Meet us on:
Welcome to Read Print! Sign in with
to get started!
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "So long as little children are allowed to suffer, there is no true love in this world."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    The Seven Poor Travellers

    by Charles Dickens
    • Rate it:
    • Average Rating: 3.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating
    • 2 Favorites on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode


    Strictly speaking, there were only six Poor Travellers; but, being a
    Traveller myself, though an idle one, and being withal as poor as I hope
    to be, I brought the number up to seven. This word of explanation is due
    at once, for what says the inscription over the quaint old door?

    by his Will, dated 22 Aug. 1579,
    founded this Charity
    for Six poor Travellers,
    who not being ROGUES, or PROCTORS,
    May receive gratis for one Night,
    Lodging, Entertainment,
    and Fourpence each.

    It was in the ancient little city of Rochester in Kent, of all the good
    days in the year upon a Christmas-eve, that I stood reading this
    inscription over the quaint old door in question. I had been wandering
    about the neighbouring Cathedral, and had seen the tomb of Richard Watts,
    with the effigy of worthy Master Richard starting out of it like a ship's
    figure-head; and I had felt that I could do no less, as I gave the Verger
    his fee, than inquire the way to Watts's Charity. The way being very
    short and very plain, I had come prosperously to the inscription and the
    quaint old door.

    "Now," said I to myself, as I looked at the knocker, "I know I am not a
    Proctor; I wonder whether I am a Rogue!"

    Upon the whole, though Conscience reproduced two or three pretty faces
    which might have had smaller attraction for a moral Goliath than they had
    had for me, who am but a Tom Thumb in that way, I came to the conclusion
    that I was not a Rogue. So, beginning to regard the establishment as in
    some sort my property, bequeathed to me and divers co-legatees, share and
    share alike, by the Worshipful Master Richard Watts, I stepped backward
    into the road to survey my inheritance.

    I found it to be a clean white house, of a staid and venerable air, with
    the quaint old door already three times mentioned (an arched door),
    choice little long low lattice-windows, and a roof of three gables. The
    silent High Street of Rochester is full of gables, with old beams and
    timbers carved into strange faces. It is oddly garnished with a queer
    old clock that projects over the pavement out of a grave red-brick
    building, as if Time carried on business there, and hung out his sign.
    Sooth to say, he did an active stroke of work in Rochester, in the old
    days of the Romans, and the Saxons, and the Normans; and down to the
    times of King John, when the rugged castle--I will not undertake to say
    how many hundreds of years old then--was abandoned to the centuries of
    weather which have so defaced the dark apertures in its walls, that the
    ruin looks as if the rooks and daws had pecked its eyes out.

    I was very well pleased, both with my property and its situation. While
    I was yet surveying it with growing content, I espied, at one of the
    upper lattices which stood open, a decent body, of a wholesome matronly
    appearance, whose eyes I caught inquiringly addressed to mine. They said
    so plainly, "Do you wish to see the house?" that I answered aloud, "Yes,
    if you please." And within a minute the old door opened, and I bent my
    head, and went down two steps into the entry.

    "This," said the matronly presence, ushering me into a low room on the
    right, "is where the Travellers sit by the fire, and cook what bits of
    suppers they buy with their fourpences."

    "O! Then they have no Entertainment?" said I. For the inscription over
    the outer door was still running in my head, and I was mentally
    repeating, in a kind of tune, "Lodging, entertainment, and fourpence

    "They have a fire provided for 'em," returned the matron--a mighty civil
    person, not, as I could make out, overpaid; "and these cooking utensils.
    And this what's painted on a board is the rules for their behaviour. They
    have their fourpences when they get their tickets from the steward over
    the way,--for I don't admit 'em myself, they must get their tickets
    first,--and sometimes one buys a rasher of bacon, and another a herring,
    and another a pound of potatoes, or what not. Sometimes two or three of
    'em will club their fourpences together, and make a supper that way. But
    not much of anything is to be got for fourpence, at present, when
    provisions is so dear."

    "True indeed," I remarked. I had been looking about the room, admiring
    its snug fireside at the upper end, its glimpse of the street through the
    low mullioned window, and its beams overhead. "It is very comfortable,"
    said I.

    "Ill-conwenient," observed the matronly presence.

    I liked to hear her say so; for it showed a commendable anxiety to
    execute in no niggardly spirit the intentions of Master Richard Watts.
    But the room was really so well adapted to its purpose that I protested,
    quite enthusiastically, against her disparagement.

    "Nay, ma'am," said I, "I am sure it is warm in winter and cool in summer.
    It has a look of homely welcome and soothing rest. It has a remarkably
    cosey fireside, the very blink of which, gleaming out into the street
    upon a winter night, is enough to warm all Rochester's heart. And as to
    the convenience of the six Poor Travellers--"

    "I don't mean them," returned the presence. "I speak of its being an ill-
    conwenience to myself and my daughter, having no other room to sit in of
    a night."

    This was true enough, but there was another quaint room of corresponding
    dimensions on the opposite side of the entry: so I stepped across to it,
    through the open doors of both rooms, and asked what this chamber was

    "This," returned the presence, "is the Board Room. Where the gentlemen
    meet when they come here."

    Let me see. I had counted from the street six upper windows besides
    these on the ground-story. Making a perplexed calculation in my mind, I
    rejoined, "Then the six Poor Travellers sleep upstairs?"

    My new friend shook her head. "They sleep," she answered, "in two little
    outer galleries at the back, where their beds has always been, ever since
    the Charity was founded. It being so very ill-conwenient to me as things
    is at present, the gentlemen are going to take off a bit of the
    back-yard, and make a slip of a room for 'em there, to sit in before they
    go to bed."

    "And then the six Poor Travellers," said I, "will be entirely out of the

    "Entirely out of the house," assented the presence, comfortably smoothing
    her hands. "Which is considered much better for all parties, and much
    more conwenient."

    I had been a little startled, in the Cathedral, by the emphasis with
    which the effigy of Master Richard Watts was bursting out of his tomb;
    but I began to think, now, that it might be expected to come across the
    High Street some stormy night, and make a disturbance here.

    Howbeit, I kept my thoughts to myself, and accompanied the presence to
    the little galleries at the back. I found them on a tiny scale, like the
    galleries in old inn-yards; and they were very clean.

