Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/The science of matrimony - Part 1
THE SCIENCE OF MATRIMONY.
here is a city called London. In that city there is a Club House. But whether that Club House is situated in the W., S.W., E.C., or W.C. district, the world shall never know from me. It is in one of the four. The unclubbable S., S.E., E., N.E., N.W., and N. districts are out of the question.
In that Club House there is a smoking-room. Co-clubbists—above all, best beloved co-smokers—be calm! The world without shall never hear from me anything of our sacred mysteries. Let it be sufficient for work-o'-day mortals to know that there are ruptures beyond their reach, and joys far above their apprehension. Ariosto's Cupid should be our emblem, and "Illi vetabo" our motto. Not Mr. Edwin James, with a Middlesex Jury, should ever get a word out of me upon this point. In so sacred a cause I would have exchanged gibes with a Spanish Inquisitor, even though at the time he had arrayed me in the last thing in San Benito paletôts, with the flames upwards. No! not even were I handed over to the tender mercies of those Hindoo officials who collect the arrears of revenue in the Madras Presidency, would I ever flinch. Vainly would the grim Stikadar pronounce with furious tone the awful words "Ram jolli wa hûm!" which mean in the vernacular, "Apply the torture-beetle under an earthen pan to the abdominal region of the Prisoner at the Bar!” In the midst of the direst torment that Scarab could inflict, I would never give the Court a clue to our hidden joys.
There is, I say, a smoking-room in that Club House. The figures on the clock which stands on the chimney-piece point thus:
We are concerned with a.m., not with p.m. The rites are on foot—the sacrificial crowd is assembled. The odours of the incense hang heavily on the perfumed air. You see upon the edges of the marble tables batteries of cigar-ashes disposed in quaint rows, indicative of the spots where the more earnest smokers have taken up their position, and exchange lofty thoughts with their fellows. Here and there, there is a crystal vase—such an one as is commonly used in the celebration of the mysteries; it contains sometimes liquid amber—sometimes pure and effervescent lymph, strangely tinged with the aromatic flavour of the juniper berry: in either case you will see in it lumps of unmelted ice, and a long straw, no doubt to remind the philosophic reveller of the vanity of human enjoyments. The members are strangely attired—they wear blouses which are buttoned up to their chins, and each man has on a skull-cap, from beneath which not a lock of hair escapes. All are smoking—very hard.
Reader—this is a solemn moment in your life. You are admitted to a glimpse of the mysteries of “The Gone Coon Club.” Notice the buttons on the blouses; on each of them is engraved in fair characters the letters G.C., inscribed in a cypress wreath. Let me warn all whom it may concern, to dismiss from their minds all thought that the scene which follows will afford them the slightest clue to the ordinary conversation—if indeed conversation ever is ordinary—in the smoking-room of the Gone Coons. The occasion is no ordinary one. The Club is composed of oppressed husbands, who, driven to utter despair by the misery of their domestic arrangements, find means from time to time to shake off their chains, and to meet in the G.C. Club House—where that may be, find out who can. Not that any gentleman who may be groaning under the yoke of a stern task-mistress need therefore despair. The G.C.s have large hearts. They are ever on the watch for such cases of domestic distress as would entitle the sufferer to their sympathy, and the privileges of their society. When such an one is found, and his character offers fair guarantees of worth and discretion, his case is taken into consideration by the Committee. If their decision is favourable, he is sounded by an emissary of the Club. So dexterously is this managed, that cases have been known in which his proximate liberation has been announced to the captive, even when he had been attending upon his owner, and carrying a pyramid of cloaks and shawls, or receiving her guests upon the landing-place of her drawing-room, and endeavouring, in a large white cravat, to entrap unwary young men into marrying her daughters. There never has been known an instance of a refusal to join the G.C.C. When the victim has once expressed his eagerness to avail himself of the means of escape, a form is handed to him, which he is required to fill up. Thus it runs:
This application is next taken into consideration. If the result is satisfactory, the victim is directed to be at a particular place at a particular time, and, in due course, is introduced into the club. He is then informed by the chairman of the committee of the various pretences or subterfuges by help of which an escape from the conjugal domicile may be most safely effected, and with fewest chances of detection, and then he is finally initiated into the greater mysteries.
