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    Ch. 1 - The Gift Bestowed

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    Chapter 1
    Everybody said so.

    Far be it from me to assert that what everybody says must be true.
    Everybody is, often, as likely to be wrong as right. In the
    general experience, everybody has been wrong so often, and it has
    taken, in most instances, such a weary while to find out how wrong,
    that the authority is proved to be fallible. Everybody may
    sometimes be right; "but THAT'S no rule," as the ghost of Giles
    Scroggins says in the ballad.

    The dread word, GHOST, recalls me.

    Everybody said he looked like a haunted man. The extent of my
    present claim for everybody is, that they were so far right. He
    did.

    Who could have seen his hollow cheek; his sunken brilliant eye; his
    black-attired figure, indefinably grim, although well-knit and
    well-proportioned; his grizzled hair hanging, like tangled sea-
    weed, about his face,--as if he had been, through his whole life, a
    lonely mark for the chafing and beating of the great deep of
    humanity,--but might have said he looked like a haunted man?

    Who could have observed his manner, taciturn, thoughtful, gloomy,
    shadowed by habitual reserve, retiring always and jocund never,
    with a distraught air of reverting to a bygone place and time, or
    of listening to some old echoes in his mind, but might have said it
    was the manner of a haunted man?

    Who could have heard his voice, slow-speaking, deep, and grave,
    with a natural fulness and melody in it which he seemed to set
    himself against and stop, but might have said it was the voice of a
    haunted man?

    Who that had seen him in his inner chamber, part library and part
    laboratory,--for he was, as the world knew, far and wide, a learned
    man in chemistry, and a teacher on whose lips and hands a crowd of
    aspiring ears and eyes hung daily,--who that had seen him there,
    upon a winter night, alone, surrounded by his drugs and instruments
    and books; the shadow of his shaded lamp a monstrous beetle on the
    wall, motionless among a crowd of spectral shapes raised there by
    the flickering of the fire upon the quaint objects around him; some
    of these phantoms (the reflection of glass vessels that held
    liquids), trembling at heart like things that knew his power to
    uncombine them, and to give back their component parts to fire and
    vapour;--who that had seen him then, his work done, and he
    pondering in his chair before the rusted grate and red flame,
    moving his thin mouth as if in speech, but silent as the dead,
    would not have said that the man seemed haunted and the chamber
    too?

    Who might not, by a very easy flight of fancy, have believed that
    everything about him took this haunted tone, and that he lived on
    haunted ground?

    His dwelling was so solitary and vault-like,--an old, retired part
    of an ancient endowment for students, once a brave edifice, planted
    in an open place, but now the obsolete whim of forgotten
    architects; smoke-age-and-weather-darkened, squeezed on every side
    by the overgrowing of the great city, and choked, like an old well,
    with stones and bricks; its small quadrangles, lying down in very
    pits formed by the streets and buildings, which, in course of time,
    had been constructed above its heavy chimney stalks; its old trees,
    insulted by the neighbouring smoke, which deigned to droop so low
    when it was very feeble and the weather very moody; its grass-
    plots, struggling with the mildewed earth to be grass, or to win
    any show of compromise; its silent pavements, unaccustomed to the
    tread of feet, and even to the observation of eyes, except when a
    stray face looked down from the upper world, wondering what nook it
    was; its sun-dial in a little bricked-up corner, where no sun had
    straggled for a hundred years, but where, in compensation for the
    sun's neglect, the snow would lie for weeks when it lay nowhere
    else, and the black east wind would spin like a huge humming-top,
    when in all other places it was silent and still.

    His dwelling, at its heart and core--within doors--at his fireside-
    -was so lowering and old, so crazy, yet so strong, with its worn-
    eaten beams of wood in the ceiling, and its sturdy floor shelving
    downward to the great oak chimney-piece; so environed and hemmed in
    by the pressure of the town yet so remote in fashion, age, and
    custom; so quiet, yet so thundering with echoes when a distant
    voice was raised or a door was shut,--echoes, not confined to the
    many low passages and empty rooms, but rumbling and grumbling till
    they were stifled in the heavy air of the forgotten Crypt where the
    Norman arches were half-buried in the earth.

    You should have seen him in his dwelling about twilight, in the
    dead winter time.

    When the wind was blowing, shrill and shrewd, with the going down
    of the blurred sun. When it was just so dark, as that the forms of
    things were indistinct and big--but not wholly lost. When sitters
    by the fire began to see wild faces and figures, mountains and
    abysses, ambuscades and armies, in the coals. When people in the
    streets bent down their heads and ran before the weather. When
    those who were obliged to meet it, were stopped at angry corners,
    stung by wandering snow-flakes alighting on the lashes of their
    eyes,--which fell too sparingly, and were blown away too quickly,
    to leave a trace upon the frozen ground. When windows of private
    houses closed up tight and warm. When lighted gas began to burst
    forth in the busy and the quiet streets, fast blackening otherwise.
    When stray pedestrians, shivering along the latter, looked down at
    the glowing fires in kitchens, and sharpened their sharp appetites
    by sniffing up the fragrance of whole miles of dinners.

    When travellers by land were bitter cold, and looked wearily on
    gloomy landscapes, rustling and shuddering in the blast. When
    mariners at sea, outlying upon icy yards, were tossed and swung
    above the howling ocean dreadfully. When lighthouses, on rocks and
    headlands, showed solitary and watchful; and benighted sea-birds
    breasted on against their ponderous lanterns, and fell dead. When
    little readers of story-books, by the firelight, trembled to think
    of Cassim Baba cut into quarters, hanging in the Robbers' Cave, or
    had some small misgivings that the fierce little old woman, with
    the crutch, who used to start out of the box in the merchant
    Abudah's bedroom, might, one of these nights, be found upon the
    stairs, in the long, cold, dusky journey up to bed.

