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I MAY as well begin by stating
that my name is Blushman—Percival Blushman. I believe an unusual name; but that
will not affect the course of the little true narrative which I am about to
introduce, and which I hope will "run smooth."
Further preliminary particulars
in reference to Percival Blushman may not perhaps be found uninteresting. From
childhood upward I have always had a leaning—a yearning, in fact—for the noble.
The grand, the colossal, fills my mind with a strange sensation of speechless
awe. Nature's grandest works are to me always sublime in the direct proportion
to their size and strength. An elephant some way seemed to affect me with a
greater thrill of admiration than, say, a powerful mastiff, though the latter
might naturally furnish more immediate grounds of alarm. Yet so it was. Even
such a thing as a cattle-show had on these grounds a strange fascination for me;
and, a prey to mingled feelings of repulsion and attraction, I found myself
surveying the gross charms of the kine so mysteriously and wonderfully fattened.
Yet so it was. All monstrous developments—Great Easterns, Great Exhibitions for
all nations, and even the stalwart forms of the heroes of the ring, all excited
this elevating tone of mind—morbid, some of my friends called it. Yet so it was.
I was reading for the Bar. I had
determined to walk that famous Westminster Hall, which a Scarlett, a Ffollett,
and the rest of the profession, had walked. Every thing, too, about it was
large, stately, grand—and that impressed me. The statutes, the reports, the
suits (of law), the suits (of costume), the wigs, the abuses, the excellences,
and (sometimes) the fees, all were on a monstrous and overgrown scale. It struck
me, too—but this might have been fanciful—that the physique of the men was
greater. But about their professional reputation there could be no question,
boasting such men as a Scarlett, an Erskine, a Ffollett, and many more.
I was, then, reading for the Bar,
with a view of being "called" by the Honorable Society of Lincoln's Inn. The
Honorable Society of Lincoln's Inn. How euphonistic! It seemed to come to me
rolling down a church aisle like an anthem. I was reading hard, very hard; I
felt the responsibility of the course I had chosen; of the path made sacred by
the steps of a Scarlett, of a—but I must not allude to those famous names again.
I determined not to see my fellow-creatures; I declined routs, and female
society generally; I rose in the mornings two hours earlier than I was
accustomed to—that is to say, at half past eight; and it being now close on a
Christmas week, I had, with the calm disposition of a suttee, declined a
dancing, shooting, driving, riding, general merry-making party, down in the
country. Tears came almost to my eyes as I rose with the lark at the cold dull
hour of half past eight, and I thought of Greyforest, for I had been there
before, and shot, and driven, and danced. But then I thought of a Scarlett, and
of—the rest, and how they, too, rose betimes as I was doing, and labored, and
gave up shooting and dancing. And then, sternly, I brought all my law books
together in a pyre, and, laying myself down on the top—a true suttee—set fire
to—that is, began to read again with desperation.
I grew ill in the struggle. I
have heard the expression used "broke down"—I think it a good one. So I broke
down. I confess it was hard to say what had broken, or where it had broken, or
why the breakage should have been down and not up, or at least in a lateral
I was sitting one night in this
state of general fracture at my lonely chambers, when my friend Twentyman burst
in. He, too, was reading for the Bar; but not as I was reading. He danced and
sang. He had come on an errand of charity. He had heard of the break-down, and
found me with all the broken pieces about me: he pitied me.
"Blushman, my boy," he said,
"what's all this? Never mind; you must come with me. A little in the dumps?
Never mind; I have got a notion that I will soon put you straight."
Put me straight—put straight what
was broken down! I smiled at the notion, but waved to him to proceed.
"You must come with me," he said.
"I have a scheme. I am going to-night to the Strongbows, out to Triton Villas.
You don't know the Strong-bows; I do."
I did not see how this concerned
me, and was about to interrupt him with what is called in our legal dialect a
demurrer, when he stopped me.
"You must come with me," he said.
"You must know the Strongbows; you must go out to Triton Villas."
