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A message from the sea : The extra Christmas number of All the year round online

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been describing were fixed upon the very large

fid ring which I had not ceased to wear when
adopted my adventurous life, and which you
may see upon my finger now. There were two
oilier things about this man that struck me.
These were, a bald red projecting lump of flesh
at the back of his head, and a deep scar, which
a scrap of frouzy whisker on his cheek wholly
declined to conceal.

" A nasty day for a journey of pleasure,"
said the landlord, looking at me with a satirical
smile.

" Perhaps it is not a journey of pleasure," I
answered, dryly.

" We have few such travellers on the road
now," said the evil-faced man. "The railroads
make the country a desert, and the roads are as
wild as they were three hundred years ago."

"They are well enough," I answered, care-
lessly, "'for those who are obliged to travel by
them. Nobody else, I should think, would be
likely to make use of them."

" Will you come into the house ?" said the
landlord, abruptly, looking me full in the face.

I never felt a stronger repugnance than
I entertained towards the idea of entering
this man's doors. Yet what other course was
open to me. My mare was already half through
the first instalment of her oats, so there was
no more excuse for remaining in the stable.
To take a walk in the drenching rain was out
of the question, and to remain sitting in my
caleche would have been a worse indicationof sus-
picion and mistrust. Besides, I had had nothing
since the morning's coffee, and I wanted some-
thing to eat and drink. There was nothing to
be done, then, but to accept my ill-looking
friend's offer. He led the way up the flight of
steps which gave access to the interior of the
building.

The room in which I found myself on passing
through the door at the top of these steps,
was one of those rooms which an excess of light
not only fails to enliven, but seems even to
invest with an additional degree of gloom. There
is sometimes this character about light, and



I have seen before now, a workhouse ward,
and a barren schoolroom, which have owed a
good share of their melancholy to an immode-
rate amount of cold grey daylight. This room,
then, into which I was shown, was one of those
which, on a wet day, seemed several degrees
lighter than the open air. Of course it could
not be really lighter than the thing that lit it,
but it seemed so. It also appeared larger than
the whole out-door world ; and this, certainly,
could not be either, but seemed so. Yast as it
was, there appeared through two glass-doors in
one of the walls another apartment of similar
dimensions. It was not a square room, nor an
oblong room, but was smaller at one end than
at the other : a phenomenon which, as you have
very likely observed, Gentlemen, has always an
unpleasant effect. The billiard-table, which
stood in the middle of the apartment, though
really of the usual size, looked quite a trifling
piece of furniture ; and as to the other tables,
which were planted sparingly here and there
for purposes of refreshment, they were quite
lost in the immensity of space about them. A
cupboard, a rack of billiard cues, a marking-
board, and a print of the murder of the Arch-
bishop of Paris in a black frame, alone broke
the uniformity of wall. The ceiling, as far as
one could judge of anything at that altitude,
appeared to be traversed by "an enormous beam
with rings fastened into it adapted for suicidal
purposes, and splashed with the whitewash with
which the ceiling itself and the walls had just
been decorated. Even my little terrier, whom
I had been obliged to take up in my arms on
account of the disposition she had manifested
to fly at the shins of our detested landlord,
looked round the room with a gaze of horror
as I set her down, and trembled and shivered
as if she would come out of her skin.

" And so you don't like him, Nelly, and your
little beads ' of eyes, that look, up at me from
under that hairy penthouse, with nothing but
love in them, are all a-blaze with fury when they
are turned upon his sinister face? And how
did he get that scar, Nelly? Did he get it
when he slaughtered his last traveller? And
what do you think of his eyes, Nelly ? And what
do you think of the back of his head, my dog ?
What do you think he's about now, eh r What
mischief do you think he's hatching ? Don't
you wish you were sitting by my side in the
caleche, and that we were out on the free road
again ?"

" To all these questions and remarks, my little
companion responded very intelligibly by faint
thumpings of the ground with her tail, and by
certain flutterings of her ears, which, from long
habits of intercourse, I understood very well to
mean that whatever my opinion might be, she
coincided in it.

I had ordered an omelette and some wine
when I first entered the house, and, as I now sat
waiting for it, I observed that my landlord
would every now and then leave what he was
about in the other room where I concluded that
he was engaged preparing my meal and would



Charter Diekens.]



