Part 5 out of 7
Then your writer, poet, historian, novelist, or what not? The
Beacon says that "Jones's work is one of the first order." The
Lamp declares that Jones's tragedy surpasses every work since the
days of Him of Avon." The Comet asserts that "J's 'Life of Goody
Twoshoes' is a [Greek text omitted], a noble and enduring monument
to the fame of that admirable Englishwoman," and so forth. But
then Jones knows that he has lent the critic of the Beacon five
pounds; that his publisher has a half share in the Lamp; and that
the Cornet comes repeatedly to dine with him. It is all very well.
Jones is immortal until he is found out; and then down comes the
extinguisher, and the immortal is dead and buried. The idea (dies
irae!) of discovery must haunt many a man, and make him uneasy, as
the trumpets are puffing in his triumph. Brown, who has a higher
place than he deserves, cowers before Smith, who has found him out.
What is the chorus of critics shouting "Bravo"?--a public clapping
hands and flinging garlands? Brown knows that Smith has found him
out. Puff, trumpets! Wave, banners! Huzza, boys, for the
immortal Brown! This is all very well," B. thinks (bowing the
while, smiling, laying his hand to his heart); "but there stands
Smith at the window: HE has measured me; and some day the others
will find me out too." It is a very curious sensation to sit by a
man who has found you out, and who, as you know, has found you out;
or, vice versa, to sit with a man whom YOU have found out. His
talent? Bah! His virtue? We know a little story or two about his
virtue, and he knows we know it. We are thinking over friend
Robinson's antecedents, as we grin, bow and talk; and we are both
humbugs together. Robinson a good fellow, is he? You know how he
behaved to Hicks? A good-natured man, is he? Pray do you remember
that little story of Mrs. Robinson's black eye? How men have to
work, to talk, to smile, to go to bed, and try and sleep, with this
dread of being found out on their consciences! Bardolph, who has
robbed a church, and Nym, who has taken a purse, go to their usual
haunts, and smoke their pipes with their companions. Mr. Detective
Bullseye appears, and says, "Oh, Bardolph! I want you about that
there pyx business!" Mr. Bardolph knocks the ashes out of his
pipe, puts out his hands to the little steel cuffs, and walks away
quite meekly. He is found out. He must go. "Good-by, 'Doll
Tearsheet! Good-by, Mrs. Quickly, ma'am!" The other gentlemen and
ladies de la societe look on and exchange mute adieux with the
departing friends. And an assured time will come when the other
gentlemen and ladies will be found out too.
What a wonderful and beautiful provision of nature it has been
that, for the most part, our womankind are not endowed with the
faculty of finding us out! THEY don't doubt, and probe, and weigh,
and take your measure. Lay down this paper, my benevolent friend
and reader, go into your drawing-room now, and utter a joke ever so
old, and I wager sixpence the ladies there will all begin to laugh.
Go to Brown's house, and tell Mrs. Brown and the young ladies what
you think of him, and see what a welcome you will get! In like
manner, let him come to your house, and tell YOUR good lady his
candid opinion of you, and fancy how she will receive him! Would
you have your wife and children know you exactly for what you are,
and esteem you precisely at your worth? If so, my friend, you will
live in a dreary house, and you will have but a chilly fireside.
Do you suppose the people round it don't see your homely face as
under a glamour, and, as it were, with a halo of love round it?
You don't fancy you ARE as you seem to them? No such thing, my
man. Put away that monstrous conceit, and be thankful that THEY
have not found you out.
The Notch on the Ax
A Story a la Mode*
* (Here Thackeray reduces to an absurdity the literary fashion of
the day--the vogue for startling stories and "Tales of Terror,"
which was high in his time, and which influenced several of the
stories which precede in this volume. But while Dickens made fun,
with mental reservations; while Bulwer Lytton tried to explain by
rising to the heights of natural philosophy, and Maturin did not
explain at all, but let his extravagant genius roam between heaven
and earth--Thackeray's keen wit saw mainly one chance for exquisite
literary satire and parody. At one point or another in this skit,
the style of each principal sensational novelist of the day is
Every one remembers in the Fourth Book of the immortal poem of your
Blind Bard (to whose sightless orbs no doubt Glorious Shapes were
apparent, and Visions Celestial), how Adam discourses to Eve of the
Bright Visitors who hovered round their Eden--
'Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth,
Unseen, both when we wake and when we sleep.'
"'How often,' says Father Adam, 'from the steep of echoing hill or
thicket, have we heard celestial voices to the midnight air, sole,
or responsive to each other's notes, singing!' After the Act of
Disobedience, when the erring pair from Eden took their solitary
way, and went forth to toil and trouble on common earth--though the
Glorious Ones no longer were visible, you cannot say they were
gone. It was not that the Bright Ones were absent, but that the
dim eyes of rebel man no longer could see them. In your chamber
hangs a picture of one whom you never knew, but whom you have long
held in tenderest regard, and who was painted for you by a friend
of mine, the Knight of Plympton. She communes with you. She
smiles on you. When your spirits are low, her bright eyes shine on
you and cheer you. Her innocent sweet smile is a caress to you.
She never fails to soothe you with her speechless prattle. You
love her. She is alive with you. As you extinguish your candle
and turn to sleep, though your eyes see her not, is she not there
still smiling? As you lie in the night awake, and thinking of your
duties, and the morrow's inevitable toil oppressing the busy,
weary, wakeful brain as with a remorse, the crackling fire flashes
up for a moment in the grate, and she is there, your little
Beauteous Maiden, smiling with her sweet eyes! When moon is down,
when fire is out, when curtains are drawn, when lids are closed, is
she not there, the little Beautiful One, though invisible, present
and smiling still? Friend, the Unseen Ones are round about us.
Does it not seem as if the time were drawing near when it shall be
given to men to behold them?"
The print of which my friend spoke, and which, indeed, hangs in my
room, though he has never been there, is that charming little
winter piece of Sir Joshua, representing the little Lady Caroline
Montague, afterwards Duchess of Buccleuch. She is represented as
standing in the midst of a winter landscape, wrapped in muff and
cloak; and she looks out of her picture with a smile so exquisite
that a Herod could not see her without being charmed.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. PINTO," I said to the person with whom I
was conversing. (I wonder, by the way, that I was not surprised at
his knowing how fond I am of this print.) "You spoke of the Knight
of Plympton. Sir Joshua died 1792: and you say he was your dear
As I spoke I chanced to look at Mr. Pinto; and then it suddenly
struck me: Gracious powers! Perhaps you ARE a hundred years old,
now I think of it. You look more than a hundred. Yes, you may be
a thousand years old for what I know. Your teeth are false. One
eye is evidently false. Can I say that the other is not? If a
man's age may be calculated by the rings round his eyes, this man
may be as old as Methuselah. He has no beard. He wears a large
curly glossy brown wig, and his eyebrows are painted a deep olive-
green. It was odd to hear this man, this walking mummy, talking
sentiment, in these queer old chambers in Shepherd's Inn.
Pinto passed a yellow bandanna handkerchief over his awful white
teeth, and kept his glass eye steadily fixed on me. "Sir Joshua's
friend?" said he (you perceive, eluding my direct question). "Is
not everyone that knows his pictures Reynolds's friend? Suppose I
tell you that I have been in his painting room scores of times, and
that his sister The has made me tea, and his sister Toffy has made
coffee for me? You will only say I am an old ombog." (Mr. Pinto,
I remarked, spoke all languages with an accent equally foreign.)
"Suppose I tell you that I knew Mr. Sam Johnson, and did not like
him? that I was at that very ball at Madame Cornelis', which you
have mentioned in one of your little--what do you call them?--bah!
my memory begins to fail me--in one of your little Whirligig
Papers? Suppose I tell you that Sir Joshua has been here, in this
"Have you, then, had these apartments for--more--than--seventy
years?" I asked.
"They look as if they had not been swept for that time--don't they?
Hey? I did not say that I had them for seventy years, but that Sir
Joshua has visited me here."
"When?" I asked, eying the man sternly, for I began to think he was
He answered me with a glance still more stern: "Sir Joshua Reynolds
was here this very morning, with Angelica Kaufmann and Mr. Oliver
Goldschmidt. He is still very much attached to Angelica, who still
does not care for him. Because he is dead (and I was in the fourth
mourning coach at his funeral) is that any reason why he should not
come back to earth again? My good sir, you are laughing at me. He
has sat many a time on that very chair which you are now occupying.
There are several spirits in the room now, whom you cannot see.
Excuse me." Here he turned round as if he was addressing somebody,
and began rapidly speaking a language unknown to me. "It is
Arabic," he said; "a bad patois, I own. I learned it in Barbary,
when I was a prisoner among the Moors. In anno 1609, bin ick aldus
ghekledt gheghaen. Ha! you doubt me: look at me well. At least I
Perhaps some of my readers remember a paper of which the figure of
a man carrying a barrel formed the initial letter, and which I
copied from an old spoon now in my possession. As I looked at Mr.
Pinto I do declare he looked so like the figure on that old piece
of plate that I started and felt very uneasy. "Ha!" said he,
laughing through his false teeth (I declare they were false--I
could see utterly toothless gums working up and down behind the
pink coral), "you see I wore a beard den; I am shafed now; perhaps
you tink I am A SPOON. Ha, ha!" And as he laughed he gave a cough
which I thought would have coughed his teeth out, his glass eye
out, his wig off, his very head off; but he stopped this convulsion
by stumping across the room and seizing a little bottle of bright
pink medicine, which, being opened, spread a singular acrid
aromatic odor through the apartment; and I thought I saw--but of
this I cannot take an affirmation--a light green and violet flame
flickering round the neck of the vial as he opened it. By the way,
from the peculiar stumping noise which he made in crossing the
bare-boarded apartment, I knew at once that my strange entertainer
had a wooden leg. Over the dust which lay quite thick on the
boards, you could see the mark of one foot very neat and pretty,
and then a round O, which was naturally the impression made by the
wooden stump. I own I had a queer thrill as I saw that mark, and
felt a secret comfort that it was not CLOVEN.
In this desolate apartment in which Mr. Pinto had invited me to see
him, there were three chairs, one bottomless, a little table on
which you might put a breakfast tray, and not a single other
article of furniture. In the next room, the door of which was
open, I could see a magnificent gilt dressing case, with some
splendid diamond and ruby shirt studs lying by it, and a chest of
drawers, and a cupboard apparently full of clothes.
Remembering him in Baden-Baden in great magnificence I wondered at
his present denuded state. "You have a house elsewhere, Mr.
Pinto?" I said.
"Many," says he. "I have apartments in many cities. I lock dem
up, and do not carry mosh logish."
I then remembered that his apartment at Baden, where I first met
him, was bare, and had no bed in it.
"There is, then, a sleeping room beyond?"
"This is the sleeping room." (He pronounces it DIS. Can this, by
the way, give any clew to the nationality of this singular man?)
"If you sleep on these two old chairs you have a rickety couch; if
on the floor, a dusty one."
"Suppose I sleep up dere?" said this strange man, and he actually
pointed up to the ceiling. I thought him mad or what he himself
called "an ombog." "I know. You do not believe me; for why should
I deceive you? I came but to propose a matter of business to you.
I told you I could give you the clew to the mystery of the Two
Children in Black, whom you met at Baden, and you came to see me.