    While I was looking at them, the matron gave me to understand that the
    prescribed number of Poor Travellers were forthcoming every night from
    year's end to year's end; and that the beds were always occupied. My
    questions upon this, and her replies, brought us back to the Board Room
    so essential to the dignity of "the gentlemen," where she showed me the
    printed accounts of the Charity hanging up by the window. From them I
    gathered that the greater part of the property bequeathed by the
    Worshipful Master Richard Watts for the maintenance of this foundation
    was, at the period of his death, mere marsh-land; but that, in course of
    time, it had been reclaimed and built upon, and was very considerably
    increased in value. I found, too, that about a thirtieth part of the
    annual revenue was now expended on the purposes commemorated in the
    inscription over the door; the rest being handsomely laid out in
    Chancery, law expenses, collectorship, receivership, poundage, and other
    appendages of management, highly complimentary to the importance of the
    six Poor Travellers. In short, I made the not entirely new discovery
    that it may be said of an establishment like this, in dear old England,
    as of the fat oyster in the American story, that it takes a good many men
    to swallow it whole.

    "And pray, ma'am," said I, sensible that the blankness of my face began
    to brighten as the thought occurred to me, "could one see these

    "Well!" she returned dubiously, "no!"

    "Not to-night, for instance!" said I.

    "Well!" she returned more positively, "no. Nobody ever asked to see
    them, and nobody ever did see them."

    As I am not easily balked in a design when I am set upon it, I urged to
    the good lady that this was Christmas-eve; that Christmas comes but once
    a year,--which is unhappily too true, for when it begins to stay with us
    the whole year round we shall make this earth a very different place;
    that I was possessed by the desire to treat the Travellers to a supper
    and a temperate glass of hot Wassail; that the voice of Fame had been
    heard in that land, declaring my ability to make hot Wassail; that if I
    were permitted to hold the feast, I should be found conformable to
    reason, sobriety, and good hours; in a word, that I could be merry and
    wise myself, and had been even known at a pinch to keep others so,
    although I was decorated with no badge or medal, and was not a Brother,
    Orator, Apostle, Saint, or Prophet of any denomination whatever. In the
    end I prevailed, to my great joy. It was settled that at nine o'clock
    that night a Turkey and a piece of Roast Beef should smoke upon the
    board; and that I, faint and unworthy minister for once of Master Richard
    Watts, should preside as the Christmas-supper host of the six Poor

    I went back to my inn to give the necessary directions for the Turkey and
    Roast Beef, and, during the remainder of the day, could settle to nothing
    for thinking of the Poor Travellers. When the wind blew hard against the
    windows,--it was a cold day, with dark gusts of sleet alternating with
    periods of wild brightness, as if the year were dying fitfully,--I
    pictured them advancing towards their resting-place along various cold
    roads, and felt delighted to think how little they foresaw the supper
    that awaited them. I painted their portraits in my mind, and indulged in
    little heightening touches. I made them footsore; I made them weary; I
    made them carry packs and bundles; I made them stop by finger-posts and
    milestones, leaning on their bent sticks, and looking wistfully at what
    was written there; I made them lose their way; and filled their five wits
    with apprehensions of lying out all night, and being frozen to death. I
    took up my hat, and went out, climbed to the top of the Old Castle, and
    looked over the windy hills that slope down to the Medway, almost
    believing that I could descry some of my Travellers in the distance.
    After it fell dark, and the Cathedral bell was heard in the invisible
    steeple--quite a bower of frosty rime when I had last seen it--striking
    five, six, seven, I became so full of my Travellers that I could eat no
    dinner, and felt constrained to watch them still in the red coals of my
    fire. They were all arrived by this time, I thought, had got their
    tickets, and were gone in.--There my pleasure was dashed by the
    reflection that probably some Travellers had come too late and were shut

    After the Cathedral bell had struck eight, I could smell a delicious
    savour of Turkey and Roast Beef rising to the window of my adjoining
    bedroom, which looked down into the inn-yard just where the lights of the
    kitchen reddened a massive fragment of the Castle Wall. It was high time
    to make the Wassail now; therefore I had up the materials (which,
    together with their proportions and combinations, I must decline to
    impart, as the only secret of my own I was ever known to keep), and made
    a glorious jorum. Not in a bowl; for a bowl anywhere but on a shelf is a
    low superstition, fraught with cooling and slopping; but in a brown
    earthenware pitcher, tenderly suffocated, when full, with a coarse cloth.
    It being now upon the stroke of nine, I set out for Watts's Charity,
    carrying my brown beauty in my arms. I would trust Ben, the waiter, with
    untold gold; but there are strings in the human heart which must never be
    sounded by another, and drinks that I make myself are those strings in

    The Travellers were all assembled, the cloth was laid, and Ben had
    brought a great billet of wood, and had laid it artfully on the top of
    the fire, so that a touch or two of the poker after supper should make a
    roaring blaze. Having deposited my brown beauty in a red nook of the
    hearth, inside the fender, where she soon began to sing like an ethereal
    cricket, diffusing at the same time odours as of ripe vineyards, spice
    forests, and orange groves,--I say, having stationed my beauty in a place
    of security and improvement, I introduced myself to my guests by shaking
    hands all round, and giving them a hearty welcome.