    When, in rustic places, the last glimmering of daylight died away
    from the ends of avenues; and the trees, arching overhead, were
    sullen and black. When, in parks and woods, the high wet fern and
    sodden moss, and beds of fallen leaves, and trunks of trees, were
    lost to view, in masses of impenetrable shade. When mists arose
    from dyke, and fen, and river. When lights in old halls and in
    cottage windows, were a cheerful sight. When the mill stopped, the
    wheelwright and the blacksmith shut their workshops, the turnpike-
    gate closed, the plough and harrow were left lonely in the fields,
    the labourer and team went home, and the striking of the church
    clock had a deeper sound than at noon, and the churchyard wicket
    would be swung no more that night.

    When twilight everywhere released the shadows, prisoned up all day,
    that now closed in and gathered like mustering swarms of ghosts.
    When they stood lowering, in corners of rooms, and frowned out from
    behind half-opened doors. When they had full possession of
    unoccupied apartments. When they danced upon the floors, and
    walls, and ceilings of inhabited chambers, while the fire was low,
    and withdrew like ebbing waters when it sprang into a blaze. When
    they fantastically mocked the shapes of household objects, making
    the nurse an ogress, the rocking-horse a monster, the wondering
    child, half-scared and half-amused, a stranger to itself,--the very
    tongs upon the hearth, a straddling giant with his arms a-kimbo,
    evidently smelling the blood of Englishmen, and wanting to grind
    people's bones to make his bread.

    When these shadows brought into the minds of older people, other
    thoughts, and showed them different images. When they stole from
    their retreats, in the likenesses of forms and faces from the past,
    from the grave, from the deep, deep gulf, where the things that
    might have been, and never were, are always wandering.

    When he sat, as already mentioned, gazing at the fire. When, as it
    rose and fell, the shadows went and came. When he took no heed of
    them, with his bodily eyes; but, let them come or let them go,
    looked fixedly at the fire. You should have seen him, then.

    When the sounds that had arisen with the shadows, and come out of
    their lurking-places at the twilight summons, seemed to make a
    deeper stillness all about him. When the wind was rumbling in the
    chimney, and sometimes crooning, sometimes howling, in the house.
    When the old trees outside were so shaken and beaten, that one
    querulous old rook, unable to sleep, protested now and then, in a
    feeble, dozy, high-up "Caw!" When, at intervals, the window
    trembled, the rusty vane upon the turret-top complained, the clock
    beneath it recorded that another quarter of an hour was gone, or
    the fire collapsed and fell in with a rattle.

    - When a knock came at his door, in short, as he was sitting so,
    and roused him.

    "Who's that?" said he. "Come in!"

    Surely there had been no figure leaning on the back of his chair;
    no face looking over it. It is certain that no gliding footstep
    touched the floor, as he lifted up his head, with a start, and
    spoke. And yet there was no mirror in the room on whose surface
    his own form could have cast its shadow for a moment; and,
    Something had passed darkly and gone!

    "I'm humbly fearful, sir," said a fresh-coloured busy man, holding
    the door open with his foot for the admission of himself and a
    wooden tray he carried, and letting it go again by very gentle and
    careful degrees, when he and the tray had got in, lest it should
    close noisily, "that it's a good bit past the time to-night. But
    Mrs. William has been taken off her legs so often" -

    "By the wind? Ay! I have heard it rising."

    "--By the wind, sir--that it's a mercy she got home at all. Oh
    dear, yes. Yes. It was by the wind, Mr. Redlaw. By the wind."

    He had, by this time, put down the tray for dinner, and was
    employed in lighting the lamp, and spreading a cloth on the table.
    From this employment he desisted in a hurry, to stir and feed the
    fire, and then resumed it; the lamp he had lighted, and the blaze
    that rose under his hand, so quickly changing the appearance of the
    room, that it seemed as if the mere coming in of his fresh red face
    and active manner had made the pleasant alteration.

    "Mrs. William is of course subject at any time, sir, to be taken
    off her balance by the elements. She is not formed superior to
    THAT."

    "No," returned Mr. Redlaw good-naturedly, though abruptly.

    "No, sir. Mrs. William may be taken off her balance by Earth; as
    for example, last Sunday week, when sloppy and greasy, and she
    going out to tea with her newest sister-in-law, and having a pride
    in herself, and wishing to appear perfectly spotless though
    pedestrian. Mrs. William may be taken off her balance by Air; as
    being once over-persuaded by a friend to try a swing at Peckham
    Fair, which acted on her constitution instantly like a steam-boat.
    Mrs. William may be taken off her balance by Fire; as on a false
    alarm of engines at her mother's, when she went two miles in her
    nightcap. Mrs. William may be taken off her balance by Water; as
    at Battersea, when rowed into the piers by her young nephew,
    Charley Swidger junior, aged twelve, which had no idea of boats
    whatever. But these are elements. Mrs. William must be taken out
    of elements for the strength of HER character to come into play."

    As he stopped for a reply, the reply was "Yes," in the same tone as
    before.

    "Yes, sir. Oh dear, yes!" said Mr. Swidger, still proceeding with
    his preparations, and checking them off as he made them. "That's
    where it is, sir. That's what I always say myself, sir. Such a
    many of us Swidgers!--Pepper. Why there's my father, sir,
    superannuated keeper and custodian of this Institution, eighty-
    seven year old. He's a Swidger!--Spoon."

    "True, William," was the patient and abstracted answer, when he
    stopped again.

    "Yes, sir," said Mr. Swidger. "That's what I always say, sir. You
    may call him the trunk of the tree!--Bread. Then you come to his
    successor, my unworthy self--Salt--and Mrs. William, Swidgers
    both.--Knife and fork. Then you come to all my brothers and their
    families, Swidgers, man and woman, boy and girl. Why, what with
    cousins, uncles, aunts, and relationships of this, that, and
    t'other degree, and whatnot degree, and marriages, and lyings-in,
    the Swidgers--Tumbler--might take hold of hands, and make a ring
    round England!"