A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA.



[December 13, 1860.J 15



come and peer at me furtively through the
glass-doors which connected the room I was in,
with that in which he was. Once, too, I heard
him go out, and I felt sure that he had retired
to the stables, to examine more minutely the
value of my horse and carriage.

I took it into my head that my landlord was a
desperate rogue ; that his business was not suffi-
cient to support him ; that he had remarked that
I was in possession of a very valuable horse, a car-
riage which would fetch something, and a quantity
of luggage in which there were probably articles
of price. I had other things of worth about my
person, including a sum of money, without which
I could not be travelling about, as he saw me,
from place to place.

While my mind was amusing itself with
these cheerful reflections, a little girl, of about
twelve years old, entered the room through the
glass-doors, and, after honouring me with a long
stare, went to the cupboard at the other end of
the apartment, and*, opening it with a bunch of
keys which she brought with her in her hand,
took out a small white paper packet, about four
inches square, and retired with it by the way
by which she had entered ; still staring at me so
diligently that, from want of proper attention to
where she was going, she got (I am happy to
state) a severe bump against the door as she
passed through it. She was a horrid little girl
this, with eyes that in. shirking the necessity
of looking straight at anybody or anything, had
got at last to look only at her nose finding it,
probably, as bad a nose as could be met with,
and therefore a congenial companion. She had,
moreover, frizzy and fluey hair, was excessively
dirty, and had a slow crab-like way of going
along without looking at what she was about,
which was very noisome and detestable.

Tt was not long before this young lady re-
appeared, bearing in her hand a plate containing
trie omelette, which she placed upon the table
without going through the previous form of
laying a cloth. She next cut an immense piece
of bread from a loaf shaped like a ring, and,
having clapped this also down upon the dirtiest
part of the table, and having further favoured
me with a wiped knife and fork, disappeared
once more. She disappeared to fetch the wine.
When this had been brought, and some water,
the preparations for my feast were considered
complete, and I was left to enjoy it alone.

I must not omit to mention that the horrid
waiting-maid appeared to excite as strong an
antipathy in the breast of my little dog as that
whicli my landlord himself had stirred up ; and,
I am happy to say, that as the child left the
room I was obliged to interfere, to prevent Nelly
from harassing her retreating calves.

Gentlemen, an experienced traveller soon
learns that he must eat to support nature :
closing his eyes, nose, and ears to all sugges-
tions. I set to work, then, at the omelette
with energy, and at the tough sour bread with
good will, and had swallowed half a tumbler of
wine and water, when a thought suddenly oc-
curred to me which caused me to set the glass



down upon the table. I had no sooner done
this, than I raised it again to my lips, took a
fresh sip, rolled the liquid about in my mouth
two or three times, and spat it out upon the
floor. But I uttered, as I did so, in an audible
tone, the monosyllable " Pooh !"

" Pooh ! Nelly," I said, looking down at my
dog, who was watching me intensely with
her head on one side "pooh! Nelly," I re-
peated, " what frantic ana inconceivable non-
sense !"

And what was it that I thus stigmatised?
What was it that had given me pause in the
middle of my draught ? What thought was it
that caused me to set down my glass with half
its contents remaining in it ? It was a suspicion,
driven straight and swift as an arrow into the
innermost recesses of my soul, that the wine I
had just been drinking, and which, contrary to my
custom, I had mingled with water, was drugged !

There are some thoughts which, like noxious
insects, come buzzing back into one's mind as
often as we repulse them. We confute them in
argument, prove them illogical, leave them not
a leg to stand upon, and yet there they are the
next moment as brisk as Dees, and stronger on
their pins than ever. It was just such a thought
as this with which I had now to deal. It was
well to say "Pooh!" it was well to remind
myself that this was the nineteenth century,
that I was not acting a part in a French melo-
drama, that such things as I was thinking of
were only known in romances ; it was well to
argue that to set a respectable man down as a
murderer, because he had peculiar coloured eyes
and a scar upon his cheek ; were ridiculous
things to do. There seemed to be two separate
parties within me : one possessed of great powers
of argument and a cool judgment : the other, an
irrational or opposition party, whose chief force
consisted in a system of dogged assertion, which
all the arguments of the rational party were in-
sufficient to put down.