This was more pertinent, so I
withdrew my demurrer, and substituted what is called—still in our legal jargon—a
"Impossible," I said. "Graver
matters engross me. It was not thus that a Scarlett, a Ffollett—a Sir William
Ffollett, I mean—"
"I know," he said, "exactly. But
as a favor—a particular favor, old friend—oblige; never have asked you for any
thing." (This was scarcely consistent with truth; yet I did not allude to a
trifling loan, barely three weeks old.) "Do, do, do now."
In short, I weakly consented. I
gave way. I bound myself to go out to the Strongbows, positively for one night
only, as I think I have seen it in some public notices. As he was going out, he
said, thoughtfully, "We can join in a cab, you know; that will just do;" and
went his way.
At night he came, and we did join
in a cab—at least as far as mere occupancy went; but in a more figurative and
fiscal sense, I might be considered the sole tenant. My friend had forgotten his
purse —unfortunately, as I considered it: I had brought mine—fortunately, as he
considered it. We entered the Triton Villas, the home of the Strong-bows.
It was a party. The house was not
to say large: on oath, I should adhere to the statement that it was small. It
stood by itself in a little garden, and, being lit up, looked like a square card
There was a small hall, where
hats and coats were shoveled up together in a mound of wearing apparel. Sounds
of feeble pianoforte-playing issued from the room.
We entered. I was made known to
the hostess by my friend, who straight cut the social painter—I believe that is
the nautical term—that joined him to me, and stood out himself to sea. I
scarcely saw him again that night, and I now divined the sordid motives that had
prompted him to solicit my company. And as this reflection occurred to me, I
suddenly saw beside me a miracle of strength, symmetry, and beauty—that is, a
miracle of female strength, symmetry, and beauty.
I was amazed. She overpowered me
with her presence. Such a form! More a hint than a positive manifestation of
secret strength; yet nothing out of proportion. Athletic is scarcely the word;
stoutness suggests itself with horrible indelicacy; and yet it is miles away
from the truth. A coarse mind would say extra stout; but I have my own ideal,
and she reached to it. Six feet of beauty, yet in proportion. A corresponding
breadth of person was only harmony. Every thing reached to my ideal. She was
tall, graceful, strong, matchless, superb, lithe. Ah! at last there is the word!
Lithe she was, and I was introduced to her.
Why linger over the earlier
stages of that passion? The whole of that evening I played and eddied around her
like the waters about the foot of the great Bass Rock. I looked up and measured
her with admiration. I spoke with her, and to my joy found she too had an ideal
of secret strength and poetical muscularity. She candidly told me that I did not
reach to that ideal, and my heart sank; but she saw, she said, that I could
admire the same ideal, which was the next best thing, and my heart rose again.
We presently understood each other, and she took me into confidence. She was
amused at my unrestrained and almost childish admiration. She told me many
things that night (on the stairs). How she loved tales of daring deeds; of her
hero who, with a single stroke of his keen falchion, cleft a sheep whole; of her
second hero, who wrestled with a lion on the savage desert; of her third hero,
who had pulled down a tree with his single arm; of her heroes in general, whom
she loved to go and see at circuses, lying upon their backs upon a carpet, cast
their offspring into the air, and catch them skillfully on the soles of their
feet. I told her of the athletic man I had once seen, who threw fifty half
hundred-weights in succession over his head as though they had been feathers.
She eagerly broke in and asked me had I ever seen Herr Betz, the German
professor, who lifted an ordinary stone weight with his little finger. We grew
enthusiastic in our mutual confidences. "I will tell you a secret," she said,
"as you are the only one I ever met that understands me. Mamma and papa know
nothing of it. They would kill me if they did."
I smiled at this pardonable
little exaggeration of filial reverence. Papa and mamma were a little man and a
little woman, of wretched muscular development. But my noble girl, as I may call
her, felt that no muscular charms of person ought to emancipate her from
parental control. "Yes," I said, eagerly, "do tell me. I love to hear those
"Well," she said, bending down
her—may I call them massive?—yes, massive shoulders. "No," she said, raising her
massive shoulders, "no, I couldn't tell you. You will laugh."
