CONTAINING AN ACCOUNT OF WHAT PASSED
BETWEEN MR. AND MRS. BUMBLE, AND MR. MONKS, AT THEIR
It was a dull, close, overcast summer
evening. The clouds, which had been threatening
all day, spread out in a dense and sluggish mass of
vapour, already yielded large drops of rain, and seemed
to presage a violent thunder-storm, when Mr. and Mrs.
Bumble, turning out of the main street of the town,
directed their course towards a scattered little colony
of ruinous houses, distant from it some mile and a-half,
or thereabouts, and erected on a low unwholesome swamp,
bordering upon the river.
They were both wrapped in old and
shabby outer garments, which might, perhaps, serve
the double purpose of protecting their persons from
the rain, and sheltering them from observation.
The husband carried a lantern, from which, however,
no light yet shone; and trudged on, a few paces in
front, as though the way being dirty to
give his wife the benefit of treading in his heavy
footprints. They went on, in profound silence;
every now and then, Mr. Bumble relaxed his pace, and
turned his head as if to make sure that his helpmate
was following; then, discovering that she was close
at his heels, he mended his rate of walking, and proceeded,
at a considerable increase of speed, towards their
place of destination.
This was far from being a place of
doubtful character; for it had long been known as
the residence of none but low ruffians, who, under
various pretences of living by their labour, subsisted
chiefly on plunder and crime. It was a collection
of mere hovels: some, hastily built with loose
bricks: others, of old worm-eaten ship-timber:
jumbled together without any attempt at order or arrangement,
and planted, for the most part, within a few feet
of the river’s bank. A few leaky boats
drawn up on the mud, and made fast to the dwarf wall
which skirted it: and here and there an oar
or coil of rope: appeared, at first, to indicate
that the inhabitants of these miserable cottages pursued
some avocation on the river; but a glance at the shattered
and useless condition of the articles thus displayed,
would have led a passer-by, without much difficulty,
to the conjecture that they were disposed there, rather
for the preservation of appearances, than with any
view to their being actually employed.
In the heart of this cluster of huts;
and skirting the river, which its upper stories overhung;
stood a large building, formerly used as a manufactory
of some kind. It had, in its day, probably furnished
employment to the inhabitants of the surrounding tenements.
But it had long since gone to ruin. The rat,
the worm, and the action of the damp, had weakened
and rotted the piles on which it stood; and a considerable
portion of the building had already sunk down into
the water; while the remainder, tottering and bending
over the dark stream, seemed to wait a favourable
opportunity of following its old companion, and involving
itself in the same fate.
It was before this ruinous building
that the worthy couple paused, as the first peal of
distant thunder reverberated in the air, and the rain
commenced pouring violently down.
‘The place should be somewhere
here,’ said Bumble, consulting a scrap of paper
he held in his hand.
‘Halloa there!’ cried a voice from above.
Following the sound, Mr. Bumble raised
his head and descried a man looking out of a door,
breast-high, on the second story.
‘Stand still, a minute,’
cried the voice; ‘I’ll be with you directly.’
With which the head disappeared, and the door closed.
‘Is that the man?’ asked Mr. Bumble’s
Mr. Bumble nodded in the affirmative.
‘Then, mind what I told you,’
said the matron: ’and be careful to say
as little as you can, or you’ll betray us at
Mr. Bumble, who had eyed the building
with very rueful looks, was apparently about to express
some doubts relative to the advisability of proceeding
any further with the enterprise just then, when he
was prevented by the appearance of Monks: who
opened a small door, near which they stood, and beckoned
‘Come in!’ he cried impatiently,
stamping his foot upon the ground. ‘Don’t
keep me here!’
The woman, who had hesitated at first,
walked boldly in, without any other invitation.
Mr. Bumble, who was ashamed or afraid to lag behind,
followed: obviously very ill at ease and with
scarcely any of that remarkable dignity which was
usually his chief characteristic.
‘What the devil made you stand
lingering there, in the wet?’ said Monks, turning
round, and addressing Bumble, after he had bolted the
door behind them.
‘We we were only
cooling ourselves,’ stammered Bumble, looking
apprehensively about him.
retorted Monks. ’Not all the rain that
ever fell, or ever will fall, will put as much of
hell’s fire out, as a man can carry about with
him. You won’t cool yourself so easily;
don’t think it!’
With this agreeable speech, Monks
turned short upon the matron, and bent his gaze upon
her, till even she, who was not easily cowed, was
fain to withdraw her eyes, and turn them towards the
‘This is the woman, is it?’ demanded Monks.
‘Hem! That is the woman,’
replied Mr. Bumble, mindful of his wife’s caution.
