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soon as the two young ladies had reached the farm-house, Ellen addressed
Katherine with alarming seriousness of manner.
"My dear friend," she said, "some plot is
in existence against your peace. That fearful-looking man and that horrible old
woman are perfect fiends in mortal shape."
"But what cause of enmity can they entertain
against me?" asked Katherine, drawing her chair close to Ellen's seat with
that sweet confidence which a younger sister would have been expected to show
towards an elder one. "I never saw them before in my life, to my knowledge;
and I certainly never can have injured them."
"You are rich — and that is a
sufficient motive to inspire the man with designs against you: you are
pretty — and that is a sufficient reason for inducing the woman to
spread her nets in your path. The man," continued Ellen, "has more
than once attempted the life of our generous benefactor Richard; and that old
hag, Katherine, is a wretch who lives upon the ruin of young females."
At this moment Mrs. Bennet entered the room; and,
observing the disturbed countenances of Ellen and Katherine, she felt alarmed.
Ellen immediately communicated to her the particulars of
the adventure just related, and concluded with these observations: — "The
person of the man was previously unknown to me; but Mr. Markham had made me
familiar with his name. Thus, when I heard that name breathed by his infamous
companion, I recognised in him the monster of whose crimes my benefactor has
related so dread a history. As for the woman," added Ellen, after a
moment's hesitation, "she has been pointed out to me as one of those vile
wretches who render cities and great towns dangerous to young females. Indeed,
she once practised her arts upon me: — hence I am well aware of her
Mrs. Bennet was dreadfully frightened at the incident
which had occurred; but, like Katherine, she was somewhat at a loss to conceive
what possible object the two bad characters whom Ellen so bitterly denounced,
could have in view with respect to her young charge.
The trio were still conversing upon the mysterious
occurrence, when Farmer Bennet entered the room.
Of course the narrative had to be repeated to him; and
he was much troubled by what he heard.
The dinner was served up; but none of those who sate
down to it ate with any appetite. A vague and uncertain consciousness of
impending danger or of serious annoyance oppressed them all.
The table was cleared; and Mrs. Bennet had just produced
a bottle of excellent home-made wine, "to cheer their spirits," as she
said, when the servant entered to announce that a person desired to speak to Mr.
Bennet. The farmer ordered the individual in question to be admitted; and the
servant, having disappeared for a few moments, returned, ushering in an elderly
man dressed in shabby black, and wearing a dingy white cravat with very limp
"Your servant, ma'am — your most
obedient, young ladies," said he: then, starting with well-affected
surprise, he ejaculated, "Ah! if my eyes does n't deceive me in my old age,
that's Miss Kate Wilmot, werily and truly!"
"Mr. Banks!" said Katherine, in a tone
expressive of both surprise and aversion; for she remembered that the undertaker
used to call upon Smithers to purchase the rope by means of which criminals had
"Yes, my dear — my name is, as you say,
Banks — Edward Banks, of Globe Lane, London — Furnisher
of Funerals on New and Economic Principles — Good Deal Coffin, Eight
Shillings and Sixpence — Stout Oak, Thirty-five Shillings-Patent
Funeral Carriage, One Pound Eleven — First Rate Carriage-Funeral,
Mutes and Feathers, Four Pound Four — Catholic Fittings — "
"Really, sir," exclaimed Mr. Bennet,
impatiently, "this is not a very pleasant subject for conversation; and if
you have come upon no other business than to recite your Prospectus — "
"A thousand apologies, sir — a thousand
apologies," interrupted Mr. Banks, calmly sinking into a seat. "But
whenever I see a few or a many mortal wessels gathered together, I always think
that the day must come when they'll be nothink more than blessed carkisses and
then, Mr. Bennet," added the undertaker, shaking his head solemnly, and
applying a dirty white handkerchief to his eyes, "how pleasant to the
wirtuous feelings must it be to know where to get the funeral done on the newest
and most economic principles."
"Katherine, do you know this person?" inquired
the farmer, irritated by the intruder's pertinacity in his gloomy topic.
"I have seen him three or four times at Mr.
Smithers' house in London," was the answer; "but Mr. Banks well knows
that I never exchanged ten words with him in my life."
"Then you do not come to see Miss Wilmot?"
demanded Mr. Bennet, turning towards the undertaker.
"No, sir — no," answered Banks,
heaving a deep sigh. "Did you not perceive, sir, that I was quite took at a
non-plush when I set my wenerable eyes on the blessed countenance of that
charming gall But pardon me, sir-pardon me, if I am someot long in coming to the
pint: — it is, however, my natur' to ramble when I reflects on the
pomps and wanities of this wicked world; and natur' is natur,' sir, after
all — is it not, ma'am?"
Here he turned with a most dolorous expression of
countenance towards Mrs. Bennet.
"I really do not understand you, sir," was her
reply: — nor more she did, good woman! for it was not even probable
that Mr. Banks quite understood himself.