    Receiving no reply at all here, from the thoughtful man whom he
    addressed, Mr. William approached, him nearer, and made a feint of
    accidentally knocking the table with a decanter, to rouse him. The
    moment he succeeded, he went on, as if in great alacrity of
    acquiescence.

    "Yes, sir! That's just what I say myself, sir. Mrs. William and
    me have often said so. 'There's Swidgers enough,' we say, 'without
    OUR voluntary contributions,'--Butter. In fact, sir, my father is
    a family in himself--Castors--to take care of; and it happens all
    for the best that we have no child of our own, though it's made
    Mrs. William rather quiet-like, too. Quite ready for the fowl and
    mashed potatoes, sir? Mrs. William said she'd dish in ten minutes
    when I left the Lodge."

    "I am quite ready," said the other, waking as from a dream, and
    walking slowly to and fro.

    "Mrs. William has been at it again, sir!" said the keeper, as he
    stood warming a plate at the fire, and pleasantly shading his face
    with it. Mr. Redlaw stopped in his walking, and an expression of
    interest appeared in him.

    "What I always say myself, sir. She WILL do it! There's a
    motherly feeling in Mrs. William's breast that must and will have
    went."

    "What has she done?"

    "Why, sir, not satisfied with being a sort of mother to all the
    young gentlemen that come up from a variety of parts, to attend
    your courses of lectures at this ancient foundation--its surprising
    how stone-chaney catches the heat this frosty weather, to be sure!"
    Here he turned the plate, and cooled his fingers.

    "Well?" said Mr. Redlaw.

    "That's just what I say myself, sir," returned Mr. William,
    speaking over his shoulder, as if in ready and delighted assent.
    "That's exactly where it is, sir! There ain't one of our students
    but appears to regard Mrs. William in that light. Every day, right
    through the course, they puts their heads into the Lodge, one after
    another, and have all got something to tell her, or something to
    ask her. 'Swidge' is the appellation by which they speak of Mrs.
    William in general, among themselves, I'm told; but that's what I
    say, sir. Better be called ever so far out of your name, if it's
    done in real liking, than have it made ever so much of, and not
    cared about! What's a name for? To know a person by. If Mrs.
    William is known by something better than her name--I allude to
    Mrs. William's qualities and disposition--never mind her name,
    though it IS Swidger, by rights. Let 'em call her Swidge, Widge,
    Bridge--Lord! London Bridge, Blackfriars, Chelsea, Putney,
    Waterloo, or Hammersmith Suspension--if they like."

    The close of this triumphant oration brought him and the plate to
    the table, upon which he half laid and half dropped it, with a
    lively sense of its being thoroughly heated, just as the subject of
    his praises entered the room, bearing another tray and a lantern,
    and followed by a venerable old man with long grey hair.

    Mrs. William, like Mr. William, was a simple, innocent-looking
    person, in whose smooth cheeks the cheerful red of her husband's
    official waistcoat was very pleasantly repeated. But whereas Mr.
    William's light hair stood on end all over his head, and seemed to
    draw his eyes up with it in an excess of bustling readiness for
    anything, the dark brown hair of Mrs. William was carefully
    smoothed down, and waved away under a trim tidy cap, in the most
    exact and quiet manner imaginable. Whereas Mr. William's very
    trousers hitched themselves up at the ankles, as if it were not in
    their iron-grey nature to rest without looking about them, Mrs.
    William's neatly-flowered skirts--red and white, like her own
    pretty face--were as composed and orderly, as if the very wind that
    blew so hard out of doors could not disturb one of their folds.
    Whereas his coat had something of a fly-away and half-off
    appearance about the collar and breast, her little bodice was so
    placid and neat, that there should have been protection for her, in
    it, had she needed any, with the roughest people. Who could have
    had the heart to make so calm a bosom swell with grief, or throb
    with fear, or flutter with a thought of shame! To whom would its
    repose and peace have not appealed against disturbance, like the
    innocent slumber of a child!

    "Punctual, of course, Milly," said her husband, relieving her of
    the tray, "or it wouldn't be you. Here's Mrs. William, sir!--He
    looks lonelier than ever to-night," whispering to his wife, as he
    was taking the tray, "and ghostlier altogether."

    Without any show of hurry or noise, or any show of herself even,
    she was so calm and quiet, Milly set the dishes she had brought
    upon the table,--Mr. William, after much clattering and running
    about, having only gained possession of a butter-boat of gravy,
    which he stood ready to serve.

    "What is that the old man has in his arms?" asked Mr. Redlaw, as he
    sat down to his solitary meal.

    "Holly, sir," replied the quiet voice of Milly.

    "That's what I say myself, sir," interposed Mr. William, striking
    in with the butter-boat. "Berries is so seasonable to the time of
    year!--Brown gravy!"

    "Another Christmas come, another year gone!" murmured the Chemist,
    with a gloomy sigh. "More figures in the lengthening sum of
    recollection that we work and work at to our torment, till Death
    idly jumbles all together, and rubs all out. So, Philip!" breaking
    off, and raising his voice as he addressed the old man, standing
    apart, with his glistening burden in his arms, from which the quiet
    Mrs. William took small branches, which she noiselessly trimmed
    with her scissors, and decorated the room with, while her aged
    father-in-law looked on much interested in the ceremony.

    "My duty to you, sir," returned the old man. "Should have spoke
    before, sir, but know your ways, Mr. Redlaw--proud to say--and wait
    till spoke to! Merry Christmas, sir, and Happy New Year, and many
    of 'em. Have had a pretty many of 'em myself--ha, ha!--and may
    take the liberty of wishing 'em. I'm eighty-seven!"

    "Have you had so many that were merry and happy?" asked the other.

    "Ay, sir, ever so many," returned the old man.

    "Is his memory impaired with age? It is to be expected now," said
    Mr. Redlaw, turning to the son, and speaking lower.

