« PreviousContinue »
“EveRY one remembers in the Fourth Book of the immortal poem of your Blind Bard (to whose sightless orbs no doubt Glorious Shapes were apparent, and Visions Celestial) how Adam discourses to Eve of the Bright Visitors who hovered round their Eden — “Millions of spiritual creatures walk the
earth; Unseen, both when we wake and when we sleep.”
“‘How often,” says Father Adam, “from the steep of echoing hill or thicket, have we heard celestial voices to the midnight air, sole, or responsive to each other's notes, singing !’ After the Act of Disobedience, when the erring pair from Eden took their solitary way, and went forth to toil and trouble on common earth — though the Glorious Ones no longer were visible, you cannot say they were gone. It was not that the Bright Ones were absent, but that the dim eyes of rebel man no longer could see them. In your chamber hangs a picture of one whom you never knew, but whom you have long held in tenderest regard, and who was painted for you by a friend of mine, the Knight of Plympton. She communes with you. She smiles on you. When your spirits are low, her
bright eyes shine on you and cheer you. Her innocent sweet smile is a caress to you. She never fails to soothe you with her speechless prattle. You love her. She is alive with you. As you extinguish your candle and turn to sleep, though your eyes see her not, is she not there still smiling? As you lie in the night awake, and thinking of your duties, and the morrow's inevitable toil oppressing the busy, weary, wakeful brain as with a remorse, the crackling fire flashes up for a moment in the grate, and she is there, your little Beauteous Maiden, smiling with her sweet eyes! When moon is down, when fire is out, when curtains are drawn, when lids are closed, is she not there, the little Beautiful One, though invisible,
present and smiling still ? Friend,
the Unseen Ones are round about us,
Does it not seem as if the time were
drawing near when it shall be given
to men to behold them 4 ° The print of which my friend spoke and which, indeed, hangs in my room though he has never been there, it that charming little winter piece of Sir Joshua, representing the little Lady Caroline Montague, afterward. Duchess of Buccleuch. She is repre: sented as standing in the midst of 8 winter landscape, wrapped in muff and cloak; and she looks out of he picture with a smile so exquisite that a Herod could not see her without being charmed. “I beg your pardon, Mr. PINTo,’ I said to the person with whom \ was conversing. (I wonder, by the way, that I was not surprised at his knowing how fond I am of this print.) “You spoke of the Knight of Plympton. Sir Joshua died, 1792; and you say he was your dear friend?” As I spoke I chanced to look at Mr. Pinto ; and then it suddenly struck me : Gracious powers 1 Perhaps I'. are a hundred years old, now I think of it. You look more than a hundred. Yes, you may be a thousand years old for what I know. Your teeth are false. One eye is
evidently false. Can I say that the other is not ? If a man's age may be calculated by the rings round his eyes, this man may be as old as Methusaleh. He has no beard. He wears a large curly glossy brown wig, and his eyebrows are painted a deep olive-green. It was odd to hear this man, this walking mummy, talking sentiment, in these queer, old chambers in Shepherd's Inn. " Pinto passed a yellow bandanna handkerchief over his awful white teeth, and kept his glass eye steadily fixed on me. “Sir Joshua’s friend?” said he (you perceive, eluding my direct o “Is not every one that knows his pictures Reynolds's friend? Suppose I tell you that I have been in his painting room scores of times, and that his sister Thé has made me tea, and his sister Toffy has made coffee for me? You will only say I am an old ombog.” (Mr. Pinto, I remarked, spoke all languages with an accent equally foreign.) “Suppose I tell you that I knew Mr. Sam Johnson, and did not like him 4 that I was at that very ball at Madame Cornelis's, which you have mentioned in one of your little — what do you call them 4–bah! my memory begins to fail me — in one of your little Whirligig Papers? Suppose I tell you that Sir Joshua has been here, in this very room 4 ° “Have you, then, had these apartments for — more — than — seventy years?” I asked. “They look as if they had not been swept for that time – don’t they Hey? I did not say that I had them for seventy years, but that Sir Joshua has visited me here.” “When o’ I asked, eying the man sternly, for I began to think he was an impostor. He answered me with a glance still more stern: “Sir Joshua Reynolds was here this very morning, with Angelica Kaufmann and Mr. Oliver Goldschmidt. He is still very much attached to Angelica, who still does not care for him. Because he is dead