"Now, sir, will you have the goodness to explain
the nature of your business with me — since it is with me, no
doubt, that you have business to transact!" said the farmer, in a tone
which showed how disagreeable the undertaker's whining nonsense was to him.
"Something tells me that this man's visit bears
reference to our adventure of the morning," whispered Ellen to Katherine.
"Do not offer to leave the room: let us hear all he has to say."
Katherine replied by a meaning look, and then glanced
with suspicious timidity towards Banks, who was again speaking.
"My business isn't to be explained in a moment,
sir," said the undertaker; "and I must beg your patience for a little
"Go on," exclaimed the farmer, throwing
himself back in his seat, and folding his arms with the desperate air of a man
who knew that be could only get rid of a troublesome visitor by allowing him to
tell his story in his own way.
"You're in mourning, ma'am, I see," observed
Mr. Banks, turning towards Mrs. Bennet. "Ah! I remember — that
wexatious affair of the Rector of Saint David's. Pray, ma'am, who undertook
the funeral of your blessed defunct sister?"
"Sir!,' exclaimed Mrs. Bennet, tears starting into
"No offence, ma'am — no offence. Only I
should like it to be known in these here parts that Edward Banks — of
Globe Lane, London, undertakes on new and economic principles, and doesn't mind
distances. S'pose, sir," continued this most disagreeable visitor, again
addressing the farmer, "s'pose you come to me some fine morning and says, 'Banks,'
says you, 'my dear wife has just become a blessed defunct-'"
"This is too much!" ejaculated Mr. Bennet,
starting from his seat. "Have you, or have you not, any business to engage
"I'm coming to the pint — I'm coming to
the pint this moment," said Banks. "Pray sit down for a few
minutes — I shan't ingross much more of your wallyable time; for
time really is wallyable in this sublunary spear;" — and
the undertaker shook [-210-] his head so mournfully
that worthy Mrs. Bennet could not help thinking he was a very good and humane,
though somewhat a prosy individual. "When we look around us, and behold how
many benighted creature lives in total recklessness for the futur' — without
putting by in an old stocking or any where else a single penny towards buying 'em
a decent coffin — It's enough to make one's hair stand on end. But I
see you are growing impatient, sir: — well — perhaps my
feelings does carry me away. Still I don't mean no harm. Howsomever — business
is business, as coffins is coffins, or carkisses is carkisses; and so here's to
business in a jiffey."
With these words Mr. Banks draw from his capacious
coat-pocket a brown-paper parcel, about a foot long, three inches wide, and as
Then he began, with most provoking deliberation of
manner, to unroll the numerous folds of paper in which the precious object of so
much care was wrapped; and, while he thus aroused the curiosity of his
spectators to the utmost he continued talking in a more lachrymose style than
"There is dooties which we owe to heaven — and
there is dooties which we owe to our fellow-creeturs. To heaven, ma'am, we owes
a obligation of wirtue: to our fellow-creature we owes respect and decency when
they're no more. Wirtues, ma'am, is like the white nails on a black-cloth
covered coffin: the more there is of 'em, the stronger is the coffin, and the
better it looks. Wices, ma'am, is like the knots in a common deal coffin: the
more there is of 'em, the veaker is the coffin, and the wuss it looks. I'm now
a-going to show you, ma'am — and you, too, sir — and you
also, young ladies — a object of the deepest interest to us poor
mortal wessels. I've wrapped it up in this wise, 'cause I've paytented it, and
this is the only model I've got. When once it's generally known, the whole world
will thank me for the invention; and posterity will remember with gratitude the
name of 'Banks of Globe Lane — Furnisher of Funerals on New and
Economic Principles.' You see, the parcel is gettin' smaller and smaller — cause
the blessed object was as well wrapped up as a young babby. However — here's
the last fold:-off with the paper — and there's the concentrating
focus of all interest!"
As Mr. Banks wound up with this beautiful peroration, he
disengaged from the last fold of paper a miniature model of a coffin, about
eight inches long, and wide and deep in proportion. It was covered with black
silk, and was studded with innumerable white nails.
But as he placed it, with a glance of almost paternal
affection, upon the table, the farmer started up, exclaiming, "I have
already put up with your insolence too long. What does this unwarrantable
intrusion upon my privacy mean? Speak, sir: have you any thing to say to
"I am now coming to the pint at length,"
answered the undertaker, but little abashed by this rebuff. "In one
word," he continued, producing a small memorandum-book and preparing to
write with a pencil, — "in one word, I want you and your family
to let me put down each of your names — "
"For what?" demanded Bennet, impatiently.
"Few a Paytent Silk-covered Silver-nailed
Indestructible Wood-seasoned Coffin," was the calm reply. "It's
warranted to keep as good as new till you want it."
Mr. Bennet fell back into his seat, completely stupefied
by this extraordinary announcement; — Mrs. Bennet cast horrified
glances at the undertaker, as if she thought he was mad; — Ellen
cast a look of deep indignation on the individual who had produced this
excitement;-and Katherine started from her seat, exclaiming, "What have you
done, Mr. Banks? Mrs. Bennet is fainting!"