    I found the party to be thus composed. Firstly, myself. Secondly, a
    very decent man indeed, with his right arm in a sling, who had a certain
    clean agreeable smell of wood about him, from which I judged him to have
    something to do with shipbuilding. Thirdly, a little sailor-boy, a mere
    child, with a profusion of rich dark brown hair, and deep womanly-looking
    eyes. Fourthly, a shabby-genteel personage in a threadbare black suit,
    and apparently in very bad circumstances, with a dry suspicious look; the
    absent buttons on his waistcoat eked out with red tape; and a bundle of
    extraordinarily tattered papers sticking out of an inner breast-pocket.
    Fifthly, a foreigner by birth, but an Englishman in speech, who carried
    his pipe in the band of his hat, and lost no time in telling me, in an
    easy, simple, engaging way, that he was a watchmaker from Geneva, and
    travelled all about the Continent, mostly on foot, working as a
    journeyman, and seeing new countries,--possibly (I thought) also
    smuggling a watch or so, now and then. Sixthly, a little widow, who had
    been very pretty and was still very young, but whose beauty had been
    wrecked in some great misfortune, and whose manner was remarkably timid,
    scared, and solitary. Seventhly and lastly, a Traveller of a kind
    familiar to my boyhood, but now almost obsolete,--a Book-Pedler, who had
    a quantity of Pamphlets and Numbers with him, and who presently boasted
    that he could repeat more verses in an evening than he could sell in a

    All these I have mentioned in the order in which they sat at table. I
    presided, and the matronly presence faced me. We were not long in taking
    our places, for the supper had arrived with me, in the following

    Myself with the pitcher.
    Ben with Beer.
    Inattentive Boy with hot plates. Inattentive Boy with hot plates.
    Female carrying sauces to be heated on the spot.
    Man with Tray on his head, containing Vegetables and Sundries.
    Volunteer Hostler from Hotel, grinning,
    And rendering no assistance.

    As we passed along the High Street, comet-like, we left a long tail of
    fragrance behind us which caused the public to stop, sniffing in wonder.
    We had previously left at the corner of the inn-yard a wall-eyed young
    man connected with the Fly department, and well accustomed to the sound
    of a railway whistle which Ben always carries in his pocket, whose
    instructions were, so soon as he should hear the whistle blown, to dash
    into the kitchen, seize the hot plum-pudding and mince-pies, and speed
    with them to Watts's Charity, where they would be received (he was
    further instructed) by the sauce-female, who would be provided with
    brandy in a blue state of combustion.

    All these arrangements were executed in the most exact and punctual
    manner. I never saw a finer turkey, finer beef, or greater prodigality
    of sauce and gravy;--and my Travellers did wonderful justice to
    everything set before them. It made my heart rejoice to observe how
    their wind and frost hardened faces softened in the clatter of plates and
    knives and forks, and mellowed in the fire and supper heat. While their
    hats and caps and wrappers, hanging up, a few small bundles on the ground
    in a corner, and in another corner three or four old walking-sticks, worn
    down at the end to mere fringe, linked this smug interior with the bleak
    outside in a golden chain.

    When supper was done, and my brown beauty had been elevated on the table,
    there was a general requisition to me to "take the corner;" which
    suggested to me comfortably enough how much my friends here made of a
    fire,--for when had _I_ ever thought so highly of the corner, since the
    days when I connected it with Jack Horner? However, as I declined, Ben,
    whose touch on all convivial instruments is perfect, drew the table
    apart, and instructing my Travellers to open right and left on either
    side of me, and form round the fire, closed up the centre with myself and
    my chair, and preserved the order we had kept at table. He had already,
    in a tranquil manner, boxed the ears of the inattentive boys until they
    had been by imperceptible degrees boxed out of the room; and he now
    rapidly skirmished the sauce-female into the High Street, disappeared,
    and softly closed the door.

    This was the time for bringing the poker to bear on the billet of wood. I
    tapped it three times, like an enchanted talisman, and a brilliant host
    of merry-makers burst out of it, and sported off by the chimney,--rushing
    up the middle in a fiery country dance, and never coming down again.
    Meanwhile, by their sparkling light, which threw our lamp into the shade,
    I filled the glasses, and gave my Travellers, CHRISTMAS!--CHRISTMAS-EVE,
    my friends, when the shepherds, who were Poor Travellers, too, in their
    way, heard the Angels sing, "On earth, peace. Good-will towards men!"

    I don't know who was the first among us to think that we ought to take
    hands as we sat, in deference to the toast, or whether any one of us
    anticipated the others, but at any rate we all did it. We then drank to
    the memory of the good Master Richard Watts. And I wish his Ghost may
    never have had worse usage under that roof than it had from us.

    It was the witching time for Story-telling. "Our whole life,
    Travellers," said I, "is a story more or less intelligible,--generally
    less; but we shall read it by a clearer light when it is ended. I, for
    one, am so divided this night between fact and fiction, that I scarce
    know which is which. Shall I beguile the time by telling you a story as
    we sit here?"

    They all answered, yes. I had little to tell them, but I was bound by my
    own proposal. Therefore, after looking for awhile at the spiral column
    of smoke wreathing up from my brown beauty, through which I could have
    almost sworn I saw the effigy of Master Richard Watts less startled than
    usual, I fired away.


    In the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine, a relative of
    mine came limping down, on foot, to this town of Chatham. I call it this
    town, because if anybody present knows to a nicety where Rochester ends
    and Chatham begins, it is more than I do. He was a poor traveller, with
    not a farthing in his pocket. He sat by the fire in this very room, and
    he slept one night in a bed that will be occupied to-night by some one

    My relative came down to Chatham to enlist in a cavalry regiment, if a
    cavalry regiment would have him; if not, to take King George's shilling
    from any corporal or sergeant who would put a bunch of ribbons in his
    hat. His object was to get shot; but he thought he might as well ride to
    death as be at the trouble of walking.

    My relative's Christian name was Richard, but he was better known as
    Dick. He dropped his own surname on the road down, and took up that of
    Doubledick. He was passed as Richard Doubledick; age, twenty-two;
    height, five foot ten; native place, Exmouth, which he had never been
    near in his life. There was no cavalry in Chatham when he limped over
    the bridge here with half a shoe to his dusty feet, so he enlisted into a
    regiment of the line, and was glad to get drunk and forget all about it.

    You are to know that this relative of mine had gone wrong, and run wild.
    His heart was in the right place, but it was sealed up. He had been
    betrothed to a good and beautiful girl, whom he had loved better than
    she--or perhaps even he--believed; but in an evil hour he had given her
    cause to say to him solemnly, "Richard, I will never marry another man. I
    will live single for your sake, but Mary Marshall's lips"--her name was
    Mary Marshall--"never address another word to you on earth. Go, Richard!
    Heaven forgive you!" This finished him. This brought him down to
    Chatham. This made him Private Richard Doubledick, with a determination
    to be shot.

    There was not a more dissipated and reckless soldier in Chatham barracks,
    in the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine, than Private
    Richard Doubledick. He associated with the dregs of every regiment; he
    was as seldom sober as he could be, and was constantly under punishment.
    It became clear to the whole barracks that Private Richard Doubledick
    would very soon be flogged.