‘You think women never can keep
secrets, I suppose?’ said the matron, interposing,
and returning, as she spoke, the searching look of
‘I know they will always keep
one till it’s found out,’ said Monks.
‘And what may that be?’ asked the matron.
‘The loss of their own good
name,’ replied Monks. ’So, by the
same rule, if a woman’s a party to a secret
that might hang or transport her, I’m not afraid
of her telling it to anybody; not I! Do you
‘No,’ rejoined the matron,
slightly colouring as she spoke.
‘Of course you don’t!’ said Monks.
‘How should you?’
Bestowing something half-way between
a smile and a frown upon his two companions, and again
beckoning them to follow him, the man hastened across
the apartment, which was of considerable extent, but
low in the roof. He was preparing to ascend
a steep staircase, or rather ladder, leading to another
floor of warehouses above: when a bright flash
of lightning streamed down the aperture, and a peal
of thunder followed, which shook the crazy building
to its centre.
‘Hear it!’ he cried, shrinking
back. ’Hear it! Rolling and crashing
on as if it echoed through a thousand caverns where
the devils were hiding from it. I hate the sound!’
He remained silent for a few moments;
and then, removing his hands suddenly from his face,
showed, to the unspeakable discomposure of Mr. Bumble,
that it was much distorted and discoloured.
‘These fits come over me, now
and then,’ said Monks, observing his alarm;
’and thunder sometimes brings them on. Don’t
mind me now; it’s all over for this once.’
Thus speaking, he led the way up the
ladder; and hastily closing the window-shutter of
the room into which it led, lowered a lantern which
hung at the end of a rope and pulley passed through
one of the heavy beams in the ceiling: and which
cast a dim light upon an old table and three chairs
that were placed beneath it.
‘Now,’ said Monks, when
they had all three seated themselves, ’the sooner
we come to our business, the better for all.
The woman know what it is, does she?’
The question was addressed to Bumble;
but his wife anticipated the reply, by intimating
that she was perfectly acquainted with it.
’He is right in saying that
you were with this hag the night she died; and that
she told you something ’
‘About the mother of the boy
you named,’ replied the matron interrupting
‘The first question is, of what
nature was her communication?’ said Monks.
‘That’s the second,’
observed the woman with much deliberation. ’The
first is, what may the communication be worth?’
‘Who the devil can tell that,
without knowing of what kind it is?’ asked Monks.
‘Nobody better than you, I am
persuaded,’ answered Mrs. Bumble: who did
not want for spirit, as her yoke-fellow could abundantly
‘Humph!’ said Monks significantly,
and with a look of eager inquiry; ‘there may
be money’s worth to get, eh?’
‘Perhaps there may,’ was the composed
‘Something that was taken from
her,’ said Monks. ’Something that
she wore. Something that ’
‘You had better bid,’
interrupted Mrs. Bumble. ’I have heard
enough, already, to assure me that you are the man
I ought to talk to.’
Mr. Bumble, who had not yet been admitted
by his better half into any greater share of the secret
than he had originally possessed, listened to this
dialogue with outstretched neck and distended eyes:
which he directed towards his wife and Monks, by
turns, in undisguised astonishment; increased, if
possible, when the latter sternly demanded, what sum
was required for the disclosure.
‘What’s it worth to you?’
asked the woman, as collectedly as before.
‘It may be nothing; it may be
twenty pounds,’ replied Monks. ’Speak
out, and let me know which.’
’Add five pounds to the sum
you have named; give me five-and-twenty pounds in
gold,’ said the woman; ’and I’ll
tell you all I know. Not before.’
‘Five-and-twenty pounds!’ exclaimed Monks,
‘I spoke as plainly as I could,’
replied Mrs. Bumble. ’It’s not a
large sum, either.’
’Not a large sum for a paltry
secret, that may be nothing when it’s told!’
cried Monks impatiently; ’and which has been
lying dead for twelve years past or more!’
’Such matters keep well, and,
like good wine, often double their value in course
of time,’ answered the matron, still preserving
the resolute indifference she had assumed. ’As
to lying dead, there are those who will lie dead for
twelve thousand years to come, or twelve million, for
anything you or I know, who will tell strange tales
‘What if I pay it for nothing?’ asked
‘You can easily take it away
again,’ replied the matron. ’I am
but a woman; alone here; and unprotected.’
‘Not alone, my dear, nor unprotected,
neither,’ submitted Mr. Bumble, in a voice tremulous
with fear: ‘I am here, my dear.
And besides,’ said Mr. Bumble, his teeth chattering
as he spoke, ’Mr. Monks is too much of a gentleman
to attempt any violence on porochial persons.
