Chapter 195860464

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Chapter NumberVII
Chapter Url
Full Date1841-01-06
Page Number4
Word Count4022
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Chronicle and South Australian Literary Record (SA : 1840 - 1842)
Trove TitleMaster Humphrey's Clock
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We-left Will Marks leaning mider the gibbet with his face towards the to wu, scanning ;ibe distance with-a"keen eye whteh 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 die wind as,it swept across the heath in gusts, and tne 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 te'il, it was a bitter, wind, and seemed to blr.w to the very heart of. a. man whose blood, 'heated hut now withrapidriding, was . the more sensitive to t he chilling blast. Will was a daring fellow, and cared not a jot for hard kr.oeks or sharp blades, but he could not pfersuade himself to move or walk about, having ju st that vague expectation of a sudden assault vrinch made it a comfortable thing to have so mething at his back, even though that something were a gallows tree. He had no great faith in the superstitions of the age, still o such of them as occurred to him did not serve to lighten the time or to render his situation thf; more endurable, lie remembered how witches were said to repair at that ghostly hour to churchyards aud 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 shells; 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, 7<assed and repassed in quick succession through the mind of Will Maiks, 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 m a thick mist, obscured even those few objects which the darkness of the night had before imperfectly revealed. " Look !" shrieked a voice, " G,*eat Heaven, it has fallen down aud 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 kuees. Another woman, clad, like her whom he had grasped, iu mourning garments, stood rooted to the spot on whioh 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 honored burden ? Where is the body t" He looked in wonder and affright from the woman who questioned him to the other whose arm he clutched. " Where is the body ?" repeated his 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 that number ? ye should be by your looks." " We are!" was the answer. " It is ye who have been waiiing and weeping here, under cover of the night ?" said Will. " It is," replied the woman .sternly, and pointing, as she spoke, towards her companion —" She mourns a husband, and I a brother.

Even the bloody law that wreaks its vengeance on the dead does not make that a crime, and if it did 'twould be alike to us, who are past its fear or favour." Will glanced at the two females, and could barely discern that the one whom he addressed was much the elder, and that the other was young and of a slight' figure. Both were deadly pale, their garments,wet and worn,' their hair dishevelled and Streaming in the wind, themselves bowed down with grief and misery—their whole appearance .most defected,' wretched, and forlorn. A sight so different from anyhehad expected to encounter touched him to the quick," and all idea of anything but their pitiable condition vanished before it. " I am a rough, blunt yeoman," said Will; " why I came here is -told in a wordyou have been overheard at a distance in the silence of the night, and I have undertaken a watch for hags or spirits., I came here expecting an adventure, and prepared to .go through with any. If there be aught that I can do to help or aid you, name it, and on the faith of a man who can be secret and truBty, I will stand by you to the death*" " How comes the gibbet to be empty ?" asked the elder female. ; "I cwfe&r to you," replied Will, "that I -know ais little iu* yourself. :: But this I know, that when I came here an hour ago or so, it wasasit is nowr and if, as I gather from your question, it ires not so last night, sure 1 am that it has been secretly disturbed without the ^knowledge of the folks in yonder tpwn. Be think you, therefore, whether you have no friends , in league , with yOu, or with him on "whom the law has done its worst* by whom these sad remains have been removed' for hurkl." v- The women spoke tokether, and Will retired a pace or two while they conversed apart. lie Could hear them soli and moan, and easr ihat they wrung theirhau^s in fruitlessagony. : He: jeould make. out little that they 'said, but between whiles he gathered enough to assure

