Wilkie Collins.

Hide and Seek online

. (page 1 of 37)
Online LibraryWilkie CollinsHide and Seek → online text (page 1 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by James Rusk


By Wilkie Collins









This novel ranks the third, in order of succession, of the works of
fiction which I have produced. The history of its reception, on its
first appearance, is soon told.

Unfortunately for me, "Hide And Seek" was originally published in the
year eighteen hundred and fifty-four, at the outbreak of the Crimean
War. All England felt the absorbing interest of watching that serious
national event; and new books - some of them books of far higher
pretensions than mine - found the minds of readers in general
pre-occupied or indifferent. My own little venture in fiction
necessarily felt the adverse influence of the time. The demand among
the booksellers was just large enough to exhaust the first edition, and
there the sale of this novel, in its original form, terminated.

Since that period, the book has been, in the technical phrase, "out
of print." Proposals have reached me, at various times, for its
republication; but I have resolutely abstained from availing myself of
them for two reasons.

In the first place, I was anxious to wait until "Hide And Seek" could
make its re-appearance on a footing of perfect equality with my other
works. In the second place, I was resolved to keep it back until it
might obtain the advantage of a careful revisal, guided by the light of
the author's later experience. The period for the accomplishment of
both these objects has now presented itself. "Hide And Seek," in this
edition, forms one among the uniform series of my novels, which has
begun with "Antonina," "The Dead Secret," and "The Woman In White;"
and which will be continued with "Basil," and "The Queen Of Hearts."
My project of revisal has, at the same time, been carefully and rigidly
executed. I have abridged, and in many cases omitted, several passages
in the first edition, which made larger demands upon the reader's
patience than I should now think it desirable to venture on if I were
writing a new book; and I have, in one important respect, so altered the
termination of the story as to make it, I hope, more satisfactory and
more complete than it was in its original form.

With such advantages, therefore, as my diligent revision can give it,
"Hide And Seek" now appeals, after an interval of seven years, for
another hearing. I cannot think it becoming - especially in this age of
universal self-assertion - to state the grounds on which I believe my
book to be worthy of gaining more attention than it obtained, through
accidental circumstances, when it was first published. Neither can I
consent to shelter myself under the favorable opinions which many of my
brother writers - and notably, the great writer to whom "Hide And Seek"
is dedicated - expressed of these pages when I originally wrote them. I
leave it to the reader to compare this novel - especially in reference
to the conception and delineation of character - with the two novels
("Antonina" and "Basil") which preceded it; and then to decide whether
my third attempt in fiction, with all its faults, was, or was not, an
advance in Art on my earlier efforts. This is all the favor I ask for a
work which I once wrote with anxious care - which I have since corrected
with no sparing hand - which I have now finally dismissed to take its
second journey through the world of letters as usefully and prosperously
as it can.



At a quarter to one o'clock, on a wet Sunday afternoon, in November
1837, Samuel Snoxell, page to Mr. Zachary Thorpe, of Baregrove Square,
London, left the area gate with three umbrellas under his arm, to meet
his master and mistress at the church door, on the conclusion of
morning service. Snoxell had been specially directed by the housemaid
to distribute his three umbrellas in the following manner: the new silk
umbrella was to be given to Mr. and Mrs. Thorpe; the old silk umbrella
was to be handed to Mr. Goodworth, Mrs. Thorpe's father; and the heavy
gingham was to be kept by Snoxell himself, for the special protection
of "Master Zack," aged six years, and the only child of Mr. Thorpe.
Furnished with these instructions, the page set forth on his way to the