Mr. Monks is aware that I am not a young man, my
dear, and also that I am a little run to seed, as
I may say; bu he has heerd: I say I have no
doubt Mr. Monks has heerd, my dear: that I am
a very determined officer, with very uncommon strength,
if I’m once roused. I only want a little
rousing; that’s all.’
As Mr. Bumble spoke, he made a melancholy
feint of grasping his lantern with fierce determination;
and plainly showed, by the alarmed expression of every
feature, that he did want a little rousing,
and not a little, prior to making any very warlike
demonstration: unless, indeed, against paupers,
or other person or persons trained down for the purpose.
‘You are a fool,’ said
Mrs. Bumble, in reply; ’and had better hold your
’He had better have cut it out,
before he came, if he can’t speak in a lower
tone,’ said Monks, grimly. ‘So!
He’s your husband, eh?’
‘He my husband!’ tittered
the matron, parrying the question.
‘I thought as much, when you
came in,’ rejoined Monks, marking the angry
glance which the lady darted at her spouse as she spoke.
’So much the better; I have less hesitation
in dealing with two people, when I find that there’s
only one will between them. I’m in earnest.
He thrust his hand into a side-pocket;
and producing a canvas bag, told out twenty-five sovereigns
on the table, and pushed them over to the woman.
‘Now,’ he said, ’gather
them up; and when this cursed peal of thunder, which
I feel is coming up to break over the house-top, is
gone, let’s hear your story.’
The thunder, which seemed in fact
much nearer, and to shiver and break almost over their
heads, having subsided, Monks, raising his face from
the table, bent forward to listen to what the woman
should say. The faces of the three nearly touched,
as the two men leant over the small table in their
eagerness to hear, and the woman also leant forward
to render her whisper audible. The sickly rays
of the suspended lantern falling directly upon them,
aggravated the paleness and anxiety of their countenances:
which, encircled by the deepest gloom and darkness,
looked ghastly in the extreme.
‘When this woman, that we called
old Sally, died,’ the matron began, ‘she
and I were alone.’
‘Was there no one by?’
asked Monks, in the same hollow whisper; ’No
sick wretch or idiot in some other bed? No one
who could hear, and might, by possibility, understand?’
‘Not a soul,’ replied
the woman; ’we were alone. I stood alone
beside the body when death came over it.’
‘Good,’ said Monks, regarding her attentively.
‘She spoke of a young creature,’
resumed the matron, ’who had brought a child
into the world some years before; not merely in the
same room, but in the same bed, in which she then
‘Ay?’ said Monks, with
quivering lip, and glancing over his shoulder, ‘Blood!
How things come about!’
‘The child was the one you named
to him last night,’ said the matron, nodding
carelessly towards her husband; ’the mother this
nurse had robbed.’
‘In life?’ asked Monks.
‘In death,’ replied the
woman, with something like a shudder. ’She
stole from the corpse, when it had hardly turned to
one, that which the dead mother had prayed her, with
her last breath, to keep for the infant’s sake.’
‘She sold it,’ cried Monks,
with desperate eagerness; ’did she sell it?
Where? When? To whom? How long before?’
‘As she told me, with great
difficulty, that she had done this,’ said the
matron, ‘she fell back and died.’
‘Without saying more?’
cried Monks, in a voice which, from its very suppression,
seemed only the more furious. ’It’s
a lie! I’ll not be played with. She
said more. I’ll tear the life out of you
both, but I’ll know what it was.’
‘She didn’t utter another
word,’ said the woman, to all appearance unmoved
(as Mr. Bumble was very far from being) by the strange
man’s violence; ’but she clutched my gown,
violently, with one hand, which was partly closed;
and when I saw that she was dead, and so removed the
hand by force, I found it clasped a scrap of dirty
‘Which contained ’ interposed
Monks, stretching forward.
‘Nothing,’ replied the woman; ‘it
was a pawnbroker’s duplicate.’
‘For what?’ demanded Monks.
‘In good time I’ll tell
you.’ said the woman. ’I judge that
she had kept the trinket, for some time, in the hope
of turning it to better account; and then had pawned
it; and had saved or scraped together money to pay
the pawnbroker’s interest year by year, and prevent
its running out; so that if anything came of it, it
could still be redeemed. Nothing had come of
it; and, as I tell you, she died with the scrap of
paper, all worn and tattered, in her hand. The
time was out in two days; I thought something might
one day come of it too; and so redeemed the pledge.’
‘Where is it now?’ asked Monks quickly.
the woman. And, as if glad to be relieved of
it, she hastily threw upon the table a small kid bag
scarcely large enough for a French watch, which Monks
pouncing upon, tore open with trembling hands.
