Master Humphrey s Clock
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As this was what everybody had been thinking of, they all took up
the word, and cried in concert, 'Ah! why don't you ask Will?'
'HE don't care,' said the farrier.
'Not he,' added another voice in the crowd.
'He don't believe in it, you know,' sneered a little man with a
yellow face and a taunting nose and chin, which he thrust out from
under the arm of a long man before him.
'Besides,' said a red-faced gentleman with a gruff voice, 'he's a
'That's the point!' said the farrier; and all the married men
murmured, ah! that was it, and they only wished they were single
themselves; they would show him what spirit was, very soon.
The messenger looked towards Will Marks beseechingly.
'It will be a wet night, friend, and my gray nag is tired after
yesterday's work - '
Here there was a general titter.
'But,' resumed Will, looking about him with a smile, 'if nobody
else puts in a better claim to go, for the credit of the town I am
your man, and I would be, if I had to go afoot. In five minutes I
shall be in the saddle, unless I am depriving any worthy gentleman
here of the honour of the adventure, which I wouldn't do for the
But here arose a double difficulty, for not only did John Podgers
combat the resolution with all the words he had, which were not
many, but the young lady combated it too with all the tears she
had, which were very many indeed. Will, however, being inflexible,
parried his uncle's objections with a joke, and coaxed the young
lady into a smile in three short whispers. As it was plain that he
set his mind upon it, and would go, John Podgers offered him a few
first-rate charms out of his own pocket, which he dutifully
declined to accept; and the young lady gave him a kiss, which he
'You see what a rare thing it is to be married,' said Will, 'and
how careful and considerate all these husbands are. There's not a
man among them but his heart is leaping to forestall me in this
adventure, and yet a strong sense of duty keeps him back. The
husbands in this one little town are a pattern to the world, and so
must the wives be too, for that matter, or they could never boast
half the influence they have!'
Waiting for no reply to this sarcasm, he snapped his fingers and
withdrew into the house, and thence into the stable, while some
busied themselves in refreshing the messenger, and others in
baiting his steed. In less than the specified time he returned by
another way, with a good cloak hanging over his arm, a good sword
girded by his side, and leading his good horse caparisoned for the
'Now,' said Will, leaping into the saddle at a bound, 'up and away.
Upon your mettle, friend, and push on. Good night!'
He kissed his hand to the girl, nodded to his drowsy uncle, waved
his cap to the rest - and off they flew pell-mell, as if all the
witches in England were in their horses' legs. They were out of
sight in a minute.
The men who were left behind shook their heads doubtfully, stroked
their chins, and shook their heads again. The farrier said that
certainly Will Marks was a good horseman, nobody should ever say he
denied that: but he was rash, very rash, and there was no telling
what the end of it might be; what did he go for, that was what he
wanted to know? He wished the young fellow no harm, but why did he
go? Everybody echoed these words, and shook their heads again,
having done which they wished John Podgers good night, and
straggled home to bed.
The Kingston people were in their first sleep when Will Marks and
his conductor rode through the town and up to the door of a house
where sundry grave functionaries were assembled, anxiously
expecting the arrival of the renowned Podgers. They were a little
disappointed to find a gay young man in his place; but they put the
best face upon the matter, and gave him full instructions how he
was to conceal himself behind the gibbet, and watch and listen to
the witches, and how at a certain time he was to burst forth and
cut and slash among them vigorously, so that the suspected parties
might be found bleeding in their beds next day, and thoroughly
confounded. They gave him a great quantity of wholesome advice
besides, and - which was more to the purpose with Will - a good
supper. All these things being done, and midnight nearly come,
they sallied forth to show him the spot where he was to keep his
The night was by this time dark and threatening. There was a
rumbling of distant thunder, and a low sighing of wind among the
trees, which was very dismal. The potentates of the town kept so
uncommonly close to Will that they trod upon his toes, or stumbled
against his ankles, or nearly tripped up his heels at every step he
took, and, besides these annoyances, their teeth chattered so with
fear, that he seemed to be accompanied by a dirge of castanets.
At last they made a halt at the opening of a lonely, desolate
space, and, pointing to a black object at some distance, asked Will
if he saw that, yonder.