The morning had been fine for November; but before midday the clouds had
gathered, the rain had begun, and the inveterate fog of the season had
closed dingily over the wet streets, far and near. The garden in the
middle of Baregrove Square - with its close-cut turf, its vacant beds,
its bran-new rustic seats, its withered young trees that had not yet
grown as high as the railings around them - seemed to be absolutely
rotting away in yellow mist and softly-steady rain, and was deserted
even by the cats. All blinds were drawn down for the most part over all
windows; what light came from the sky came like light seen through
dusty glass; the grim brown hue of the brick houses looked more
dirtily mournful than ever; the smoke from the chimney-pots was lost
mysteriously in deepening superincumbent fog; the muddy gutters gurgled;
the heavy rain-drops dripped into empty areas audibly. No object great
or small, no out-of-door litter whatever appeared anywhere, to break
the dismal uniformity of line and substance in the perspective of
the square. No living being moved over the watery pavement, save the
solitary Snoxell. He plodded on into a Crescent, and still the awful
Sunday solitude spread grimly humid all around him. He next entered a
street with some closed shops in it; and here, at last, some
consoling signs of human life attracted his attention. He now saw the
crossing-sweeper of the district (off duty till church came out) smoking
a pipe under the covered way that led to a mews. He detected, through
half closed shutters, a chemist's apprentice yawing over a large book.
He passed a navigator, an ostler, and two costermongers wandering
wearily backwards and forwards before a closed public-house door. He
heard the heavy _clop clop_ of thickly-booted feet advancing behind him,
and a stern voice growling, "Now then! be off with you, or you'll get
locked up!" - and, looking round, saw an orange-girl, guilty of having
obstructed an empty pavement by sitting on the curb-stone, driven along
before a policeman, who was followed admiringly by a ragged boy gnawing
a piece of orange-peel. Having delayed a moment to watch this Sunday
procession of three with melancholy curiosity as it moved by him,
Snoxell was about to turn the corner of a street which led directly to
the church, when a shrill series of cries in a child's voice struck on
his ear and stopped his progress immediately.

The page stood stock-still in astonishment for an instant - then pulled
the new silk umbrella from under his arm, and turned the corner in a
violent hurry. His suspicions had not deceived him. There was Mr. Thorpe
himself walking sternly homeward through the rain, before church was
over. He led by the hand "Master Zack," who was trotting along under
protest, with his hat half off his head, hanging as far back from his
father's side as he possibly could, and howling all the time at the
utmost pitch of a very powerful pair of lungs.

Mr. Thorpe stopped as he passed the page, and snatched the umbrella out
of Snoxell's hand, with unaccustomed impetuity; said sharply, "Go to
your mistress, go on to the church;" and then resumed his road home,
dragging his son after him faster than ever.

"Snoxy! Snoxy!" screamed Master Zack, turning round towards the page, so
that he tripped himself up and fell against his father's legs at every
third step; "I've been a naughty boy at church!"

"Ah! you look like it, you do," muttered Snoxell to himself
sarcastically, as he went on. With that expression of opinion, the
page approached the church portico, and waited sulkily among his fellow
servants and their umbrellas for the congregation to come out.

When Mr. Goodworth and Mrs. Thorpe left the church, the old gentleman,
regardless of appearances, seized eagerly on the despised gingham
umbrella, because it was the largest he could get, and took his daughter
home under it in triumph. Mrs. Thorpe was very silent, and sighed
dolefully once or twice, when her father's attention wandered from her
to the people passing along the street.

"You're fretting about Zack," said the old gentleman, looking round
suddenly at his daughter. "Never mind! leave it to me. I'll undertake to
beg him off this time."

"It's very disheartening and shocking to find him behaving so," said
Mrs. Thorpe, "after the careful way we've brought him up in, too!"

"Nonsense, my love! No, I don't mean that - I beg your pardon. But who
can be surprised that a child of six years old should be tired of a
sermon forty minutes long by my watch? I was tired of it myself I know,
though I wasn't candid enough to show it as the boy did. There! there!
we won't begin to argue: I'll beg Zack off this time, and we'll say no
more about it."

Mr. Goodworth's announcement of his benevolent intentions towards Zack
seemed to have very little effect on Mrs. Thorpe; but she said nothing
on that subject or any other during the rest of the dreary walk home,
through rain, fog, and mud, to Baregrove Square.