It would, of course, be highly injudicious, and, in point of fact, amount to a scandalous breach of confidence, to suggest any connection between the G.C.s and those Masonic Rites of which the secret has been so well kept. There have certainly existed dark suspicions in the female mind upon the subject. It is not for me to dispel them.
The subject under the consideration of the members upon the night in question was the recent trial of Barber v. Barber in the Divorce Court. The danger of the situation, as far as British husbands were concerned, seemed to be fully understood on all sides. Where would it end? The result of the recent changes in the law practically amounted to this, that in all disputes between husband and wife, the wife’s word was to be believed, and the husband to stand condemned. It was particularly noticed that in such cases the action of the Court upon the Jury was perfectly paralysed. Something, indeed, might be accomplished if it were found practicable to introduce a system of mixed juries—half matrons, half men; relying upon that well-known principle in human nature that each side will take part against its own members. To this it was objected that true it was that men would invariably kick each other out of Court; but it was not so well established that the esprit-de-corps against their own sex was equally strong amongst women. How, if it was found that by obtaining the concession of a half, or of an entire, female jury, we had passed from the reign of King Log under the sterner sceptre of Queen Stork? The point was too important to admit of hasty decision, and it was finally resolved that all members should be summoned within their various spheres of action and observation, to test the female mind upon this subject—directing their attention particularly to certain matters of detail, such as the effect likely to be produced by the age and general appearance of the Respondent. No doubt, if the lady petitioning was young and pretty, a female jury would make short work of her; but this was not always the case, and it was as well to be cautious.
A thoughtful member suggested, with a kind of sardonic grin, that perhaps it would be more advisable to establish that “celibacy” should be a distinct ground of challenge—“for, my friends,” said he, looking round, “if we had been on the Jury in Mrs. Barber’s case—knowing what we do know of the mysteries—eh?” There was a great silence—the members smoked on in deep thought: at last a husky voice demanded to be heard—it was that of Brown, known among the G. C.s as Brown the Avenger, from the multitude of his wrongs, and from his vindictiveness against the authors of them. B.’s authority stood high in the Club. There was a respectful silence.
“Noble and suffering friends,” said B. the A, “the proposition is specious, but it is nought. Look at me. I was once young, slim, beautiful, and enthusiastic. I was a Poet—I took midnight walks when the moon was at the full (the Moon, ugh!—). I loved to listen to the nightingale’s song, and to dream of Maria. Maria became my wife. She left my home—our home—and I could now eat nightingales stewed in onions. Look at me now!”
Even under his blouse it was obvious that B. the A. was a man of goodly proportions, and the expression of his broad features was not suggestive of romantic ideas. B. continued.
“Well—again I did it. This time Annabella did not quit my house—she did not become Mrs. O’Shaughnessy during the life of me, Brown! I wish she had! Well, Annabella passed away. Jane rushed in to take her p1ace—my idolised Jane carried the science of ‘nagging’ (hear! hear! hear!) to a point which has been seldom equalled, and never surpassed. Would you not have supposed that I should have rejoiced and revelled in my liberty?—that I should not have put myself a third time in the power of the tormentor? I did though. Within the eighteen months I conducted Sophia Ann to the hymeneal altar. Sophia Ann exists—she adores me, my friends, she adores me; and I never knew the meaning of human misery till now! Oh! Oh! Oh!”
There was a respectful silence—the enormity of this affliction was such, that all words of consolation were felt to be a mockery. We let B. the A.’s anguish have its way. He resumed.
“And do you suppose this is the worst of it! No! like Hippolytus, I curse the sex,—but the iron has entered into my soul. I am their slave. Were my Sophia to be torn from me to-morrow—I know it—within a few months I should be the victim of some fresh fascination—I can’t resist it—I can’t struggle against it. You all of you know my particular wrongs, and that I am not a husband who yields his neck to the axe without a struggle—but I, I Brown, falsely named the Avenger, had I been on the jury in poor Barber’s case the other day, I would have kicked him out of court, and found a verdict for the wife without the smallest hesitation. How is this brought about? Why because there is not one amongst us—not even amongst us, the Prætorians of the human race—connubial veterans grim with scars and suffering—whom the first woman we met could not at any moment tease, cajole, coax, flout, pet, allure, madden, or bedevil into doing anything she pleased. Is it the truth?”