    "Not a morsel of it, sir," replied Mr. William. "That's exactly
    what I say myself, sir. There never was such a memory as my
    father's. He's the most wonderful man in the world. He don't know
    what forgetting means. It's the very observation I'm always making
    to Mrs. William, sir, if you'll believe me!"

    Mr. Swidger, in his polite desire to seem to acquiesce at all
    events, delivered this as if there were no iota of contradiction in
    it, and it were all said in unbounded and unqualified assent.

    The Chemist pushed his plate away, and, rising from the table,
    walked across the room to where the old man stood looking at a
    little sprig of holly in his hand.

    "It recalls the time when many of those years were old and new,
    then?" he said, observing him attentively, and touching him on the
    shoulder. "Does it?"

    "Oh many, many!" said Philip, half awaking from his reverie. "I'm
    eighty-seven!"

    "Merry and happy, was it?" asked the Chemist in a low voice.
    "Merry and happy, old man?"

    "Maybe as high as that, no higher," said the old man, holding out
    his hand a little way above the level of his knee, and looking
    retrospectively at his questioner, "when I first remember 'em!
    Cold, sunshiny day it was, out a-walking, when some one--it was my
    mother as sure as you stand there, though I don't know what her
    blessed face was like, for she took ill and died that Christmas-
    time--told me they were food for birds. The pretty little fellow
    thought--that's me, you understand--that birds' eyes were so
    bright, perhaps, because the berries that they lived on in the
    winter were so bright. I recollect that. And I'm eighty-seven!"

    "Merry and happy!" mused the other, bending his dark eyes upon the
    stooping figure, with a smile of compassion. "Merry and happy--and
    remember well?"

    "Ay, ay, ay!" resumed the old man, catching the last words. "I
    remember 'em well in my school time, year after year, and all the
    merry-making that used to come along with them. I was a strong
    chap then, Mr. Redlaw; and, if you'll believe me, hadn't my match
    at football within ten mile. Where's my son William? Hadn't my
    match at football, William, within ten mile!"

    "That's what I always say, father!" returned the son promptly, and
    with great respect. "You ARE a Swidger, if ever there was one of
    the family!"

    "Dear!" said the old man, shaking his head as he again looked at
    the holly. "His mother--my son William's my youngest son--and I,
    have sat among 'em all, boys and girls, little children and babies,
    many a year, when the berries like these were not shining half so
    bright all round us, as their bright faces. Many of 'em are gone;
    she's gone; and my son George (our eldest, who was her pride more
    than all the rest!) is fallen very low: but I can see them, when I
    look here, alive and healthy, as they used to be in those days; and
    I can see him, thank God, in his innocence. It's a blessed thing
    to me, at eighty-seven."

    The keen look that had been fixed upon him with so much
    earnestness, had gradually sought the ground.

    "When my circumstances got to be not so good as formerly, through
    not being honestly dealt by, and I first come here to be
    custodian," said the old man, "--which was upwards of fifty years
    ago--where's my son William? More than half a century ago,
    William!"

    "That's what I say, father," replied the son, as promptly and
    dutifully as before, "that's exactly where it is. Two times
    ought's an ought, and twice five ten, and there's a hundred of
    'em."

    "It was quite a pleasure to know that one of our founders--or more
    correctly speaking," said the old man, with a great glory in his
    subject and his knowledge of it, "one of the learned gentlemen that
    helped endow us in Queen Elizabeth's time, for we were founded
    afore her day--left in his will, among the other bequests he made
    us, so much to buy holly, for garnishing the walls and windows,
    come Christmas. There was something homely and friendly in it.
    Being but strange here, then, and coming at Christmas time, we took
    a liking for his very picter that hangs in what used to be,
    anciently, afore our ten poor gentlemen commuted for an annual
    stipend in money, our great Dinner Hall.--A sedate gentleman in a
    peaked beard, with a ruff round his neck, and a scroll below him,
    in old English letters, 'Lord! keep my memory green!' You know all
    about him, Mr. Redlaw?"

    "I know the portrait hangs there, Philip."

    "Yes, sure, it's the second on the right, above the panelling. I
    was going to say--he has helped to keep MY memory green, I thank
    him; for going round the building every year, as I'm a doing now,
    and freshening up the bare rooms with these branches and berries,
    freshens up my bare old brain. One year brings back another, and
    that year another, and those others numbers! At last, it seems to
    me as if the birth-time of our Lord was the birth-time of all I
    have ever had affection for, or mourned for, or delighted in,--and
    they're a pretty many, for I'm eighty-seven!"

    "Merry and happy," murmured Redlaw to himself.

    The room began to darken strangely.

    "So you see, sir," pursued old Philip, whose hale wintry cheek had
    warmed into a ruddier glow, and whose blue eyes had brightened
    while he spoke, "I have plenty to keep, when I keep this present
    season. Now, where's my quiet Mouse? Chattering's the sin of my
    time of life, and there's half the building to do yet, if the cold
    don't freeze us first, or the wind don't blow us away, or the
    darkness don't swallow us up."

    The quiet Mouse had brought her calm face to his side, and silently
    taken his arm, before he finished speaking.

    "Come away, my dear," said the old man. "Mr. Redlaw won't settle
    to his dinner, otherwise, till it's cold as the winter. I hope
    you'll excuse me rambling on, sir, and I wish you good night, and,
    once again, a merry--"

    "Stay!" said Mr. Redlaw, resuming his place at the table, more, it
    would have seemed from his manner, to reassure the old keeper, than
    in any remembrance of his own appetite. "Spare me another moment,
    Philip. William, you were going to tell me something to your
    excellent wife's honour. It will not be disagreeable to her to
    hear you praise her. What was it?"

    "Why, that's where it is, you see, sir," returned Mr. William
    Swidger, looking towards his wife in considerable embarrassment.
    "Mrs. William's got her eye upon me."