hum that fcis suggestion was not very wide jof the mark, and that they not only suspected % whom tlie body had been removed, but also hither It had been conveyed. When they bpd been ior conversation a long time,. they turned towards him once more. This time the younger, female ?poke. " You have offered us your help?" . "I have." ' • : " And given a pledge that you are still willing to redeem ?" "Y«s. SO far as I may, keeping aU plots and coasptricies at arm's length." " Follow us, friend." V / • Wifl, whose self-possession was; now quite restored, needed no second biddings but with his drawn,sword in: bis hand, and his cloak so muffled 5over his left arm as to serve for a kind of shield' without offering any impediment to its free action, suffered them to lead the way. Through mud and mire, and wind and Tain, they walked in*silenee a fiill mile. At length they turned into a dark lane, where, suddenly starting outfrom beneath «onie trees where he had taken shelter, a man appeared having in his charge three saddled horses. One of these (his own apparently) in-obedience to a whisper from the women, he consigned to Will, who, seeing tha'; they mounted, mounted also. Then without a wiefd.spoken they rode on together, leaving the attendant behind. They made no halt nOr slackened their pace until they arrived near Putney.: At a large wooden house which stood, apart from any other, they alighted, and giving their horses to who was already waiting, passed in by a side door, and so up some narrow creaking stairs into a small panelled chamber, where Will was left alone: He had not been here very long, when the door was softly opened, and ihere entered to him a cavalier whose face was concealed beneath a black mask. Will stood upon his guard, and scrutinised this figure from head to foot. The form was that of a man pretty far advanced in life, but of a firm and stately carriage. His dress was of a rich and costly kind, but so soiled and

disordered that it w?s scarcely to be recognised for one of those gorgeous suits which the expensive taste and fashion of the time prescribed for men of aty rank or station. He was booted and spurred, and bore about him even as many tokens of the state of the roads as Will himself. All this he noted while the eyes behind the mask regarded him with equal attention. This survey over, the cavalier broke silence. " Thou'rt young and bold, and wouldst be richer than thou art ?" " The two first I am," returned Will. "The last I have scarcely thought of. But be it so. Say that I would be richer than I am ; what then The wa:y lies before thee now," replied the Mask. ««Show ?it me." First let me inform thee, that thou wert brought here to-night lest thou shouldst too soon have told thy tale to those who placed thee on the watch." " I thought. as much when I followed," said Will. *' But.I am no blab, not I." j " Good," returned the Mask. "Now listen.; He wb.o was to have executed the enterprise j of burying that body which thou hast sus- j pected was taken down to-night, has left us j in our need." j Will nodded, and thought within himself j that if the Mask were to attempt to play any ! tricks, the first eyelet-hole on the. leftrliand side of his doublet, counting from the buttons up the front, would be a very good place in j which to pink him neatly. V I " Thou art here, and the emergency is j desperate. I propose his task to thee. Convey ; the body (now coffined in this house) by means j that I shall show, to the church of Saint j Dunstan in London to-morrow night, and thy service shall be richly paid. Thou'rt about to ask whose corpse it is. Seek not to know. I warn thee, seek not to know. Felons h?ng in chains on every moor and heath. Believe, as others do, that this was one, and ask no further. The .murders of state policy, its victims or avengers, had best remain unknown to -such as thee." " The mystery of this service,", said Will, " bespeaks its danger. What is the reward ?" "One hundred golden unities," replied the

cavalier. " The danger to one who cannot be recognised as the friend of a fallen cause is not great, but there is some hazard to be run. Decide between that and the reward." «* What if i -refuse ?" said Will. " Depart in peace, in God's name," returned theMaskin a melancholy tone, "and keep our secret: remembering that those who brought thee here were crushed and stricken women, and that tho£e-.who bade thee' go free could have had thy life with one word, and no man the wiser." Men were readier to undertake 'desperate adventures in those times, than they are now. In this «ase tbe temptation~Was great, anrf the punishment even in case of detection was not likely to be very severe, as Will came of a loyal stock, and his uncle was in good repute, and a passable tale to account for his possession of the body and his ignorance of the identity, might be -easily devised. The cavalier explained that a covered cart had been prepared for the purpose; that the time of departure could be arranged so that: he shoulG reach London bridge at dusk, and proceed thritmgh the City after the day had close^n V ffiit' people would be ready at his journey's end to place tho coffin in a vault without; a minute's delays that officious enquirers in "the Streets would be easily repelled by the tale that he was carrying for interment the corpse of one. who bad died of the plagne; and, in-short, showed him^fvery reason why he should succeed aud none'why he should fail. After a time they were joined by another gentleman, masked liked - the first* who added > new >ar- s guments to; tbpse which had .been^ already urged; the wretched wife too added ther. tears and prayers to their tcalmer representations; and in the end Will, moyed by compassion find .goOd nature, by a love.of the marvellous, |)y a .mischievous anticipation of the Kingston people when he should be missing next day, tod finally by the prospect of gwn. took upon himself the task, and devoted all his energies to.its ^jjccessful execration. *