It was not long before an additional force
was imparted to the tactics of the irrational
party, by certain symptoms which began to
develop themselves in my internal organisa-
tion, and which seemed favourable to the
view of the case I was so anxious to refute.
In spite of all my efforts to the contrary, I
could not help feeling that some very re-
markable sensations were slowly and gradually
stealing over me. First of all, I began to
find that I was a little at fault in my system
of calculating distances : so that when I took
up any object and attempted to replace it on
the table, I either brought it into contact with
that article of furniture with a crash, in con-
sequence of conceiving it to be lower than
it was ; or else, imagining that the table was
several inches nearer to the ceiling than was
the case, I abandoned whatever I held in my
hand sooner than I should, and found that
I was confiding it to space. Then, again, my
head felt light upon my shoulders, there was a
slight tingling in my hands, and a sense that
they, as well as my feet (which were very cold),



1G [December 13, I860.]



A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA.



[Conducted by



were swelling to gigantic size, and were also
surrounded with numerous rapidly revolving
wheels of a light structure, like Catherine-
wheels previous to ignition. It also appeared
to me that when I spoke to my dog, my voice
had a curious sound, and my words were very
imperfectly articulated.

It woulcl happen, too, that when I looked to-
wards the glass-doors, my landlord was there,
peering at me through the muslin curtains : or
the horrid little girl would enter, with no obvious
intention, and having loitered for a little time
about the room, would leave it again. "At length
the landlord himself came in, ancl coolly walking
up to the table at which I was seated, glanced
at the hardly tasted wine before me.

"It would appear that the wine of the country
is not to your taste," he said.

" It is good enough," I answered, as care-
lessly as I could; the words sounding to me as if
they were uttered inside the cupola of St. Paul's,
and were conveyed by iron tubes to the place
I occupied.

I was in a strange state perfectly conscious,
but imperfectly able to control my thoughts, my
words, my actions. I believe my landlord stood
staring down at me as I sat staring up at him,
and watching the Catherine-wheels as they
revolved round his eyes and nose and chin
Gentlemen, they seemed absolutely is fizz when
they got to the scar on his cheek.

At this time a noisy party entered the main
room of the auberge, which I have described as
being visible through the glass-doors, and the
landlord had to leave me for a time, to go and
attend to them. I think I must have fallen
into a slight and strongly-resisted doze, and that
when I started out of it, it was in consequence
of the violent barking of my terrier. The land-
lord was in the room ; he was just unlocking
the cupboard from which the little girl had
taken the paper parcel. He took out just such
another paper parcel, and returned again through
the doors. As he did so, I remember stupidly
wondering what had become of the little girl.
Presently his evil face appeared again at the
door.

" I am going to prepare the coffee," said the
landlord ; " perhaps monsieur will like it better
than the wine."

As the man disappeared, I started suddenly
and violently upon my feet. I could deceive
myself no longer. My thoughts were like
lightning. " The wine having been taken in so
small a quantity and so profusely mixed with
water, has done its work (as this man can see)
but imperfectly. The coffee will finish that work.
He is now preparing it. The cupboard, the
little parcel there can be no doubt. I will
leave this place while I yet can. Now or never ;
if those men whose voices I hear in the other
room leave the house it will be too late. With
so many witnesses, no attempt can be made to
prevent my departure. I will not sleep I will
act I will force my muscles to their work, and
get away from this place."

Gentlemen; in compensation for a set oi



nerves of distressing sensitiveness, I have re-
ceived from nature a remarkable power of con-
lolling my nerves for a time. I staggered to
,he door, closing it after me more violently than
[ had intended, and descended the fresh air
making me feel very giddy into the yard.