    "But you're not afraid of Mrs. William's eye?"

    "Why, no, sir," returned Mr. Swidger, "that's what I say myself.
    It wasn't made to be afraid of. It wouldn't have been made so
    mild, if that was the intention. But I wouldn't like to--Milly!--
    him, you know. Down in the Buildings."

    Mr. William, standing behind the table, and rummaging
    disconcertedly among the objects upon it, directed persuasive
    glances at Mrs. William, and secret jerks of his head and thumb at
    Mr. Redlaw, as alluring her towards him.

    "Him, you know, my love," said Mr. William. "Down in the
    Buildings. Tell, my dear! You're the works of Shakespeare in
    comparison with myself. Down in the Buildings, you know, my love.-
    -Student."

    "Student?" repeated Mr. Redlaw, raising his head.

    "That's what I say, sir!" cried Mr. William, in the utmost
    animation of assent. "If it wasn't the poor student down in the
    Buildings, why should you wish to hear it from Mrs. William's lips?
    Mrs. William, my dear--Buildings."

    "I didn't know," said Milly, with a quiet frankness, free from any
    haste or confusion, "that William had said anything about it, or I
    wouldn't have come. I asked him not to. It's a sick young
    gentleman, sir--and very poor, I am afraid--who is too ill to go
    home this holiday-time, and lives, unknown to any one, in but a
    common kind of lodging for a gentleman, down in Jerusalem
    Buildings. That's all, sir."

    "Why have I never heard of him?" said the Chemist, rising
    hurriedly. "Why has he not made his situation known to me? Sick!-
    -give me my hat and cloak. Poor!--what house?--what number?"

    "Oh, you mustn't go there, sir," said Milly, leaving her father-in-
    law, and calmly confronting him with her collected little face and
    folded hands.

    "Not go there?"

    "Oh dear, no!" said Milly, shaking her head as at a most manifest
    and self-evident impossibility. "It couldn't be thought of!"

    "What do you mean? Why not?"

    "Why, you see, sir," said Mr. William Swidger, persuasively and
    confidentially, "that's what I say. Depend upon it, the young
    gentleman would never have made his situation known to one of his
    own sex. Mrs. Williams has got into his confidence, but that's
    quite different. They all confide in Mrs. William; they all trust
    HER. A man, sir, couldn't have got a whisper out of him; but
    woman, sir, and Mrs. William combined--!"

    "There is good sense and delicacy in what you say, William,"
    returned Mr. Redlaw, observant of the gentle and composed face at
    his shoulder. And laying his finger on his lip, he secretly put
    his purse into her hand.

    "Oh dear no, sir!" cried Milly, giving it back again. "Worse and
    worse! Couldn't be dreamed of!"

    Such a staid matter-of-fact housewife she was, and so unruffled by
    the momentary haste of this rejection, that, an instant afterwards,
    she was tidily picking up a few leaves which had strayed from
    between her scissors and her apron, when she had arranged the
    holly.

    Finding, when she rose from her stooping posture, that Mr. Redlaw
    was still regarding her with doubt and astonishment, she quietly
    repeated--looking about, the while, for any other fragments that
    might have escaped her observation:

    "Oh dear no, sir! He said that of all the world he would not be
    known to you, or receive help from you--though he is a student in
    your class. I have made no terms of secrecy with you, but I trust
    to your honour completely."

    "Why did he say so?"

    "Indeed I can't tell, sir," said Milly, after thinking a little,
    "because I am not at all clever, you know; and I wanted to be
    useful to him in making things neat and comfortable about him, and
    employed myself that way. But I know he is poor, and lonely, and I
    think he is somehow neglected too.--How dark it is!"

    The room had darkened more and more. There was a very heavy gloom
    and shadow gathering behind the Chemist's chair.

    "What more about him?" he asked.

    "He is engaged to be married when he can afford it," said Milly,
    "and is studying, I think, to qualify himself to earn a living. I
    have seen, a long time, that he has studied hard and denied himself
    much.--How very dark it is!"

    "It's turned colder, too," said the old man, rubbing his hands.
    "There's a chill and dismal feeling in the room. Where's my son
    William? William, my boy, turn the lamp, and rouse the fire!"

    Milly's voice resumed, like quiet music very softly played:

    "He muttered in his broken sleep yesterday afternoon, after talking
    to me" (this was to herself) "about some one dead, and some great
    wrong done that could never be forgotten; but whether to him or to
    another person, I don't know. Not BY him, I am sure."

    "And, in short, Mrs. William, you see--which she wouldn't say
    herself, Mr. Redlaw, if she was to stop here till the new year
    after this next one--" said Mr. William, coming up to him to speak
    in his ear, "has done him worlds of good! Bless you, worlds of
    good! All at home just the same as ever--my father made as snug
    and comfortable--not a crumb of litter to be found in the house, if
    you were to offer fifty pound ready money for it--Mrs. William
    apparently never out of the way--yet Mrs. William backwards and
    forwards, backwards and forwards, up and down, up and down, a
    mother to him!"

    The room turned darker and colder, and the gloom and shadow
    gathering behind the chair was heavier.

    "Not content with this, sir, Mrs. William goes and finds, this very
    night, when she was coming home (why it's not above a couple of
    hours ago), a creature more like a young wild beast than a young
    child, shivering upon a door-step. What does Mrs. William do, but
    brings it home to dry it, and feed it, and keep it till our old
    Bounty of food and flannel is given away, on Christmas morning! If
    it ever felt a fire before, it's as much as ever it did; for it's
    sitting in the old Lodge chimney, staring at ours as if its
    ravenous eyes would never shut again. It's sitting there, at
    least," said Mr. William, correcting himself, on reflection,
    "unless it's bolted!"

    "Heaven keep her happy!" said the Chemist aloud, "and you too,
    Philip! and you, William! I must consider what to do in this. I
    may desire to see this student, I'll not detain you any longer now.
    Good-night!"