If I told you you would not believe me. What for try and convinz
you? Ha hey?" And he shook his hand once, twice, thrice, at me,
and glared at me out of his eye in a peculiar way.
Of what happened now I protest I cannot give an accurate account.
It seemed to me that there shot a flame from his eye into my brain,
while behind his GLASS eye there was a green illumination as if a
candle had been lit in it. It seemed to me that from his long
fingers two quivering flames issued, sputtering, as it were, which
penetrated me, and forced me back into one of the chairs--the
broken one--out of which I had much difficulty in scrambling, when
the strange glamour was ended. It seemed to me that, when I was so
fixed, so transfixed in the broken chair, the man floated up to the
ceiling, crossed his legs, folded his arms as if he was lying on a
sofa, and grinned down at me. When I came to myself he was down
from the ceiling, and, taking me out of the broken cane-bottomed
chair, kindly enough--"Bah!" said he, "it is the smell of my
medicine. It often gives the vertigo. I thought you would have
had a little fit. Come into the open air." And we went down the
steps, and into Shepherd's Inn, where the setting sun was just
shining on the statue of Shepherd; the laundresses were traipsing
about; the porters were leaning against the railings; and the
clerks were playing at marbles, to my inexpressible consolation.
"You said you were going to dine at the 'Gray's-Inn Coffee-House,'"
he said. I was. I often dine there. There is excellent wine at
the "Gray's-Inn Coffee-House"; but I declare I NEVER SAID so. I
was not astonished at his remark; no more astonished than if I was
in a dream. Perhaps I WAS in a dream. Is life a dream? Are
dreams facts? Is sleeping being really awake? I don't know. I
tell you I am puzzled. I have read "The Woman in White," "The
Strange Story"--not to mention that story "Stranger than Fiction"
in the Cornhill Magazine--that story for which THREE credible
witnesses are ready to vouch. I have had messages from the dead;
and not only from the dead, but from people who never existed at
all. I own I am in a state of much bewilderment: but, if you
please, will proceed with my simple, my artless story.
Well, then. We passed from Shepherd's Inn into Holborn, and looked
for a while at Woodgate's bric-a-brac shop, which I never can pass
without delaying at the windows--indeed, if I were going to be
hung, I would beg the cart to stop, and let me have one look more
at that delightful omnium gatherum. And passing Woodgate's, we
come to Gale's little shop, "No. 47," which is also a favorite
haunt of mine.
Mr. Gale happened to be at his door, and as we exchanged
salutations, "Mr. Pinto," I said, "will you like to see a real
curiosity in this curiosity shop? Step into Mr. Gale's little back
In that little back parlor there are Chinese gongs; there are old
Saxe and Sevres plates; there is Furstenberg, Carl Theodor,
Worcester, Amstel, Nankin and other jimcrockery. And in the corner
what do you think there is? There is an actual GUILLOTINE. If you
doubt me, go and see--Gale, High Holborn, No. 47. It is a slim
instrument, much slighter than those which they make now;--some
nine feet high, narrow, a pretty piece of upholstery enough. There
is the hook over which the rope used to play which unloosened the
dreadful ax above; and look! dropped into the orifice where the
head used to go--there is THE AX itself, all rusty, with A GREAT
NOTCH IN THE BLADE.
As Pinto looked at it--Mr. Gale was not in the room, I recollect;
happening to have been just called out by a customer who offered
him three pound fourteen and sixpence for a blue Shepherd in pate
tendre,--Mr. Pinto gave a little start, and seemed crispe for a
moment. Then he looked steadily toward one of those great
porcelain stools which you see in gardens--and--it seemed to me--I
tell you I won't take my affidavit--I may have been maddened by the
six glasses I took of that pink elixir--I may have been sleep-
walking: perhaps am as I write now--I may have been under the
influence of that astounding MEDIUM into whose hands I had fallen--
but I vow I heard Pinto say, with rather a ghastly grin at the
"Nay, nefer shague your gory locks at me,
Dou canst not say I did it."
(He pronounced it, by the way, I DIT it, by which I KNOW that Pinto
was a German.)
I heard Pinto say those very words, and sitting on the porcelain
stool I saw, dimly at first, then with an awful distinctness--a
ghost--an EIDOLON--a form--A HEADLESS MAN seated with his head in
his lap, which wore an expression of piteous surprise.
At this minute, Mr. Gale entered from the front shop to show a
customer some Delft plates; and he did not see--but WE DID--the
figure rise up from the porcelain stool, shake its head, which it
held in its hand, and which kept its eyes fixed sadly on us, and
disappear behind the guillotine.
"Come to the 'Gray's-Inn Coffee-House,'" Pinto said, "and I will
tell you how the notch came to the ax." And we walked down Holborn
at about thirty-seven minutes past six o'clock.
If there is anything in the above statement which astonishes the
reader, I promise him that in the next chapter of this little story
he will be astonished still more.
"You will excuse me," I said to my companion, "for remarking that
when you addressed the individual sitting on the porcelain stool,
with his head in his lap, your ordinarily benevolent features"--
(this I confess was a bouncer, for between ourselves a more
sinister and ill-looking rascal than Mons. P. I have seldom set
eyes on)--"your ordinarily handsome face wore an expression that
was by no means pleasing. You grinned at the individual just as
you did at me when you went up to the cei--, pardon me, as I
THOUGHT you did, when I fell down in a fit in your chambers"; and I
qualified my words in a great flutter and tremble; I did not care
to offend the man--I did not DARE to offend the man. I thought
once or twice of jumping into a cab, and flying; of taking refuge
in Day and Martin's Blacking Warehouse; of speaking to a policeman,
but not one would come. I was this man's slave. I followed him
like his dog. I COULD not get away from him. So, you see, I went
on meanly conversing with him, and affecting a simpering
confidence. I remember, when I was a little boy at school, going
up fawning and smiling in this way to some great hulking bully of a
sixth-form boy. So I said in a word, "Your ordinarily handsome
face wore a disagreeable expression," &c.
"It is ordinarily VERY handsome," said he, with such a leer at a
couple of passers-by, that one of them cried, "Oh, crickey, here's
a precious guy!" and a child, in its nurse's arms, screamed itself
into convulsions. "Oh, oui, che suis tres-choli garcon, bien peau,
cerdainement," continued Mr. Pinto; "but you were right. That--
that person was not very well pleased when he saw me. There was no
love lost between us, as you say: and the world never knew a more
worthless miscreant. I hate him, voyez-vous? I hated him alife; I
hate him dead. I hate him man; I hate him ghost: and he know it,
and tremble before me. If I see him twenty tausend years hence--
and why not?--I shall hate him still. You remarked how he was
"In black satin breeches and striped stockings; a white pique
waistcoat, a gray coat, with large metal buttons, and his hair in
powder. He must have worn a pigtail--only--"
"Only it was CUT OFF! Ha, ha, ha!" Mr. Pinto cried, yelling a
laugh, which I observed made the policeman stare very much. "Yes.
It was cut off by the same blow which took off the scoundrel's
head--ho, ho, ho!" And he made a circle with his hook-nailed
finger round his own yellow neck, and grinned with a horrible
triumph. "I promise you that fellow was surprised when he found
his head in the pannier. Ha! ha! Do you ever cease to hate those
whom you hate?"--fire flashed terrifically from his glass eye as he
spoke--"or to love dose whom you once loved? Oh, never, never!"
And here his natural eye was bedewed with tears. "But here we are
at the 'Gray's-Inn CoffeeHouse.' James, what is the joint?"
That very respectful and efficient waiter brought in the bill of
fare, and I, for my part, chose boiled leg of pork, and pease
pudding, which my acquaintance said would do as well as anything
else; though I remarked he only trifled with the pease pudding, and
left all the pork on the plate. In fact, he scarcely ate anything.
But he drank a prodigious quantity of wine; and I must say that my
friend Mr. Hart's port wine is so good that I myself took--well, I
should think, I took three glasses. Yes, three, certainly. HE--I
mean Mr. P.--the old rogue, was insatiable: for we had to call for
a second bottle in no time. When that was gone, my companion
wanted another. A little red mounted up to his yellow cheeks as he
drank the wine, and he winked at it in a strange manner. "I
remember," said he, musing, "when port wine was scarcely drunk in
this country--though the Queen liked it, and so did Hurley; but
Bolingbroke didn't--he drank Florence and Champagne. Dr. Swift put
water to his wine. 'Jonathan,' I once said to him--but bah! autres
temps, autres moeurs. Another magnum, James."
This was all very well. "My good sir," I said, "it may suit YOU to
order bottles of '20 port, at a guinea a bottle; but that kind of
price does not suit me. I only happen to have thirty-four and
sixpence in my pocket, of which I want a shilling for the waiter,
and eighteen pence for my cab. You rich foreigners and SWELLS may
spend what you like" (I had him there: for my friend's dress was as
shabby as an old-clothes man's); "but a man with a family, Mr.
Whatd'you-call'im, cannot afford to spend seven or eight hundred a
year on his dinner alone."
"Bah!" he said. "Nunkey pays for all, as you say. I will what you
call stant the dinner, if you are SO POOR!" and again he gave that
disagreeable grin, and placed an odious crook-nailed and by no
means clean finger to his nose. But I was not so afraid of him
now, for we were in a public place; and the three glasses of port
wine had, you see, given me courage.
"What a pretty snuff-box!" he remarked, as I handed him mine, which
I am still old-fashioned enough to carry. It is a pretty old gold
box enough, but valuable to me especially as a relic of an old, old
relative, whom I can just remember as a child, when she was very
kind to me. "Yes; a pretty box. I can remember when many ladies--
most ladies, carried a box--nay, two boxes--tabatiere and
bonbonniere. What lady carries snuff-box now, hey? Suppose your
astonishment if a lady in an assembly were to offer you a prise? I
can remember a lady with such a box as this, with a tour, as we
used to call it then; with paniers, with a tortoise-shell cane,
with the prettiest little high-heeled velvet shoes in the world!--
ah! that was a time, that was a time! Ah, Eliza, Eliza, I have
thee now in my mind's eye! At Bungay on the Waveney, did I not
walk with thee, Eliza? Aha, did I not love thee? Did I not walk
with thee then? Do I not see thee still?"
This was passing strange. My ancestress--but there is no need to
publish her revered name--did indeed live at Bungay St. Mary's,
where she lies buried. She used to walk with a tortoise-shell
cane. She used to wear little black velvet shoes, with the
prettiest high heels in the world.
"Did you--did you--know, then, my great-gr-nd-m-ther?" I said.
He pulled up his coat sleeve--"Is that her name?" he said.
There, I declare, was the very name of the kind old creature
written in red on his arm.
"YOU knew her old," he said, divining my thoughts (with his strange
knack); "I knew her young and lovely. I danced with her at the
Bury ball. Did I not, dear, dear Miss ----?"
As I live, he here mentioned dear gr-nny's MAIDEN name. Her maiden
name was ----. Her honored married name was ----.
"She married your great-gr-ndf-th-r the year Poseidon won the
Newmarket Plate," Mr. Pinto dryly remarked.
Merciful powers! I remember, over the old shagreen knife and spoon
case on the sideboard in my gr-nny's parlor, a print by Stubbs of
that very horse. My grandsire, in a red coat, and his fair hair
flowing over his shoulders, was over the mantelpiece, and Poseidon
won the Newmarket Cup in the year 1783!