    Now the Captain of Richard Doubledick's company was a young gentleman not
    above five years his senior, whose eyes had an expression in them which
    affected Private Richard Doubledick in a very remarkable way. They were
    bright, handsome, dark eyes,--what are called laughing eyes generally,
    and, when serious, rather steady than severe,--but they were the only
    eyes now left in his narrowed world that Private Richard Doubledick could
    not stand. Unabashed by evil report and punishment, defiant of
    everything else and everybody else, he had but to know that those eyes
    looked at him for a moment, and he felt ashamed. He could not so much as
    salute Captain Taunton in the street like any other officer. He was
    reproached and confused,--troubled by the mere possibility of the
    captain's looking at him. In his worst moments, he would rather turn
    back, and go any distance out of his way, than encounter those two
    handsome, dark, bright eyes.

    One day, when Private Richard Doubledick came out of the Black hole,
    where he had been passing the last eight-and-forty hours, and in which
    retreat he spent a good deal of his time, he was ordered to betake
    himself to Captain Taunton's quarters. In the stale and squalid state of
    a man just out of the Black hole, he had less fancy than ever for being
    seen by the captain; but he was not so mad yet as to disobey orders, and
    consequently went up to the terrace overlooking the parade-ground, where
    the officers' quarters were; twisting and breaking in his hands, as he
    went along, a bit of the straw that had formed the decorative furniture
    of the Black hole.

    "Come in!" cried the Captain, when he had knocked with his knuckles at
    the door. Private Richard Doubledick pulled off his cap, took a stride
    forward, and felt very conscious that he stood in the light of the dark,
    bright eyes.

    There was a silent pause. Private Richard Doubledick had put the straw
    in his mouth, and was gradually doubling it up into his windpipe and
    choking himself.

    "Doubledick," said the Captain, "do you know where you are going to?"

    "To the Devil, sir?" faltered Doubledick.

    "Yes," returned the Captain. "And very fast."

    Private Richard Doubledick turned the straw of the Black hole in his
    month, and made a miserable salute of acquiescence.

    "Doubledick," said the Captain, "since I entered his Majesty's service, a
    boy of seventeen, I have been pained to see many men of promise going
    that road; but I have never been so pained to see a man make the shameful
    journey as I have been, ever since you joined the regiment, to see you."

    Private Richard Doubledick began to find a film stealing over the floor
    at which he looked; also to find the legs of the Captain's
    breakfast-table turning crooked, as if he saw them through water.

    "I am only a common soldier, sir," said he. "It signifies very little
    what such a poor brute comes to."

    "You are a man," returned the Captain, with grave indignation, "of
    education and superior advantages; and if you say that, meaning what you
    say, you have sunk lower than I had believed. How low that must be, I
    leave you to consider, knowing what I know of your disgrace, and seeing
    what I see."

    "I hope to get shot soon, sir," said Private Richard Doubledick; "and
    then the regiment and the world together will be rid of me."

    The legs of the table were becoming very crooked. Doubledick, looking up
    to steady his vision, met the eyes that had so strong an influence over
    him. He put his hand before his own eyes, and the breast of his disgrace-
    jacket swelled as if it would fly asunder.

    "I would rather," said the young Captain, "see this in you, Doubledick,
    than I would see five thousand guineas counted out upon this table for a
    gift to my good mother. Have you a mother?"

    "I am thankful to say she is dead, sir."

    "If your praises," returned the Captain, "were sounded from mouth to
    mouth through the whole regiment, through the whole army, through the
    whole country, you would wish she had lived to say, with pride and joy,
    'He is my son!'"

    "Spare me, sir," said Doubledick. "She would never have heard any good
    of me. She would never have had any pride and joy in owning herself my
    mother. Love and compassion she might have had, and would have always
    had, I know but not--Spare me, sir! I am a broken wretch, quite at your
    mercy!" And he turned his face to the wall, and stretched out his
    imploring hand.

    "My friend--" began the Captain.

    "God bless you, sir!" sobbed Private Richard Doubledick.

    "You are at the crisis of your fate. Hold your course unchanged a little
    longer, and you know what must happen. _I_ know even better than you can
    imagine, that, after that has happened, you are lost. No man who could
    shed those tears could bear those marks."

    "I fully believe it, sir," in a low, shivering voice said Private Richard

    "But a man in any station can do his duty," said the young Captain, "and,
    in doing it, can earn his own respect, even if his case should be so very
    unfortunate and so very rare that he can earn no other man's. A common
    soldier, poor brute though you called him just now, has this advantage in
    the stormy times we live in, that he always does his duty before a host
    of sympathising witnesses. Do you doubt that he may so do it as to be
    extolled through a whole regiment, through a whole army, through a whole
    country? Turn while you may yet retrieve the past, and try."

    "I will! I ask for only one witness, sir," cried Richard, with a
    bursting heart.

    "I understand you. I will be a watchful and a faithful one."

    I have heard from Private Richard Doubledick's own lips, that he dropped
    down upon his knee, kissed that officer's hand, arose, and went out of
    the light of the dark, bright eyes, an altered man.

    In that year, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine, the French were
    in Egypt, in Italy, in Germany, where not? Napoleon Bonaparte had
    likewise begun to stir against us in India, and most men could read the
    signs of the great troubles that were coming on. In the very next year,
    when we formed an alliance with Austria against him, Captain Taunton's
    regiment was on service in India. And there was not a finer
    non-commissioned officer in it,--no, nor in the whole line--than Corporal
    Richard Doubledick.

    In eighteen hundred and one, the Indian army were on the coast of Egypt.
    Next year was the year of the proclamation of the short peace, and they
    were recalled. It had then become well known to thousands of men, that
    wherever Captain Taunton, with the dark, bright eyes, led, there, close
    to him, ever at his side, firm as a rock, true as the sun, and brave as
    Mars, would be certain to be found, while life beat in their hearts, that
    famous soldier, Sergeant Richard Doubledick.