    "I thank'ee, sir, I thank'ee!" said the old man, "for Mouse, and
    for my son William, and for myself. Where's my son William?
    William, you take the lantern and go on first, through them long
    dark passages, as you did last year and the year afore. Ha ha!
    _I_ remember--though I'm eighty-seven! 'Lord, keep my memory
    green!' It's a very good prayer, Mr. Redlaw, that of the learned
    gentleman in the peaked beard, with a ruff round his neck--hangs
    up, second on the right above the panelling, in what used to be,
    afore our ten poor gentlemen commuted, our great Dinner Hall.
    'Lord, keep my memory green!' It's very good and pious, sir.
    Amen! Amen!"

    As they passed out and shut the heavy door, which, however
    carefully withheld, fired a long train of thundering reverberations
    when it shut at last, the room turned darker.

    As he fell a musing in his chair alone, the healthy holly withered
    on the wall, and dropped--dead branches.

    As the gloom and shadow thickened behind him, in that place where
    it had been gathering so darkly, it took, by slow degrees,--or out
    of it there came, by some unreal, unsubstantial process--not to be
    traced by any human sense,--an awful likeness of himself!

    Ghastly and cold, colourless in its leaden face and hands, but with
    his features, and his bright eyes, and his grizzled hair, and
    dressed in the gloomy shadow of his dress, it came into his
    terrible appearance of existence, motionless, without a sound. As
    HE leaned his arm upon the elbow of his chair, ruminating before
    the fire, IT leaned upon the chair-back, close above him, with its
    appalling copy of his face looking where his face looked, and
    bearing the expression his face bore.

    This, then, was the Something that had passed and gone already.
    This was the dread companion of the haunted man!

    It took, for some moments, no more apparent heed of him, than he of
    it. The Christmas Waits were playing somewhere in the distance,
    and, through his thoughtfulness, he seemed to listen to the music.
    It seemed to listen too.

    At length he spoke; without moving or lifting up his face.

    "Here again!" he said.

    "Here again," replied the Phantom.

    "I see you in the fire," said the haunted man; "I hear you in
    music, in the wind, in the dead stillness of the night."

    The Phantom moved its head, assenting.

    "Why do you come, to haunt me thus?"

    "I come as I am called," replied the Ghost.

    "No. Unbidden," exclaimed the Chemist.

    "Unbidden be it," said the Spectre. "It is enough. I am here."

    Hitherto the light of the fire had shone on the two faces--if the
    dread lineaments behind the chair might be called a face--both
    addressed towards it, as at first, and neither looking at the
    other. But, now, the haunted man turned, suddenly, and stared upon
    the Ghost. The Ghost, as sudden in its motion, passed to before
    the chair, and stared on him.

    The living man, and the animated image of himself dead, might so
    have looked, the one upon the other. An awful survey, in a lonely
    and remote part of an empty old pile of building, on a winter
    night, with the loud wind going by upon its journey of mystery--
    whence or whither, no man knowing since the world began--and the
    stars, in unimaginable millions, glittering through it, from
    eternal space, where the world's bulk is as a grain, and its hoary
    age is infancy.

    "Look upon me!" said the Spectre. "I am he, neglected in my youth,
    and miserably poor, who strove and suffered, and still strove and
    suffered, until I hewed out knowledge from the mine where it was
    buried, and made rugged steps thereof, for my worn feet to rest and
    rise on."

    "I AM that man," returned the Chemist.

    "No mother's self-denying love," pursued the Phantom, "no father's
    counsel, aided ME. A stranger came into my father's place when I
    was but a child, and I was easily an alien from my mother's heart.
    My parents, at the best, were of that sort whose care soon ends,
    and whose duty is soon done; who cast their offspring loose, early,
    as birds do theirs; and, if they do well, claim the merit; and, if
    ill, the pity."

    It paused, and seemed to tempt and goad him with its look, and with
    the manner of its speech, and with its smile.

    "I am he," pursued the Phantom, "who, in this struggle upward,
    found a friend. I made him--won him--bound him to me! We worked
    together, side by side. All the love and confidence that in my
    earlier youth had had no outlet, and found no expression, I
    bestowed on him."

    "Not all," said Redlaw, hoarsely.

    "No, not all," returned the Phantom. "I had a sister."

    The haunted man, with his head resting on his hands, replied "I
    had!" The Phantom, with an evil smile, drew closer to the chair,
    and resting its chin upon its folded hands, its folded hands upon
    the back, and looking down into his face with searching eyes, that
    seemed instinct with fire, went on:

    "Such glimpses of the light of home as I had ever known, had
    streamed from her. How young she was, how fair, how loving! I
    took her to the first poor roof that I was master of, and made it
    rich. She came into the darkness of my life, and made it bright.--
    She is before me!"

    "I saw her, in the fire, but now. I hear her in music, in the
    wind, in the dead stillness of the night," returned the haunted
    man.

    "DID he love her?" said the Phantom, echoing his contemplative
    tone. "I think he did, once. I am sure he did. Better had she
    loved him less--less secretly, less dearly, from the shallower
    depths of a more divided heart!"

    "Let me forget it!" said the Chemist, with an angry motion of his
    hand. "Let me blot it from my memory!"

    The Spectre, without stirring, and with its unwinking, cruel eyes
    still fixed upon his face, went on:

    "A dream, like hers, stole upon my own life."

    "It did," said Redlaw.

    "A love, as like hers," pursued the Phantom, "as my inferior nature
    might cherish, arose in my own heart. I was too poor to bind its
    object to my fortune then, by any thread of promise or entreaty. I
    loved her far too well, to seek to do it. But, more than ever I
    had striven in my life, I strove to climb! Only an inch gained,
    brought me something nearer to the height. I toiled up! In the
    late pauses of my labour at that time,--my sister (sweet
    companion!) still sharing with me the expiring embers and the
    cooling hearth,--when day was breaking, what pictures of the future
    did I see!"