There was again silence, and a deep voice struck in—
Except our wives!
This exception met with general acquiescence. The question, however, remained how some remedy could be applied to the existing evil. It was greatly to be feared, as one gentleman suggested, whose lady had imbibed a taste for “private theatricals,” that Mrs. Barber’s example might be contagious. What boards for a first appearance before the London public! How exciting a part to play! What certainty of bringing down the house! Could the offensive exactions of the law, with regard to the proof of sævitia or cruelty be expunged, all the G.C.s admitted that their case would be much improved; but this was scarcely to be hoped for. Would it be possible to turn the table upon the too fascinating syrens who could, at any moment, sing away the characters of their husbands by an hour or two of dalliance in Sir Cresswell’s gorgeous cage?
Ay! there was the rub; but how was this to be contrived? Who was to bell these soft, alluring, velvet-pawed, sharp-clawed, stealthily-paced, beautiful, but fatal cats?
At length a definite proposition was offered to the notice of the afflicted husbands. It was proposed that a central committee should be formed, with Mr. Brown (otherwise known as the Avenger) as the chairman, and that to this committee should be forwarded the results of the private experience of every member who could be induced to lend his aid to the furtherance of so excellent a work; that the most remarkable of these contributions should be selected for publication, more especially those which illustrated the less known and more subtle forms of marital suffering; that it should be broadly and clearly understood that the G.C.s fully acknowledged that there were thousands and thousands of households throughout the land which were not under subjection to the forms of feminine despotism described, and that they prayed the intelligent reader to accept their revelations for what they were worth—viz., contributions to that needful fund of information upon which alone true theories of the Pathology of Married Life can be based.
The G.C.s, as at present advised, did not pretend to go further than the assertion of what appeared to them to be twelve probable truths, viz.:—
lst. Of 1000 men and 1000 women taken at random in the British Islands, there is, on both sides, an equal percentage of good, indifferent, and bad. The indifferent largely predominate.
2nd. That any lady who may be reading these lines belongs emphatically to the category of the good.
3rd. That the vices and virtues, the qualities and defects of the two sexes are different; but that, on the whole, there is equilibrium.
Corollary. That all men are not brutes, nor all women angels.
4th. That in so close a union as that of married life the stronger will prevails, and that the force of will is as strong with women as with men; but that it works otherwise to its results.
5th. That the power of the woman is based upon her thorough perception and appreciation of the weaknesses of the man.
6th. That men, in the vast majority of cases, are very weak.
7th. That positive law never touches, and never can touch, the miseries and discomforts—where they exist—of married life, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred.
8th. That there is a passion, sentiment, or impulse, which can instantaneously convert the gravest and oldest man equally with the most thoughtless and youngest boy into a mere idiot. The poets call it L—e: the G.C.s don’t know what to say about it.
9th. That if a man values his own peace of mind he had better keep out of the way of pink bonnets and Balmoral boots.
10th. That the marriage day and that day year, are two different days.
llth. That the husband and wife know nothing more of each other’s qualities and defects when they join hands at the altar, than if they had been natives of different planets.
Corollary. The longer the courtship, the greater the chance of error, for the deception has been more enduring and continuous.
Axiom. Leap before you look!
12th. That subjection to another’s will is the inevitable lot of weak minds.
Corollary. Old maids and old bachelors, therefore, are only impaled on other quills of the social porcupine.
The G.C.s, conscious as they are of writhing under the infliction of unmerited wrong, cheerfully acknowledge the great truth that, as there are two sides to every story, so there are, preeminently, two sides to the unhappy tale of connubial blisters. The G.C.’s can contemplate, and admit, the existence of a sister band of F.G.C.s, and they think that the world would be much the gainer if the real wrongs of the true F.G.C.s were fairly set forth in a calm and philosophic spirit, but not in the pantomimic way now in use at Westminster—where the immediate object is the destruction of a single and, it may be, an inoffensive husband.
