Master Humphrey s Clock
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a contribution of its own. Many parts, even of the main streets,
with their projecting stories tottering overhead and nearly
shutting out the sky, were more like huge chimneys than open ways.
At the corners of some of these, great bonfires were burning to
prevent infection from the plague, of which it was rumoured that
some citizens had lately died; and few, who availing themselves of
the light thus afforded paused for a moment to look around them,
would have been disposed to doubt the existence of the disease, or
wonder at its dreadful visitations.
But it was not in such scenes as these, or even in the deep and
miry road, that Will Marks found the chief obstacles to his
progress. There were kites and ravens feeding in the streets (the
only scavengers the City kept), who, scenting what he carried,
followed the cart or fluttered on its top, and croaked their
knowledge of its burden and their ravenous appetite for prey.
There were distant fires, where the poor wood and plaster tenements
wasted fiercely, and whither crowds made their way, clamouring
eagerly for plunder, beating down all who came within their reach,
and yelling like devils let loose. There were single-handed men
flying from bands of ruffians, who pursued them with naked weapons,
and hunted them savagely; there were drunken, desperate robbers
issuing from their dens and staggering through the open streets
where no man dared molest them; there were vagabond servitors
returning from the Bear Garden, where had been good sport that day,
dragging after them their torn and bleeding dogs, or leaving them
to die and rot upon the road. Nothing was abroad but cruelty,
violence, and disorder.
Many were the interruptions which Will Marks encountered from these
stragglers, and many the narrow escapes he made. Now some stout
bully would take his seat upon the cart, insisting to be driven to
his own home, and now two or three men would come down upon him
together, and demand that on peril of his life he showed them what
he had inside. Then a party of the city watch, upon their rounds,
would draw across the road, and not satisfied with his tale,
question him closely, and revenge themselves by a little cuffing
and hustling for maltreatment sustained at other hands that night.
All these assailants had to be rebutted, some by fair words, some
by foul, and some by blows. But Will Marks was not the man to be
stopped or turned back now he had penetrated so far, and though he
got on slowly, still he made his way down Fleet-street and reached
the church at last.
As he had been forewarned, all was in readiness. Directly he
stopped, the coffin was removed by four men, who appeared so
suddenly that they seemed to have started from the earth. A fifth
mounted the cart, and scarcely allowing Will time to snatch from it
a little bundle containing such of his own clothes as he had thrown
off on assuming his disguise, drove briskly away. Will never saw
cart or man again.
He followed the body into the church, and it was well he lost no
time in doing so, for the door was immediately closed. There was
no light in the building save that which came from a couple of
torches borne by two men in cloaks, who stood upon the brink of a
vault. Each supported a female figure, and all observed a profound
By this dim and solemn glare, which made Will feel as though light
itself were dead, and its tomb the dreary arches that frowned
above, they placed the coffin in the vault, with uncovered heads,
and closed it up. One of the torch-bearers then turned to Will,
and stretched forth his hand, in which was a purse of gold.
Something told him directly that those were the same eyes which he
had seen beneath the mask.
'Take it,' said the cavalier in a low voice, 'and be happy. Though
these have been hasty obsequies, and no priest has blessed the
work, there will not be the less peace with thee thereafter, for
having laid his bones beside those of his little children. Keep
thy own counsel, for thy sake no less than ours, and God be with
'The blessing of a widowed mother on thy head, good friend!' cried
the younger lady through her tears; 'the blessing of one who has
now no hope or rest but in this grave!'
Will stood with the purse in his hand, and involuntarily made a
gesture as though he would return it, for though a thoughtless
fellow, he was of a frank and generous nature. But the two
gentlemen, extinguishing their torches, cautioned him to be gone,
as their common safety would be endangered by a longer delay; and
at the same time their retreating footsteps sounded through the
church. He turned, therefore, towards the point at which he had
entered, and seeing by a faint gleam in the distance that the door
was again partially open, groped his way towards it and so passed
into the street.
Meantime the local authorities of Kingston had kept watch and ward
all the previous night, fancying every now and then that dismal
shrieks were borne towards them on the wind, and frequently winking
to each other, and drawing closer to the fire as they drank the
health of the lonely sentinel, upon whom a clerical gentleman
present was especially severe by reason of his levity and youthful
folly. Two or three of the gravest in company, who were of a
theological turn, propounded to him the question, whether such a
character was not but poorly armed for single combat with the
Devil, and whether he himself would not have been a stronger
opponent; but the clerical gentleman, sharply reproving them for
their presumption in discussing such questions, clearly showed that
a fitter champion than Will could scarcely have been selected, not
only for that being a child of Satan, he was the less likely to be
alarmed by the appearance of his own father, but because Satan
himself would be at his ease in such company, and would not scruple
to kick up his heels to an extent which it was quite certain he
would never venture before clerical eyes, under whose influence (as
was notorious) he became quite a tame and milk-and-water character.