As I went down "tlie steps, I saw "the trucu-
ent little girl of whom I have already spoken
entering the yard, followed by a blackmith,
carrying a hammer and some other implements
of his trade. Catching sight of me, the little
girl spoke quickly to the blacksmith, and in an
instant they both changed their course, which
was directed towards the stable, and entered an
outhouse on the other side of the yard. The
thought entered my head that this man had been
sent for to drive a nail into my horse's foot, so
that in the event of the drugged wine failing I
might still be unable to proceed. This horrible
idea added new force to my exertions. I seized
the shafts of my carriage and commenced drag-
ging it out of the yard and round to the front
of the house : feeling that if it was once in the
highway, there would be less possibility of offer-
ing any impediment to my starting. I am con-
scious of having fallen twice to the ground, in
my struggles to get the carriage out of the yard.
Next, I hastened to the stable. My mare was
still harnessed, with the exception of the head-
stall. I managed to get the bit into her mouth,
and dragged her to the place where I had left the
carriage. After I know not how many efforts
to place the docile beast in the shafts for I was
as incapable of calculating distances as a drunken
man I recollect, but how I know not, securing
the assistance of the boy I had seen. I was
making a final effort to fasten the trace to its
little pin, when a voice behind me said :

" Are you going away without drinking your
coffee ?'

I turned round and saw my landlord standing
close beside me. He was watching my bungling
efforts to secure the harness, but he made no
movement to assist me.

" I do not want any coffee," I answered.

" No coffee, and no wine ! It would appear
that the gentleman is not a great drinker. You
have not given your horse much of a rest," he
added, presently.

" I am in haste. What have I to pay r"

"You will take something else," said the
landlord ; "a glass of brandy before starting in
the wet ?"

" No, nothing more. What have I to pay ?"

" You will at least come in for an instant, and
warm your feet at the stove."

" No. Tell me at once how much I am to

'Baffled in all his efforts to get me again into
the house, my detested landlord had nothing for
it but to answer my demand.

" Four litres of oats," he muttered, " a half-
truss of hay, breakfast, wine, coffee" he em-
phasised the last two words with a malignant
grin" seven francs fifty centimes."

My mare was by this time somehow or other
buckled into the shafts, and now I had to get



Charles Dickons.]



A MESSAGE FROM. THE SEA.



[Decembor 13, 18CO.J 17



out my purse to pay this demand. My hands
were cold, my head was giddy, my sight was
dim, and, as I brought out my purse (which
was a porte-mounaic, opening with a hinge), I
managed while paying the bill to turn the purse
over and to drop some gold pieces.

" Gold !" cried the boy who had been helping
me to harness the horse : speaking as if by an
irresistible impulse.

The landlord made a sudden dart at it, but
instantly checked himself.

" People want plenty of gold," he said, " when
they make a journey of pleasure."

1 felt myself getting worse. I could not pick
up the gold pieces as they lay on the ground. I
fell on my knees, and my head bowed forward.
I could not hit the place where a coin lay ; I
could see it but I could not guide my fingers to
it. Still I did not yield. I got some of the
money up, and the stable-boy, who was very offi-
cious in assisting me, gave me one or two pieces
to this day, I don't know how many he kept.
I cast a hasty glance around, and, seeing no
more gold on the ground, raised myself by a
desperate effort and scrambled to my place in
the carriage. I shook the reins instinctively,
and the mare began to move.

The well-trained beast was beginning to trot
away as cleverly as usual, when a thought sud-
denly flashed into ray brain, as will sometimes
happen when we are just going to sleep a
thought which woke me up like a pistol-shot,
and caused me to spring forward and gather up
the reins so violently as almost to bring the
mare back upon her haunches.

" My dog, my dear little Nelly !" I had left her
behind !

To abandon my little favourite was a thing that
never entered my head. " No, I must return. I
must go back to the horrible place I have just
escaped from. He has seen my gold, too, now,"
I said to myself, as I turned my horse's head
with many clumsy efforts ; " the men who were
drinking in the auberge are gone; and, what
is worse than all, I feel more under the influ-
ence of the drugs I have swallowed."

As I approached the auberge once more, I re-
member noticing that its walls looked blacker
than ever, that the rain was falling more heavily,
that the landlord and the stable-boy were on
the steps of the inn, evidently on the look-out
for me. One thiugjnore I noticed ; on the road
a small speck, as of some velu'cle nearing the
place.

" I have come back for my dog," said I.

" I know nothing of your dog."

" It is false ! I left her shut up in the inner
room."

" Go there and find her, then," retorted the
man, throwing off all disguise.

" I will," was my answer.

