nothing. Not like her mother. No,
no. It was her father whose character she reflected.

'Her mother had taken care to secure everything to herself, for her
own life, when the father of this girl (a child at that time) died-
-of sheer helplessness; no other disorder--and then He renewed the
acquaintance that had once subsisted between the mother and Him.
He had been put aside for the flaxen-haired, large-eyed man (or
nonentity) with Money. He could overlook that for Money. He
wanted compensation in Money.

'So, he returned to the side of that woman the mother, made love to
her again, danced attendance on her, and submitted himself to her
whims. She wreaked upon him every whim she had, or could invent.
He bore it. And the more he bore, the more he wanted compensation
in Money, and the more he was resolved to have it.

'But, lo! Before he got it, she cheated him. In one of her
imperious states, she froze, and never thawed again. She put her
hands to her head one night, uttered a cry, stiffened, lay in that
attitude certain hours, and died. And he had got no compensation
from her in Money, yet. Blight and Murrain on her! Not a penny.

'He had hated her throughout that second pursuit, and had longed
for retaliation on her. He now counterfeited her signature to an
instrument, leaving all she had to leave, to her daughter--ten
years old then--to whom the property passed absolutely, and
appointing himself the daughter's Guardian. When He slid it under
the pillow of the bed on which she lay, He bent down in the deaf
ear of Death, and whispered: "Mistress Pride, I have determined a
long time that, dead or alive, you must make me compensation in
Money.'

'So, now there were only two left. Which two were, He, and the
fair flaxen-haired, large-eyed foolish daughter, who afterwards
became the Bride.

'He put her to school. In a secret, dark, oppressive, ancient
house, he put her to school with a watchful and unscrupulous woman.
"My worthy lady," he said, "here is a mind to be formed; will you
help me to form it?" She accepted the trust. For which she, too,
wanted compensation in Money, and had it.

'The girl was formed in the fear of him, and in the conviction,
that there was no escape from him. She was taught, from the first,
to regard him as her future husband--the man who must marry her--
the destiny that overshadowed her--the appointed certainty that
could never be evaded. The poor fool was soft white wax in their
hands, and took the impression that they put upon her. It hardened
with time. It became a part of herself. Inseparable from herself,
and only to be torn away from her, by tearing life away from her.

'Eleven years she had lived in the dark house and its gloomy
garden. He was jealous of the very light and air getting to her,
and they kept her close. He stopped the wide chimneys, shaded the
little windows, left the strong-stemmed ivy to wander where it
would over the house-front, the moss to accumulate on the untrimmed
fruit-trees in the red-walled garden, the weeds to over-run its
green and yellow walks. He surrounded her with images of sorrow
and desolation. He caused her to be filled with fears of the place
and of the stories that were told of it, and then on pretext of
correcting them, to be left in it in solitude, or made to shrink
about it in the dark. When her mind was most depressed and fullest
of terrors, then, he would come out of one of the hiding-places
from which he overlooked her, and present himself as her sole
resource.

'Thus, by being from her childhood the one embodiment her life
presented to her of power to coerce and power to relieve, power to
bind and power to loose, the ascendency over her weakness was
secured. She was twenty-one years and twenty-one days old, when he
brought her home to the gloomy house, his half-witted, frightened,
and submissive Bride of three weeks.

'He had dismissed the governess by that time--what he had left to
do, he could best do alone--and they came back, upon a rain night,
to the scene of her long preparation. She turned to him upon the
threshold, as the rain was dripping from the porch, and said:

'"O sir, it is the Death-watch ticking for me!"

'"Well!" he answered. "And if it were?"

'"O sir!" she returned to him, "look kindly on me, and be merciful
to me! I beg your pardon. I will do anything you wish, if you
will only forgive me!"

'That had become the poor fool's constant song: "I beg your
pardon," and "Forgive me!"

'She was not worth hating; he felt nothing but contempt for her.
But, she had long been in the way, and he had long been weary, and
the work was near its end, and had to be worked out.

'"You fool," he said. "Go up the stairs!"

'She obeyed very quickly, murmuring, "I will do anything you wish!"
When he came into the Bride's Chamber, having been a little
retarded by the heavy fastenings of the great door (for they were
alone in the house, and he had arranged that the people who
attended on them should come and go in the day), he found her
withdrawn to the furthest corner, and there standing pressed
against the paneling as if she would have shrunk through it: her
flaxen hair all wild about her face, and her large eyes staring at
him in vague terror.

