Page images

press. We present the reader with the exquisite titles of all the tales
in the single current numbers of the other five journals whose names
we have given :-
The Stolen Ring.

The North Sea Rover.
Edith; or, Truth and Trust,

Laurence Franzlin.
Changes and Chances.

The Woman of the World.
The Lost Treasure.

The Emigrant's Daughter,
Look Out!

The Sepoys.
The Maid of the Lighthouse.

Alice Leslie,
Martha Bell ; or, The Old Abbey Farm. The Twin Beauties.

The Wife and Sister, Wonderful marriages; wonderful plots; wonderful imprisonments; wonderful escapes ; wonderful lost children, cruel fathers, and dreadful robbers and pirates, are the principal characters in these tales. And then for action ! A celebrated dramatic critic has said, that the three great rules for successful dramatic composition are Action, Action, Action! Why, there is enough and to spare in any one of these stories for half a dozen dramas.

It is important, however, to notice that it is this characteristic which obtains such great popularity, and such a vast circle of readers, for these journals. They are subscribed for mostly by servants and journeymen-workers, who, knowing little of the stimulus of sciety, read with avidity anything that will relieve their colourless lives. It is a lower stratum of the same class that, with the same hunger for excitement, crowds the “Surrey' and Victoria' Theatres of London. They want pleasure,' and pleasure they will have. As it has not been supplied to them of a superior quality at a price they can afford, they seize the inferior, and are so glad to get it that it takes three weeks for the best presses in London to print one day's issue of one of these journals.

We have alluded to the universally wonderful' character of the tales which adorn these remarkable publications. The tales from Blackwood' are nothing to them, and that is saying as much as any one dare to say. Some twenty years or more ago · Maga' inserted a story of the Iron Coflin,' which caused a horrible sensation at the time, but, 'Oh! horrible, most horrible !' our weekly journalists can improve even upon the 'Iron Cotlin. The utmost stretch of Maga's imagination did not reach to a hot prison, a prison such as we now have the pleasure of laying before the fancy of the reader: we quote from the delightful pages of the Weekly Novelist' for Saturday, October 30, a description which we have no doubt has been read at least half a dozen times by the most regular readers of that periodical :

• Enrique said no more, but stood up to have the bonds taken from his feet, and when this was done, and the chain removed, he was led from the cell, two stout men taking him in charge, while two more politely waited upon Gomez. A fifth went ahead with the lantern, preceded by the official, while the sixth walked in the rear. Enrique could see but very little, for the only light he had was from the dim lantern, yet he could see that he was being led along a low, arched corridor of solid masonry, deep within the sides of which were sunken many doors. He




[ocr errors]

fancied he was not going towards the place by which he had entered, and ere long he had confirmation of it, for they had come to a narrow, steep flight of stone steps, only wide enough for two men to go abreast. These they ascended, and they led to another corridor-still dark-but which, for some distance, had no doors upon its sides. By-and-by Enrique saw, a short way in advance, a point where the passage seemed to contract into a smaller arch. Perhaps this was the outlet-and yet he felt no fresh air. As he came up to the place he saw that this was an arch built within the passage, and he fancied 'twas of iron! In a moment after he had passed the iron arch he was stopped. Further progress was cut off, for only solid walls were about them.

"" Now we'll remove your manacles, and in a few moments you shall know your fate."

* As the official thus spoke, his attendants cast off the irons, and then left the place. The officer had already gone. Enrique heard a deep, dull crash, as of the falling of some ponderous body, and he started towards the arch. The lantern had been left behind, and by its light the youth could now see quite plainly. He gained the arch, and that was all! A solid wall had intervened! He caught up the lantern and hastened back. A massive door of iron, thickly studded with bolts

, barred up the passage. IIc examined it to see if it could be opened, for he had heard no bolt moved, nor had any other act of securing it been apparent. He cast his eyes over it, and a cold shudder ran through his frame, and the lantern dropped from his grasp.