But when next morning arrived, and with it no Will Marks, and when
a strong party repairing to the spot, as a strong party ventured to
do in broad day, found Will gone and the gibbet empty, matters grew
serious indeed. The day passing away and no news arriving, and the
night going on also without any intelligence, the thing grew more
tremendous still; in short, the neighbourhood worked itself up to
such a comfortable pitch of mystery and horror, that it is a great
question whether the general feeling was not one of excessive
disappointment, when, on the second morning, Will Marks returned.
However this may be, back Will came in a very cool and collected
state, and appearing not to trouble himself much about anybody
except old John Podgers, who, having been sent for, was sitting in
the Town Hall crying slowly, and dozing between whiles. Having
embraced his uncle and assured him of his safety, Will mounted on a
table and told his story to the crowd.
And surely they would have been the most unreasonable crowd that
ever assembled together, if they had been in the least respect
disappointed with the tale he told them; for besides describing the
Witches' Dance to the minutest motion of their legs, and performing
it in character on the table, with the assistance of a broomstick,
he related how they had carried off the body in a copper caldron,
and so bewitched him, that he lost his senses until he found
himself lying under a hedge at least ten miles off, whence he had
straightway returned as they then beheld. The story gained such
universal applause that it soon afterwards brought down express
from London the great witch-finder of the age, the Heaven-born
Hopkins, who having examined Will closely on several points,
pronounced it the most extraordinary and the best accredited witch-
story ever known, under which title it was published at the Three
Bibles on London Bridge, in small quarto, with a view of the
caldron from an original drawing, and a portrait of the clerical
gentleman as he sat by the fire.
On one point Will was particularly careful: and that was to
describe for the witches he had seen, three impossible old females,
whose likenesses never were or will be. Thus he saved the lives of
the suspected parties, and of all other old women who were dragged
before him to be identified.
This circumstance occasioned John Podgers much grief and sorrow,
until happening one day to cast his eyes upon his house-keeper, and
observing her to be plainly afflicted with rheumatism, he procured
her to be burnt as an undoubted witch. For this service to the
state he was immediately knighted, and became from that time Sir
Will Marks never gained any clue to the mystery in which he had
been an actor, nor did any inscription in the church, which he
often visited afterwards, nor any of the limited inquiries that he
dared to make, yield him the least assistance. As he kept his own
secret, he was compelled to spend the gold discreetly and
sparingly. In the course of time he married the young lady of whom
I have already told you, whose maiden name is not recorded, with
whom he led a prosperous and happy life. Years and years after
this adventure, it was his wont to tell her upon a stormy night
that it was a great comfort to him to think those bones, to
whomsoever they might have once belonged, were not bleaching in the
troubled air, but were mouldering away with the dust of their own
kith and kindred in a quiet grave.
FURTHER PARTICULARS OF MASTER HUMPHREY'S VISITOR
Being very full of Mr. Pickwick's application, and highly pleased
with the compliment he had paid me, it will be readily supposed
that long before our next night of meeting I communicated it to my
three friends, who unanimously voted his admission into our body.
We all looked forward with some impatience to the occasion which
would enroll him among us, but I am greatly mistaken if Jack
Redburn and myself were not by many degrees the most impatient of
At length the night came, and a few minutes after ten Mr.
Pickwick's knock was heard at the street-door. He was shown into a
lower room, and I directly took my crooked stick and went to
accompany him up-stairs, in order that he might be presented with
all honour and formality.
'Mr. Pickwick,' said I, on entering the room, 'I am rejoiced to see
you, - rejoiced to believe that this is but the opening of a long
series of visits to this house, and but the beginning of a close
and lasting friendship.'
That gentleman made a suitable reply with a cordiality and
frankness peculiarly his own, and glanced with a smile towards two
persons behind the door, whom I had not at first observed, and whom
I immediately recognised as Mr. Samuel Weller and his father.
It was a warm evening, but the elder Mr. Weller was attired,
notwithstanding, in a most capacious greatcoat, and his chin