'"What are you afraid of? Come and sit down by me."

'"I will do anything you wish. I beg your pardon, sir. Forgive
me!" Her monotonous tune as usual.

'"Ellen, here is a writing that you must write out to-morrow, in
your own hand. You may as well be seen by others, busily engaged
upon it. When you have written it all fairly, and corrected all
mistakes, call in any two people there may be about the house, and
sign your name to it before them. Then, put it in your bosom to
keep it safe, and when I sit here again to-morrow night, give it to
me."

'"I will do it all, with the greatest care. I will do anything you
wish."

'"Don't shake and tremble, then."

'"I will try my utmost not to do it--if you will only forgive me!"

'Next day, she sat down at her desk, and did as she had been told.
He often passed in and out of the room, to observe her, and always
saw her slowly and laboriously writing: repeating to herself the
words she copied, in appearance quite mechanically, and without
caring or endeavouring to comprehend them, so that she did her
task. He saw her follow the directions she had received, in all
particulars; and at night, when they were alone again in the same
Bride's Chamber, and he drew his chair to the hearth, she timidly
approached him from her distant seat, took the paper from her
bosom, and gave it into his hand.

'It secured all her possessions to him, in the event of her death.
He put her before him, face to face, that he might look at her
steadily; and he asked her, in so many plain words, neither fewer
nor more, did she know that?

'There were spots of ink upon the bosom of her white dress, and
they made her face look whiter and her eyes look larger as she
nodded her head. There were spots of ink upon the hand with which
she stood before him, nervously plaiting and folding her white
skirts.

'He took her by the arm, and looked her, yet more closely and
steadily, in the face. "Now, die! I have done with you."

'She shrunk, and uttered a low, suppressed cry.

'"I am not going to kill you. I will not endanger my life for
yours. Die!"

'He sat before her in the gloomy Bride's Chamber, day after day,
night after night, looking the word at her when he did not utter
it. As often as her large unmeaning eyes were raised from the
hands in which she rocked her head, to the stern figure, sitting
with crossed arms and knitted forehead, in the chair, they read in
it, "Die!" When she dropped asleep in exhaustion, she was called
back to shuddering consciousness, by the whisper, "Die!" When she
fell upon her old entreaty to be pardoned, she was answered "Die!"
When she had out-watched and out-suffered the long night, and the
rising sun flamed into the sombre room, she heard it hailed with,
"Another day and not dead?--Die!"

'Shut up in the deserted mansion, aloof from all mankind, and
engaged alone in such a struggle without any respite, it came to
this--that either he must die, or she. He knew it very well, and
concentrated his strength against her feebleness. Hours upon hours
he held her by the arm when her arm was black where he held it, and
bade her Die!

'It was done, upon a windy morning, before sunrise. He computed
the time to be half-past four; but, his forgotten watch had run
down, and he could not be sure. She had broken away from him in
the night, with loud and sudden cries--the first of that kind to
which she had given vent--and he had had to put his hands over her
mouth. Since then, she had been quiet in the corner of the
paneling where she had sunk down; and he had left her, and had gone
back with his folded arms and his knitted forehead to his chair.

'Paler in the pale light, more colourless than ever in the leaden
dawn, he saw her coming, trailing herself along the floor towards
him--a white wreck of hair, and dress, and wild eyes, pushing
itself on by an irresolute and bending hand.

'"O, forgive me! I will do anything. O, sir, pray tell me I may
live!"

'"Die!"

'"Are you so resolved? Is there no hope for me?"

'"Die!"

'Her large eyes strained themselves with wonder and fear; wonder
and fear changed to reproach; reproach to blank nothing. It was
done. He was not at first so sure it was done, but that the
morning sun was hanging jewels in her hair--he saw the diamond,
emerald, and ruby, glittering among it in little points, as he
stood looking down at her--when he lifted her and laid her on her
bed.

'She was soon laid in the ground. And now they were all gone, and
he had compensated himself well.

'He had a mind to travel. Not that he meant to waste his Money,
for he was a pinching man and liked his Money dearly (liked nothing
else, indeed), but, that he had grown tired of the desolate house
and wished to turn his back upon it and have done with it. But,
the house was worth Money, and Money must not be thrown away. He
determined to sell it before he went. That it might look the less
wretched and bring a better price, he hired some labourers to work
in the overgrown garden; to cut out the dead wood, trim the ivy
that drooped in heavy masses over the windows and gables, and clear
the walks in which the weeds were growing mid-leg high.