"Yes; you are right. I danced a minuet with her at Bury that very
night, before I lost my poor leg. And I quarreled with your
As he said "Ha!" there came three quiet little taps on the table--
it is the middle table in the "Gray's-Inn CoffeeHouse," under the
bust of the late Duke of W-ll-ngt-n.
"I fired in the air," he continued; "did I not?" (Tap, tap, tap.)
"Your grandfather hit me in the leg. He married three months
afterwards. 'Captain Brown,' I said 'who could see Miss Sm-th
without loving her?' She is there! She is there!" (Tap, tap,
tap.) "Yes, my first love--"
But here there came tap, tap, which everybody knows means "No."
"I forgot," he said, with a faint blush stealing over his wan
features, "she was not my first love. In Germ--in my own country--
there WAS a young woman--"
Tap, tap, tap. There was here quite a lively little treble knock;
and when the old man said, "But I loved thee better than all the
world, Eliza," the affirmative signal was briskly repeated.
And this I declare UPON MY HONOR. There was, I have said, a bottle
of port wine before us--I should say a decanter. That decanter was
LIFTED UP, and out of it into our respective glasses two bumpers of
wine were poured. I appeal to Mr. Hart, the landlord--I appeal to
James, the respectful and intelligent waiter, if this statement is
not true? And when we had finished that magnum, and I said--for I
did not now in the least doubt her presence--"Dear gr-nny, may we
have another magnum?" the table DISTINCTLY rapped "No.".
"Now, my good sir," Mr. Pinto said, who really began to be affected
by the wine, "you understand the interest I have taken in you. I
loved Eliza ----" (of course I don't mention family names). "I
knew you had that box which belonged to her--I will give you what
you like for that box. Name your price at once, and I pay you on
"Why, when you came out, you said you had not six-pence in your
"Bah! give you anything you like--fifty--a hundred--a tausend
"Come, come," said I, "the gold of the box may be worth nine
guineas, and the facon we will put at six more."
"One tausend guineas!" he screeched. "One tausend and fifty pound
dere!" and he sank back in his chair--no, by the way, on his bench,
for he was sitting with his back to one of the partitions of the
boxes, as I dare say James remembers.
"DON'T go on in this way," I continued rather weakly, for I did not
know whether I was in a dream. "If you offer me a thousand guineas
for this box I MUST take it. Mustn't I, dear gr-nny?"
The table most distinctly said "Yes"; and putting out his claws to
seize the box, Mr. Pinto plunged his hooked nose into it, and
eagerly inhaled some of my 47 with a dash of Hardman.
"But stay, you old harpy!" I exclaimed, being now in a sort of
rage, and quite familiar with him. "Where is the money? Where is
"James, a piece of note paper and a receipt stamp!"
"This is all mighty well, sir," I said, "but I don't know you; I
never saw you before. I will trouble you to hand me that box back
again, or give me a check with some known signature."
"Whose? Ha, Ha, HA!"
The room happened to be very dark. Indeed all the waiters were
gone to supper, and there were only two gentlemen snoring in their
respective boxes. I saw a hand come quivering down from the
ceiling--a very pretty hand, on which was a ring with a coronet,
with a lion rampant gules for a crest. I saw that hand take a dip
of ink and write across the paper. Mr. Pinto, then, taking a gray
receipt stamp out of his blue leather pocketbook, fastened it on to
the paper by the usual process; and the hand then wrote across the
receipt stamp, went across the table and shook hands with Pinto,
and then, as if waving him an adieu, vanished in the direction of
There was the paper before me, wet with the ink. There was the pen
which THE HAND had used. Does anybody doubt me? I have that pen
now,--a cedar stick of a not uncommon sort, and holding one of
Gillott's pens. It is in my inkstand now, I tell you. Anybody may
see it. The handwriting on the check, for such the document was,
was the writing of a female. It ran thus:--"London, midnight,
March 31, 1862. Pay the bearer one thousand and fifty pounds.
Rachel Sidonia. To Messrs. Sidonia, Pozzosanto and Co., London."
"Noblest and best of women!" said Pinto, kissing the sheet of paper
with much reverence. "My good Mr. Roundabout, I suppose you do not
question THAT signature?"
Indeed the house of Sidonia, Pozzosanto and Co., is known to be one
of the richest in Europe, and as for the Countess Rachel, she was
known to be the chief manager of that enormously wealthy
establishment. There was only one little difficulty, the Countess
Rachel died last October.
I pointed out this circumstance, and tossed over the paper to Pinto
with a sneer.
"C'est a brandre ou a laisser," he said with some heat. "You
literary men are all imbrudent; but I did not tink you such a fool
wie dis. Your box is not worth twenty pound, and I offer you a
tausend because I know you want money to pay dat rascal Tom's
college bills." (This strange man actually knew that my scapegrace
Tom had been a source of great expense and annoyance to me.) "You
see money costs me nothing, and you refuse to take it! Once,
twice; will you take this check in exchange for your trumpery
What could I do? My poor granny's legacy was valuable and dear to
me, but after all a thousand guineas are not to be had every day.
"Be it a bargain," said I. "Shall we have a glass of wine on it?"
says Pinto; and to this proposal I also unwillingly acceded,
reminding him, by the way, that he had not yet told me the story of
the headless man.
"Your poor gr-ndm-ther was right just now, when she said she was
not my first love. 'Twas one of those banale expressions" (here
Mr. P. blushed once more) "which we use to women. We tell each she
is our first passion. They reply with a similar illusory formula.
No man is any woman's first love; no woman any man's. We are in
love in our nurse's arms, and women coquette with their eyes before
their tongue can form a word. How could your lovely relative love
me? I was far, far too old for her. I am older than I look. I am
so old that you would not believe my age were I to tell you. I
have loved many and many a woman before your relative. It has not
always been fortunate for them to love me. Ah, Sophronia! Round
the dreadful circus where you fell, and whence I was dragged
corpselike by the heels, there sat multitudes more savage than the
lions which mangled your sweet form! Ah, tenez! when we marched to
the terrible stake together at Valladolid--the Protestant and the
J-- But away with memory! Boy! it was happy for thy grandam that
she loved me not.
"During that strange period," he went on, "when the teeming Time
was great with the revolution that was speedily to be born, I was
on a mission in Paris with my excellent, my maligned friend,
Cagliostro. Mesmer was one of our band. I seemed to occupy but an
obscure rank in it: though, as you know, in secret societies the
humble man may be a chief and director--the ostensible leader but a
puppet moved by unseen hands. Never mind who was chief, or who was
second. Never mind my age. It boots not to tell it: why shall I
expose myself to your scornful incredulity--or reply to your
questions in words that are familiar to you, but which you cannot
understand? Words are symbols of things which you know, or of
things which you don't know. If you don't know them, to speak is
idle." (Here I confess Mr. P. spoke for exactly thirty-eight
minutes, about physics, metaphysics, language, the origin and
destiny of man, during which time I was rather bored, and to
relieve my ennui, drank a half glass or so of wine.) "LOVE,
friend, is the fountain of youth! It may not happen to me once--
once in an age: but when I love then I am young. I loved when I
was in Paris. Bathilde, Bathilde, I loved thee--ah, how fondly!
Wine, I say, more wine! Love is ever young. I was a boy at the
little feet of Bathilde de Bechamel--the fair, the fond, the
fickle, ah, the false!" The strange old man's agony was here
really terrific, and he showed himself much more agitated than when
he had been speaking about my gr-ndm-th-r.
"I thought Blanche might love me. I could speak to her in the
language of all countries, and tell her the lore of all ages. I
could trace the nursery legends which she loved up to their
Sanscrit source, and whisper to her the darkling mysteries of the
Egyptian Magi. I could chant for her the wild chorus that rang in
the disheveled Eleusinian revel: I could tell her and I would, the
watchword never known but to one woman, the Saban Queen, which
Hiram breathed in the abysmal ear of Solomon--You don't attend.
Psha! you have drunk too much wine!" Perhaps I may as well own
that I was NOT attending, for he had been carrying on for about
fifty-seven minutes; and I don't like a man to have ALL the talk to
"Blanche de Bechamel was wild, then, about this secret of Masonry.
In early, early days I loved, I married a girl fair as Blanche,
who, too, was tormented by curiosity, who, too, would peep into my
closet, into the only secret guarded from her. A dreadful fate
befell poor Fatima. An ACCIDENT shortened her life. Poor thing!
she had a foolish sister who urged her on. I always told her to
beware of Ann. She died. They said her brothers killed me. A
gross falsehood. AM I dead? If I were, could I pledge you in this
"Was your name," I asked, quite bewildered, "was your name, pray,
then, ever Blueb----?"
"Hush! the waiter will overhear you. Methought we were speaking of
Blanche de Bechamel. I loved her, young man. My pearls, and
diamonds, and treasure, my wit, my wisdom, my passion, I flung them
all into the child's lap. I was a fool. Was strong Samson not as
weak as I? Was Solomon the Wise much better when Balkis wheedled
him? I said to the king--But enough of that, I spake of Blanche de
"Curiosity was the poor child's foible. I could see, as I talked
to her, that her thoughts were elsewhere (as yours, my friend, have
been absent once or twice to-night). To know the secret of Masonry
was the wretched child's mad desire. With a thousand wiles,
smiles, caresses, she strove to coax it from me--from ME--ha! ha!
"I had an apprentice--the son of a dear friend, who died by my side
at Rossbach, when Soubise, with whose army I happened to be,
suffered a dreadful defeat for neglecting my advice. The Young
Chevalier Goby de Mouchy was glad enough to serve as my clerk, and
help in some chemical experiments in which I was engaged with my
friend Dr. Mesmer. Bathilde saw this young man. Since women were,
has it not been their business to smile and deceive, to fondle and
lure? Away! From the very first it has been so!" And as my
companion spoke, he looked as wicked as the serpent that coiled
round the tree, and hissed a poisoned counsel to the first woman.
"One evening I went, as was my wont, to see Blanche. She was
radiant: she was wild with spirits: a saucy triumph blazed in her
blue eyes. She talked, she rattled in her childish way. She
uttered, in the course of her rhapsody, a hint--an intimation--so
terrible that the truth flashed across me in a moment. Did I ask
her? She would lie to me. But I knew how to make falsehood
impossible. And I ordered her to go to sleep."
At this moment the clock (after its previous convulsions) sounded
TWELVE. And as the new Editor* of the Cornhill Magazine--and HE, I
promise you, won't stand any nonsense--will only allow seven pages,
I am obliged to leave off at THE VERY MOST INTERESTING POINT OF THE
* Mr. Thackeray retired from the Editorship of the Cornhill
Magazine in March, 1862
"Are you of our fraternity? I see you are not. The secret which
Mademoiselle de Bechamel confided to me in her mad triumph and wild
hoyden spirits--she was but a child, poor thing, poor thing, scarce
fifteen;--but I love them young--a folly not unusual with the old!"
(Here Mr. Pinto thrust his knuckles into his hollow eyes; and, I am
sorry to say, so little regardful was he of personal cleanliness,
that his tears made streaks of white over his guarled dark hands.)