Rooms have their mysterious peculiarities of physiognomy as well as men.
There are plenty of rooms, all of much the same size, all furnished
in much the same manner, which, nevertheless, differ completely
in expression (if such a term may be allowed) one from the other;
reflecting the various characters of their inhabitants by such fine
varieties of effect in the furniture-features generally common to all,
as are often, like the infinitesimal varieties of eyes, noses, and
mouths, too intricately minute to be traceable. Now, the parlor of Mr.
Thorpe's house was neat, clean, comfortably and sensibly furnished.
It was of the average size. It had the usual side-board, dining-table,
looking-glass, scroll fender, marble chimney-piece with a clock on it,
carpet with a drugget over it, and wire window-blinds to keep people
from looking in, characteristic of all respectable London parlors of the
middle class. And yet it was an inveterately severe-looking room - a room
that seemed as if it had never been convivial, never uproarious,
never anything but sternly comfortable and serenely dull - a room which
appeared to be as unconscious of acts of mercy, and easy unreasoning
over-affectionate forgiveness to offenders of any kind - juvenile or
otherwise - as if it had been a cell in Newgate, or a private torturing
chamber in the Inquisition. Perhaps Mr. Goodworth felt thus affected
by the parlor (especially in November weather) as soon as he entered
it - for, although he had promised to beg Zack off, although Mr. Thorpe
was sitting alone by the table and accessible to petitions, with a book
in his hand, the old gentleman hesitated uneasily for a minute or two,
and suffered his daughter to speak first.

"Where is Zack?" asked Mrs. Thorpe, glancing quickly and nervously all
round her.

"He is locked up in my dressing-room," answered her husband without
taking his eyes off the book.

"In your dressing-room!" echoed Mrs. Thorpe, looking as startled and
horrified as if she had received a blow instead of an answer; "in your
dressing-room! Good heavens, Zachary! how do you know the child hasn't
got at your razors?"

"They are locked up," rejoined Mr. Thorpe, with the mildest reproof in
his voice, and the mournfullest self-possession in his manner. "I took
care before I left the boy, that he should get at nothing which could do
him any injury. He is locked up, and will remain locked up, because" -

"I say, Thorpe! won't you let him off this time?" interrupted Mr.
Goodworth, boldly plunging head foremost, with his petition for mercy,
into the conversation.

"If you had allowed me to proceed, sir," said Mr. Thorpe, who always
called his father-in-law _Sir,_ "I should have simply remarked that,
after having enlarged to my son (in such terms, you will observe, as I
thought best fitted to his comprehension) on the disgrace to his parents
and himself of his behavior this morning, I set him as a task three
verses to learn out of the 'Select Bible Texts for Children;' choosing
the verses which seemed most likely, if I may trust my own judgment
on the point, to impress on him what his behavior ought to be for the
future in church. He flatly refused to learn what I told him. It was, of
course, quite impossible to allow my authority to be set at defiance by
my own child (whose disobedient disposition has always, God knows, been
a source of constant trouble and anxiety to me); so I locked him up, and
locked up he will remain until he has obeyed me. My dear," (turning to
his wife and handing her a key), "I have no objection, if you wish, to
your going and trying what _you_ can do towards overcoming the obstinacy
of this unhappy child."

Mrs. Thorpe took the key, and went up stairs immediately - went up to do
what all women have done, from the time of the first mother; to do
what Eve did when Cain was wayward in his infancy, and cried at her
breast - in short, went up to coax her child.

Mr. Thorpe, when his wife closed the door, carefully looked down
the open page on his knee for the place where he had left off - found
it - referred back a moment to the last lines of the preceding leaf - and
then went on with his book, not taking the smallest notice of Mr.

"Thorpe!" cried the old gentleman, plunging head-foremost again, into
his son-in-law's reading this time instead of his talk, "You may say
what you please; but your notion of bringing up Zack is a wrong one

With the calmest imaginable expression of face, Mr. Thorpe looked up
from his book; and, first carefully putting a paper-knife between the
leaves, placed it on the table. He then crossed one of his legs over the
other, rested an elbow on each arm of his chair, and clasped his
hands in front of him. On the wall opposite hung several
lithographed portraits of distinguished preachers, in and out of the
Establishment - mostly represented as very sturdily-constructed men with
bristly hair, fronting the spectator interrogatively and holding thick
books in their hands. Upon one of these portraits - the name of the
original of which was stated at the foot of the print to be the Reverend
Aaron Yollop - Mr. Thorpe now fixed his eyes, with a faint approach to
a smile on his face (he never was known to laugh), and with a look and
manner which said as plainly as if he had spoken it: "This old man is
about to say something improper or absurd to me; but he is my wife's
father, it is my duty to bear with him, and therefore I am perfectly

"It's no use looking in that way, Thorpe," growled the old gentleman;
"I'm not to be put down by looks at my time of life. I may have my own
opinions I suppose, like other people; and I don't see why I shouldn't
express them, especially when they relate to my own daughter's boy. It's
very unreasonable of me, I dare say, but I think I ought to have a voice
now and then in Zack's bringing up."