It was agreed, after considerable discussion, that the order of reference to the Committee should include the consideration of reported cases of Connubial Bliss; Mr. Brown simply observing, that he did not think the point worth arguing, for the Committee would not be troubled with much evidence of that kind. Would it be possible to secure the assistance of Messrs Lamb and Rackem? Grave doubts existed as to the policy of such a step, for would it be well to let such a wolf as Lamb in upon their little tranquil fold—upon that green oasis in the wilderness of their married lives—that one bright spot in their existence? What if Mr. Lamb should rout them out, and drag them before the Court at Westminster, and expose the secrets of their last retreat? It was finally decided that it should be competent to the Committee to direct one of their number to seek the acquaintance of Mr. Lamb, and to obtain his confidence over the festive board, and that Mr. Lancelot Knocker, G.C., should be a Sub-Committee for this purpose. Mr. L. K. was a man of the most jovial appearance, whose home was rendered unbearable to him by Mrs. K.’s seriousness.
The Committee were named as follows: Mr. Brown (the Avenger), Chairman; Mr. Lancelot Knocker, Mr. Ambrose Goodbody, Mr. Josiah Meek, Mr. Martin Wriggles—three to be a quorum.
They were finally informed that the Club looked to them, not so much for a recital of their personal adventures in search of information, as for bonâ fide contributions to the science of Connubial Pathology, which it was the well-considered purpose of the Club to raise henceforward to the rank of one of the Inductive Sciences. What they required from their Committee was facts, not opinions—facts, the only true basis of theory.
Per B. the A., Chairman.—You shall have the facts; you shall have them, gentlemen—plenty as blackberries.
Above all, the Committee were implored to dismiss from their minds all literary nonsense which had been written on the tender passion, and to look at men and women as they are, not what they appear to be to the crazed imagination of the Novelist or the Poet. The G.C.s had noticed, not without feelings of great dissatisfaction, the systematic efforts made by that class of writers to represent human life as an opium dream, and to impress upon the mind of the female population of these realms the mistaken notion that a quarter of an hour’s delirium can be taken as a fair sample of the necessities of a form of existence in which the presence of Chancellors of the Exchequer, weekly bills, and occasional colds in the head, cannot be wholly ignored. Admitting, at the same time, to its fullest extent, the undoubted truth, that husbands are far inferior, as a class, to wives in personal attractions, the G.C.’s deplore the continuous and studious efforts made by modern writers of what may pre-eminently be called “fiction,” to depreciate them in public estimation, as a set of mere ruffians. Ugly they may be, but that is not their fault, and they would humbly submit that they are not therefore wholly destitute of claims upon the sympathy of the human race.
Such was the general form of the instructions given to their committee by the G.C.s in solemn conclave assembled upon that eventful night; but it was clearly understood that the special directions should not be taken as limiting the discretion of their representatives, if they should see fit to bring before the notice of the general meetings, held from time to time to take their reports into consideration, any suggestions for the improvement of married life—any philosophical disquisitions upon the origin and progress of evils which all deplored. For example, the G.C.s would gladly receive information upon the manner in which female education was conducted throughout the country. They would watch the future British matron from her cradle to her school-room; from the schoolroom to the “seminary;” from the seminary to the finishing school. They would inquire into the way in which her tastes were engendered, her habits formed, her pursuits selected, until that awful result was produced which rendered the G.C. Club one of the most valuable institutions in the country—a safety-valve, without which the Social Boiler would infallibly burst and be shivered into atoms.
When the business was disposed of, an acolyte was summoned, the crystal vases were replenished, the censers were again swung round so that the air was heavy with aromatic fragrance, and the members relapsed into High Jinks. First it was proposed that they should play at “les petits jeux innocens!”
Mr. Josiah Meek entertained the company with a chaste imitation of the manner in which he was commonly received within his own castle when the period of his absence had not been sufficiently accounted for. It was beautiful to see the look of contemptuous surprise with which he was greeted, and to hear the intimation given by Mrs. M. that she had not expected him till 3 a.m., and had given orders accordingly to the servants to retire, as she herself would sit up for their master, to comfort him on his arrival. Then there was a gentleman, a certain Mr. Ambrose Goodbody, whose domestic tortures appeared to be of a peculiar kind. Mrs. G. was a lady of a literary turn, and amused her leisure, and, as she asserted, added to the family income, by writing works upon the social condition of England; and it appeared that when she was in want of a chapter, she was in the habit of practising upon poor G. as a corpus vile. She would bait him into a frenzy, and, when she had got matter enough, retire quietly to her writing-case, and record his struggles—always introducing the British Wife, Sister, &c., as his soother and keeper during these maniacal exercitations. Goodbody told the G.C.s that he was now so well accustomed to be used as a conjugal Helot, that he did not mind it much—but there was one point to which he never could reconcile himself, and that was, that Mrs. G. invariably required him to correct her proofs.