'He worked, himself, along with them. He worked later than they
did, and, one evening at dusk, was left working alone, with his
bill-hook in his hand. One autumn evening, when the Bride was five
weeks dead.

'"It grows too dark to work longer," he said to himself, "I must
give over for the night."

'He detested the house, and was loath to enter it. He looked at
the dark porch waiting for him like a tomb, and felt that it was an
accursed house. Near to the porch, and near to where he stood, was
a tree whose branches waved before the old bay-window of the
Bride's Chamber, where it had been done. The tree swung suddenly,
and made him start. It swung again, although the night was still.
Looking up into it, he saw a figure among the branches.

'It was the figure of a young man. The face looked down, as his
looked up; the branches cracked and swayed; the figure rapidly
descended, and slid upon its feet before him. A slender youth of
about her age, with long light brown hair.

'"What thief are you?" he said, seizing the youth by the collar.

'The young man, in shaking himself free, swung him a blow with his
arm across the face and throat. They closed, but the young man got
from him and stepped back, crying, with great eagerness and horror,
"Don't touch me! I would as lieve be touched by the Devil!"

'He stood still, with his bill-hook in his hand, looking at the
young man. For, the young man's look was the counterpart of her
last look, and he had not expected ever to see that again.

'"I am no thief. Even if I were, I would not have a coin of your
wealth, if it would buy me the Indies. You murderer!"

'"What!"

'"I climbed it," said the young man, pointing up into the tree,
"for the first time, nigh four years ago. I climbed it, to look at
her. I saw her. I spoke to her. I have climbed it, many a time,
to watch and listen for her. I was a boy, hidden among its leaves,
when from that bay-window she gave me this!"

'He showed a tress of flaxen hair, tied with a mourning ribbon.

'"Her life," said the young man, "was a life of mourning. She gave
me this, as a token of it, and a sign that she was dead to every
one but you. If I had been older, if I had seen her sooner, I
might have saved her from you. But, she was fast in the web when I
first climbed the tree, and what could I do then to break it!"

'In saying those words, he burst into a fit of sobbing and crying:
weakly at first, then passionately.

'"Murderer! I climbed the tree on the night when you brought her
back. I heard her, from the tree, speak of the Death-watch at the
door. I was three times in the tree while you were shut up with
her, slowly killing her. I saw her, from the tree, lie dead upon
her bed. I have watched you, from the tree, for proofs and traces
of your guilt. The manner of it, is a mystery to me yet, but I
will pursue you until you have rendered up your life to the
hangman. You shall never, until then, be rid of me. I loved her!
I can know no relenting towards you. Murderer, I loved her!"

'The youth was bare-headed, his hat having fluttered away in his
descent from the tree. He moved towards the gate. He had to pass-
-Him--to get to it. There was breadth for two old-fashioned
carriages abreast; and the youth's abhorrence, openly expressed in
every feature of his face and limb of his body, and very hard to
bear, had verge enough to keep itself at a distance in. He (by
which I mean the other) had not stirred hand or foot, since he had
stood still to look at the boy. He faced round, now, to follow him
with his eyes. As the back of the bare light-brown head was turned
to him, he saw a red curve stretch from his hand to it. He knew,
before he threw the bill-hook, where it had alighted--I say, had
alighted, and not, would alight; for, to his clear perception the
thing was done before he did it. It cleft the head, and it
remained there, and the boy lay on his face.

'He buried the body in the night, at the foot of the tree. As soon
as it was light in the morning, he worked at turning up all the
ground near the tree, and hacking and hewing at the neighbouring
bushes and undergrowth. When the labourers came, there was nothing
suspicious, and nothing suspected.

'But, he had, in a moment, defeated all his precautions, and
destroyed the triumph of the scheme he had so long concerted, and
so successfully worked out. He had got rid of the Bride, and had
acquired her fortune without endangering his life; but now, for a
death by which he had gained nothing, he had evermore to live with
a rope around his neck.

'Beyond this, he was chained to the house of gloom and horror,
which he could not endure. Being afraid to sell it or to quit it,
lest discovery should be made, he was forced to live in it. He
hired two old people, man and wife, for his servants; and dwelt in
it, and dreaded it. His great difficulty, for a long time, was the
garden. Whether he should keep it trim, whether he should suffer
it to fall into its former state of neglect, what would be the
least likely way of attracting attention to it?