"Ah, at fifteen, poor child, thy fate was terrible! Go to! It is
not good to love me, friend. They prosper not who do. I divine
you. You need not say what you are thinking--"
In truth, I was thinking, if girls fall in love with this sallow,
hook-nosed, glass-eyed, wooden-legged, dirty, hideous old man, with
the sham teeth, they have a queer taste. THAT is what I was
"Jack Wilkes said the handsomest man in London had but half an
hour's start of him. And, without vanity, I am scarcely uglier
than Jack Wilkes. We were members of the same club at Medenham
Abbey, Jack and I, and had many a merry night together. Well, sir,
I--Mary of Scotland knew me but as a little hunchbacked music
master; and yet, and yet, I think she was not indifferent to her
David Riz--and SHE came to misfortune. They all do--they all do!"
"Sir, you are wandering from your point!" I said, with some
severity. For, really, for this old humbug to hint that he had
been the baboon who frightened the club at Medenham, that he had
been in the Inquisition at Valladolid--that under the name of D.
Riz, as he called it, he had known the lovely Queen of Scots--was a
LITTLE too much. "Sir," then I said, "you were speaking about a
Miss Bechamel. I really have not time to hear all of your
"Faith, the good wine gets into my head." (I should think so, the
old toper! Four bottles all but two glasses.) "To return to poor
Blanche. As I sat laughing, joking with her, she let slip a word,
a little word, which filled me with dismay. Some one had told her
a part of the Secret--the secret which has been divulged scarce
thrice in three thousand years--the Secret of the Freemasons. Do
you know what happens to those uninitiate who learn that secret? to
those wretched men, the initiate who reveal it?"
As Pinto spoke to me, he looked through and through me with his
horrible piercing glance, so that I sat quite uneasily on my bench.
He continued: "Did I question her awake? I knew she would lie to
me. Poor child! I loved her no less because I did not believe a
word she said. I loved her blue eye, her golden hair, her
delicious voice, that was true in song, though when she spoke,
false as Eblis! You are aware that I possess in rather a
remarkable degree what we have agreed to call the mesmeric power.
I set the unhappy girl to sleep. THEN she was obliged to tell me
all. It was as I had surmised. Goby de Mouchy, my wretched,
besotted miserable secretary, in his visits to the chateau of the
Marquis de Bechamel, who was one of our society, had seen Blanche.
I suppose it was because she had been warned that he was worthless,
and poor, artful and a coward, she loved him. She wormed out of
the besotted wretch the secrets of our Order. 'Did he tell you the
NUMBER ONE?' I asked.
"She said, 'Yes.'
"'Did he,' I further inquired, 'tell you the--'
"'Oh, don't ask me, don't ask me!' she said, writhing on the sofa,
where she lay in the presence of the Marquis de Bechamel, her most
unhappy father. Poor Bechamel, poor Bechamel! How pale he looked
as I spoke! 'Did he tell you,' I repeated with a dreadful calm,
'the NUMBER TWO?' She said, 'Yes.'
"The poor old marquis rose up, and clasping his hands, fell on his
knees before Count Cagl---- Bah! I went by a different name then.
Vat's in a name? Dat vich ye call a Rosicrucian by any other name
vil smell as sveet. 'Monsieur,' he said, 'I am old--I am rich. I
have five hundred thousand livres of rentes in Picardy. I have
half as much in Artois. I have two hundred and eighty thousand on
the Grand Livre. I am promised by my Sovereign a dukedom and his
orders with a reversion to my heir. I am a Grandee of Spain of the
First Class, and Duke of Volovento. Take my titles, my ready
money, my life, my honor, everything I have in the world, but don't
ask the THIRD QUESTION.'
"'Godfroid de Bouillon, Comte de Bechamel, Grandee of Spain and
Prince of Volovento, in our Assembly what was the oath you swore?'
The old man writhed as he remembered its terrific purport.
"Though my heart was racked with agony, and I would have died, aye,
cheerfully" (died, indeed, as if THAT were a penalty!) "to spare
yonder lovely child a pang, I said to her calmly, 'Blanche de
Bechamel, did Goby de Mouchy tell you secret NUMBER THREE?'
"She whispered a oui that was quite faint, faint and small. But
her poor father fell in convulsions at her feet.
"She died suddenly that night. Did I not tell you those I love
come to no good? When General Bonaparte crossed the Saint Bernard,
he saw in the convent an old monk with a white beard, wandering
about the corridors, cheerful and rather stout, but mad--mad as a
March hare. 'General,' I said to him, 'did you ever see that face
before?' He had not. He had not mingled much with the higher
classes of our society before the Revolution. I knew the poor old
man well enough; he was the last of a noble race, and I loved his
"And did she die by--?"
"Man! did I say so? Do I whisper the secrets of the Vehmgericht?
I say she died that night: and he--he, the heartless, the villain,
the betrayer,--you saw him seated in yonder curiosity shop, by
yonder guillotine, with his scoundrelly head in his lap.
"You saw how slight that instrument was? It was one of the first
which Guillotin made, and which he showed to private friends in a
hangar in the Rue Picpus, where he lived. The invention created
some little conversation among scientific men at the time, though I
remember a machine in Edinburgh of a very similar construction, two
hundred--well, many, many years ago--and at a breakfast which
Guillotin gave he showed us the instrument, and much talk arose
among us as to whether people suffered under it.
"And now I must tell you what befell the traitor who had caused all
this suffering. Did he know that the poor child's death was a
SENTENCE? He felt a cowardly satisfaction that with her was gone
the secret of his treason. Then he began to doubt. I had MEANS to
penetrate all his thoughts, as well as to know his acts. Then he
became a slave to a horrible fear. He fled in abject terror to a
convent. They still existed in Paris; and behind the walls of
Jacobins the wretch thought himself secure. Poor fool! I had but
to set one of my somnambulists to sleep. Her spirit went forth and
spied the shuddering wretch in his cell. She described the street,
the gate, the convent, the very dress which he wore, and which you
"And now THIS is what happened. In his chamber in the Rue St.
Honore, at Paris, sat a man ALONE--a man who has been maligned, a
man who has been called a knave and charlatan, a man who has been
persecuted even to the death, it is said, in Roman Inquisitions,
forsooth, and elsewhere. Ha! ha! A man who has a mighty will.
"And looking toward the Jacobins Convent (of which, from his
chamber, he could see the spires and trees), this man WILLED. And
it was not yet dawn. And he willed; and one who was lying in his
cell in the convent of Jacobins, awake and shuddering with terror
for a crime which he had committed, fell asleep.
"But though he was asleep his eyes were open.
"And after tossing and writhing, and clinging to the pallet, and
saying 'No, I will not go,' he rose up and donned his clothes--a
gray coat, a vest of white pique, black satin small-clothes, ribbed
silk stockings, and a white stock with a steel buckle; and he
arranged his hair, and he tied his queue, all the while being in
that strange somnolence which walks, which moves, which FLIES
sometimes, which sees, which is indifferent to pain, which OBEYS.
And he put on his hat, and he went forth from his cell: and though
the dawn was not yet, he trod the corridors as seeing them. And he
passed into the cloister, and then into the garden where lie the
ancient dead. And he came to the wicket, which Brother Jerome was
opening just at the dawning. And the crowd was already waiting
with their cans and bowls to receive the alms of the good brethren.
"And he passed through the crowd and went on his way, and the few
people then abroad who marked him, said, 'Tiens! How very odd he
looks! He looks like a man walking in his sleep!' This was said
by various persons:--
"By milk women, with their cans and carts, coming into the town.
"By roysterers who had been drinking at the taverns of the Barrier,
for it was Mid-Lent.
"By the sergeants of the watch, who eyed him sternly as he passed
near their halberds.
"But he passed on unmoved by their halberds,
"Unmoved by the cries of the roysterers,
"By the market women coming with their milk and eggs.
"He walked through the Rue St. Honore, I say:--
"By the Rue Rambuteau,
"By the Rue St. Antoine,
"By the King's Chateau of the Bastille,
"By the Faubourg St. Antoine.
"And he came to No. 29 in the Rue Picpus--a house which then stood
between a court and garden--
"That is, there was a building of one story, with a great coach
"Then there was a court, around which were stables, coach-houses,
"Then there was a house--a two-storied house, with a perron in
"Behind the house was a garden--a garden of two hundred and fifty
French feet in length.
"And as one hundred feet of France equal one hundred and six feet
of England, this garden, my friend, equaled exactly two hundred and
sixty-five feet of British measure.
"In the center of the garden was a fountain and a statue--or, to
speak more correctly, two statues. One was recumbent,--a man.
Over him, saber in hand, stood a Woman.
"The man was Olofernes. The woman was Judith. From the head, from
the trunk, the water gushed. It was the taste of the doctor:--was
it not a droll of taste?
"At the end of the garden was the doctor's cabinet of study. My
faith, a singular cabinet, and singular pictures!--
"Decapitation of Charles Premier at Vitehall.
"Decapitation of Montrose at Edimbourg.
"Decapitation of Cinq Mars. When I tell you that he was a man of
"Through this garden, by these statues, up these stairs, went the
pale figure of him who, the porter said, knew the way of the house.
He did. Turning neither right nor left, he seemed to walk THROUGH
the statues, the obstacles, the flower beds, the stairs, the door,
the tables, the chairs.
"In the corner of the room was THAT INSTRUMENT, which Guillotin had
just invented and perfected. One day he was to lay his own head
under his own ax. Peace be to his name! With him I deal not!
"In a frame of mahogany, neatly worked, was a board with a half
circle in it, over which another board fitted. Above was a heavy
ax, which fell--you know how. It was held up by a rope, and when
this rope was untied, or cut, the steel fell.
"To the story which I now have to relate, you may give credence, or
not, as you will. The sleeping man went up to that instrument.
"He laid his head in it, asleep."
"He then took a little penknife out of the pocket of his white
"He cut the rope asleep.
"The ax descended on the head of the traitor and villain. The
notch in it was made by the steel buckle of his stock, which was
"A strange legend has got abroad that after the deed was done, the
figure rose, took the head from the basket, walked forth through
the garden, and by the screaming porters at the gate, and went and
laid itself down at the Morgue. But for this I will not vouch.
Only of this be sure. 'There are more things in heaven and earth,
Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.' More and more
the light peeps through the chinks. Soon, amidst music ravishing,
the curtain will rise, and the glorious scene be displayed. Adieu!
Remember me. Ha! 'tis dawn," Pinto said. And he was gone.
I am ashamed to say that my first movement was to clutch the check
which he had left with me, and which I was determined to present
the very moment the bank opened. I know the importance of these
things, and that men change their mind sometimes. I sprang through
the streets to the great banking house of Manasseh in Duke Street.
It seemed to me as if I actually flew as I walked. As the clock
struck ten I was at the counter and laid down my check.
The gentleman who received it, who was one of the Hebrew
persuasion, as were the other two hundred clerks of the
establishment, having looked at the draft with terror in his
countenance, then looked at me, then called to himself two of his
fellow clerks, and queer it was to see all their aquiline beaks
over the paper.
"Come, come!" said I, "don't keep me here all day. Hand me over
the money, short, if you please!" for I was, you see, a little
alarmed, and so determined to assume some extra bluster.
"Will you have the kindness to step into the parlor to the
partners?" the clerk said, and I followed him.
"What, AGAIN?" shrieked a bald-headed, red-whiskered gentleman,
whom I knew to be Mr. Manasseh. "Mr. Salathiel, this is too bad!