    "I saw them, in the fire, but now," he murmured. "They come back
    to me in music, in the wind, in the dead stillness of the night, in
    the revolving years."

    "--Pictures of my own domestic life, in aftertime, with her who was
    the inspiration of my toil. Pictures of my sister, made the wife
    of my dear friend, on equal terms--for he had some inheritance, we
    none--pictures of our sobered age and mellowed happiness, and of
    the golden links, extending back so far, that should bind us, and
    our children, in a radiant garland," said the Phantom.

    "Pictures," said the haunted man, "that were delusions. Why is it
    my doom to remember them too well!"

    "Delusions," echoed the Phantom in its changeless voice, and
    glaring on him with its changeless eyes. "For my friend (in whose
    breast my confidence was locked as in my own), passing between me
    and the centre of the system of my hopes and struggles, won her to
    himself, and shattered my frail universe. My sister, doubly dear,
    doubly devoted, doubly cheerful in my home, lived on to see me
    famous, and my old ambition so rewarded when its spring was broken,
    and then--"

    "Then died," he interposed. "Died, gentle as ever; happy; and with
    no concern but for her brother. Peace!"

    The Phantom watched him silently.

    "Remembered!" said the haunted man, after a pause. "Yes. So well
    remembered, that even now, when years have passed, and nothing is
    more idle or more visionary to me than the boyish love so long
    outlived, I think of it with sympathy, as if it were a younger
    brother's or a son's. Sometimes I even wonder when her heart first
    inclined to him, and how it had been affected towards me.--Not
    lightly, once, I think.--But that is nothing. Early unhappiness, a
    wound from a hand I loved and trusted, and a loss that nothing can
    replace, outlive such fancies."

    "Thus," said the Phantom, "I bear within me a Sorrow and a Wrong.
    Thus I prey upon myself. Thus, memory is my curse; and, if I could
    forget my sorrow and my wrong, I would!"

    "Mocker!" said the Chemist, leaping up, and making, with a wrathful
    hand, at the throat of his other self. "Why have I always that
    taunt in my ears?"

    "Forbear!" exclaimed the Spectre in an awful voice. "Lay a hand on
    Me, and die!"

    He stopped midway, as if its words had paralysed him, and stood
    looking on it. It had glided from him; it had its arm raised high
    in warning; and a smile passed over its unearthly features, as it
    reared its dark figure in triumph.

    "If I could forget my sorrow and wrong, I would," the Ghost
    repeated. "If I could forget my sorrow and my wrong, I would!"

    "Evil spirit of myself," returned the haunted man, in a low,
    trembling tone, "my life is darkened by that incessant whisper."

    "It is an echo," said the Phantom.

    "If it be an echo of my thoughts--as now, indeed, I know it is,"
    rejoined the haunted man, "why should I, therefore, be tormented?
    It is not a selfish thought. I suffer it to range beyond myself.
    All men and women have their sorrows,--most of them their wrongs;
    ingratitude, and sordid jealousy, and interest, besetting all
    degrees of life. Who would not forget their sorrows and their
    wrongs?"

    "Who would not, truly, and be happier and better for it?" said the
    Phantom.

    "These revolutions of years, which we commemorate," proceeded
    Redlaw, "what do THEY recall! Are there any minds in which they do
    not re-awaken some sorrow, or some trouble? What is the
    remembrance of the old man who was here to-night? A tissue of
    sorrow and trouble."

    "But common natures," said the Phantom, with its evil smile upon
    its glassy face, "unenlightened minds and ordinary spirits, do not
    feel or reason on these things like men of higher cultivation and
    profounder thought."

    "Tempter," answered Redlaw, "whose hollow look and voice I dread
    more than words can express, and from whom some dim foreshadowing
    of greater fear is stealing over me while I speak, I hear again an
    echo of my own mind."

    "Receive it as a proof that I am powerful," returned the Ghost.
    "Hear what I offer! Forget the sorrow, wrong, and trouble you have
    known!"

    "Forget them!" he repeated.

    "I have the power to cancel their remembrance--to leave but very
    faint, confused traces of them, that will die out soon," returned
    the Spectre. "Say! Is it done?"

    "Stay!" cried the haunted man, arresting by a terrified gesture the
    uplifted hand. "I tremble with distrust and doubt of you; and the
    dim fear you cast upon me deepens into a nameless horror I can
    hardly bear.--I would not deprive myself of any kindly
    recollection, or any sympathy that is good for me, or others. What
    shall I lose, if I assent to this? What else will pass from my
    remembrance?"

    "No knowledge; no result of study; nothing but the intertwisted
    chain of feelings and associations, each in its turn dependent on,
    and nourished by, the banished recollections. Those will go."

    "Are they so many?" said the haunted man, reflecting in alarm.

    "They have been wont to show themselves in the fire, in music, in
    the wind, in the dead stillness of the night, in the revolving
    years," returned the Phantom scornfully.

    "In nothing else?"

    The Phantom held its peace.

    But having stood before him, silent, for a little while, it moved
    towards the fire; then stopped.

    "Decide!" it said, "before the opportunity is lost!"

    "A moment! I call Heaven to witness," said the agitated man, "that
    I have never been a hater of any kind,--never morose, indifferent,
    or hard, to anything around me. If, living here alone, I have made
    too much of all that was and might have been, and too little of
    what is, the evil, I believe, has fallen on me, and not on others.
    But, if there were poison in my body, should I not, possessed of
    antidotes and knowledge how to use them, use them? If there be
    poison in my mind, and through this fearful shadow I can cast it
    out, shall I not cast it out?"

    "Say," said the Spectre, "is it done?"