""What is it?" asked Gomez, in alarm. "" See!” gasped Enrique, pointing to the sides of the iron arch. “This door has been let down from above! It slides up and down ir these grooves! It is no hinged affair, to grow rusty and shut slowly, but its own terrific weight brings it to its place in an instant. And see how tightly it shuts.”

'Gomez picked up the lantern, which had fallen in its proper position, and examined the door for himself. He found it just as his master had said. It had glided down, in neatly fitting grooves, from some space above the arch, and was firm and tight.

"" And the floor is of iron!" cried the esquire, after he had examined that portion of the place.

""Ay—and the walls, too,” responded Enrique.
"" And the ceiling," added the esquire-" that is iron as well.”

'A further survey satisfied them that they were not mistaken. They were in an apartment about ten feet square, by the same in height. The floor, the walls, and the ceiling were formed by massive plates of iron, and the whole made into one secure mass by stout bolts not over an inch apart. Not an aperture-not even a chink of any kind, could be found !

Gomez put down the lantern and gazed into his master's face. • “And thus we are to die!” cried Enrique, clasping his hands upon his bosom. “ Eleanor has failed in her mission!"

"" How long can we live here, allowing that no air can get in or out?” asked Gomez.

* " I know not, my dear Gomez. I am not skilled in such matters. Yet I think we shall want fresh air ere we want bread." 6" «« The thought of such a death is terrible, master.”

“Ay,” returned Enrique, shuddering. “ To die inch by inch-to feel young life ebbing away while the love for it grows stronger and stronger-to know that a tyrant-a villain of Satan's own coin-has the very heart that beats here within his power, to stop its pulsations at will—to know that sun nor moon nor stars, nor the sweet balmy breath of heaven, can cheer and sooth us more-and, alas! to feel that those bright, loving eyes will beam upon me never again-oh! 'tis fearful.”

* The young knight leaned against the iron wall, and bowed his head upon his hands; and thus he stood for some moments, • " It must be morning, Gomez,” he said at length.

“Ay-I should think so, my master.' « “ And if it is, what then?" the youth mumured half to himself. “What hope have I in the morning?-It must be well into the day.”



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

• Another season of silence ensucd, which was broken by Gomez.

““ How warn and sultry it grows here!” he said, wiping big drops of sweat from his brow. “Do you not feel it, my master?

• 'Tis warmer than it was," returned Enrique, at the same time brushing the moisture from his own brow.

." How close!” uttered the esquire, a few moments afterwards. " My very feet feel the increasing heat.”.

“ “ Your FEET!” exclaimed the knight, starting as though an arrow had pierced his heart.

• “ Yes," said Gomez, astonished by the suddenness of his master's manner. • Enrique stooped down and laid the palm of his hand upon the iron floor, « « Terrible!” he ejaculated, “we are in the FIRE CHAMBER." • “ The Fire Chamber!" repeated Gomez, vacantly.

Ay!” resumed Enrique, almost in frenzy: “ that cruel invention of Almanzor, which he invented to roast Christians in. Feel the floor! feel the floor!"

• Gomez stooped and laid his hand upon it, and found it hot!

• " Ah-see there! Look! Oh, look there, Gomez! See that red spot!-See he monster's hand in its fiery hue of blood!”

* Gomez looked, and in the further corner—the corner opposite the door-he saw a bright red spot which had not been there before; and as he watched be could see the curling atmosphere which circles up from great heat.

6 - 'Tis red-hot!” he gasped. ““ And 't will be all red-hot ere long!" whispered his master, heavily. “ Alas! alas!" ejaculated Gomez, clasping his hands. “Is there no help?"

" The door!” cried Enrique, darting towards the arch. “Let us try it." • Gomez quickly followed him, and they tried to find a place upon which to gain a hold. They litted against the bolt-heads, but their hands slipped, and the huge door moved not a hair. In frenzy they tried to force their fiugers into the mortice beneath the iron mass, but it was filled entirely up by the iron which had fallen into it. Then, as the frenzy grew stronger upon them, they kicked against the metal plates with all their might, and cried out for help.