    Eighteen hundred and five, besides being the great year of Trafalgar, was
    a year of hard fighting in India. That year saw such wonders done by a
    Sergeant-Major, who cut his way single-handed through a solid mass of
    men, recovered the colours of his regiment, which had been seized from
    the hand of a poor boy shot through the heart, and rescued his wounded
    Captain, who was down, and in a very jungle of horses' hoofs and
    sabres,--saw such wonders done, I say, by this brave Sergeant-Major, that
    he was specially made the bearer of the colours he had won; and Ensign
    Richard Doubledick had risen from the ranks.

    Sorely cut up in every battle, but always reinforced by the bravest of
    men,--for the fame of following the old colours, shot through and
    through, which Ensign Richard Doubledick had saved, inspired all
    breasts,--this regiment fought its way through the Peninsular war, up to
    the investment of Badajos in eighteen hundred and twelve. Again and
    again it had been cheered through the British ranks until the tears had
    sprung into men's eyes at the mere hearing of the mighty British voice,
    so exultant in their valour; and there was not a drummer-boy but knew the
    legend, that wherever the two friends, Major Taunton, with the dark,
    bright eyes, and Ensign Richard Doubledick, who was devoted to him, were
    seen to go, there the boldest spirits in the English army became wild to

    One day, at Badajos,--not in the great storming, but in repelling a hot
    sally of the besieged upon our men at work in the trenches, who had given
    way,--the two officers found themselves hurrying forward, face to face,
    against a party of French infantry, who made a stand. There was an
    officer at their head, encouraging his men,--a courageous, handsome,
    gallant officer of five-and-thirty, whom Doubledick saw hurriedly, almost
    momentarily, but saw well. He particularly noticed this officer waving
    his sword, and rallying his men with an eager and excited cry, when they
    fired in obedience to his gesture, and Major Taunton dropped.

    It was over in ten minutes more, and Doubledick returned to the spot
    where he had laid the best friend man ever had on a coat spread upon the
    wet clay. Major Taunton's uniform was opened at the breast, and on his
    shirt were three little spots of blood.

    "Dear Doubledick," said he, "I am dying."

    "For the love of Heaven, no!" exclaimed the other, kneeling down beside
    him, and passing his arm round his neck to raise his head. "Taunton! My
    preserver, my guardian angel, my witness! Dearest, truest, kindest of
    human beings! Taunton! For God's sake!"

    The bright, dark eyes--so very, very dark now, in the pale face--smiled
    upon him; and the hand he had kissed thirteen years ago laid itself
    fondly on his breast.

    "Write to my mother. You will see Home again. Tell her how we became
    friends. It will comfort her, as it comforts me."

    He spoke no more, but faintly signed for a moment towards his hair as it
    fluttered in the wind. The Ensign understood him. He smiled again when
    he saw that, and, gently turning his face over on the supporting arm as
    if for rest, died, with his hand upon the breast in which he had revived
    a soul.

    No dry eye looked on Ensign Richard Doubledick that melancholy day. He
    buried his friend on the field, and became a lone, bereaved man. Beyond
    his duty he appeared to have but two remaining cares in life,--one, to
    preserve the little packet of hair he was to give to Taunton's mother;
    the other, to encounter that French officer who had rallied the men under
    whose fire Taunton fell. A new legend now began to circulate among our
    troops; and it was, that when he and the French officer came face to face
    once more, there would be weeping in France.

    The war went on--and through it went the exact picture of the French
    officer on the one side, and the bodily reality upon the other--until the
    Battle of Toulouse was fought. In the returns sent home appeared these
    words: "Severely wounded, but not dangerously, Lieutenant Richard

    At Midsummer-time, in the year eighteen hundred and fourteen, Lieutenant
    Richard Doubledick, now a browned soldier, seven-and-thirty years of age,
    came home to England invalided. He brought the hair with him, near his
    heart. Many a French officer had he seen since that day; many a dreadful
    night, in searching with men and lanterns for his wounded, had he
    relieved French officers lying disabled; but the mental picture and the
    reality had never come together.

    Though he was weak and suffered pain, he lost not an hour in getting down
    to Frome in Somersetshire, where Taunton's mother lived. In the sweet,
    compassionate words that naturally present themselves to the mind
    to-night, "he was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow."

    It was a Sunday evening, and the lady sat at her quiet garden-window,
    reading the Bible; reading to herself, in a trembling voice, that very
    passage in it, as I have heard him tell. He heard the words: "Young man,
    I say unto thee, arise!"

    He had to pass the window; and the bright, dark eyes of his debased time
    seemed to look at him. Her heart told her who he was; she came to the
    door quickly, and fell upon his neck.

    "He saved me from ruin, made me a human creature, won me from infamy and
    shame. O, God for ever bless him! As He will, He Will!"

    "He will!" the lady answered. "I know he is in heaven!" Then she
    piteously cried, "But O, my darling boy, my darling boy!"

    Never from the hour when Private Richard Doubledick enlisted at Chatham
    had the Private, Corporal, Sergeant, Sergeant-Major, Ensign, or
    Lieutenant breathed his right name, or the name of Mary Marshall, or a
    word of the story of his life, into any ear except his reclaimer's. That
    previous scene in his existence was closed. He had firmly resolved that
    his expiation should be to live unknown; to disturb no more the peace
    that had long grown over his old offences; to let it be revealed, when he
    was dead, that he had striven and suffered, and had never forgotten; and
    then, if they could forgive him and believe him--well, it would be time
    enough--time enough!

    But that night, remembering the words he had cherished for two years,
    "Tell her how we became friends. It will comfort her, as it comforts
    me," he related everything. It gradually seemed to him as if in his
    maturity he had recovered a mother; it gradually seemed to her as if in
    her bereavement she had found a son. During his stay in England, the
    quiet garden into which he had slowly and painfully crept, a stranger,
    became the boundary of his home; when he was able to rejoin his regiment
    in the spring, he left the garden, thinking was this indeed the first
    time he had ever turned his face towards the old colours with a woman's

    He followed them--so ragged, so scarred and pierced now, that they would
    scarcely hold together--to Quatre Bras and Ligny. He stood beside them,
    in an awful stillness of many men, shadowy through the mist and drizzle
    of a wet June forenoon, on the field of Waterloo. And down to that hour
    the picture in his mind of the French officer had never been compared
    with the reality.