'Yes,' he replied. 'What then?'
Informing him abruptly that it was the gibbet where he was to
watch, they wished him good night in an extremely friendly manner,
and ran back as fast as their feet would carry them.
Will walked boldly to the gibbet, and, glancing upwards when he
came under it, saw - certainly with satisfaction - that it was
empty, and that nothing dangled from the top but some iron chains,
which swung mournfully to and fro as they were moved by the breeze.
After a careful survey of every quarter he determined to take his
station with his face towards the town; both because that would
place him with his back to the wind, and because, if any trick or
surprise were attempted, it would probably come from that direction
in the first instance. Having taken these precautions, he wrapped
his cloak about him so that it left the handle of his sword free,
and ready to his hand, and leaning against the gallows-tree with
his cap not quite so much on one side as it had been before, took
up his position for the night.
SECOND CHAPTER OF MR. PICKWICK'S TALE
We left Will Marks leaning under the gibbet with his face towards
the town, scanning the distance with a keen eye, which sought to
pierce the darkness and catch the earliest glimpse of any person or
persons that might approach towards him. But all was quiet, and,
save the howling of the wind as it swept across the heath in gusts,
and the creaking of the chains that dangled above his head, there
was no sound to break the sullen stillness of the night. After
half an hour or so this monotony became more disconcerting to Will
than the most furious uproar would have been, and he heartily
wished for some one antagonist with whom he might have a fair
stand-up fight, if it were only to warm himself.
Truth to tell, it was a bitter wind, and seemed to blow to the very
heart of a man whose blood, heated but now with rapid riding, was
the more sensitive to the chilling blast. Will was a daring
fellow, and cared not a jot for hard knocks or sharp blades; but he
could not persuade himself to move or walk about, having just that
vague expectation of a sudden assault which made it a comfortable
thing to have something at his back, even though that something
were a gallows-tree. He had no great faith in the superstitions of
the age, still such of them as occurred to him did not serve to
lighten the time, or to render his situation the more endurable.
He remembered how witches were said to repair at that ghostly hour
to churchyards and gibbets, and such-like dismal spots, to pluck
the bleeding mandrake or scrape the flesh from dead men's bones, as
choice ingredients for their spells; how, stealing by night to
lonely places, they dug graves with their finger-nails, or anointed
themselves before riding in the air, with a delicate pomatum made
of the fat of infants newly boiled. These, and many other fabled
practices of a no less agreeable nature, and all having some
reference to the circumstances in which he was placed, passed and
repassed in quick succession through the mind of Will Marks, and
adding a shadowy dread to that distrust and watchfulness which his
situation inspired, rendered it, upon the whole, sufficiently
uncomfortable. As he had foreseen, too, the rain began to descend
heavily, and driving before the wind in a thick mist, obscured even
those few objects which the darkness of the night had before
'Look!' shrieked a voice. 'Great Heaven, it has fallen down, and
stands erect as if it lived!'
The speaker was close behind him; the voice was almost at his ear.
Will threw off his cloak, drew his sword, and darting swiftly
round, seized a woman by the wrist, who, recoiling from him with a
dreadful shriek, fell struggling upon her knees. Another woman,
clad, like her whom he had grasped, in mourning garments, stood
rooted to the spot on which they were, gazing upon his face with
wild and glaring eyes that quite appalled him.
'Say,' cried Will, when they had confronted each other thus for
some time, 'what are ye?'
'Say what are YOU,' returned the woman, 'who trouble even this
obscene resting-place of the dead, and strip the gibbet of its
honoured burden? Where is the body?'
He looked in wonder and affright from the woman who questioned him
to the other whose arm he clutched.
'Where is the body?' repeated the questioner more firmly than
before. 'You wear no livery which marks you for the hireling of
the government. You are no friend to us, or I should recognise
you, for the friends of such as we are few in number. What are you
then, and wherefore are you here?'
'I am no foe to the distressed and helpless,' said Will. 'Are ye
among that number? ye should be by your looks.'
'We are!' was the answer.
'Is it ye who have been wailing and weeping here under cover of the