Leave me with this gentleman, S." And the clerk disappeared.
"Sir," he said, "I know how you came by this: the Count de Pinto
gave it you. It is too bad! I honor my parents; I honor THEIR
parents; I honor their bills! But this one of grandma's is too
bad--it is, upon my word, now! She've been dead these five-and-
thirty years. And this last four months she has left her burial
place and took to drawing on our 'ouse! It's too bad, grandma; it
is too bad!" and he appealed to me, and tears actually trickled
down his nose.
"Is it the Countess Sidonia's check or not?" I asked, haughtily.
"But, I tell you, she's dead! It's a shame!--it's a shame!--it is,
grandmamma!" and he cried, and wiped his great nose in his yellow
pocket handkerchief. "Look year--will you take pounds instead of
guineas? She's dead, I tell you! It's no go! Take the pounds--
one tausend pound!--ten nice, neat, crisp hundred-pound notes, and
go away vid you, do!"
"I will have my bond, sir, or nothing," I said; and I put on an
attitude of resolution which I confess surprised even myself.
"Wery veil," he shrieked, with many oaths, "then you shall have
noting--ha, ha, ha!--noting but a policeman! Mr. Abednego, call a
policeman! Take that, you humbug and impostor!" and here with an
abundance of frightful language which I dare not repeat, the
wealthy banker abused and defied me.
Au bout du compte, what was I to do, if a banker did not choose to
honor a check drawn by his dead grandmother? I began to wish I had
my snuff-box back. I began to think I was a fool for changing that
little old-fashioned gold for
this slip of strange paper.
Meanwhile the banker had passed from his fit of anger to a paroxysm
of despair. He seemed to be addressing some person invisible, but
in the room: "Look here, ma'am, you've really been coming it too
strong. A hundred thousand in six months, and now a thousand more!
The 'ouse can't stand it; it WON'T stand it, I say! What? Oh!
As he uttered these words, A HAND fluttered over the table in the
air! It was a female hand: that which I had seen the night before.
That female hand took a pen from the green baize table, dipped it
in a silver inkstand, and wrote on a quarter of a sheet of foolscap
on the blotting book, "How about the diamond robbery? If you do
not pay, I will tell him where they are."
What diamonds? what robbery? what was this mystery? That will
never be ascertained, for the wretched man's demeanor instantly
changed. "Certainly, sir;--oh, certainly," he said, forcing a
grin. "How will you have the money, sir? All right, Mr. Abednego.
This way out."
"I hope I shall often see you again," I said; on which I own poor
Manasseh gave a dreadful grin, and shot back into his parlor.
I ran home, clutching the ten delicious, crisp hundred pounds, and
the dear little fifty which made up the account. I flew through
the streets again. I got to my chambers. I bolted the outer
doors. I sank back in my great chair, and slept. . . .
My first thing on waking was to feel for my money. Perdition!
Where was I? Ha!--on the table before me was my grandmother's
snuff-box, and by its side one of those awful--those admirable--
sensation novels, which I had been reading, and which are full of
But that the guillotine is still to be seen at Mr. Gale's, No. 47,
High Holborn, I give you MY HONOR. I suppose I was dreaming about
it. I don't know. What is dreaming? What is life? Why shouldn't
I sleep on the ceiling?--and am I sitting on it now, or on the
floor? I am puzzled. But enough. If the fashion for sensation
novels goes on, I tell you I will write one in fifty volumes. For
the present, DIXI. But between ourselves, this Pinto, who fought
at the Colosseum, who was nearly being roasted by the Inquisition,
and sang duets at Holyrood, I am rather sorry to lose him after
three little bits of Roundabout Papers. Et vous?
AT A TABLE D'HOTE
At the close of February, 1848, I was in Nuremberg. My original
intention had been to pass a couple of days there on my way to
Munich, that being, I thought, as much time as could reasonably be
spared for so small a city, beckoned as my footsteps were to the
Bavarian Athens, of whose glories of ancient art and German
Renaissance I had formed expectations the most exaggerated--
expectations fatal to any perfect enjoyment, and certain to be
disappointed, however great the actual merit of Munich might be.
But after two days at Nuremberg I was so deeply interested in its
antique sequestered life, the charms of which had not been deadened
by previous anticipations, that I resolved to remain there until I
had mastered every detail and knew the place by heart.
I have a story to tell which will move amidst tragic circumstances
of too engrossing a nature to be disturbed by archaeological
interests, and shall not, therefore, minutely describe here what I
observed in Nuremberg, although no adequate description of that
wonderful city has yet fallen in my way. To readers unacquainted
with this antique place, it will be enough to say that in it the
old German life seems still to a great extent rescued from the all-
devouring, all-equalizing tendencies of European civilization. The
houses are either of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, or are
constructed after those ancient models. The citizens have
preserved much of the simple manners and customs of their
ancestors. The hurrying feet of commerce and curiosity pass
rapidly by, leaving it sequestered from the agitations and the
turmoils of metropolitan existence. It is as quiet as a village.
During my stay there rose in its quiet streets the startled echoes
of horror at a crime unparalleled in its annals, which, gathering
increased horror from the very peacefulness and serenity of the
scene, arrested the attention and the sympathy in a degree seldom
experienced. Before narrating that, it will be necessary to go
back a little, that my own connection with it may be intelligible,
especially in the fanciful weaving together of remote conjectures
which strangely involved me in the story.
The table d'hote at the Bayerischer Hof had about thirty visitors--
all, with one exception, of that local commonplace which escapes
remark. Indeed this may almost always be said of tables d'hote;
though there is a current belief, which I cannot share, of a table
d'hote being very delightful--of one being certain to meet pleasant
people there." It may be so. For many years I believed it was so.
The general verdict received my assent. I had never met those
delightful people, but was always expecting to meet them. Hitherto
they had been conspicuous by their absence. According to my
experience in Spain, France, and Germany, such dinners had been
dreary or noisy and vapid. If the guests were English, they were
chillingly silent, or surlily monosyllabic: to their neighbors they
were frigid; amongst each other they spoke in low undertones. And
if the guests were foreigners, they were noisy, clattering, and
chattering, foolish for the most part, and vivaciously commonplace.
I don't know which made me feel most dreary. The predominance of
my countrymen gave the dinner the gayety of a funeral; the
predominance of the Mossoo gave it the fatigue of got-up
enthusiasm, of trivial expansiveness. To hear strangers imparting
the scraps of erudition and connoisseurship which they had that
morning gathered from their valets de place and guide-books, or
describing the sights they had just seen, to you, who either saw
them yesterday, or would see them to-morrow, could not be
permanently attractive. My mind refuses to pasture on such food
with gusto. I cannot be made to care what the Herr Baron's
sentiments about Albert Durer or Lucas Cranach may be. I can
digest my rindfleisch without the aid of the commis voyageur's
criticisms on Gothic architecture. This may be my misfortune. In
spite of the Italian blood which I inherit, I am a shy man--shy as
the purest Briton. But, like other shy men, I make up in obstinacy
what may be deficient in expansiveness. I can be frightened into
silence, but I won't be dictated to. You might as well attempt the
persuasive effect of your eloquence upon a snail who has withdrawn
into his shell at your approach, and will not emerge till his
confidence is restored. To be told that I MUST see this, and ought
to go there, because my casual neighbor was charme, has never
presented itself to me as an adequate motive.
From this you readily gather that I am severely taciturn at a table
d'hote. I refrain from joining in the "delightful conversation"
which flies across the table, and know that my reticence is
attributed to "insular pride." It is really and truly nothing but
impatience of commonplace. I thoroughly enjoy good talk; but, ask
yourself, what are the probabilities of hearing that rare thing in
the casual assemblage of forty or fifty people, not brought
together by any natural affinities or interests, but thrown
together by the accident of being in the same district, and in the
same hotel? They are not "forty feeding like one," but like forty.
They have no community, except the community of commonplace. No,
tables d'hote are not delightful, and do not gather interesting
Such has been my extensive experience. But this at Nuremberg is a
conspicuous exception. At that table there was one guest who, on
various grounds, personal and incidental, remains the most
memorable man I ever met. From the first he riveted my attention
in an unusual degree. He had not, as yet, induced me to emerge
from my habitual reserve, for in truth, although he riveted my
attention, he inspired me with a strange feeling of repulsion. I
could scarcely keep my eyes from him; yet, except the formal bow on
sitting down and rising from the table, I had interchanged no sign
of fellowship with him. He was a young Russian, named Bourgonef,
as I at once learned; rather handsome, and peculiarly arresting to
the eye, partly from an air of settled melancholy, especially in
his smile, the amiability of which seemed breaking from under
clouds of grief, and still more so from the mute appeal to sympathy
in the empty sleeve of his right arm, which was looped to the
breast-button of his coat. His eyes were large and soft. He had
no beard or whisker, and only delicate moustaches. The sorrow,
quiet but profound, the amiable smile and the lost arm, were
appealing details which at once arrested attention and excited
sympathy. But to me this sympathy was mingled with a vague
repulsion, occasioned by a certain falseness in the amiable smile,
and a furtiveness in the eyes, which I saw--or fancied--and which,
with an inexplicable reserve, forming as it were the impregnable
citadel in the center of his outwardly polite and engaging manner,
gave me something of that vague impression which we express by the
words "instinctive antipathy."
It was, when calmly considered, eminently absurd. To see one so
young, and by his conversation so highly cultured and intelligent,
condemned to early helplessness, his food cut up for him by a
servant, as if he were a child, naturally engaged pity, and, on the
first day, I cudgeled my brains during the greater part of dinner
in the effort to account for his lost arm. He was obviously not a
military man; the unmistakable look and stoop of a student told
that plainly enough. Nor was the loss one dating from early life:
he used his left arm too awkwardly for the event not to have had a
recent date. Had it anything to do with his melancholy? Here was
a topic for my vagabond imagination, and endless were the romances
woven by it during my silent dinner. For the reader must be told
of one peculiarity in me, because to it much of the strange
complications of my story are due; complications into which a mind
less active in weaving imaginary hypotheses to interpret casual and
trifling facts would never have been drawn. From my childhood I
have been the victim of my constructive imagination, which has led
me into many mistakes and some scrapes; because, instead of
contenting myself with plain, obvious evidence, I have allowed
myself to frame hypothetical interpretations, which, to acts simple
in themselves, and explicable on ordinary motives, render the
simple-seeming acts portentous. With bitter pangs of self-reproach
I have at times discovered that a long and plausible history
constructed by me, relating to personal friends, has crumpled into
a ruin of absurdity, by the disclosure of the primary misconception
on which the whole history was based. I have gone, let us say, on
the supposition that two people were secretly lovers; on this
supposition my imagination has constructed a whole scheme to
explain certain acts, and one fine day I have discovered
indubitably that the supposed lovers were not lovers, but
confidants of their passions in other directions, and, of course,
all my conjectures have been utterly false. The secret flush of
shame at failure has not, however, prevented my falling into
similar mistakes immediately after.