(and I was in the fourth mourning coach at his funeral) is that any reason why he should not come back to earth again 3 My good sir, you are laughing at me. He has sat many a time on that very chair which you are occupying. There are several spirits in the room now, whom you cannot see. Excuse me.” Here he turned round as if he was addressing somebody, and began rapidly speaking a language unknown to me. “It is Arabic,” he said; “a bad patois Iown. Ilearned it in Barbary, when I was a prisoner amongst the Moors. In anno 1609, bin ick aldus ghekledt gheghaen. Ha! you doubt me: look at me well. At least I am like ’” — Perhaps some of my readers remember a paper of which the figure of a man carrying a barrel formed the initial letter, and which I copied from an old spoon now in my possession. As I looked at Mr. Pinto I do declare he looked so like the figure on that old piece of plate that I started and felt very uneasy. “Hal” said he, laughing through his false teeth (I declare they were false — I could see utterly toothless gums working up and down behind the pink coral), “you see I wore a beard den; I am shafed now ; perhaps you tink I am a spoon. Ha, ha!” And as he laughed he gave a cough which I thought would have coughed his teeth out, his glass eye out, his wig off, his very head off; but he stopped this convulsion by stumping across the room and seizing a little bottle of bright pink medicine, which, being opened, spread a singular acrid aromatic odor through the apartment; and I thought I saw — but of this I cannot take an affirmation — a light green and violet flame flickering round the neck of the phial as he opened it. By the way, from the peculiar stumping noise which he made in crossing the bare-boarded apartment, I knew at once that my strange entertainer had a wooden leg. Over the dust which lay quite thick on the boards, you could see the mark of one foot very neat and pretty, and then a round O, which was naturally the impression made by the wooden stump. I own I had a queer thrill as I saw the mark, and felt a comfort that it was not cloven. In this desolate apartment in which Mr. Pinto had invited me to see him, there were three chairs, one bottomless, a little table on which you might put a breakfast-tray, and not a single other article of furniture. In the next room, the door of which was open, I could see a magnificent gilt dressing-case, with some splendid diamond and ruby shirt-studs lying by it, and a chest of drawers, and a cupboard apparently full of clothes. emembering him in Baden Baden in great magnificence, I wondered at his present denuded state. “You have a house elsewhere, Mr. Pinto ?” Isaid. “Many,” says he. “I have apartments in many cities. I lock dem up, and do not carry mosh logish.” I then remembered that his apartment at Baden, where I first met him, was bare, and had no bed in it. “There is, then, a sleeping-room beyond 3’” “This is the sleeping-room.” (He pronounces it dis. Can this, by the way, give any clew to the nationality of this singular man 4) “If you sleep on these two old chairs you have a rickety couch; if on the floor, a dusty one.” “Suppose I sleep up dere?” said this strange man, and he actually pointed up to the ceiling. I thought him mad, or what he himself called “an ombog.” “I know. You do not believe me; for why should I deceive you? I came but to propose a matter of business to you. I told you I could give you the clew to the mystery of the Two Children in Black, whom you met at Baden, and you came to see me. If I told you, you would not believe me. What for try and convinz you? Ha hey?” And