    "A moment longer!" he answered hurriedly. "I WOULD FORGET IT IF I
    COULD! Have _I_ thought that, alone, or has it been the thought of
    thousands upon thousands, generation after generation? All human
    memory is fraught with sorrow and trouble. My memory is as the
    memory of other men, but other men have not this choice. Yes, I
    close the bargain. Yes! I WILL forget my sorrow, wrong, and
    trouble!"

    "Say," said the Spectre, "is it done?"

    "It is!"

    "IT IS. And take this with you, man whom I here renounce! The
    gift that I have given, you shall give again, go where you will.
    Without recovering yourself the power that you have yielded up, you
    shall henceforth destroy its like in all whom you approach. Your
    wisdom has discovered that the memory of sorrow, wrong, and trouble
    is the lot of all mankind, and that mankind would be the happier,
    in its other memories, without it. Go! Be its benefactor! Freed
    from such remembrance, from this hour, carry involuntarily the
    blessing of such freedom with you. Its diffusion is inseparable
    and inalienable from you. Go! Be happy in the good you have won,
    and in the good you do!"

    The Phantom, which had held its bloodless hand above him while it
    spoke, as if in some unholy invocation, or some ban; and which had
    gradually advanced its eyes so close to his, that he could see how
    they did not participate in the terrible smile upon its face, but
    were a fixed, unalterable, steady horror melted before him and was
    gone.

    As he stood rooted to the spot, possessed by fear and wonder, and
    imagining he heard repeated in melancholy echoes, dying away
    fainter and fainter, the words, "Destroy its like in all whom you
    approach!" a shrill cry reached his ears. It came, not from the
    passages beyond the door, but from another part of the old
    building, and sounded like the cry of some one in the dark who had
    lost the way.

    He looked confusedly upon his hands and limbs, as if to be assured
    of his identity, and then shouted in reply, loudly and wildly; for
    there was a strangeness and terror upon him, as if he too were
    lost.

    The cry responding, and being nearer, he caught up the lamp, and
    raised a heavy curtain in the wall, by which he was accustomed to
    pass into and out of the theatre where he lectured,--which adjoined
    his room. Associated with youth and animation, and a high
    amphitheatre of faces which his entrance charmed to interest in a
    moment, it was a ghostly place when all this life was faded out of
    it, and stared upon him like an emblem of Death.

    "Halloa!" he cried. "Halloa! This way! Come to the light!"
    When, as he held the curtain with one hand, and with the other
    raised the lamp and tried to pierce the gloom that filled the
    place, something rushed past him into the room like a wild-cat, and
    crouched down in a corner.

    "What is it?" he said, hastily.

    He might have asked "What is it?" even had he seen it well, as
    presently he did when he stood looking at it gathered up in its
    corner.

    A bundle of tatters, held together by a hand, in size and form
    almost an infant's, but in its greedy, desperate little clutch, a
    bad old man's. A face rounded and smoothed by some half-dozen
    years, but pinched and twisted by the experiences of a life.
    Bright eyes, but not youthful. Naked feet, beautiful in their
    childish delicacy,--ugly in the blood and dirt that cracked upon
    them. A baby savage, a young monster, a child who had never been a
    child, a creature who might live to take the outward form of man,
    but who, within, would live and perish a mere beast.

    Used, already, to be worried and hunted like a beast, the boy
    crouched down as he was looked at, and looked back again, and
    interposed his arm to ward off the expected blow.

    "I'll bite," he said, "if you hit me!"

    The time had been, and not many minutes since, when such a sight as
    this would have wrung the Chemist's heart. He looked upon it now,
    coldly; but with a heavy effort to remember something--he did not
    know what--he asked the boy what he did there, and whence he came.

    "Where's the woman?" he replied. "I want to find the woman."

    "Who?"

    "The woman. Her that brought me here, and set me by the large
    fire. She was so long gone, that I went to look for her, and lost
    myself. I don't want you. I want the woman."

    He made a spring, so suddenly, to get away, that the dull sound of
    his naked feet upon the floor was near the curtain, when Redlaw
    caught him by his rags.

    "Come! you let me go!" muttered the boy, struggling, and clenching
    his teeth. "I've done nothing to you. Let me go, will you, to the
    woman!"

    "That is not the way. There is a nearer one," said Redlaw,
    detaining him, in the same blank effort to remember some
    association that ought, of right, to bear upon this monstrous
    object. "What is your name?"

    "Got none."

    "Where do you live?

    "Live! What's that?"

    The boy shook his hair from his eyes to look at him for a moment,
    and then, twisting round his legs and wrestling with him, broke
    again into his repetition of "You let me go, will you? I want to
    find the woman."

    The Chemist led him to the door. "This way," he said, looking at
    him still confusedly, but with repugnance and avoidance, growing
    out of his coldness. "I'll take you to her."

    The sharp eyes in the child's head, wandering round the room,
    lighted on the table where the remnants of the dinner were.

    "Give me some of that!" he said, covetously.

    "Has she not fed you?"

    "I shall be hungry again to-morrow, sha'n't I? Ain't I hungry
    every day?"

    Finding himself released, he bounded at the table like some small
    animal of prey, and hugging to his breast bread and meat, and his
    own rags, all together, said:

    "There! Now take me to the woman!"

    As the Chemist, with a new-born dislike to touch him, sternly
    motioned him to follow, and was going out of the door, he trembled
    and stopped.

    "The gift that I have given, you shall give again, go where you
    will!"

    The Phantom's words were blowing in the wind, and the wind blew
    chill upon him.

    "I'll not go there, to-night," he murmured faintly. "I'll go
    nowhere to-night. Boy! straight down this long-arched passage, and
    past the great dark door into the yard,--you see the fire shining
    on the window there."

    "The woman's fire?" inquired the boy.

    He nodded, and the naked feet had sprung away. He came back with
    his lamp, locked his door hastily, and sat down in his chair,
    covering his face like one who was frightened at himself.

    For now he was, indeed, alone. Alone, alone.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 1
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