• They could do no more.

““ We might as well try to lift the big peak of the Morena,” gasped Gomez, as he fell back against the opposite wall, faint and weak.

There is no escape,” groaned Enrique, as he turned from the door, and pressed his hands upon his brow.

• " See!" whispered the esquire. “See how it grows! Oh! Holy Virgin, hof hot!"

The knight gazed upon the red spot, and he saw that the whole corner bad assumed the same fearful hue, forming a triangle of over a yard on each side. With glaring eyes the youth stood and watched the advancing demon. His breath came hot and quick, and great drops rolled down his face. The atmosphere of the room was heated to an intense degree, and respiration was laboured and painful.

• Once more Enrique rushed to the door and pressed his lips against its edge. He tried to draw in cool air from the groove, but only a noisome stench of rancid grease and rust greeted his senses. He laid his tongue upon the iron, but it was as warm as his own flesh. He turned his gaze upon the opposite corner, and tre sides of the triangle were longer still. The place had become an oven, and the victims now breathed only in destroying heat,

• The knight turned bis weakening gaze upon his faithful attendant, and saw that he was sinking upon the floor. The poor fellow's tongue was fearfully swollen, and he forced it out as though for fresh air.

•“We'll die together!” Enrique gasped, as he sank down by his companion's siile. “ Gomez-God have mercy on our souls!"

* Gomez tried to say Amen, but he could not. He could only return his master's embrace, and gaze up with a pious, prayerful look.

• In a moment more the knight himself was beyond the power of speech. The changes came quickly now. The heat of the red floor had absorbed all life-sustaining principle, and imparted its own fatal fervour to the walls and the ceiling. Enrique felt a terrific pressure upon his lungs-he gave one gasp—and he could


breathe no more! Wildly he started to his feet, with the last effort of his expiring strength, for the floor beneath him bad become insupportable. He threw his arms aloft, and tried in vain to expand his chest. There was no air to breathe, and the lungs could not move!

• Enrique de Moneva saw the red demon upon the floor-it spread-it grew-it took fantastic shapes -imps and demons seemed to leap out from the mass of torment—the brain reeled—the sight failed—and heat and night closed the scene of pain; for, all unconscious, the youth had sunk-a hopeless thing, without life or motion, at the feet of his esquire!'

We cannot quote more, but to relieve the feelings of the reader, may state that there is a Deus ex machind after this, and that the knight and his squire escape, not quite unscathed, but without having received any mortal injury.

* The Welcome Guest,' and 'Cassell's Illustrated Family Paper,' are of higher rank than any of the penny papers we have yet men. tioned. We have reason to believe, however, that Mr. Cassell's useful and laudably ambitious little journal is the only one of these two which circulates to a great extent amongst the working classes—the

Welcome Guest’ enjoys higher patronage. We regret that we can discern no superiority in the literature of fiction published in Mr. Cassell's paper. There is perhaps not quite so much“ blood and thunder” as in some other periodicals of a similar class, but the writing is inferior, and therefore little adapted to elevate the literary taste of its readers. The general contents of the 'Family Paper' are, however, of a superior character; they are chosen with great tact and skill, and evidently with a high and consistent purpose. We have no objection to give a voluntary advertisement of the contents of the last number before us, viz., for October 23rd :-The Blessings of Poverty-A French Lesson-A Chapter in Natural Philosophy on the Decomposition of Light-A Literary Notice of Charles Shirley Brooks (one of "Living Celebrities') with an admirably engraved portrait-, Description, with two good engravings, of the Atlantic Telegraplı-and A Sketch of Barcelona, with engraving. Besides these, there are three tales, or parts of tales, and the never-omitted ‘Notices. There is no one, however great may be his information or refined his taste, who could not read Mr. Cassell's paper with some advantage.