"Laugh," I said, wounded deeply;
"do you take me for one of those heartless circulating things yonder, who have
no feeling for the beautiful, the strong, the—?"
" What is it, Captain Rideaboot?"
she said, sweetly, to that officer, who was standing over her. A chill passed
athwart my heart like a knife. Captain Rideaboot was a giant. Miltonic in his
proportions; Goliath in a dress-suit. I hated and scorned him with a deep,
deadly, defiant, passionate scorn.
He took her away—took her to the
dance. With a horrible gnawing I marked their progress. I had to own myself,
with a frightful pang, that they were suited. He was a Patagonian, and yet, Oh!
yes, a graceful Patagonian. There was, I owned it with a loud groan, muscular
poetry somewhere. They performed their dance, and swept a road clear for
themselves in the little room. It was fine; like the great Miltonic monster
again, I trembled while compelled to admire. It was over; but another creature,
one of the vertebrate order called a brother-officer, came crawling up, and to
him the man Rideaboot handed her. Rideaboot then went his way, mopping and
fanning himself with his handkerchief; for he suffered by exercise.
The other was a wretched thing—a
mere reptile, if I may be pardoned the noun. His action was ungraceful; I could
see she was suffering agonies with him. It was soon over, and then, after an
interval, came—I declare yes—that—that beast (I must call him something)—again
offered his odious person for the measure that was now about commencing: and
she, I grieve to say, yielded. And yet to me, writhing in a corner, the sight
was beautiful to see, as they floated, rather surged, with a gentle roll round
the room. Other mere ordinary dancing fry fell away from their path like waves
before a ship's keel. Going away, I caught her for a moment. My friend had come
to me an hour before, and proposed, with a strange effrontery, that we should
again "join in a cab" home. Following my massive charmer as she floated by I
agreed mechanically, and he had gone out to secure a vehicle. That conveyance
had been retained now more than an hour, yet I did not regard it. Strange to
say, he did not; though we were to "join."
I caught her for a moment, in the
moral sense of the word. "Sit down," she said; "I want to talk to you."
"You must tell me," I said, "this
secret. What is it like? Something large, grand, stupendous!"
"I can't," she said, smiling;
"you would laugh at my weakness, for a weakness it is."
A weakness in her! Physical? No.
But I was burning to know.
"Something that I am sadly
addicted to," she said, with meaning, "and daren't tell you. Good-
night; come and see me. You
understand me, I can see."
Perhaps I did. But with reference
to that Rideaboot, did he understand?—as well, or perhaps better? "I should
like," I said aloud, "to have that uninformed beast here in this cab, say under
"Hallo!" said my friend; "asleep,
eh? How did you like it, though? A little too small a crib, eh?"
"Small!" I said, indignantly.
"What do you call large? What do you call symmetry? What do you call
massiveness, shape, outline, proportions? I say," I continued, excitedly, "what
do you call these? You a judge?" I added, derisively. "Talk of what you
know—pipes, bats, and the United Suffield Duffers. There's your line."
He was scared at my manner, and
did not resume the subject. I waited for him with an intellectual bludgeon
raised to smash him if he should; but he didn't.
"We shall go out there
to-morrow," I said; "you and I."
"I can't," he said. "I have an
"The Duffers, I suppose?" I said,
scornfully. "Put them off. I have no engagement. We go."
He was again cowed. He agreed. We
went next day. We joined in a cab; but he proposed it feebly.
We got to Triton Villas. We saw
her. Papa, mamma, and all the world, except a younger sister, were out; and by a
sudden and ferocious look, I made him devote himself entirely to this child of
nature. The child took him presently to show him her doll. We got on
delightfully. "But the secret," I said; "what you are addicted to. Do, do, DO
"Ah, it is a vice," she said,
with a sigh; "an unwomanly vice. The world would point at me if they knew. The
mouth of an enemy," she added, prettily, "often steals away our brains, you
Where had I heard that? "But this
obscure language," I said.