The following the hoHow «chbfes of^d -EOnftbri Bridge responded to the J-urobling'^f the «art w&ch,. contained ithe gbfestly-ioad, thfe«bject of Wily Mark'sjcarg. Sufficiently disguised to attracfr no attention by his gad), Will walked at the horse's h&ad as unconcerned as a man cpuld be who was sensible that bejbad now arrived' at the most dangerous part of bis undertaking," but Ml of boldness and confidence. It was now eight o'clock. " After nine none could walk >the streets -without* danger of fhsir lives, and even at this hour, robberies and murder were of no pnconjwpn occurrence., The shops upon the bridgefwere all closed; the low wooden arches thropQ across the way were like so many black every one ot which ill-favored fallows'Soricsd knots of three or foilr, some standi^ itagainst the wall lying in wait, othew Ingin gateicombed heads ways-and. thrusting io.ut;Xl ana scowling eyes, others £nd recrossing and constantly Jostling •hctse and man to provoke a qtyiifrel, others stealing away and summoning their companions. in a low whistle. Once, even in: that Short passage, there was a nOi"»e «f scuffing and the dash of swords behind hfa, but Will, who knew the city and its ways, kejrt straight on and scarcely turned his head. The streets being unpav*>d, the rain,of. the preceding night had. converted them iuto e perfect quagmire, which the splashing water spouts from the gables, and the filth and^offiM cast from the different houses, swelled Id no; small degree. Theses-odious matters, being left to putrify in the close and heavy air, emitted <au insupportable stench, to which , every court and passage poured forth 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 mote like huge chimneys than open ways. At the corners of some of these great bonfires were: burhing, 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 thns afforded, paused 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 war sot in snch 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 flutteied 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 then with naked weapons, and hunted them savagely; there were drunken desperate robbers issuiitg fi^tm ^eir d^ns and staggering through the open streets, where no man dared molest them; there were vagabond servitors returning from the 'Bear Garden, where had baen 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 with a little cuffing and hustling for maltreatment sustained at other hands that night. All these assailante 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 ins'way down FleetrStreet, 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 be 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' bbrne by two men in cloaks who nstqod ttpOn the brink of ai vault. Each supported ^ feipale figure, and all observed' a profound silence.;. ^^"" - - • • • - , By this dim and solemn gl?re, which made Will feel as thpB^ light ittelf w^re, dead, and its tomb the dreary arches that frowned above, they plaeed th^ iooffih in the vault, with uncovered heads, and closed it up. One of the torch-bearers ed to Will and stretched forth bis - h; [ch was a purse of gold, Sometlung .irectiy that those: were the same eyesmask. had- seep beneath the " Take it," cavalier in a low. voice, " and he happy. rr,. Though these, have, been hasty obsfequies, and no'priest has blessed ihe work, there will-not be the less peace vnih thee hereafter-for having laid his bones beside those of his little cliildren. Keep thy own counsel, for thy sake no less than oun, and God be with theel" " The blessing of & widowed mother on thy head, good friend!" cried the younger lady through her tears—"theblessing of one who? has now no hope or rest but in Ws grave." Will stood with'the purse ia 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, aa their common safety would be ©adajngered by a longer delay; and the* ^une time, their