    The famous regiment was in action early in the battle, and received its
    first check in many an eventful year, when he was seen to fall. But it
    swept on to avenge him, and left behind it no such creature in the world
    of consciousness as Lieutenant Richard Doubledick.

    Through pits of mire, and pools of rain; along deep ditches, once roads,
    that were pounded and ploughed to pieces by artillery, heavy waggons,
    tramp of men and horses, and the struggle of every wheeled thing that
    could carry wounded soldiers; jolted among the dying and the dead, so
    disfigured by blood and mud as to be hardly recognisable for humanity;
    undisturbed by the moaning of men and the shrieking of horses, which,
    newly taken from the peaceful pursuits of life, could not endure the
    sight of the stragglers lying by the wayside, never to resume their
    toilsome journey; dead, as to any sentient life that was in it, and yet
    alive,--the form that had been Lieutenant Richard Doubledick, with whose
    praises England rang, was conveyed to Brussels. There it was tenderly
    laid down in hospital; and there it lay, week after week, through the
    long bright summer days, until the harvest, spared by war, had ripened
    and was gathered in.

    Over and over again the sun rose and set upon the crowded city; over and
    over again the moonlight nights were quiet on the plains of Waterloo: and
    all that time was a blank to what had been Lieutenant Richard Doubledick.
    Rejoicing troops marched into Brussels, and marched out; brothers and
    fathers, sisters, mothers, and wives, came thronging thither, drew their
    lots of joy or agony, and departed; so many times a day the bells rang;
    so many times the shadows of the great buildings changed; so many lights
    sprang up at dusk; so many feet passed here and there upon the pavements;
    so many hours of sleep and cooler air of night succeeded: indifferent to
    all, a marble face lay on a bed, like the face of a recumbent statue on
    the tomb of Lieutenant Richard Doubledick.

    Slowly labouring, at last, through a long heavy dream of confused time
    and place, presenting faint glimpses of army surgeons whom he knew, and
    of faces that had been familiar to his youth,--dearest and kindest among
    them, Mary Marshall's, with a solicitude upon it more like reality than
    anything he could discern,--Lieutenant Richard Doubledick came back to
    life. To the beautiful life of a calm autumn evening sunset, to the
    peaceful life of a fresh quiet room with a large window standing open; a
    balcony beyond, in which were moving leaves and sweet-smelling flowers;
    beyond, again, the clear sky, with the sun full in his sight, pouring its
    golden radiance on his bed.

    It was so tranquil and so lovely that he thought he had passed into
    another world. And he said in a faint voice, "Taunton, are you near me?"

    A face bent over him. Not his, his mother's.

    "I came to nurse you. We have nursed you many weeks. You were moved
    here long ago. Do you remember nothing?"


    The lady kissed his cheek, and held his hand, soothing him.

    "Where is the regiment? What has happened? Let me call you mother. What
    has happened, mother?"

    "A great victory, dear. The war is over, and the regiment was the
    bravest in the field."

    His eyes kindled, his lips trembled, he sobbed, and the tears ran down
    his face. He was very weak, too weak to move his hand.

    "Was it dark just now?" he asked presently.


    "It was only dark to me? Something passed away, like a black shadow. But
    as it went, and the sun--O the blessed sun, how beautiful it is!--touched
    my face, I thought I saw a light white cloud pass out at the door. Was
    there nothing that went out?"

    She shook her head, and in a little while he fell asleep, she still
    holding his hand, and soothing him.

    From that time, he recovered. Slowly, for he had been desperately
    wounded in the head, and had been shot in the body, but making some
    little advance every day. When he had gained sufficient strength to
    converse as he lay in bed, he soon began to remark that Mrs. Taunton
    always brought him back to his own history. Then he recalled his
    preserver's dying words, and thought, "It comforts her."

    One day he awoke out of a sleep, refreshed, and asked her to read to him.
    But the curtain of the bed, softening the light, which she always drew
    back when he awoke, that she might see him from her table at the bedside
    where she sat at work, was held undrawn; and a woman's voice spoke, which
    was not hers.

    "Can you bear to see a stranger?" it said softly. "Will you like to see
    a stranger?"

    "Stranger!" he repeated. The voice awoke old memories, before the days
    of Private Richard Doubledick.

    "A stranger now, but not a stranger once," it said in tones that thrilled
    him. "Richard, dear Richard, lost through so many years, my name--"

    He cried out her name, "Mary," and she held him in her arms, and his head
    lay on her bosom.

    "I am not breaking a rash vow, Richard. These are not Mary Marshall's
    lips that speak. I have another name."

    She was married.

    "I have another name, Richard. Did you ever hear it?"


    He looked into her face, so pensively beautiful, and wondered at the
    smile upon it through her tears.

    "Think again, Richard. Are you sure you never heard my altered name?"


    "Don't move your head to look at me, dear Richard. Let it lie here,
    while I tell my story. I loved a generous, noble man; loved him with my
    whole heart; loved him for years and years; loved him faithfully,
    devotedly; loved him without hope of return; loved him, knowing nothing
    of his highest qualities--not even knowing that he was alive. He was a
    brave soldier. He was honoured and beloved by thousands of thousands,
    when the mother of his dear friend found me, and showed me that in all
    his triumphs he had never forgotten me. He was wounded in a great
    battle. He was brought, dying, here, into Brussels. I came to watch and
    tend him, as I would have joyfully gone, with such a purpose, to the
    dreariest ends of the earth. When he knew no one else, he knew me. When
    he suffered most, he bore his sufferings barely murmuring, content to
    rest his head where your rests now. When he lay at the point of death,
    he married me, that he might call me Wife before he died. And the name,
    my dear love, that I took on that forgotten night--"

    "I know it now!" he sobbed. "The shadowy remembrance strengthens. It is
    come back. I thank Heaven that my mind is quite restored! My Mary, kiss
    me; lull this weary head to rest, or I shall die of gratitude. His
    parting words were fulfilled. I see Home again!"

    Well! They were happy. It was a long recovery, but they were happy
    through it all. The snow had melted on the ground, and the birds were
    singing in the leafless thickets of the early spring, when those three
    were first able to ride out together, and when people flocked about the
    open carriage to cheer and congratulate Captain Richard Doubledick.