Then the G.C.s formed themselves into a Committee of Matrons, and discussed their servants, their nurseries—the latest improvements in dress. Each explained in turn to her fellows the little difficulties she encountered in keeping down her “incumbrancer;” and each in turn received comfort and counsel from her friends. If this representation was indeed a true one, these little arrangements are formed and welded into a diabolical cold-blooded system, from which men would in vain endeavour to escape. It was suggested by one inconsiderate and youthful G.C., that it was a man’s own fault if he was enmeshed in the matrimonial web; for, after all, the forms of proposal rested with himself. This thoughtless suggestion was received with a shout of derision, and the larger experience of the collective assembly was brought to bear upon a demonstration of its absurdity.
A member was selected, Mr. Martin Wriggles, and he was held out as an ingenuous youth, with life before him, and the world as a meadow, in which he was to take his pastime. The fast young lady, the sentimental young lady, the serious young lady, the intellectual young lady, made successive attacks upon him; but Wriggles was a man of strong mind, and held out. All his female friends took part against him, though each abused her rivals in a quiet depreciatory way, which furnished abundant food for reflection to any person of well-regulated mind. An experienced widow of forty-two took him in hand, but without effect; W. happened at the moment to be under the influence of a fit of ambition, and was getting up Adam Smith as a step towards the Premiership. The widow pronounced him to be a fool without “soul;” but Wriggles, three months afterwards, was caught by the rosy-checked penniless daughter of a Consul in one of the Baltic Ports. What he wanted was unsophisticated nature. Mrs. W. is now given up to sentiment and spirit-rapping, and suffers tortures from the coarse vulgarity of that brute W.; whose only gleams of happiness occur during occasional visits to the G.C. Occasio facit maritum.
When these little matters were disposed of, much amusement was afforded to the Club by Brown the Avenger, who entertained them for a time by reading out the letters which he had written during the period of his courtship to Mrs. S. B., the Queen-regnant, being the fourth of that dynasty. It was clear enough that it was not all a joke to poor B., who emphasised certain passages, and informed his sympathising friends how the realities had tallied with his anticipations. Indeed, so much instruction as well as amusement was afforded by this lecture, that it was proposed, and carried nem. con., that at a future meeting of the Club, all members should produce the luscious correspondence which had preceded the fall of each poor bee into the honey-pot; and that the results should be carefully recorded for the warning of the rising generation.
One member had scarcely taken any share in the proceedings, although he had been laughed at by his fellows, but with that kindliness of spirit which invariably distinguishes the little personalities of the G.C.s towards each other. This gentleman was known amongst his fellows as “Gloomy Bob.” There was nothing so very peculiar about his case—Mrs. R. Bircham had only taken to physicking herself, her husband, and her household; but the process had so weighed upon his spirits that he had sought for an antidote against the present evils of existence in a philosophic investigation of mesmeric phenomena. Gloomy Bob—as had been evident of late to the anxious eyes of his friends—had been in a deeper state of despondency than usual, and this was not sufficiently accounted for by the fact that Mrs. B. had recently put him through a searching course of digitalis. There was more in it than this. He had, at last, sunk to a point at which he could scarcely distinguish between his thick-coming fancies and the actual facts of his life. When pressed, again and again, he said at length:
“Yes! my friends, I will tell you all. Ring for Charles. Was it a vision? Was it a fact? Oh, no! it can never, never be! Charles—three pen’north of brandy! Yes! you shall hear the tale of my chief and latest sorrow, and assist me in instituting investigations which may lead us to certainties. I had thought that my bonds must needs be broken in a few years—is it true, indeed, that they are for all time—for ever—for ever thus?