When, therefore, I hereafter speak of my "constructive
imagination," the reader will know to what I am alluding. It was
already busy with Bourgonef. To it must be added that vague
repulsion, previously mentioned. This feeling abated on the second
day; but, although lessened, it remained powerful enough to prevent
my speaking to him. Whether it would have continued to abate until
it disappeared, as such antipathies often disappear, under the
familiarities of prolonged intercourse, without any immediate
appeal to my amour propre, I know not; but every reflective mind,
conscious of being accessible to antipathies, will remember that
one certain method of stifling them is for the object to make some
appeal to our interest or our vanity: in the engagement of these
more powerful feelings, the antipathy is quickly strangled. At any
rate it is so in my case, and was so now.
On the third day, the conversation at table happening to turn, as
it often turned, upon St. Sebald's Church, a young Frenchman, who
was criticising its architecture with fluent dogmatism, drew
Bourgonef into the discussion, and thereby elicited such a display
of accurate and extensive knowledge, no less than delicacy of
appreciation, that we were all listening spellbound. In the midst
of this triumphant exposition the irritated vanity of the Frenchman
could do nothing to regain his position but oppose a flat denial to
a historical statement made by Bourgonef, backing his denial by the
confident assertion that "all the competent authorities" held with
him. At this point Bourgonef appealed to me, and in that tone of
deference so exquisitely flattering from one we already know to be
superior he requested my decision; observing that, from the manner
in which he had seen me examine the details of the architecture, he
could not be mistaken in his confidence that I was a connoisseur.
All eyes were turned upon me. As a shy man, this made me blush; as
a vain man, the blush was accompanied with delight. It might
easily have happened that such an appeal, acting at once upon
shyness and ignorance, would have inflamed my wrath; but the appeal
happening to be directed on a point which I had recently
investigated and thoroughly mastered, I was flattered at the
opportunity of a victorious display.
The pleasure of my triumph diffused itself over my feelings towards
him who had been the occasion of it. The Frenchman was silenced;
the general verdict of the company was too obviously on our side.
From this time the conversation continued between Bourgonef and
myself; and he not only succeeded in entirely dissipating my absurd
antipathy--which I now saw to have been founded on purely imaginary
grounds, for neither the falseness nor the furtiveness could now be
detected--but he succeeded in captivating all my sympathy. Long
after dinner was over, and the salle empty, we sat smoking our
cigars, and discussing politics, literature, and art in that
suggestive desultory manner which often gives a charm to casual
It was a stirring epoch, that of February, 1848. The Revolution,
at first so hopeful, and soon to manifest itself in failure so
disastrous, was hurrying to an outburst. France had been for many
months agitated by cries of electoral reform, and by indignation at
the corruption and scandals in high places. The Praslin murder,
and the dishonor of M. Teste, terminated by suicide, had been
interpreted as signs of the coming destruction. The political
banquets given in various important cities had been occasions for
inflaming the public mind, and to the far-seeing, these banquets
were interpreted as the sounds of the tocsin. Louis Philippe had
become odious to France, and contemptible to Europe. Guizot and
Duchatel, the ministers of that day, although backed by a
parliamentary majority on which they blindly relied, were
unpopular, and were regarded as infatuated even by their admirers
in Europe. The Spanish marriages had all but led to a war with
England. The Opposition, headed by Thiers and Odillon Barrot, was
strengthened by united action with the republican party, headed by
Ledru Rollin, Marrast, Flocon, and Louis Blanc.
Bourgonef was an ardent republican. So was I; but my color was of
a different shade from his. He belonged to the Reds. My own
dominant tendencies being artistic and literary, my dream was of a
republic in which intelligence would be the archon or ruler; and,
of course, in such a republic, art and literature, as the highest
manifestation of mind, would have the supreme direction. Do you
smile, reader? I smile now; but it was serious earnest with me
then. It is unnecessary to say more on this point. I have said so
much to render intelligible the stray link of communion which
riveted the charm of my new acquaintance's conversation; there was
both agreement enough and difference enough in our views to render
our society mutually fascinating.
On retiring to my room that afternoon I could not help laughing at
my absurd antipathy against Bourgonef. All his remarks had
disclosed a generous, ardent, and refined nature. While my
antipathy had specially fastened upon a certain falseness in his
smile--a falseness the more poignantly hideous if it were
falseness, because hidden amidst the wreaths of amiability--my
delight in his conversation had specially justified itself by the
truthfulness of his mode of looking at things. He seemed to be
sincerity itself. There was, indeed, a certain central reserve;
but that might only he an integrity of pride; or it might be
connected with painful circumstances in his history, of which the
melancholy in his face was the outward sign.
That very evening my constructive imagination was furnished with a
detail on which it was soon to be actively set to work. I had been
rambling about the old fortifications, and was returning at
nightfall through the old archway near Albert Durer's house, when a
man passed by me. We looked at each other in that automatic way in
which men look when they meet in narrow places, and I felt, so to
speak, a start of recognition in the eyes of the man who passed.
Nothing else, in features or gestures, betrayed recognition or
surprise. But although there was only that, it flashed from his
eyes to mine like an electric shock. He passed. I looked back.
He continued his way without turning. The face was certainly known
to me; but it floated in a mist of confused memories.
I walked on slowly, pestering my memory with fruitless calls upon
it, hopelessly trying to recover the place where I could have seen
the stranger before. In vain memory traveled over Europe in
concert-rooms, theaters, shops, and railway carriages. I could not
recall the occasion on which those eyes had previously met mine.
That they had met them I had no doubt. I went to bed with the
THE ECHOES OF MURDER
Next morning Nuremberg was agitated with a horror such as can
seldom have disturbed its quiet; a young and lovely girl had been
murdered. Her corpse was discovered at daybreak under the archway
leading to the old fortifications. She had been stabbed to the
heart. No other signs of violence were visible; no robbery had
In great cities, necessarily great centers of crime, we daily hear
of murders; their frequency and remoteness leave us undisturbed.
Our sympathies can only be deeply moved either by some scenic
peculiarities investing the crime with unusual romance or unusual
atrocity, or else by the more immediate appeal of direct neighborly
interest. The murder which is read of in the Times as having
occurred in Westminster, has seldom any special horror to the
inhabitants of Islington or Oxford Street; but to the inhabitants
of Westminster, and especially to the inhabitants of the particular
street in which it was perpetrated, the crime assumes heart-shaking
proportions. Every detail is asked for, and every surmise listened
to, with feverish eagerness is repeated and diffused through the
crowd with growing interest. The family of the victim; the
antecedents of the assassin, if he is known; or the conjectures
pointing to the unknown assassin,--are eagerly discussed. All the
trivial details of household care or domestic fortunes, all the
items of personal gossip, become invested with a solemn and
affecting interest. Pity for the victim and survivors mingle and
alternate with fierce cries for vengeance on the guilty. The whole
street becomes one family, commingled by an energetic sympathy,
united by one common feeling of compassion and wrath.
In villages, and in cities so small as Nuremberg, the same
community of feeling is manifested. The town became as one street.
The horror spread like a conflagration, the sympathy surged and
swelled like a tide. Everyone felt a personal interest in the
event, as if the murder had been committed at his own door. Never
shall I forget that wail of passionate pity, and that cry for the
vengeance of justice, which rose from all sides of the startled
city. Never shall I forget the hurry, the agitation, the feverish
restlessness, the universal communicativeness, the volunteered
services, the eager suggestion, surging round the house of the
unhappy parents. Herr Lehfeldt, the father of the unhappy girl,
was a respected burgher known to almost every one. His mercer's
shop was the leading one of the city. A worthy, pious man,
somewhat strict, but of irreproachable character; his virtues, no
less than those of his wife, and of his only daughter, Lieschen--
now, alas; for ever snatched from their yearning eyes--were
canvassed everywhere, and served to intensify the general grief.
That such a calamity should have fallen on a household so
estimable, seemed to add fuel to the people's wrath. Poor
Lieschen! her pretty, playful ways--her opening prospects, as the
only daughter of parents so well to do and so kind--her youth and
abounding life--these were detailed with impassioned fervor by
friends, and repeated by strangers who caught the tone of friends,
as if they, too, had known and loved her. But amidst the surging
uproar of this sea of many voices no one clear voice of direction
could be heard; no clue given to the clamorous bloodhounds to run
down the assassin.
Cries had been heard in the streets that night at various parts of
the town, which, although then interpreted as the quarrels of
drunken brawlers, and the conflicts of cats, were now confidently
asserted to have proceeded from the unhappy girl in her death-
struggle. But none of these cries had been heard in the immediate
neighborhood of the archway. All the inhabitants of that part of
the town agreed that in their waking hours the streets had been
perfectly still. Nor were there any traces visible of a struggle
having taken place. Lieschen might have been murdered elsewhere,
and her corpse quietly deposited where it was found, as far as any
Wild and vague were the conjectures. All were baffled in the
attempt to give them a definite direction. The crime was
apparently prompted by revenge--certainly not by lust, or desire of
money. But she was not known to stand in any one's way. In this
utter blank as to the assignable motive, I, perhaps alone among the
furious crowd, had a distinct suspicion of the assassin. No sooner
had the news reached me, than with the specification of the theater
of the crime there at once flashed upon me the intellectual vision
of the criminal: the stranger with the dark beard and startled eyes
stood confessed before me! I held my breath for a few moments, and
then there came a tide of objections rushing over my mind,
revealing the inadequacy of the grounds on which rested my
suspicions. What were the grounds? I had seen a man in a
particular spot, not an unfrequented spot, on the evening of the
night when the crime had been committed there; that man had seemed
to recognize me, and wished to avoid being recognized. Obviously
these grounds were too slender to bear any weight of construction
such as I had based on them. Mere presence on the spot could no
more inculpate him than it could inculpate me; if I had met him
there, equally had he met me there. Nor even if my suspicion were
correct that he knew me, and refused to recognize me, could that be
any argument tending to criminate him in an affair wholly
disconnected with me. Besides, he was walking peaceably, openly,
and he looked like a gentleman. All these objections pressed
themselves upon me, and kept me silent. But in spite of their
force I could not prevent the suspicion from continually arising.
Ashamed to mention it, because it may have sounded too absurd, I
could not prevent my constructive imagination indulging in its
vagaries, and with this secret conviction I resolved to await
events, and in case suspicion from other quarters should ever
designate the probable assassin, I might then come forward with my
bit of corroborative evidence, should the suspected assassin be the
stranger of the archway.
By twelve o'clock a new direction was given to rumor. Hitherto the
stories, when carefully sifted of all exaggerations of flying
conjecture, had settled themselves into something like this: The
Lehfeldts had retired to rest at a quarter before ten, as was their
custom. They had seen Lieschen go into her bedroom for the night,
and had themselves gone to sleep with unclouded minds. From this
peaceful security they were startled early in the morning by the
appalling news of the calamity which had fallen on them.
Incredulous at first, as well they might be, and incapable of
believing in a ruin so unexpected and so overwhelming, they
imagined some mistake, asserting that Lieschen was in her own room.