'He took the middle course of gardening, himself, in his evening
leisure, and of then calling the old serving-man to help him; but,
of never letting him work there alone. And he made himself an
arbour over against the tree, where he could sit and see that it
was safe.

'As the seasons changed, and the tree changed, his mind perceived
dangers that were always changing. In the leafy time, he perceived
that the upper boughs were growing into the form of the young man--
that they made the shape of him exactly, sitting in a forked branch
swinging in the wind. In the time of the falling leaves, he
perceived that they came down from the tree, forming tell-tale
letters on the path, or that they had a tendency to heap themselves
into a churchyard mound above the grave. In the winter, when the
tree was bare, he perceived that the boughs swung at him the ghost
of the blow the young man had given, and that they threatened him
openly. In the spring, when the sap was mounting in the trunk, he
asked himself, were the dried-up particles of blood mounting with
it: to make out more obviously this year than last, the leaf-
screened figure of the young man, swinging in the wind?

'However, he turned his Money over and over, and still over. He
was in the dark trade, the gold-dust trade, and most secret trades
that yielded great returns. In ten years, he had turned his Money
over, so many times, that the traders and shippers who had dealings
with him, absolutely did not lie--for once--when they declared that
he had increased his fortune, Twelve Hundred Per Cent.

'He possessed his riches one hundred years ago, when people could
be lost easily. He had heard who the youth was, from hearing of
the search that was made after him; but, it died away, and the
youth was forgotten.

'The annual round of changes in the tree had been repeated ten
times since the night of the burial at its foot, when there was a
great thunder-storm over this place. It broke at midnight, and
roared until morning. The first intelligence he heard from his old
serving-man that morning, was, that the tree had been struck by
Lightning.

'It had been riven down the stem, in a very surprising manner, and
the stem lay in two blighted shafts: one resting against the
house, and one against a portion of the old red garden-wall in
which its fall had made a gap. The fissure went down the tree to a
little above the earth, and there stopped. There was great
curiosity to see the tree, and, with most of his former fears
revived, he sat in his arbour--grown quite an old man--watching the
people who came to see it.

'They quickly began to come, in such dangerous numbers, that he
closed his garden-gate and refused to admit any more. But, there
were certain men of science who travelled from a distance to
examine the tree, and, in an evil hour, he let them in!--Blight and
Murrain on them, let them in!

'They wanted to dig up the ruin by the roots, and closely examine
it, and the earth about it. Never, while he lived! They offered
money for it. They! Men of science, whom he could have bought by
the gross, with a scratch of his pen! He showed them the garden-
gate again, and locked and barred it.

'But they were bent on doing what they wanted to do, and they
bribed the old serving-man--a thankless wretch who regularly
complained when he received his wages, of being underpaid--and they
stole into the garden by night with their lanterns, picks, and
shovels, and fell to at the tree. He was lying in a turret-room on
the other side of the house (the Bride's Chamber had been
unoccupied ever since), but he soon dreamed of picks and shovels,
and got up.

'He came to an upper window on that side, whence he could see their
lanterns, and them, and the loose earth in a heap which he had
himself disturbed and put back, when it was last turned to the air.
It was found! They had that minute lighted on it. They were all
bending over it. One of them said, "The skull is fractured;" and
another, "See here the bones;" and another, "See here the clothes;"
and then the first struck in again, and said, "A rusty bill-hook!"

'He became sensible, next day, that he was already put under a
strict watch, and that he could go nowhere without being followed.
Before a week was out, he was taken and laid in hold. The
circumstances were gradually pieced together against him, with a
desperate malignity, and an appalling ingenuity. But, see the
justice of men, and how it was extended to him! He was further
accused of having poisoned that girl in the Bride's Chamber. He,
who had carefully and expressly avoided imperilling a hair of his
head for her, and who had seen her die of her own incapacity!

'There was doubt for which of the two murders he should be first
tried; but, the real one was chosen, and he was found Guilty, and
cast for death. Bloodthirsty wretches! They would have made him
Guilty of anything, so set they were upon having his life.

'His money could do nothing to save him, and he was hanged. _I_ am
He, and I was hanged at Lancaster Castle with my face to the wall,
a hundred years ago!'