“You are well aware,” so Gloomy Bob began his awful disclosures, “that it is currently reported in the club that I had taken refuge in the study of magnetic phenomena, as a refuge from the miseries to which my actual life is exposed in consequence of my having, in an unguarded moment, strolled home from a pic-nic, by moonlight, with the then lovely and tender Caroline Downy, now the stern and implacable Mrs. Robert Bircham—first on, and then in, my arm.
“We were married, my friends—we were married! But within the first week of our marriage, my wife began to govern me by her health. Her head was always aching—she required medical advice.
“Our honeymoon was spent at an establishment for the cold-water cure—not quite what I had anticipated. We passed through a course of allopathy, homœopathy, kinopathy, and various other systems: but, at length, my wife became thoroughly imbued with the principles of magnetism, and from these she has never since departed. In an evil hour I consented to act as her medium—I have never known a happy moment since.
“With a few passes Mrs. B. can, at any time, throw me into the magnetic state. She then applies the Morning Post to the pit of my stomach, and becomes aware of its contents instantaneously through my instrumentality. The sensation to me, however, is most distressing. Even when I am away from her presence, she can, by a mere effort of her iron will, constitute me her active medium, and, when I am in this condition, all her own sensations find their counterpart in mine. If Mrs. B. were to take a dose—but enough of this—be it sufficient for you to know that, though twenty miles distant from her, I should feel the effects.
“Her power is enormous. You vainly imagine, I dare say, that those inscriptions which you see on the walls of London and the neighbourhood, with futile inquiries as to ‘Whether you bruise your oats?’ ‘Have you tried the Eureka shirts?’ &c., really bear reference to the trivial subjects with which they profess to deal. Bah! they appear so to your eyes; but to me they are luminous inscriptions pregnant with my fate, and indicative of Mrs. Robert Bircham’s commands. I have passed through the six magnetic states—having lingered for six months at that of clairvoyance; but now, unfortunately for myself, I am greatly favoured, and greatly miserable. I have won my way, or been forced, to the condition of allgemeine klarheit, in which all things hidden in the past, in futurity, and in distance of space are subjected to my survey. I think it right to tell you this much, that you may be able to form your own opinions upon the reality or unreality of the facts I am about to relate to you.
“THE STORY OF THE WANDERING JEW.
“A few months back—nay, I will fix the exact date, as it may perhaps prove of importance in the solution of the question—it was on the afternoon of the last Saturday of last November, I had strayed away from my prison-home, and felt in unusual spirits. I walked in the direction of the eastern districts of London—a portion of the town not much known to Londoners of the West-end, but which has always possessed for me unusual interest—was it by a secret anticipation that there I was to meet with the last and direst blow of my unhappy life? There is something very picturesque in this portion of the town to those who are in the habit of pacing round the monotonous circle of the more usual and fashionable strolling ground.
“I finally found myself in the Jewish quarter—too commonly known, I believe, as Houndsditch. On every side inscriptions greeted my eye to the effect that Pine Apple Rum was sold here by permission of Dr. Adler! or, ‘Here’s your only unleavened bread, patronised by Dr. Adler!’ or a corn extracted from the venerable foot of Dr. Adler was exhibited in a window, with a Hebrew inscription around it, which might possibly be in eulogy of the extractor’s skill. Dr. Adler was evidently the Sir Watkin of this Hebrew Llangollen. The Jewish population had re-opened their various establishments for the despatch of business, and I was assailed on all sides with questions as to whether I was willing ‘to buy or shell.’ ‘Vood I shtep in? de besht prishes given for old clo.’ ‘Vood dey vait upon me at moine own housh?’ Turning a deaf ear to all these commercial offers, I strolled on up the three or four steps, and through the little halfpenny turnpike into Phils Buildings, forgetful of my sufferings, and amused with the ingenuous manner in which the population of all ages, and of both sexes, worked out their manifest destiny. The little yellow-skinned children in the gutters tried to take advantage of each other in innocent bargains for toffy and brandy-balls; while the tawny Esther in the sere and yellow bloom of her lovely maidenhood examined the nap on the hat of her beloved Benjamin, and risked a guess at its probable price; whilst Benjamin, evading her question, glared out of his keen Jewish eyes—luminous beads set in yellow plaster of Paris—counter inquiries as to the worth of the ponderous rings which gave to the ears of his beloved a commercial value. At this moment, and whilst I was in the principal street of this interesting quarter, there was a great stir and commotion. Fat, flabby matrons—old hook-nosed men—Jewish youths and maidens—Jewish boys and girls, rushed out from their pavilions of old and renovated clothes—threw up the windows—and appeared upon the roofs. The whole street was walled and paved with what is called by sentimentalists the monumental face. There was a shout and a cry of—
“‘De Old One! De Old One!’