Mr. Thorpe bowed respectfully - partly to Mr. Goodworth, partly to the
Reverend Aaron Yollop. "I shall always be happy, sir, to listen to any
expression of your opinion - "

"My opinion's this," burst out Mr. Goodworth. "You've no business to
take Zack to church at all, till he's some years older than he is now.
I don't deny that there may be a few children, here and there, at six
years old, who are so very patient, and so very - (what's the word for
a child that knows a deal more than he has any business to know at his
age? Stop! I've got it! - _precocious_ - that's the word) - so very patient
and so very precocious that they will sit quiet in the same place for
two hours; making believe all the time that they understand every word
of the service, whether they really do or not. I don't deny that there
may be such children, though I never met with them myself, and should
think them all impudent little hypocrites if I did! But Zack isn't one
of that sort: Zack's a genuine child (God bless him)! Zack - "

"Do I understand you, my dear sir," interposed Mr. Thorpe, sorrowfully
sarcastic, "to be praising the conduct of my son in disturbing the
congregation, and obliging me to take him out of church?"

"Nothing of the sort," retorted the old gentleman; "I'm not praising
Zack's conduct, but I _am_ blaming yours. Here it is in plain
words: - _You_ keep on cramming church down his throat; and _he_ keeps on
puking at it as if it was physic, because he don't know any better,
and can't know any better at his age. Is that the way to make him take
kindly to religious teaching? I know as well as you do, that he roared
like a young Turk at the sermon. And pray what was the subject of the
sermon? Justification by Faith. Do you mean to tell me that he, or any
other child at his time of life, could understand anything of such a
subject as that; or get an atom of good out of it? You can't - you know
you can't! I say again, it's no use taking him to church yet; and what's
more, it's worse than no use, for you only associate his first ideas
of religious instruction with everything in the way of restraint and
discipline and punishment that can be most irksome to him. There! that's
my opinion, and I should like to hear what you've got to say against

"Latitudinarianism," said Mr. Thorpe, looking and speaking straight at
the portrait of the Reverend Aaron Yollop.

"You can't fob me off with long words, which I don't understand, and
which I don't believe you can find in Johnson's Dictionary," continued
Mr. Goodworth doggedly. "You would do much better to take my advice, and
let Zack go to church, for the present, at his mother's knees. Let his
Morning Service be about ten minutes long; let your wife tell him, out
of the New Testament, about Our Savior's goodness and gentleness to
little children; and then let her teach him, from the Sermon on the
Mount, to be loving and truthful and forbearing and forgiving, for Our
Savior's sake. If such precepts as those are enforced - as they may be
in one way or another - by examples drawn from his own daily life; from
people around him; from what he meets with and notices and asks about,
out of doors and in - mark my words, he'll take kindly to his religious
instruction. I've seen that in other children: I've seen it in my own
children, who were all brought up so. Of course, you don't agree with
me! Of course you've got another objection all ready to bowl me down

"Rationalism," said Mr. Thorpe, still looking steadily at the
lithographed portrait of the Reverend Aaron Yollop.

"Well, your objection's a short one this time at any rate; and that's a
blessing!" said the old gentleman rather irritably. "Rationalism - eh? I
understand that _ism,_ I rather suspect, better than the other. It
means in plain English, that you think I'm wrong in only wanting to give
religious instruction the same chance with Zack which you let all other
kinds of instruction have - the chance of becoming useful by being first
made attractive. You can't get him to learn to read by telling him
that it will improve his mind - but you can by getting him to look at a
picture book. You can't get him to drink senna and salts by reasoning
with him about its doing him good - but you can by promising him a lump
of sugar to take after it. You admit this sort of principle so far,
because you're obliged; but the moment anybody wants (in a spirit of
perfect reverence and desire to do good) to extend it to higher things,
you purse up your lips, shake your head, and talk about Rationalism - as
if that was an answer! Well! well! it's no use talking - go your own
way - I wash my hands of the business altogether. But now I _am_ at
it I'll just say this one thing more before I've done: - your way of
punishing the boy for his behavior in church is, in my opinion, about as
bad and dangerous a one as could possibly be devised. Why not give him
a thrashing, if you _must_ punish the miserable little urchin for
what's his misfortune as much as his fault? Why not stop his pudding, or
something of that sort? Here you are associating verses in the Bible, in
his mind, with the idea of punishment and being locked up in the cold!
You may make him get his text by heart, I dare say, by fairly tiring him
out; but I tell you what I'm afraid you'll make him learn too, if you
don't mind - you'll make him learn to dislike the Bible as much as other
boys dislike the birch-rod!"