I knew it was a trap to get me into the
house ; I knew I was lost if I entered it ; but I
did not care. I descended from the carriage, I
clambered up the steps with the aid of the
banisters, I heard the barking of my little Nelly
as 1 passed through the outer room and ap-



proached the glass-doors, steadying myself as
I went by the articles of furniture in the room.
I burst the doors open, and my favourite
bounded into my arms.

And now I felt that it was too late. As I
approached the door that opened to the road, I
saw my carriage being led round to the back of
the house, and the form of the landlord ap-

fared in the doorway blocking up the passage,
made an effort to push past him, but it was
useless. My little Nelly fell out of my arms on
the steps outside ; the landlord slammed the door
heavily ; r-nd I fell, without sense or knowledge,
at his feet.

*****

It was dark, Gentlemen, dark and very cold.
The little patch of sky I was looking up at, had
in it a marvellous number of stars, which would
have looked bright but for a blazing planet which
seemed to eclipse, in the absence of the moon, all
the other luminaries round about it. To lie thus,
was in spite of the cold, quite a luxurious sensa-
tion. As I turned my head to ease it a little (for
it seemed to have been in this position some
time), I felt stiff and weak. At this moment,
too, I feel a stirring close beside me, and
first a cold nose touching my hand, and then a
hot tongue licking it. As to my other sensations,
I was aware of a gentle rumbling sound, and I
could feel that I was being carried slowly along,
and that every now and then there was a slight
jolt : one of which, perhaps, more marked than
the rest, might be the cause of my being awake
at all.

Presently, other matters began to dawn upon
my mind through the medium of my senses. I
could see the regular movement of a horse's ears
walking in front of me; surely I saw, too,
part ot the figure of a man a pair of sturdy
shoulders, the hood of a coat, and a head with a
wide-awake hat upon it. I could hear the occa-
sional sounds of encouragement which seemed to
emanate from this figure, and which were ad-
dressed to the horse. I could hear the tinkling
of bells upon the animal's neck. Surely, too,
I heard a rumbling sound behind us, and the
tread of a horse's feet just as if there were an-
other vehicle following close upon us. Was there
anything more ? Yes, in the distance I was
able to detect the twinkling of a light or two,
as if a town were not far off.

Now, Gentlemen, as I lav and observed all these
things, there was such a languor shed over my
spirits, such a sense of utter but not unpleasant
weakness, that I hardly cared to ask myself
what it all meant, or to inquire where I was, or
how I came there. A conviction that all was
well with me, lay like an anodyne upon my
heart, and it was only slowly and gradually
that any curiosity as to how I came to be so,
developed itself in my brain. I dare say we had
been jogging along for a quarter of an hour
during which I had been perfectly conscious,
before I struggled up into a sitting posture,
and recognised the hooded back of the man at
the horse's head.

"Dufay?"



18 December 13, 18GO.]



A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA.



[Conducted bf



The man with the hooded coat who was walk-
ing by the side of the horse, suddenly cried out
" Wo !" in a sturdy voice ; then ran to the back
of the carriage and cried out "Wo!" again;
and then we came to a stand-still. In another
moment he had mounted on the step of the
carriage and had taken me cordially by the
hand.

"What," he said, "awake at last? Thank
Heaven! I had almost begun to despair of
you."

" My dear friend, what does all this mean ?
Where am I P Where did you come from?
This is not my caleche, that is not my horse."

" Both are safe behind," said Dufay, heartily ;
"and having told you so much, 1 will not
utter another word till you are safe and warm
at the Lion d'Or. See ! There are the lights
of the town. Now, not another word." And
pulling the horsecloth under which I was
lying, more closely over me, my friend dis-
mounted from the step; started the vehicle
with the customary cry of " Aliens done !" and
a crack of the whip ; and we were soon once
more in motion.

Castaing Dufay was a man into whose com-
pany circumstances had thrown me very often,
and with whom I had become intimate from
choice. Of the numerous class to which he
belonged, those men whose sturdy vehicles and
sturdier horses are to be seen standing in the
yards and stables of all the inns in provincial
France the class of the commis-voyageurs, or
French commercial travellers Castaing Dufay
was more than a favourable specimen. I was
very fond of him. In the course of our inti-
macy, I had been fortunate enough to have the
opportunity of being useful to him in matters of


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Online LibraryCharles DickensA message from the sea : The extra Christmas number of All the year round → online text (page 4 of 12)