,5 ^ ptiwateh and ward all-flbejfprejiotis night, ^fancying every sow and * then- jthat ^iBraal shriekswere borne towal^&«ra~dn3he wind, and frequently winking to^eh btfeer. clerical - gentleman present i e^>ecially severe, by reason of his levity -and youthful folly. Two or three of th^' #avest tn ctmi- f pany, who were Of a thep)o^ical .turn^lpro-/ poinded to.him the -questioq wh^vE^-jSBfh si : character ,w^.not hut pos>riy armed^foritougl^ ' combat with the devil, and whethft--he ; hinisfelf would not have been. a" Wronger' opponent but the clerical gentleman sharply reproving them for-their presumption: in,discOssini? such qu^iions^ c c^rly showedrihat a ^itler <cl»ampion ihsm WilL ^ould^caijpely jhave beeiT^elected,, not only, &r, that, being .a- chili of • Satan, he-was .the less likely to be J aJ|ifTned hy -the'appearance of his own father, hut becaflBe Satan himself swould he at his ease in jsueh ^company, and would not Scrupjevto kick;up:his heels to an extent which It wa's^ uuite -certain lie would never venture before -clerical eyes, under whose ..influence (aswasnotorions) he became quite a tame and milk-and-water character; ~ - - ' But when next morning arrived, and with it no Will Marks, and w hen - a strong • party repairing to Ahe spot, as a ^HMngpmy ten - ;tnfed to; do in bl^iad ^j^f^^^^^^Bil the gibbet empty, mafteris girew serious indeed. The-, day :P*M?ing,-IWray-andnonewsiairtaring; and the night: going ion also without sny intelligencej the thing still; in * shtirt,.the peighbourhpdd V itself up to such,a comfortable .piteh. of, my»- tery and ; horror, that it -is - , a great question whether the general: feeling - was not one of

excessive'- disappointmentwhen,onthe.8e<»tid However this may be, back Willcame 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 whUes.^ Having embra<%d his unde and assured'him ^f-itis safety, Wlp' mounted on a table and itdld;his story to tte crowid. And surely they would have been-the most unreasonable crowd that ever asseuihled t^etber if they had been in the least respect'dis? appointed with the tale be told them, /or besides describing the Witches' Dance to the minutest motion of jtheir legs, and performing it in'character on the table, with theassHtanee of a brormstick; • he related' h^w tHey had'ck^ ried off the body in a ieopper caiUdrori f -aud so bewitched him. that he 16stJ)is.#^)^a iintil jto lying under a hedg^^t,J^astCt^i miles off, whence Jic had straightAiaf returned as they then beheld. Tb^«Uifig|Siu£J Jitidi universal applause that it soon affcenr^rds brought down express -from; the great witch-finder of the age,. the Heaven-bora 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 Lpindon Bria^e,vin small quarto, vrith a view of the c«uldF(»i . from an original drawing, and a portrait of the clericai gentleman as he sat by tbe fire. On one point Will was partieulariy careftd, aud that was to describe for the witches, he had sera three -impossible old females whose likenesses neverwereor will he.; Thus Sib saved the lives of the su8pected partie»;^ndpf all other old.wpmen who were dragged beforo him to be identified. This circumstance occasioned Holm Ppdgprs much grief and sorrow, until one^y hjjppeuing to cast his eyes upon his h^nsdeeep^*, and observing her to be pUiply affertei^wiAiriieumsrtisni, he procured her to be bu^nt as an; undoubted witch. For this servioe to ^state, he was immediately fyighited, and: bt^same, from that time Sh 1 john .Podger& . Will Marks never gained any idae tOvthpi

mystejy in which he had" been ;at^or^- nor* did any inscription, in. flie; often Visits afterwards, nor!ahypfilierJimitW' inquires that he dared to make, yield him- the. least assistance. As he kept b& owh «etsret, he was compelled to spefad the jpld ^isci^y and sf^ngly: ; Ih cbtdrse bf;Bme ,'M^l^pea youj whose maideh name is not recocdedVwith whom he led a prosperous and happy life, Yearsi&nd yearaaftepthfe adventure, It'was; bis wont to tell her upon a ^tmny /^r^T ^ was* a great comfort to,him tbink.'oiat^thosa boies, to whomsoever they might have onfia be^mged, were-not HeacM-^ • ajr, but were mouldering away with tbe uust of their own kith and kindred in a quiejt^ra*®.