"It is growing on me every day,"
she said, mournfully. "I am enslaved to it, and can not shake it off. If I told
you you would despise me, and yet I mean well."
I was growing alarmed. These were
phrases usually applied to one species of human vice the most degrading of our
nature. Surely—surely—in one so young, so grand, so noble—ah! that was it. To
keep that splendid system well strung, who knows but that some stimulating—
"I will give you a hint," she
said, in a low, meaning voice, and looking round to see she was not heard. "Dobbler
has just sent me the materials, and I have contrived to smuggle them in."
At this moment her parents
returned. We went away; I in sorrow and grief, and a prey to a thousand
misgivings. " What," said I, as we journeyed home in the cab we had joined in (I
mean that I had joined—I mean that he didn't join in),"what is the popular
quotation about the mouth—an enemy stealing our brains?"
"To drink," he replied, humbly;
"to strong drink indulged in to excess. And the accurate shape of the quotation
is something about putting an enemy in our mouth to steal away our brains. It
occurs in Othello."
"You should lecture," I said,
sarcastically, "on the immortal bard, and on the unities. Reserved seats, five
shillings. Your exegesis—I believe that is the new word—your exegesis would be
entertaining. You would draw."
This bitterness silenced him. He
would not again presume to be merry at my expense.
"You must come with me," I said
to him, "as near to midnight as is convenient."
"Midnight!" he said, amazed.
"To Triton Villas; and because I
want you," said I, answering his two questions curtly. "That is the where, and
the why. We are going to walk by night. I must satisfy the horrid doubts that
you have raised."
"I raised! When? Where?" He
stopped himself hastily. "I mean, I raised none."
"We will watch," I said; "you at
the back, I at the front. You at the side, I at the other; you all round
generally, I every where. You understand me?"
"No," he said, vacantly.
"And yet," I said, with pity, "if
I addressed you in the slang of your profession—for cricketing, with the
addition of pipes, is your profession—you would understand. I could adapt my
language to the meanest capacity; but I won't."
He was stung by this cutting
remark, and agreed without a word more.
Toward midnight, or more
accurately speaking, about eleven o'clock, we again—and for the last time joined
in a cab, on the old commandite principle. I had a strange foreboding, as I took
my seat, and the strange sound of the door closing with a jar and discordant
jam. Something was impending, I was convinced, but I would know the worst.
We reached the neighborhood of
Triton Villas, and drew up the vehicle in a by-lane, where he was to wait our
coming. I may add that this arrangement was not perfected until after the
exhibition of a disheartening lack of confidence in the person who drove, and
who required a partial settlement of his claims before he would consent to let
us go our way. I went my way cautiously, my friend following vacantly as in a
dream. Here was—were—which is it? Triton Villas.
All was still, as I looked over
the railings; all was pushed in repose. Not a sound. From one window, and from
one only, flashed light. I knew whose window it was, from information I had
received. When I received it, I thought myself blessed; but there are things—and
I don't know whose the thought is—which it is better wisdom not to know. It was
her window, without shutters, but with a yellow blind down—alas! too much
down—illuminated from behind. Shadows—a shadow, rather—passed at times fitfully
across. A grand,
stately, full, comprehensive
shadow, which I would have picked out among a thousand shadows. These
reflections have an individuality of their own.
We were still at the railings,
looking through. He coughed; there was a slight fog, natural in the country,
rising from the ground. I turned on him fiercely, and he did not cough again for
some time. Suddenly the shadow, hitherto restive and unsteady, acquired a darker
intensity, which could be explained, on principles of natural philosophy, by a
nearer approach to the window. It seemed to expand in size, and remained
perfectly calm and quiescent. What was she—it—about to do? Had she—it—seen us?