    But even then it became necessary for the Captain, instead of returning
    to England, to complete his recovery in the climate of Southern France.
    They found a spot upon the Rhone, within a ride of the old town of
    Avignon, and within view of its broken bridge, which was all they could
    desire; they lived there, together, six months; then returned to England.
    Mrs. Taunton, growing old after three years--though not so old as that
    her bright, dark eyes were dimmed--and remembering that her strength had
    been benefited by the change resolved to go back for a year to those
    parts. So she went with a faithful servant, who had often carried her
    son in his arms; and she was to be rejoined and escorted home, at the
    year's end, by Captain Richard Doubledick.

    She wrote regularly to her children (as she called them now), and they to
    her. She went to the neighbourhood of Aix; and there, in their own
    chateau near the farmer's house she rented, she grew into intimacy with a
    family belonging to that part of France. The intimacy began in her often
    meeting among the vineyards a pretty child, a girl with a most
    compassionate heart, who was never tired of listening to the solitary
    English lady's stories of her poor son and the cruel wars. The family
    were as gentle as the child, and at length she came to know them so well
    that she accepted their invitation to pass the last month of her
    residence abroad under their roof. All this intelligence she wrote home,
    piecemeal as it came about, from time to time; and at last enclosed a
    polite note, from the head of the chateau, soliciting, on the occasion of
    his approaching mission to that neighbourhood, the honour of the company
    of cet homme si justement celebre, Monsieur le Capitaine Richard

    Captain Doubledick, now a hardy, handsome man in the full vigour of life,
    broader across the chest and shoulders than he had ever been before,
    dispatched a courteous reply, and followed it in person. Travelling
    through all that extent of country after three years of Peace, he blessed
    the better days on which the world had fallen. The corn was golden, not
    drenched in unnatural red; was bound in sheaves for food, not trodden
    underfoot by men in mortal fight. The smoke rose up from peaceful
    hearths, not blazing ruins. The carts were laden with the fair fruits of
    the earth, not with wounds and death. To him who had so often seen the
    terrible reverse, these things were beautiful indeed; and they brought
    him in a softened spirit to the old chateau near Aix upon a deep blue

    It was a large chateau of the genuine old ghostly kind, with round
    towers, and extinguishers, and a high leaden roof, and more windows than
    Aladdin's Palace. The lattice blinds were all thrown open after the heat
    of the day, and there were glimpses of rambling walls and corridors
    within. Then there were immense out-buildings fallen into partial decay,
    masses of dark trees, terrace-gardens, balustrades; tanks of water, too
    weak to play and too dirty to work; statues, weeds, and thickets of iron
    railing that seemed to have overgrown themselves like the shrubberies,
    and to have branched out in all manner of wild shapes. The entrance
    doors stood open, as doors often do in that country when the heat of the
    day is past; and the Captain saw no bell or knocker, and walked in.

    He walked into a lofty stone hall, refreshingly cool and gloomy after the
    glare of a Southern day's travel. Extending along the four sides of this
    hall was a gallery, leading to suites of rooms; and it was lighted from
    the top. Still no bell was to be seen.

    "Faith," said the Captain halting, ashamed of the clanking of his boots,
    "this is a ghostly beginning!"

    He started back, and felt his face turn white. In the gallery, looking
    down at him, stood the French officer--the officer whose picture he had
    carried in his mind so long and so far. Compared with the original, at
    last--in every lineament how like it was!

    He moved, and disappeared, and Captain Richard Doubledick heard his steps
    coming quickly down own into the hall. He entered through an archway.
    There was a bright, sudden look upon his face, much such a look as it had
    worn in that fatal moment.

    Monsieur le Capitaine Richard Doubledick? Enchanted to receive him! A
    thousand apologies! The servants were all out in the air. There was a
    little fete among them in the garden. In effect, it was the fete day of
    my daughter, the little cherished and protected of Madame Taunton.

    He was so gracious and so frank that Monsieur le Capitaine Richard
    Doubledick could not withhold his hand. "It is the hand of a brave
    Englishman," said the French officer, retaining it while he spoke. "I
    could respect a brave Englishman, even as my foe, how much more as my
    friend! I also am a soldier."

    "He has not remembered me, as I have remembered him; he did not take such
    note of my face, that day, as I took of his," thought Captain Richard
    Doubledick. "How shall I tell him?"

    The French officer conducted his guest into a garden and presented him to
    his wife, an engaging and beautiful woman, sitting with Mrs. Taunton in a
    whimsical old-fashioned pavilion. His daughter, her fair young face
    beaming with joy, came running to embrace him; and there was a boy-baby
    to tumble down among the orange trees on the broad steps, in making for
    his father's legs. A multitude of children visitors were dancing to
    sprightly music; and all the servants and peasants about the chateau were
    dancing too. It was a scene of innocent happiness that might have been
    invented for the climax of the scenes of peace which had soothed the
    Captain's journey.

    He looked on, greatly troubled in his mind, until a resounding bell rang,
    and the French officer begged to show him his rooms. They went upstairs
    into the gallery from which the officer had looked down; and Monsieur le
    Capitaine Richard Doubledick was cordially welcomed to a grand outer
    chamber, and a smaller one within, all clocks and draperies, and hearths,
    and brazen dogs, and tiles, and cool devices, and elegance, and vastness.

    "You were at Waterloo," said the French officer.

    "I was," said Captain Richard Doubledick. "And at Badajos."

    Left alone with the sound of his own stern voice in his ears, he sat down
    to consider, What shall I do, and how shall I tell him? At that time,
    unhappily, many deplorable duels had been fought between English and
    French officers, arising out of the recent war; and these duels, and how
    to avoid this officer's hospitality, were the uppermost thought in
    Captain Richard Doubledick's mind.

    He was thinking, and letting the time run out in which he should have
    dressed for dinner, when Mrs. Taunton spoke to him outside the door,
    asking if he could give her the letter he had brought from Mary. "His
    mother, above all," the Captain thought. "How shall I tell _her_?"