At this terrific announcement, Mr. Goodchild tried to rise and cry
out. But, the two fiery lines extending from the old man's eyes to
his own, kept him down, and he could not utter a sound. His sense
of hearing, however, was acute, and he could hear the clock strike
Two. No sooner had he heard the clock strike Two, than he saw
before him Two old men!

TWO.

The eyes of each, connected with his eyes by two films of fire:
each, exactly like the other: each, addressing him at precisely
one and the same instant: each, gnashing the same teeth in the
same head, with the same twitched nostril above them, and the same
suffused expression around it. Two old men. Differing in nothing,
equally distinct to the sight, the copy no fainter than the
original, the second as real as the first.

'At what time,' said the Two old men, 'did you arrive at the door
below?'

'At Six.'

'And there were Six old men upon the stairs!'

Mr. Goodchild having wiped the perspiration from his brow, or tried
to do it, the Two old men proceeded in one voice, and in the
singular number:

'I had been anatomised, but had not yet had my skeleton put
together and re-hung on an iron hook, when it began to be whispered
that the Bride's Chamber was haunted. It WAS haunted, and I was
there.

'WE were there. She and I were there. I, in the chair upon the
hearth; she, a white wreck again, trailing itself towards me on the
floor. But, I was the speaker no more, and the one word that she
said to me from midnight until dawn was, 'Live!'

'The youth was there, likewise. In the tree outside the window.
Coming and going in the moonlight, as the tree bent and gave. He
has, ever since, been there, peeping in at me in my torment;
revealing to me by snatches, in the pale lights and slatey shadows
where he comes and goes, bare-headed--a bill-hook, standing
edgewise in his hair.

'In the Bride's Chamber, every night from midnight until dawn--one
month in the year excepted, as I am going to tell you--he hides in
the tree, and she comes towards me on the floor; always
approaching; never coming nearer; always visible as if by moon-
light, whether the moon shines or no; always saying, from mid-night
until dawn, her one word, "Live!"

'But, in the month wherein I was forced out of this life--this
present month of thirty days--the Bride's Chamber is empty and
quiet. Not so my old dungeon. Not so the rooms where I was
restless and afraid, ten years. Both are fitfully haunted then.
At One in the morning. I am what you saw me when the clock struck
that hour--One old man. At Two in the morning, I am Two old men.
At Three, I am Three. By Twelve at noon, I am Twelve old men, One
for every hundred per cent. of old gain. Every one of the Twelve,
with Twelve times my old power of suffering and agony. From that
hour until Twelve at night, I, Twelve old men in anguish and
fearful foreboding, wait for the coming of the executioner. At
Twelve at night, I, Twelve old men turned off, swing invisible
outside Lancaster Castle, with Twelve faces to the wall!

'When the Bride's Chamber was first haunted, it was known to me
that this punishment would never cease, until I could make its
nature, and my story, known to two living men together. I waited
for the coming of two living men together into the Bride's Chamber,
years upon years. It was infused into my knowledge (of the means I
am ignorant) that if two living men, with their eyes open, could be
in the Bride's Chamber at One in the morning, they would see me
sitting in my chair.

'At length, the whispers that the room was spiritually troubled,
brought two men to try the adventure. I was scarcely struck upon
the hearth at midnight (I come there as if the Lightning blasted me
into being), when I heard them ascending the stairs. Next, I saw
them enter. One of them was a bold, gay, active man, in the prime
of life, some five and forty years of age; the other, a dozen years
younger. They brought provisions with them in a basket, and
bottles. A young woman accompanied them, with wood and coals for
the lighting of the fire. When she had lighted it, the bold, gay,
active man accompanied her along the gallery outside the room, to
see her safely down the staircase, and came back laughing.

'He locked the door, examined the chamber, put out the contents of
the basket on the table before the fire--little recking of me, in
my appointed station on the hearth, close to him--and filled the
glasses, and ate and drank. His companion did the same, and was as
cheerful and confident as he: though he was the leader. When they
had supped, they laid pistols on the table, turned to the fire, and
began to smoke their pipes of foreign make.

'They had travelled together, and had been much together, and had
an abundance of subjects in common. In the midst of their talking
and laughing, the younger man made a reference to the leader's
being always ready for any adventure; that one, or any other. He
replied in these words:

'"Not quite so, Dick; if I am afraid of nothing else, I am afraid
of myself."