he shook his hand once, twice, thrice, at me, and glared at me out of his eye in a peculiar way. Of what happened now I protest I cannot give an accurate account. It seemed to me that there shot a flame from his eye into my brain, whilst behind his glass eye there was a green illumination as if a candle had been lit in it. It seemed to me that from his long fingers two quivering flames issued, sputtering, as it were, which netrated me, and forced me back into one of the chairs — the broken one — out of which I had much difficulty in scrambling, when the strange glamor was ended. It seemed to me that, when I was so fixed, so transfixed in the broken chair, the man floated up to the ceiling, crossed his legs, folded his arms as if he was lying on a sofa, and grinned down at me. When I came to myself, he was down from the ceiling, and, taking me out of the broken cane-bottomed chair, kindly enough —“Bah!” said he, “it is the smell of my medicine. It often gives the vertigo. I thought you would have had a little fit. Come into the open air.” And we went down the steps, and into Shepherd's Inn, where the setting sun was just shining on the statue of Shepherd; the laundresses where trapesing about; the porters were leaning against the railings; and the clerks were playing at marbles, to my inexpressible consolation. “You said you were going to dine at the ‘Gray’s-inn Coffee-house,” he said. I was. I often dine there. There is excellent wine at the “Gray’s-inn Coffee-house; ” but I declare I NEveR SAID so. I was not astonished at his remark; no more astonished than if I was in a dream. Perhaps I was in a dream. Is life a dream 3 Are dreams facts 3 Is sleeping being really awake 2 I don't know. I tell you I am puzzled. I have read “The Woman in White,” “The Strange Story” — not to mention that story “Stranger than Fiction” in “The Cornhill Magazine”—
that story for which THREE credible witnesses are ready to vouch. I have had messages from the dead; and not only from the dead, but from people who never existed at all. I own I am in a state of much bewilderment; but, if you please, will proceed with my simple, my artless story. Well, them. We passed from Shepherd's Inn into Holborn, and looked for a while at Woodgate's bric-à-brac shop, which I never can pass without delaying at the windows—indeed, if I were going to be hung, I would beg the cart to stop, and let me have one look more at that delightful omnium gatherum. And passing Woodgate's, we come to Gale's little shop, “No. 47,” which is also a favorite haunt of mine. Mr. Gale happened to be at his door, and as we exchanged salutations, “Mr. Pinto,” I said, “will you like to see a real curiosity in this curiosity shop 3 Step into Mr. Gale's little back room.” In that little back parlor there are Chinese gongs; there are old Saxe and Sèvres plates; there is Fürstenberg, Carl . Theodor, Worcester, Amstel, Nankin and other jimcrockery. And in the corner what do you think there is 3 There is an actual GUILLOTINE. If you doubt me, go and see – Gale, High Holborn, No. 47. It is a slim instrument, much slighter than those which they make now ; – some nine feet high, narrow, a pretty piece of upholstery enough. There is the hook over which the rope used to play which unloosened the dreadful axe above; and looks dropped into the orifice where the head used to go — there is THE AxE itself, all rusty, with A GREAt NoTCH IN THE BLADE. As Pinto looked at it — Mr. Gale was not in the room, Irecollect; happening to have been just called out by a customer who offered him three jound fourteen and sixpence for a i. Shepherd in páte tendre, — Mr. Pinto gave a little start, and seemed
crispé for a moment. Then he looked steadily towards one of those great porcelain stools which you see in gardens — and — it seemed to me— I tell you I won’t take my affidavit— I may have been maddened by the six glasses I took of that pink elixir — I may have been sleep-walking: perhaps am as I write now—I may have been under the influence of that astounding MEDIUM into whose hands I had fallen — but I vow I heard Pinto say, with rather a ghastly grin at the porcelain stool,
“Nay, nefer shague your gory locks at me Dou canst not say I did it.”
(He pronounced it, by the way, I dit it, by which I know that Pinto was a German.) I heard Pinto say those very words, and sitting on the porcelain stool, I saw, dimly at first, then with an awful distinctness—a ghost—an eidolon – a form — A HEADLEss MAN seated, with his head in his lap, which wore an expression of piteous surprise. At this minute, Mr. Gale entered from the front shop to show a customer some delf plates; and he did not see — but we did— the figure rise up from the porcelain stool, shake its head, which it held in its hand, and which kept its eyes fixed sadly on us, and disappear behind the guillotine. “Come to the ‘Gray’s-inn Coffeehouse,’” Pinto said, “and I will tell you how the notch came to the are.” And we walked down Holborn at about thirty-seven minutes past six o'clock. If there is any thing in the above statement which astonishes the reader, I promise him that in the next chap. ter of , this little story he will astonished still more.