    "You will form a friendship with your host, I hope," said Mrs. Taunton,
    whom he hurriedly admitted, "that will last for life. He is so
    true-hearted and so generous, Richard, that you can hardly fail to esteem
    one another. If He had been spared," she kissed (not without tears) the
    locket in which she wore his hair, "he would have appreciated him with
    his own magnanimity, and would have been truly happy that the evil days
    were past which made such a man his enemy."

    She left the room; and the Captain walked, first to one window, whence he
    could see the dancing in the garden, then to another window, whence he
    could see the smiling prospect and the peaceful vineyards.

    "Spirit of my departed friend," said he, "is it through thee these better
    thoughts are rising in my mind? Is it thou who hast shown me, all the
    way I have been drawn to meet this man, the blessings of the altered
    time? Is it thou who hast sent thy stricken mother to me, to stay my
    angry hand? Is it from thee the whisper comes, that this man did his
    duty as thou didst,--and as I did, through thy guidance, which has wholly
    saved me here on earth,--and that he did no more?"

    He sat down, with his head buried in his hands, and, when he rose up,
    made the second strong resolution of his life,--that neither to the
    French officer, nor to the mother of his departed friend, nor to any
    soul, while either of the two was living, would he breathe what only he
    knew. And when he touched that French officer's glass with his own, that
    day at dinner, he secretly forgave him in the name of the Divine Forgiver
    of injuries.

    * * * * *

    Here I ended my story as the first Poor Traveller. But, if I had told it
    now, I could have added that the time has since come when the son of
    Major Richard Doubledick, and the son of that French officer, friends as
    their fathers were before them, fought side by side in one cause, with
    their respective nations, like long-divided brothers whom the better
    times have brought together, fast united.


    My story being finished, and the Wassail too, we broke up as the
    Cathedral bell struck Twelve. I did not take leave of my travellers that
    night; for it had come into my head to reappear, in conjunction with some
    hot coffee, at seven in the morning.

    As I passed along the High Street, I heard the Waits at a distance, and
    struck off to find them. They were playing near one of the old gates of
    the City, at the corner of a wonderfully quaint row of red-brick
    tenements, which the clarionet obligingly informed me were inhabited by
    the Minor-Canons. They had odd little porches over the doors, like
    sounding-boards over old pulpits; and I thought I should like to see one
    of the Minor-Canons come out upon his top stop, and favour us with a
    little Christmas discourse about the poor scholars of Rochester; taking
    for his text the words of his Master relative to the devouring of Widows'

    The clarionet was so communicative, and my inclinations were (as they
    generally are) of so vagabond a tendency, that I accompanied the Waits
    across an open green called the Vines, and assisted--in the French
    sense--at the performance of two waltzes, two polkas, and three Irish
    melodies, before I thought of my inn any more. However, I returned to it
    then, and found a fiddle in the kitchen, and Ben, the wall-eyed young
    man, and two chambermaids, circling round the great deal table with the
    utmost animation.

    I had a very bad night. It cannot have been owing to the turkey or the
    beef,--and the Wassail is out of the question--but in every endeavour
    that I made to get to sleep I failed most dismally. I was never asleep;
    and in whatsoever unreasonable direction my mind rambled, the effigy of
    Master Richard Watts perpetually embarrassed it.

    In a word, I only got out of the Worshipful Master Richard Watts's way by
    getting out of bed in the dark at six o'clock, and tumbling, as my custom
    is, into all the cold water that could be accumulated for the purpose.
    The outer air was dull and cold enough in the street, when I came down
    there; and the one candle in our supper-room at Watts's Charity looked as
    pale in the burning as if it had had a bad night too. But my Travellers
    had all slept soundly, and they took to the hot coffee, and the piles of
    bread-and-butter, which Ben had arranged like deals in a timber-yard, as
    kindly as I could desire.

    While it was yet scarcely daylight, we all came out into the street
    together, and there shook hands. The widow took the little sailor
    towards Chatham, where he was to find a steamboat for Sheerness; the
    lawyer, with an extremely knowing look, went his own way, without
    committing himself by announcing his intentions; two more struck off by
    the cathedral and old castle for Maidstone; and the book-pedler
    accompanied me over the bridge. As for me, I was going to walk by Cobham
    Woods, as far upon my way to London as I fancied.

    When I came to the stile and footpath by which I was to diverge from the
    main road, I bade farewell to my last remaining Poor Traveller, and
    pursued my way alone. And now the mists began to rise in the most
    beautiful manner, and the sun to shine; and as I went on through the
    bracing air, seeing the hoarfrost sparkle everywhere, I felt as if all
    Nature shared in the joy of the great Birthday.

    Going through the woods, the softness of my tread upon the mossy ground
    and among the brown leaves enhanced the Christmas sacredness by which I
    felt surrounded. As the whitened stems environed me, I thought how the
    Founder of the time had never raised his benignant hand, save to bless
    and heal, except in the case of one unconscious tree. By Cobham Hall, I
    came to the village, and the churchyard where the dead had been quietly
    buried, "in the sure and certain hope" which Christmas time inspired.
    What children could I see at play, and not be loving of, recalling who
    had loved them! No garden that I passed was out of unison with the day,
    for I remembered that the tomb was in a garden, and that "she, supposing
    him to be the gardener," had said, "Sir, if thou have borne him hence,
    tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away." In time,
    the distant river with the ships came full in view, and with it pictures
    of the poor fishermen, mending their nets, who arose and followed him,--of
    the teaching of the people from a ship pushed off a little way from
    shore, by reason of the multitude,--of a majestic figure walking on the
    water, in the loneliness of night. My very shadow on the ground was
    eloquent of Christmas; for did not the people lay their sick where the
    more shadows of the men who had heard and seen him might fall as they
    passed along?

    Thus Christmas begirt me, far and near, until I had come to Blackheath,
    and had walked down the long vista of gnarled old trees in Greenwich
    Park, and was being steam-rattled through the mists now closing in once
    more, towards the lights of London. Brightly they shone, but not so
    brightly as my own fire, and the brighter faces around it, when we came
    together to celebrate the day. And there I told of worthy Master Richard
    Watts, and of my supper with the Six Poor Travellers who were neither
    Rogues nor Proctors, and from that hour to this I have never seen one of
    them again.

    If you're writing a The Seven Poor Travellers essay and need some advice, post your Charles Dickens essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?