'His companion seeming to grow a little dull, asked him, in what
sense? How?

'"Why, thus," he returned. "Here is a Ghost to be disproved.
Well! I cannot answer for what my fancy might do if I were alone
here, or what tricks my senses might play with me if they had me to
themselves. But, in company with another man, and especially with
Dick, I would consent to outface all the Ghosts that were ever of
in the universe."

'"I had not the vanity to suppose that I was of so much importance
to-night," said the other.

'"Of so much," rejoined the leader, more seriously than he had
spoken yet, "that I would, for the reason I have given, on no
account have undertaken to pass the night here alone."

'It was within a few minutes of One. The head of the younger man
had drooped when he made his last remark, and it drooped lower now.

'"Keep awake, Dick!" said the leader, gaily. "The small hours are
the worst."

'He tried, but his head drooped again.

'"Dick!" urged the leader. "Keep awake!"

'"I can't," he indistinctly muttered. "I don't know what strange
influence is stealing over me. I can't."

'His companion looked at him with a sudden horror, and I, in my
different way, felt a new horror also; for, it was on the stroke of
One, and I felt that the second watcher was yielding to me, and
that the curse was upon me that I must send him to sleep.

'"Get up and walk, Dick!" cried the leader. "Try!"

'It was in vain to go behind the slumber's chair and shake him.
One o'clock sounded, and I was present to the elder man, and he
stood transfixed before me.

'To him alone, I was obliged to relate my story, without hope of
benefit. To him alone, I was an awful phantom making a quite
useless confession. I foresee it will ever be the same. The two
living men together will never come to release me. When I appear,
the senses of one of the two will be locked in sleep; he will
neither see nor hear me; my communication will ever be made to a
solitary listener, and will ever be unserviceable. Woe! Woe!
Woe!'

As the Two old men, with these words, wrung their hands, it shot
into Mr. Goodchild's mind that he was in the terrible situation of
being virtually alone with the spectre, and that Mr. Idle's
immoveability was explained by his having been charmed asleep at
One o'clock. In the terror of this sudden discovery which produced
an indescribable dread, he struggled so hard to get free from the
four fiery threads, that he snapped them, after he had pulled them
out to a great width. Being then out of bonds, he caught up Mr.
Idle from the sofa and rushed down-stairs with him.


'What are you about, Francis?' demanded Mr. Idle. 'My bedroom is
not down here. What the deuce are you carrying me at all for? I
can walk with a stick now. I don't want to be carried. Put me
down.'

Mr. Goodchild put him down in the old hall, and looked about him
wildly.

'What are you doing? Idiotically plunging at your own sex, and
rescuing them or perishing in the attempt?' asked Mr. Idle, in a
highly petulant state.

'The One old man!' cried Mr. Goodchild, distractedly,--'and the Two
old men!'

Mr. Idle deigned no other reply than 'The One old woman, I think
you mean,' as he began hobbling his way back up the staircase, with
the assistance of its broad balustrade.

'I assure you, Tom,' began Mr. Goodchild, attending at his side,
'that since you fell asleep--'

'Come, I like that!' said Thomas Idle, 'I haven't closed an eye!'

With the peculiar sensitiveness on the subject of the disgraceful
action of going to sleep out of bed, which is the lot of all
mankind, Mr. Idle persisted in this declaration. The same peculiar
sensitiveness impelled Mr. Goodchild, on being taxed with the same
crime, to repudiate it with honourable resentment. The settlement
of the question of The One old man and The Two old men was thus
presently complicated, and soon made quite impracticable. Mr. Idle
said it was all Bride-cake, and fragments, newly arranged, of
things seen and thought about in the day. Mr. Goodchild said how
could that be, when he hadn't been asleep, and what right could Mr.
Idle have to say so, who had been asleep? Mr. Idle said he had
never been asleep, and never did go to sleep, and that Mr.
Goodchild, as a general rule, was always asleep. They consequently
parted for the rest of the night, at their bedroom doors, a little
ruffled. Mr. Goodchild's last words were, that he had had, in that
real and tangible old sitting-room of that real and tangible old
Inn (he supposed Mr. Idle denied its existence?), every sensation
and experience, the present record of which is now within a line or
two of completion; and that he would write it out and print it
every word. Mr. Idle returned that he might if he liked--and he
did like, and has now done it.

Charles Dickens

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