“I saw him coming down the street; I saw him as clearly as I now see Mr. Brown. He was very tall, very old, very bent. Upon his shoulders there was a sack, and in his hand a staff; but he walked on looking directly before him, and heedless of the inquiries which were addressed to him on every side, of ‘How much for his hat?’ ‘A noo pair for de old shoes, and five and shiksh!’ ‘Would he shell anyt’ing?’ It was unnecessary for me to ask questions. I knew who the old man was who was advancing towards me at a pace which would have puzzled the late Captain Barclay. I knew but too well that I saw before me
“The Wandering Jew.
“I drew back as he was about to pass me, but what was my astonishment to find that when he came to where I stood, he paused in the monotonous impetuosity of his career, and glaring at me with a horrid glassy stare which froze the very marrow in my bones, groaned out in a voice deep and hollow as the moan of the sea in a subterranean cave—
“‘Klo! Klo! Any Old Klo?’
“I stood amazed and silent; my feet were rooted to the ground. Again he addressed me, but this time there was mockery in his tone:
“‘Klo! Klo! Any Old Klo?’
“Fain, fain would I have declined to hold any dealings with him, but my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth. Even thought seemed paralysed in my brain. Again he addressed me, but this time not as I fancied wholly without menace:
What had I to do with garments—old or new? Could I but understand the meaning of the mysterious apparition. The old Jew, after a moment’s pause, added:
“‘Komm mit me!’
“In an instant I was inspired with super-human force, and followed my grim conductor without a without a word of remonstrance. The spell was on me, and I must needs obey. I believe the crowd shouted at us as we passed along; but I was in no humour to notice their outcry, nor to take advantage of the offers for commercial intercourse with which my ears were greeted on all sides.
“We passed out from the busier quarters, and soon found ourselves involved in those solitary streets of tall warehouses with bridges passing from side to side, which run along the river banks, and at length reached the water’s edge. The full moon gave splendour even to the waters of the Thames—and the tiers of shipping threw up their delicate traceries of spare and rigging between us and the sky.
“When is this walk to end?” I said, at length.
“But why this speed? Why this mad haste?
“‘Why this shpeed? Why this hashte? I vill tell you whoy, ma tear. My wife ish behind!’
“‘Yesh! my woife, de Wandering Jewess. She have been chasing me for well-nigh nineteen hundred year. Undershtand you now why I run?’
“I do! I do!
“‘Sometime my Shalome catch me; sometime she catch me not—but I know when she is at hand. Shalome is very shtout, and heavy to move—but she run me down at last. I have a few hours before me yet. We will shmoke a pipe together, and have a little talk. Will you shay seven and nine for your coat? No—not buy, neither shell? Very coot, but you come mit me to de Jews’ Ball, here hard by, to-night. Shalome was at Amshterdam tree day back. I may eshcape her yet. I have a word for your private ear. I am de only man in de vorld who have been married two hundred and sixty-six toime. Ha! Ha! to say nothing of my good Shalome, who ish always after me for pigamy. Ha! Ha! Would you make friendsh mit de poor old
Awful and mysterious Being! Bestower of two hundred and sixty-six plain gold rings! What unfathomable depths of connubial experience must lie behind those dim orbs, which although opaque when the old man gazed listlessly up at the moon, which gazed down as listlessly upon him, yet, when he was under excitement, emitted a glare such as that which would proceed from two bull’s eyes held in the firm grasp of two guardians of the public peace. Two hundred and sixty-six other men might know the story piece-meal, but here was one human intelligence which contained it all. They might form a tesselated pavement of knowledge—here was the perfect slab. At length, I said,
“Two hundred and sixty-six wives—awful!