"Sir," cried Mr. Thorpe, turning suddenly round, and severely
confronting Mr. Goodworth, "once for all, I must most respectfully
insist on being spared for the future any open profanities in
conversation, even from your lips. All my regard and affection for you,
as Mrs. Thorpe's father, shall not prevent me from solemnly recording my
abhorrence of such awful infidelity as I believe to be involved in the
words you have just spoken! My religious convictions recoil - "

"Stop, sir!" said Mr. Goodworth, seriously and sternly.

Mr. Thorpe obeyed at once. The old gentleman's manner was generally
much more remarkable for heartiness than for dignity; but it altered
completely while he now spoke. As he struck his hand on the table, and
rose from his chair, there was something in his look which it was not
wise to disregard.

"Mr. Thorpe," he went on, more calmly, but very decidedly, "I refrain
from telling you what my opinion is of the 'respect' and 'affection'
which have allowed _you_ to rebuke _me_ in such terms as you have
chosen. I merely desire to say that I shall never need a second reproof
of the same kind at your hands; for I shall never again speak to you
on the subject of my grandson's education. If, in consideration of this
assurance, you will now permit me, in my turn - not to rebuke - but to
offer you one word of advice, I would recommend you not to be too ready
in future, lightly and cruelly to accuse a man of infidelity because
his religious opinions happen to differ on some subjects from yours. To
infer a serious motive for your opponent's convictions, however wrong
you may think them, can do _you_ no harm: to infer a scoffing motive can
do _him_ no good. We will say nothing more about this, if you please.
Let us shake hands, and never again revive a subject about which we
disagree too widely ever to discuss it with advantage."

At this moment the servant came in with lunch. Mr. Goodworth poured
himself out a glass of sherry, made a remark on the weather, and soon
resumed his cheerful, everyday manner. But he did not forget the pledge
that he had given to Mr. Thorpe. From that time forth, he never by word
or deed interfered again in his grandson's education.


While the theory of Mr. Thorpe's system of juvenile instruction was
being discussed in the free air of the parlor, the practical working
of that theory, so far as regarded the case of Master Zack, was being
exemplified in anything but a satisfactory manner, in the prison-region
of the dressing-room.

While she ascended the first flight of stairs, Mrs. Thorpe's ears
informed her that her son was firing off one uninterrupted volley of
kicks against the door of his place of confinement. As this was by no
means an unusual circumstance, whenever the boy happened to be locked up
for bad behavior, she felt distressed, but not at all surprised at what
she heard; and went into the drawing-room, on her way up stairs, to
deposit her Bible and Prayerbook (kept in a morocco case, with gold
clasps) on the little side-table, upon which they were always placed
during week-days. Possibly, she was so much agitated that her hand
trembled; possibly, she was in too great a hurry; possibly, the
household imp who rules the brittle destinies of domestic glass and
china, had marked her out as his destroying angel for that day; but
however it was, in placing the morocco case on the table, she knocked
down and broke an ornament standing near it - a little ivory model of a
church steeple in the florid style, enshrined in a glass case. Picking
up the fragments, and mourning over the catastrophe, occupied some
little time, more than she was aware of, before she at last left the
drawing-room, to proceed on her way to the upper regions.

As she laid her hand on the banisters, it struck her suddenly and
significantly, that the noises in the dressing-room above had entirely

The instant she satisfied herself of this, her maternal imagination,

Online LibraryWilkie CollinsHide and Seek → online text (page 1 of 37)