My breath came and went. Suddenly—how shall I tell it? but I was near to
fainting at the moment, and but for the rails would have fallen—I saw—saw—saw
distinctly, projected —yes, projected is the word—with all the vividness of a
spectral image in a photograph, projected upon the blind, a shadow of some
material object in her hand. Indistinct at first, with a horrible vividness, it
gradually took shape—a vile, odious, terrific, but unmistakable shape. The
outlines of an object but too familiar, tapering at the neck (the object's
neck), distended and swollen about the body (the object's body), and distinctly
applied to the mouth (her mouth)—a FLASK! its contents partaken of, not, not by
the agency of the vehicles furnished by civilization, but with the degrading
simplicity of savage life.
It was all over. The dream was
past, and I tottered away to the cab, my friend humanely leading me.
This, then, was the secret of
those mysterious allusions—the "little vice which she was addicted to" —of which
she dare not tell her parents, and "the materials" for which (there was an Irish
student at an Inn of Court always calling for what he called the materials; I
knew what he meant) she had to "get in" privately. Worse than all, was the
strange moral obliquity which could lead her to speak so lightly of the fatal
passion, which would lead her by slow degrees down the abyss.
Such a night I spent. A female,
too! Was not this the most degrading feature. Moralists tell us, that for a man
there is hope, but once a female become enslaved, then reformation is all but
I determined to tear her from my
heart, and go back to the outraged Ffollett, to the Erskine, the Scarlett, too
long neglected. And yet I could not shut out her image, that is to say, that
particular image, with its horrid accompaniment. It was always before my eyes.
She wrote to me, inviting me to
go and see her; she wanted to talk to me, she said: I understood her. (I did
understand her.) In a postscriptum she added, "Perhaps I may confide to you the
little weakness you were so curious about."
I wrote a reply, half mysterious,
half scornful—I wonder what she thought of it. I told her bitterly that I knew
all, had discovered all; that the necessity of devotion to my legal studies
would prevent my having the pleasure of waiting on her; but that, as a friend,
nay, an acquaintance, I trusted she would not resent the few words of friendly
counsel I would venture to give her, for her own sake. "Fly," I said, "fly the
fatal seduction; it will gradually impair your strength, weaken your powers, and
stupefy the faculties. Every time you yield to the temptation, think, oh think
how you are hurrying to destruction."
An answer arrived next day,
couched in very mysterious language. She could not understand the tone of my
letter. If I had discovered, as I said I had, what she was engaged in, there was
nothing, thank Heaven, to blush for. Many good and eminent persons had before
given way to the same weakness. For her part she gloried in it, and would never
give up the practice. "Impair my strength!" she added; "how little you
know—After—after every bout I feel myself stronger and better." (Every bout! of
course she fancied she did; the most confirmed drun—I mean beings—that is their
I strove to banish her from my
mind, but ineffectually.
Two months passed away. It was
too much for me; it was wearing me to a thread. It must end one way or the
other; I chose the other way. I would go and see Triton Villas merely out of
I stood at the gate with mingled
feelings. Before me was the fatal window. I paused. Should I go in merely out of
curiosity? Prudence said yes, and in I went.
I saw her; she was good-natured,
She reproached me gently with my
absence. She was afraid I was offended. She was more grieved than angry, I could
see, and, with a sudden impulse, I resolved that we should have a
reconciliation. I love scenes of reconciliation.
"But you must come to us now.
Next week we are to have a little festival; in short, I am going—"
"Away?" I said, with a start of
"Well, yes," she said, a little
embarrassed. "Did they not tell you? I thought you knew it. It has been settled
"That you were to go away?" I
"Yes," she said, "and my marriage
"Your marriage!" I started from
my seat. "And who is the vile impostor; the base—er—er—" I could not think of a
word for a moment, "er—scullion—who has dared—"
"Hush! hush!" she said, amused
and flattered at my warmth. "If Captain Rideaboot heard you—"
"Better and better," I said,
bitterly; "nothing could be better or more suitable."
"Well," she said, modestly, "it
is considered a good match; and do you know," she added, "he has been so good,
so kind, so generous about that little—you know—weakness of mine, which I hinted
to you. He will not require me to give it up—"
"Ha! ha!" I laughed; "what
reveling you will have together!"
"Yes," she said; "the truth is, I
have found out