“‘Besides Salome!’ murmured the ancient man, who by this time had seated himself on his sack, and lighted a pipe. The river was steadily flowing on, as it had flowed while as yet the wealth and power of the world were concentrated on the vast star-lit plains of Assyria; or by the banks of the yellow Nile, when the fourth Psammetichus had taken his pastime in his golden galley on its turbid stream; or when by Tiber’s edge, the great Roman fell beneath the daggers of Freedom’s Masquerade; even so it flowed now—now when the Waterman’s Steamers were in the habit of conveying the ephemeral lords of the human race from London Bridge to Cheyne Walk during the pleasant summer months; and I sate gazing on it as it ebbed down to the sea.
“‘Jew,’ at length I gasped out, my curiosity overpowering my fears, ‘Jew, didst thou ever love?’
“‘Ha, ha, ha! I am alwash in love, that is my cursh, but alvays mit de wrong party. See here my two hundred and shixty-shiksh ringsh. I did love them all a little while, and then they vexsh de poor old Jew, and he love them no more. See there two hundred and shixty-shiksh ringsh, say at ten shilling a piesh—dirt sheap for de monish—dat is one hundred and thirty-three poundsh shterling. I have got dem all, and I vood not part mit dem for two hundred and shixty-shiksh millions shterling. All—I have got dem all—but ma tear woife Shalome’s; when he get that one, de poor old Jew will be at resht: but Shalome’s finger is very fat. Love! Has de poor old Jew ever loved? Ha! ha!’
“With these words this mysterious being rose from his seat, and, to my amazement, began pacing round in a circle at a rapid walk—sometimes looking down to his own feet—sometimes casting a worn and wizard look upwards at the moon. For some time he continued this exercise in a monotonous way. Still the river flowed on, and then, in sepulchral tone, he chanted rather than sang, the following words. Never!—no, never, whilst reason maintains its hold, will they be effaced from my burning brain!
“‘Ikey come from Down Easht,
A long time ago!
And every time he veel about
He call—Old clo!
Clo! clo! any old clo!
Every time he veel about
He call—Old clo!’
When he arrived at the words which may, without much impropriety be designated as the chorus, the ancient man executed a strange shuffling dance, not very dissimilar from the one in which the British mariner in moments of unusual hilarity is wont to shadow forth his soul’s emotions. He continued:
“‘He love the sheksh mit all his shoul,
De brown, de black, de fair,
But of dem all, from pole to pole,
De gal mit shandy hair,—’
He paused, and added, in shrill recitative, “‘Whoop! makes the poor old Jew to call—
“‘Clo! clo! any old clo!
Every time he veel about
He call—Old clo!’
“A change had come over his mood. There was somewhat of despondency tinged with defiance about the tone in which he delivered the next strophe. The river flowed on:
“‘Of all de ladish in de land,
His woife’s de one he fearsh;
Shalome chase him up and down
For eighteen hundred yearsh.
Clo! clo! any old clo!
Every time he veel about
He call—Old clo!
“‘Husbandsh all—vot appensh next,
Ven de pair ish gone to ped?
Shalome she is werry wexed,
And voshes Ikey’s ’ed!
Clo! clo! any old clo!
Every time he veel about
He call—Old clo!’
“Forbear, Jew, forbear! Not even your age—your wanderings—your woe—give you a right thus to torture a human heart. But is not your punishment exceptional as your crime? Are we all destined to equal sorrow?
“‘Ikey can’t de shecrets shing
Of dose eternal hallsh;
But when you’ve bought de veddin-ring,
Ma tear, look out for squallsh!
Clo! clo! any old clo!
Every time he veels about
He calls—Old Clo!’
“But is there no help, Jew, no relief? Will Mrs. Robert Bircham be either by my tortured side throughout eternity, or chasing me—her panting victim—from star to star?
“‘She vill! exshept you teal mit poor old Ikey. De shecret is in de buzshum of de Wandering Jew. Vot vill you shay now? Or shall ve teal after de pall to-night? Moin heart is light. I vill tance and shing. You musht come mit me to de pall.’
“Impose your own conditions, awful being! I accept them at once.
“‘Ve shall shee. Ve shall shee.’
“Nay! trifle with me not. Have you such a secret? Husbands will erect statues to you wherever men live together in human habitations. Have you such a secret?
“The November moon floated sadly over the grim human suffering and the eternal woe. Notice, oh, reader, the river still flowed on. Tremendous thought!”