“You will excuse me,” I said to my companion, “for remarking, that when you addressed the individual sitting on, the porcelain stool, with his head in his lap, your ordinarily benevolent features” — (this I confess was a bouncer, for between ourselves a more sinister and ill-looking rascal than Mons. P. I have seldom set eyes on)—“your ordinarily handsome face wore an expression that was by no means pleasing. You grinned at the individual just as you did at me when you went up to the cei—, pardon me as I thought you did, when I fell down in a fit in your chambers;” and I qualified my words in a great flutter and tremble; I did not care to offend the man — I did not dare to offend the man. I thought once or twice of jumping into a cab, and flying; of taking refuge in Day and Martin's Blacking Warehouse; of speaking to a policeman, but not one would come. I was this man's slave. I followed him like his dog. I could not get away from him. So, you see, I went on meanly conversing with him, and affecting a simpering confidence. I remember when I was a little boy at school, going up fawning and smiling in this way to some great hulking bully of a sixth-form boy. So I said in a word, “Your ordinarily handsome face wore a disagreeable expression,” &c.
“It is ordinarily very handsome,” said he, with such a leer at a couple of passers-by that one of them cried, “Oh, crikey, here's a precious guy!” and a child in its nurse's arms, screameditself into convulsions. “Oh, oui, che suis très-choli garçon, bien peau, cerdainement,” continued Mr. Pinto ; “but you were right. That — that person was not very well pleased when he saw me. There was no love lost between us, as you say ; and the world never knew a more worthless miscreant. I hate him, voyez-vouz 2 I hated him alife; I hate him dead. I hate him man; I hate him ghost: and he know it, and tremble before me. If I see him twenty tausend years hence — and why not 3 — I shall hate him still. You remarked how he was dressed ?”
“In black satin breeches and striped stockings; a white piqué waistcoat, a gray coat, with large metal buttons, and his hair in powder. He must have worn a pigtail—only ”—
“Only it was cut off! Ha, ha, ha!” Mr. Pinto cried, yelling a laugh, which I observed made the policemen stare very much. “Yes. It was cut off by the same blow which took off the scoundrel's head — ho, ho, ho!” And he made a circle with his hooknailed finger round his own yellow neck, and grinned with a horrible triumph. “I promise you that fellow was surprised when he found his head in the pannier. Ha! has Do you ever cease to hate those whom you hate 3’” — fire flashed terrifically from his glass eye, as he spoke – “or to love dose whom you once loved. Oh, never, never!” And here his natural eye was bedeved with tears. “But here we are at the ‘Gray’s-inn Cof. fee-house.” James, what is the joint?”
That very respectful and efficient waiter brought in the bill of fare, and I, for my part, chose boiled leg of pork and pease-pudding, which my acquaintance said would do as well as any thing else; though I remarked he only trifled with the pease-pudding, and left all the pork on the plate. In fact, he scarcely ate any thing. But he drank a prodigious quantity of wine; and I must say that my friend Mr. Hart's port-wine is so good that I myself took—well, I should think, I took three glasses. Yes, three, certainly. He — I mean Mr. P., the old rogue, was insatiable: for we had to call for a second bottle in no time. When that was gone, my companion wanted another. A little red mounted up to his yellow cheeks as he drank the wine, and he winked at it in a strange manner. “I remember,” said he, musing, “when port-wine was scarcely drunk in this country — though the Queen liked it, and so did Harley; but Bolingbroke didn't — he drank Florence and Champagne. Dr. Swift put water to his wine.