This was really the case — such an effect
did the sudden display of the coffin and the cool demand of patronage made by
the undertaker, produce upon one whose mind had not yet quite recovered from the
severe shock occasioned by the murder of her sister.
"Water, Katherine! — quick!"
exclaimed the farmer, hastening towards his wife.
Kate instantly hurried from the room to fetch water;
while Ellen, on her part, proffered the necessary attentions to the fainting
Mr. Banks was thus for a moment forgotten; and this was
exactly the condition of things that suited his purpose. Hastily thrusting the
model coffin into his pocket, he seized his hat and hurried from the parlour,
closing the door behind him.
In the passage he met Kate, who was hastening back to
the room, with a jug of water in her hand.
"One moment — only one moment — as
you value the memory of your deceased mother," — whispered
Banks, speaking more rapidly and with less whining affectation than he had done
for many years. "Take this note-read it in private-its contents deeply
concern you and your blessed defunct parent. If you breathe a word
concerning it to a soul you will for ever lose the opportunity of knowing who
was your father."
Banks thrust a note into the girl's hand, and hastily
left the house.
The words which he had uttered, produced-as might
naturally be supposed — so strange an effect upon Katherine, — that
sudden allusion to her mother took her so much by surprise, — and
then that mysterious mention of her father increased her bewilderment to such an
extent, that she mechanically grasped the note with a mixture of awe and
gratitude, and, prompted by the same impulses, thrust it into the bosom of her
All this was the work of scarcely a quarter of a minute;
and the moment she had thus received and concealed the note, she re-entered the
parlour, where the aid of the fresh water soon brought Mrs. Bennet to herself.
"Where is that scoundrel?" cried the farmer,
now finding leisure to think of the cause of his wife's sudden indisposition.
"He is gone,' returned Katherine.
Then, seating herself near the window, the young girl
fell into a profound reverie.
"Gone!" ejaculated Bennet. "But it is
better that he should have gone — or I might be tempted to do him a
"That man came hither with some sinister
design," said Ellen. "From the first moment of his appearance, my
suspicions associated his visit with the adventure of the morning."
"But what object could he have!" cried the
farmer. "He seemed only anxious to intrude himself as long as
"Perhaps he was waiting for an opportunity to speak
to Katherine alone," observed Ellen. "He certainly appeared to be
talking against time."
"Yes, dear friends." exclaimed Katherine,
rising [-211-] from her seat, and advancing towards
those whom she thus addressed; "that man did desire to speak to me
alone-and he succeeded in his object. Pardon me if for a few moments I hesitated
whether to obey his solemn injunction of silence, or to communicate the incident
to you who wish me well. But the words which he spoke, and the earnestness of
manner, bewildered me. It however only required a short interval of sober
reflection to teach me duty."
Katherine then repeated the words that Banks had
whispered in her ears, and produced the note which he had thrust into her hand.
"You have acted prudently in revealing these
particulars, dear Kate," said Ellen. "A man who is compelled to effect
his purposes by such low devices as those employed by him who has just left us,
cannot mean well."
"Let us hear the contents of the letter,"
cried Farmer Bennet: "we may then, perhaps, see more clearly into the
"Read it, Ellen,' said Kate. "I must confess
to a profound curiosity to become acquainted with its contents."
Ellen accordingly opened the note, and read as
"Silence and secrecy. — if you respect
the memory of your deceased mother! Be not deluded by the advice of Miss Monroe.
who has her own reasons for prejudicing you against me. I am well acquainted
with all the particulars of your birth, — I can impart facts that it
behoves you to learn. You will bitterly repent any distrust in this matter. Have
you no inclination to hear more concerning your mother's history than you can
possibly now know! would you not go far, and sacrifice much, to glean something
with regard to your father? This evening — at seven
precisely — I shall be at the foot of the hill where I met you just
now. If you come alone, you will learn much that nearly and deeply concerns you:
it you appear accompanied by a soul, my lips will remain sealed.
"THE FEMALE YOU SAW JUST NOW."
"I have so far my own reasons for counselling you
against that wicked woman," said Ellen, indignantly, "inasmuch as I
would save you from danger. But if you really believe that there can be any
thing serious in this promise of important communications, I should advise you
to meet that female — for precautions can be adopted to protect you
from a distance."
Katherine glanced inquiringly towards the farmer.
"I see that you are anxious to meet this woman,
Kate," said be, after a pause; "and it is natural. She promises
communications on subjects that cannot be otherwise than dear to you. Miss
Monroe and I can keep watch at a distance; and on the slightest elevation of
voice on your part, we will hasten to your assistance."
This project was approved of even by the timid Mrs.
Bennet; and Katherine Wilmot anxiously awaited the coming of the appointed
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LONDON [Vol. II]
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