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    Chapter 6

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    Chapter 6
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    CHAPTER 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    'I dare say I can,' replied Nicholas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    'No bodily inconvenience,' replied the lady.

    'No mental inconvenience, I hope?'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    'Nay. I should ask you.'

    'After you, I will, with pleasure.'

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

    THE FIVE SISTERS OF YORK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    'The monk turned to the second sister.

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

    'The lady groaned, and wrung her hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    'It does,' interposed the other.

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

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

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

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

    THE BARON OF GROGZWIG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    '"My dear," said the baroness.

    '"My love," said the baron.

    '"Those coarse, noisy men--"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    '"Leave the lamp," said the baron.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    '"Through the door," replied the figure.

    '"What are you?" says the baron.

    '"A man," replied the figure.

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

    '"Disbelieve it then," says the figure.

    '"I will," rejoined the baron.

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

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

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

    '"A genius," replied the figure.

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

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

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

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

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

    '"Look sharp then," said the figure.

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

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

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

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

    '"Never in moderation?" asked the baron.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    '"Why not?" demanded the baron.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    '"Except empty coffers," cried the genius.

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

    '"Scolding wives," snarled the genius.

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

    '"Thirteen children," shouted the genius.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The journey was then resumed. Nicholas fell asleep towards morning,
    and, when he awoke, found, with great regret, that, during his nap,
    both the Baron of Grogzwig and the grey-haired gentleman had got
    down and were gone. The day dragged on uncomfortably enough. At
    about six o'clock that night, he and Mr Squeers, and the little
    boys, and their united luggage, were all put down together at the
    George and New Inn, Greta Bridge.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 6
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