It contained a little gold locket: in which were
two locks of hair, and a plain gold wedding-ring.
‘It has the word “Agnes” engraved
on the inside,’ said the woman.
’There is a blank left for the
surname; and then follows the date; which is within
a year before the child was born. I found out
‘And this is all?’ said
Monks, after a close and eager scrutiny of the contents
of the little packet.
‘All,’ replied the woman.
Mr. Bumble drew a long breath, as
if he were glad to find that the story was over, and
no mention made of taking the five-and-twenty pounds
back again; and now he took courage to wipe the perspiration
which had been trickling over his nose, unchecked,
during the whole of the previous dialogue.
‘I know nothing of the story,
beyond what I can guess at,’ said his wife addressing
Monks, after a short silence; ’and I want to
know nothing; for it’s safer not. But
I may ask you two questions, may I?’
‘You may ask,’ said Monks,
with some show of surprise; ’but whether I answer
or not is another question.’
‘ Which makes three,’
observed Mr. Bumble, essaying a stroke of facetiousness.
‘Is that what you expected to
get from me?’ demanded the matron.
‘It is,’ replied Monks. ‘The
‘What do you propose to do with it? Can
it be used against me?’
‘Never,’ rejoined Monks;
’nor against me either. See here!
But don’t move a step forward, or your life
is not worth a bulrush.’
With these words, he suddenly wheeled
the table aside, and pulling an iron ring in the boarding,
threw back a large trap-door which opened close at
Mr. Bumble’s feet, and caused that gentleman
to retire several paces backward, with great precipitation.
‘Look down,’ said Monks,
lowering the lantern into the gulf. ’Don’t
fear me. I could have let you down, quietly enough,
when you were seated over it, if that had been my
Thus encouraged, the matron drew near
to the brink; and even Mr. Bumble himself, impelled
by curiousity, ventured to do the same. The turbid
water, swollen by the heavy rain, was rushing rapidly
on below; and all other sounds were lost in the noise
of its plashing and eddying against the green and
slimy piles. There had once been a water-mill
beneath; the tide foaming and chafing round the few
rotten stakes, and fragments of machinery that yet
remained, seemed to dart onward, with a new impulse,
when freed from the obstacles which had unavailingly
attempted to stem its headlong course.
’If you flung a man’s
body down there, where would it be to-morrow morning?’
said Monks, swinging the lantern to and fro in the
‘Twelve miles down the river,
and cut to pieces besides,’ replied Bumble,
recoiling at the thought.
Monks drew the little packet from
his breast, where he had hurriedly thrust it; and
tying it to a leaden weight, which had formed a part
of some pulley, and was lying on the floor, dropped
it into the stream. It fell straight, and true
as a die; clove the water with a scarcely audible
splash; and was gone.
The three looking into each other’s
faces, seemed to breathe more freely.
‘There!’ said Monks, closing
the trap-door, which fell heavily back into its former
position. ’If the sea ever gives up its
dead, as books say it will, it will keep its gold
and silver to itself, and that trash among it.
We have nothing more to say, and may break up our
‘By all means,’ observed Mr. Bumble, with
‘You’ll keep a quiet tongue
in your head, will you?’ said Monks, with a
threatening look. ‘I am not afraid of your
‘You may depend upon me, young
man,’ answered Mr. Bumble, bowing himself gradually
towards the ladder, with excessive politeness.
’On everybody’s account, young man; on
my own, you know, Mr. Monks.’
‘I am glad, for your sake, to
hear it,’ remarked Monks. ’Light your
lantern! And get away from here as fast as you
It was fortunate that the conversation
terminated at this point, or Mr. Bumble, who had bowed
himself to within six inches of the ladder, would
infallibly have pitched headlong into the room below.
He lighted his lantern from that which Monks had
detached from the rope, and now carried in his hand;
and making no effort to prolong the discourse, descended
in silence, followed by his wife. Monks brought
up the rear, after pausing on the steps to satisfy
himself that there were no other sounds to be heard
than the beating of the rain without, and the rushing
of the water.
They traversed the lower room, slowly,
and with caution; for Monks started at every shadow;
and Mr. Bumble, holding his lantern a foot above the
ground, walked not only with remarkable care, but with
a marvellously light step for a gentleman of his figure:
looking nervously about him for hidden trap-doors.
The gate at which they had entered, was softly unfastened
and opened by Monks; merely exchanging a nod with
their mysterious acquaintance, the married couple emerged
into the wet and darkness outside.
They were no sooner gone, than Monks,
who appeared to entertain an invincible repugnance
to being left alone, called to a boy who had been
hidden somewhere below. Bidding him go first,
and bear the light, he returned to the chamber he
had just quitted.