Into that room they rushed, and there the undisturbed bed, and the
open window, but a few feet from the garden, silently and
pathetically disclosed the fatal truth. The bereaved parents
turned a revealing look upon each other's whitened faces, and then
slowly retired from the room, followed in affecting silence by the
others. Back into their own room they went. The father knelt
beside the bed, and, sobbing, prayed. The mother sat staring with
a stupefied stare, her lips faintly moving. In a short while the
flood of grief, awakened to a thorough consciousness, burst from
their laboring hearts. When the first paroxysms were over they
questioned others, and gave incoherent replies to the questions
addressed to them. From all which it resulted that Lieschen's
absence, though obviously voluntary, was wholly inexplicable to
them; and no clew whatever could be given as to the motives of the
crime. When these details became known, conjecture naturally
interpreted Lieschen's absence at night as an assignation. But
with whom? She was not known to have a lover. Her father, on
being questioned, passionately affirmed that she had none; she
loved no one but her parents, poor child! Her mother, on being
questioned, told the same story--adding, however, that about
seventeen months before, she had fancied that Lieschen was a little
disposed to favor Franz Kerkel, their shopman; but on being spoken
to on the subject with some seriousness, and warned of the distance
between them, she had laughed heartily at the idea, and since then
had treated Franz with so much indifference that only a week ago
she had drawn from her mother a reproof on the subject.
"I told her Franz was a good lad, though not good enough for her,
and that she ought to treat him kindly. But she said my lecture
had given her an alarm, lest Franz should have got the same maggot
into his head."
This was the story now passing through the curious crowds in every
street. After hearing it I had turned into a tobacconist's in the
Adlergrasse, to restock my cigar-case, and found there, as
everywhere, a group discussing the one topic of the hour. Herr
Fischer, the tobacconist, with a long porcelain pipe pendent from
his screwed-up lips, was solemnly listening to the particulars
volubly communicated by a stout Bavarian priest; while behind the
counter, in a corner, swiftly knitting, sat his wife, her black
bead-like eyes also fixed on the orator. Of course I was dragged
into the conversation. Instead of attending to commercial
interests, they looked upon me as the possible bearer of fresh
news. Nor was it without a secret satisfaction that I found I
could gratify them in that respect. They had not heard of Franz
Kerkel in the matter. No sooner had I told what I had heard than
the knitting-needles of the vivacious little woman were at once
"Ach Je!" she exclaimed, "I see it all. He's the wretch!"
"Who?" we all simultaneously inquired.
"Who? Why, Kerkel, of course. If she changed, and treated him
with indifference, it was because she loved him; and he has
murdered the poor thing."
"How you run on, wife!" remonstrated Fischer; while the priest
shook a dubious head.
"I tell you it is so. I'm positive."
"If she loved him."
"She did, I tell you. Trust a woman for seeing through such
"Well, say she did," continued Fischer, "and I won't deny that it
may be so; but then that makes against the idea of his having done
her any harm."
"Don't tell me," retorted the convinced woman. "She loved him.
She went out to meet him in secret, and he murdered her--the
villain did. I'm as sure of it as if these eyes had seen him do
The husband winked at us, as much as to say, "You hear these
women!" and the priest and I endeavored to reason her out of her
illogical position. But she was immovable. Kerkel had murdered
her; she knew it; she couldn't tell why, but she knew it. Perhaps
he was jealous, who knows? At any rate, he ought to be arrested.
And by twelve o'clock, as I said, a new rumor ran through the
crowd, which seemed to confirm the little woman in her rash logic.
Kerkel had been arrested, and a waistcoat stained with blood had
been found in his room! By half-past twelve the rumor ran that he
had confessed the crime. This, however, proved on inquiry to be
the hasty anticipation of public indignation. He had been
arrested; the waistcoat had been found: so much was authentic; and
the suspicions gathered ominously over him.
When first Frau Fischer had started the suggestion it flew like
wildfire. Then people suddenly noticed, as very surprising, that
Kerkel had not that day made his appearance at the shop. His
absence had not been noticed in the tumult of grief and inquiry;
but it became suddenly invested with a dreadful significance, now
that it was rumored that he had been Lieschen's lover. Of all men
he would be the most affected by the tragic news; of all men he
would have been the first to tender sympathy and aid to the
afflicted parents, and the most clamorous in the search for the
undiscovered culprit. Yet, while all Nuremberg was crowding round
the house of sorrow, which was also his house of business, he alone
remained away. This naturally pointed suspicion at him. When the
messengers had gone to seek him, his mother refused them admission,
declaring in incoherent phrases, betraying great agitation, that
her son was gone distracted with grief and could see no one. On
this it was determined to order his arrest. The police went, the
house was searched, and the waistcoat found.
The testimony of the girl who lived as servant in Kerkel's house
was also criminatory. She deposed that on the night in question
she awoke about half-past eleven with a violent toothache; she was
certain as to the hour, because she heard the clock afterwards
strike twelve. She felt some alarm at hearing voices in the rooms
at an hour when her mistress and young master must long ago have
gone to bed; but as the voices were seemingly in quiet
conversation, her alarm subsided, and she concluded that instead of
having gone to bed her mistress was still up. In her pain she
heard the door gently open, and then she heard footsteps in the
garden. This surprised her very much. She couldn't think what the
young master could want going out at that hour. She became
terrified without knowing exactly at what. Fear quite drove away
the toothache, which had not since returned. After lying there
quaking for some time, again she heard footsteps in the garden; the
door opened and closed gently; voices were heard; and she at last
distinctly heard her mistress say, "Be a man, Franz. Good-night--
sleep well;" upon which Franz replied in a tone of great agony,
"There's no chance of sleep for me." Then all was silent. Next
morning her mistress seemed "very queer." Her young master went
out very early, but soon came back again; and there were dreadful
scenes going on in his room, as she heard, but she didn't know what
it was all about. She heard of the murder from a neighbor, but
never thought of its having any particular interest for Mr. Franz,
though, of course, he would be very sorry for the Lehfeldts.
The facts testified to by the servant, especially the going out at
that late hour, and the "dreadful scenes" of the morning, seemed to
bear but one interpretation. Moreover, she identified the
waistcoat as the one worn by Franz on the day preceding the fatal
Now at last the pent-up wrath found a vent. From the distracting
condition of wandering uncertain suspicion, it had been recalled
into the glad security of individual hate. Although up to this
time Kerkel had borne an exemplary reputation, it was now
remembered that he had always been of a morose and violent temper,
a hypocrite in religion, a selfish sensualist. Several sagacious
critics had long "seen through him"; others had "never liked him";
others had wondered how it was he kept his place so long in
Lehfeldt's shop. Poor fellow! his life and actions, like those of
every one else when illuminated by a light thrown back upon them,
seemed so conspicuously despicable, although when illuminated in
their own light they had seemed innocent enough. His mother's
frantic protestations of her son's innocence--her assertions that
Franz loved Lieschen more than his own soul--only served to envelop
her in the silent accusation of being an accomplice, or at least of
being an accessory after the fact.
I cannot say why it was, but I did not share the universal belief.
The logic seemed to me forced; the evidence trivial. On first
hearing of Kerkel's arrest, I eagerly questioned my informant
respecting his personal appearance; and on hearing that he was
fair, with blue eyes and flaxen hair, my conviction of his
innocence was fixed. Looking back on these days, I am often amused
at this characteristic of my constructive imagination. While
rejecting the disjointed logic of the mob, which interpreted his
guilt, I was myself deluded by a logic infinitely less rational.
Had Kerkel been dark, with dark eyes and beard, I should probably
have sworn to his guilt, simply because the idea of that stranger
had firmly fixed itself in my mind.
All that afternoon, and all the next day, the busy hum of voices
was raised by the one topic of commanding interest. Kerkel had
been examined. He at once admitted that a secret betrothal had for
some time existed between him and Lieschen. They had been led to
take this improper step by fear of her parents, who, had the
attachment been discovered, would, it was thought, have separated
them for ever. Herr Lehfeldt's sternness, no less than his
superior position, seemed an invincible obstacle, and the good
mother, although doting upon her only daughter, was led by the very
intensity of her affection to form ambitious hopes of her
daughter's future. It was barely possible that some turn in events
might one day yield an opening for their consent; but meanwhile
prudence dictated secrecy, in order to avert the most pressing
danger, that of separation.
And so the pretty Lieschen, with feminine instinct of ruse, had
affected to treat her lover with indifference; and to compensate
him and herself for this restraint, she had been in the habit of
escaping from home once or twice a week, and spending a delicious
hour or two at night in the company of her lover and his mother.
Kerkel and his mother lived in a cottage a little way outside the
town. Lehfeldt's shop stood not many yards from the archway. Now,
as in Nuremberg no one was abroad after ten o'clock, except a few
loungers at the cafes and beer-houses, and these were only to be
met inside the town, not outside it, Lieschen ran extremely little
risk of being observed in her rapid transit from her father's to
her lover's house. Nor, indeed, had she ever met anyone in the
course of these visits.
On the fatal night Lieschen was expected at the cottage. Mother
and son waited at first hopefully, then anxiously, at last with
some vague uneasiness at her non-appearance. It was now a quarter
past eleven--nearly an hour later than her usual time. They
occasionally went to the door to look for her; then they walked a
few yards down the road, as if to catch an earlier glimpse of her
advancing steps. But in vain. The half-hour struck. They came
back into the cottage, discussing the various probabilities of
delay. Three-quarters struck. Perhaps she had been detected;
perhaps she was ill; perhaps--but this was his mother's suggestion,
and took little hold of him--there had been visitors who had stayed
later than usual, and Lieschen, finding the night so advanced, had
postponed her visit to the morrow. Franz, who interpreted
Lieschen's feelings by his own, was assured that no postponement of
a voluntary kind was credible of her. Twelve o'clock struck.
Again Franz went out into the road, and walked nearly up to the
archway; he returned with heavy sadness and foreboding at his
heart, reluctantly admitting that now all hope of seeing her that
night was over. That night? Poor sorrowing heart, the night was
to be eternal! The anguish of the desolate "never more" was
There is something intensely pathetic in being thus, as it were,
spectators of a tragic drama which is being acted on two separate
stages at once--the dreadful link of connection, which is unseen to
the separate actors, being only too vividly seen by the spectators.
It was with some interest that I, who believed in Kerkel's
innocence, heard this story; and in imagination followed its
unfolding stage. He went to bed, not, as may be expected, to
sleep; tossing restlessly in feverish agitation, conjuring up many
imaginary terrors--but all of them trifles compared with the dread
reality which he was so soon to face. He pictured her weeping--and
she was lying dead on the cold pavement of the dark archway. He
saw her in agitated eloquence pleading with offended parents--and
she was removed for ever from all agitations, with the peace of
death upon her young face.
At an early hour he started, that he might put an end to his
suspense. He had not yet reached the archway before the shattering
news burst upon him. From that moment he remembered nothing. But
his mother described his ghastly agitation, as, throwing himself
upon her neck, he told her, through dreadful sobs, the calamity
which had fallen. She did her best to comfort him; but he grew
wilder and wilder, and rolled upon the ground in the agony of an
immeasurable despair. She trembled for his reason and his life.
And when the messengers came to seek him, she spoke but the simple
truth in saying that he was like one distracted. Yet no sooner had
a glimpse of light dawned on him that some vague suspicion rested
on him in reference to the murder, than he started up, flung away
his agitation, and, with a calmness which was awful, answered every
question, and seemed nerved for every trial. From that moment not
a sob escaped him until, in the narrative of the night's events, he
came to that part which told of the sudden disclosure of his
bereavement. And the simple, straightforward manner in which he
told this tale, with a face entirely bloodless, and eyes that
seemed to have withdrawn all their light inwards, made a great
impression on the audience, which was heightened into sympathy when
the final sob, breaking through the forced calmness, told of the
agony which was eating its fiery way through the heart.
