'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
'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,
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
'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
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 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
'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
'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
'"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
'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
'"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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
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
'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
'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
'"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
'"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
'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
'"I don't see what is to be done," said the baron. "I think I'll
'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
'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
'"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
'"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
'"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
'"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
'"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
'"Now," said the figure, glancing at the hunting-knife, "are you
ready for me?"
'"Not quite," rejoined the baron; "I must finish this pipe
'"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
'"Never in moderation?" asked the baron.
'"Never," replied the figure, with a shudder, "that breeds
'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
'"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
'"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
'"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
'"Except empty coffers," cried the genius.
'"Well; but they may be one day filled again," said the
'"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.