The story was not only plausible in itself, but accurately tallied
with what before had seemed like the criminating evidence of the
maid; tallied, moreover, precisely as to time, which would hardly
have been the case had the story been an invention. As to the
waistcoat which had figured so conspicuously in all the rumors, it
appeared that suspicion had monstrously exaggerated the facts.
Instead of a waistcoat plashed with blood--as popular imagination
pictured it--it was a gray waistcoat, with one spot and a slight
smear of blood, which admitted of a very simple explanation. Three
days before, Franz had cut his left hand in cutting some bread; and
to this the maid testified, because she was present when the
accident occurred. He had not noticed that his waistcoat was
marked by it until the next day, and had forgotten to wash out the
People outside shook skeptical heads at this story of the cut hand.
The bloody waistcoat was not to be disposed of in that easy way.
It had fixed itself too strongly in their imagination. Indeed, my
belief is that even could they have seen the waistcoat, its
insignificant marks would have appeared murderous patches to their
eyes. I had seen it, and my report was listened to with ill-
concealed disbelief, when not with open protestation. And when
Kerkel was discharged as free from all suspicion, there was a low
growl of disappointed wrath heard from numerous groups.
This may sympathetically be understood by whomsoever remembers the
painful uneasiness of the mind under a great stress of excitement
with no definite issue. The lust for a vengeance, demanded by the
aroused sensibilities of compassion, makes men credulous in their
impatience; they easily believe anyone is guilty, because they feel
an imperious need for fastening the guilt upon some definite head.
Few verdicts of "Not Guilty" are well received, unless another
victim is at hand upon whom the verdict of guilty is likely to
fall. It was demonstrable to all judicial minds that Kerkel was
wholly, pathetically innocent. In a few days this gradually became
clear to the majority, but at first it was resisted as an attempt
to balk justice; and to the last there were some obstinate
doubters, who shook their heads mysteriously, and said, with a
certain incisiveness, "Somebody must have done it; I should very
much like to know who."
Suspicion once more was drifting aimlessly. None had pointed in
any new direction. No mention of anyone whom I could identify with
the stranger had yet been made; but, although silent on the
subject, I kept firm in my conviction, and I sometimes laughed at
the pertinacity with which I scrutinized the face of every man I
met, if he happened to have a black beard; and as black beards are
excessively common, my curiosity, though never gratified, was never
Meanwhile Lieschen's funeral had been emphatically a public
mourning. Nay, so great was the emotion, that it almost deadened
the interest which otherwise would have been so powerful, in the
news now daily reaching us from Paris. Blood had flowed upon her
streets--in consequence of that pistol-shot, which, either by
accident or criminal intent, had converted the demonstration before
the hotel of the Minister of Foreign Affairs into an insurrection.
Paris had risen; barricades were erected. The troops were under
arms. This was agitating news.
Such is the solidarity of all European nations, and so quick are
all to vibrate in unison with the vibrations of each, that events
like those transacted in Paris necessarily stirred every city, no
matter how remote, nor politically how secure. And it says much
for the intense interest excited by the Lehfeldt tragedy that
Nuremberg was capable of sustaining that interest even amid the
tremendous pressure of the February Revolution. It is true that
Nuremberg is at all times somewhat sequestered from the great
movements of the day, following slowly in the rear of great waves;
it is true, moreover, that some politicians showed remarkable
eagerness in canvassing the characters and hopes of Louis Philippe
and Guizot; but although such events would at another period have
formed the universal interest, the impenetrable mystery hanging
over Lieschen's death threw the Revolution into the background of
their thoughts. If when a storm is raging over the dreary
moorland, a human cry of suffering is heard at the door, at once
the thunders and the tumult sink into insignificance, and are not
even heard by the ear which is pierced with the feeble human voice:
the grandeurs of storm and tempest, the uproar of surging seas, the
clamorous wail of sea-birds amid the volleying artillery of heaven,
in vain assail the ear that has once caught even the distant cry of
a human agony, or serve only as scenical accompaniments to the
tragedy which is foreshadowed by that cry. And so it was amid the
uproar of 1848. A kingdom was in convulsions; but here, at our
door, a young girl had been murdered, and two hearths made
desolate. Rumors continued to fly about. The assassin was always
about to be discovered; but he remained shrouded in impenetrable
darkness. A remark made by Bourgonef struck me much. Our host,
Zum Bayerischen Hof, one day announced with great satisfaction that
he had himself heard from the syndic that the police were on the
traces of the assassin.
"I am sorry to hear it," said Bourgonef.
The guests paused from eating, and looked at him with astonishment.
"It is a proof," he added, "that even the police now give it up as
hopeless. I always notice that whenever the police are said to be
on the traces the malefactor is never tracked. When they are on
his traces they wisely say nothing about it; they allow it to be
believed that they are baffled, in order to lull their victim into
a dangerous security. When they know themselves to be baffled,
there is no danger in quieting the public mind, and saving their
own credit, by announcing that they are about to be successful."
Bourgonef's remark had been but too sagacious. The police were
hoplessly baffled. In all such cases possible success depends upon
the initial suggestion either of a motive which leads to a
suspicion of the person, or of some person which leads to a
suspicion of the motive. Once set suspicion on the right track,
and evidence is suddenly alight in all quarters. But, unhappily,
in the present case there was no assignable motive, no shadow
darkening any person.
An episode now came to our knowledge in which Bourgonef manifested
an unusual depth of interest. I was led to notice this interest,
because it had seemed to me that in the crime itself, and the
discussions which arose out of it, he shared but little of the
universal excitement. I do not mean that he was indifferent--by no
means; but the horror of the crime did not seem to fascinate his
imagination as it fascinated ours. He could talk quite as readily
of other things, and far more readily of the French affairs. But
on the contrary, in this new episode he showed peculiar interest.
It appeared that Lehfeldt, moved, perhaps, partly by a sense of the
injustice which had been done to Kerkel in even suspecting him of
the crime, and in submitting him to an examination more poignantly
affecting to him under such circumstances than a public trial would
have been under others; and moved partly by the sense that
Lieschen's love had practically drawn Kerkel within the family--for
her choice of him as a husband had made him morally, if not
legally, a son-in-law; and moved partly by the sense of loneliness
which had now settled on their childless home,--Lehfeldt had in the
most pathetic and considerate terms begged Kerkel to take the place
of his adopted son, and become joint partner with him in the
business. This, however, Kerkel had gently yet firmly declined.
He averred that he felt no injury, though great pain had been
inflicted on him by the examination. He himself in such a case
would not have shrunk from demanding that his own brother should be
tried, under suspicions of similar urgency. It was simple justice
that all who were suspected should be examined; justice also to
them that they might for ever clear themselves of doubtful
appearances. But for the rest, while he felt his old affectionate
respect for his master, he could recognize no claim to be removed
from his present position. Had she lived, said the heartbroken
youth, he would gladly have consented to accept any fortune which
her love might bestow, because he felt that his own love and the
devotion of a life might repay it. But there was nothing now that
he could give in exchange. For his services he was amply paid; his
feelings towards Lieschen's parents must continue what they had
ever been. In vain Lehfeldt pleaded, in vain many friends argued.
Franz remained respectfully firm in his refusal.
This, as I said, interested Bourgonef immensely. He seemed to
enter completely into the minds of the sorrowing, pleading parents,
and the sorrowing, denying lover. He appreciated and expounded
their motives with a subtlety and delicacy of perception which
surprised and delighted me. It showed the refinement of his moral
nature. But, at the same time, it rendered his minor degree of
interest in the other episodes of the story, those which had a more
direct and overpowering appeal to the heart, a greater paradox.
Human nature is troubled in the presence of all mystery which has
not by long familiarity lost its power of soliciting attention; and
for my own part, I have always been uneasy in the presence of moral
problems. Puzzled by the contradictions which I noticed in
Bourgonef, I tried to discover whether he had any general
repugnance to stories of crimes, or any special repugnance to
murders, or, finally, any strange repugnance to this particular
case now everywhere discussed. And it is not a little remarkable
that during three separate interviews, in the course of which I
severally, and as I thought artfully, introduced these topics,
making them seem to arise naturally out of the suggestion of our
talk, I totally failed to arrive at any distinct conclusion. I was
afraid to put the direct question: Do you not share the common
feeling of interest in criminal stories? This question would
doubtless have elicited a categorical reply; but somehow, the
consciousness of an arriere-pensee made me shrink from putting such
Reflecting on this indifference on a special point, and on the
numerous manifestations I had noticed of his sensibility, I came at
last to the conclusion that he must be a man of tender heart, whose
delicate sensibilities easily shrank from the horrible under every
form; and no more permitted him to dwell unnecessarily upon painful
facts, than they permit imaginative minds to dwell on the details
of an operation.
I had not long settled this in my mind before an accident suddenly
threw a lurid light upon many details noticed previously, and
painfully revived that inexplicable repulsion with which I had at
first regarded him. A new suspicion filled my mind, or rather, let
me say, a distinct shape was impressed upon many fluctuating
suspicions. It scarcely admitted of argument, and at times seemed
preposterous, nevertheless it persisted. The mind which in broad
daylight assents to all that can be alleged against the absurdities
of the belief in apparitions, will often acknowledge the dim
terrors of darkness and loneliness--terrors at possibilities of
supernatural visitations. In like manner, in the clear daylight of
reason I could see the absurdity of my suspicion, but the vague
stirrings of feeling remained unsilenced. I was haunted by the dim
horrors of a possibility.
Thus it arose. We were both going to Munich, and Bourgonef had
shortened his contemplated stay at Nuremberg that he might have the
pleasure of accompanying me; adding also that he, too, should be
glad to reach Munich, not only for its art, but for its greater
command of papers and intelligence respecting what was then going
on in France. On the night preceding the morning of our departure,
I was seated in his room, smoking and discussing as usual, while
Ivan, his servant, packed up his things in two large portmanteaus.
Ivan was a serf who spoke no word of any language but his own.
Although of a brutal, almost idiotic type, he was loudly eulogized
by his master as the model of fidelity and usefulness. Bourgonef
treated him with gentleness, though with a certain imperiousness;
much as one might treat a savage mastiff which it was necessary to
dominate without exasperating. He more than once spoke of Ivan as
a living satire on physiognomists and phrenologists; and as I am a
phrenologist, I listened with some incredulity.
"Look at him," he would say. "Observe the low, retreating brow,
the flat face, the surly mouth, the broad base of the head, and the
huge bull-like neck. Would not anyone say Ivan was as destructive
as a panther, as tenacious as a bull-dog, as brutal as a bull? Yet
he is the gentlest of sluggish creatures, and as tender-hearted as
a girl! That thick-set muscular frame shrouds a hare's heart. He
is so faithful and so attached that I believe for me he would risk
his life; but on no account could you get him to place himself in
danger on his own account. Part of his love for me is gratitude
for having rescued him from the conscription: the dangers incident
to a military life had no charm for him!"
Now, although Bourgonef, who was not a phrenologist, might be
convinced of the absence of ferocious instincts in Ivan, to me, as
a phrenologist, the statement was eminently incredible. All the
appearances of his manner were such as to confirm his master's
opinion. He was quiet, even tender in his attentions. But the
tyrannous influence of ideas and physical impressions cannot be set