The · Welcome Guest,' as we have already said, moves in a little higher circle. It is no secret that its editor is Mr. Augustus Sala; and it is less a secret that the Welcome Guest' originated in a quarrel with Mr. Dickens ; Mr. Sala having been a principal contributor to 'Household Words. The Guest' bears evidence of a higher order of literary culture being engaged in its production than in that of any other penny weekly. It is more original in style and in contents, but its single numbers lack variety. There are only three papers in the number for October 23rd, and one of these, occupying nearly half the space of the whole number, is from Debit and Credit,' which the Welcome Guest' is reprinting in its pages. It is obvious that this journal would not circulate to any great extent amongst the working classes, and perhaps it is not intended that it should. The sketches of manners and society which appear in its

[ocr errors]


pages are, however, worth the whole number. Mr. Dickens himself could scarcely be more microscopically minute than the writer of these papers. In the number before us there is an article, descriptive of secret scenes at a fair, the revelations of which may startle somo of our readers, who have no objection to taking their children to the American Circus at the Alhambra ; or when in Paris, to go without their children to the Hippodrome on the Champ Elysées. With the assistance of the writer in the Welcome Guest,' we transfer the following two or three pictures from life behind the scenes at a fair. The first is descriptive of the way young ladies are educated for eques. trian exhibitions :

'Meantime, a man had brought the "bare-backed steed” into the ring, and was preparing him for rehearsal. This was done by means of an old saucepan full of powdered resin. Filling both his lands he plontifully anointed the back, flanks, and withers of the brute, to prevent madam from slipping. Next the man took madam's riding-shoes and submitted the soles to the same operation. All being now in readiness, Mr. Cracknell (in his shirt sleeves and smoking a short pipe) took his stand in the middle of the ring, armed with a tremendous whip. I never saw a longer whip than that of Mr. Cracknell. Presently, poor Poll, still in tears, her hair dishevelled, and without her coronet, slipped into her sandals, and in an instant sprung on to the resinous steed.'

"“Now, then," said the circus-master, see if you can't get through it this morning without making a fool of yourself. Round you go! Bear out'ards with the left leg, hard, and keep your eyes stiddy on the inside of the in’ard ear. Right you are! Now then, when I count six, spring up and for'ard as far as you can--you'll come down on his back right enough. One-two--three-four-five six-- up! You won't do it-won't you?” and the next instant the long thong of Mr. Cracknell's whip coils lasso-like round the waist of the luckless Poll, and she is down among the tan. "You'll do it next time, I fancy,” said Mr. Cracknell; and then turning to us: “You wouldn't believe that for the whole mortal six weeks I've had her I can't learn her to do nothing but go round and round that blessed ring; it's enough to aggravate a saint! Come!" (to Poll) “ up you gets! no funking now. Four-five-six-up! Ah, I thought you'd do it that time;" and the facetious Cracknell turns to us with a grin and a chuckle.'

Next we have the secret of training horses to kiss-We believe this performance is one of the most loudly applauded of the entertainments at the Alhambra :

"The pony and the circus-master were on the ground together-Mr. C. reclining across the pony's stomach. “Look sharp arter him now," whispered the scratcherman, “he's going to do the kissing trick.” I did look sharp after him. “Kiss me, my dear!” said Mr. Cracknell, and sure enough the pony turned his face instantly—not from affection, though, but because Mr. C. had inserted his sharp elbow beneath the shoulder blade of the poor beast, and thus produced spasms of agony that passed for kissing.

• The pony was now allowed to regain his feet, and Mr. Cracknell proceeded to “converse" with it, Previously, however, he had taken from his waistcoat pocket a ring which fitted the tip of his forefinger, the said ring being furnished with a tiny spike, bright and sharp as a needle. “Now, sir, ain't you much obliged to me for the education I've given you? (Application of spike to pony's ears-pony shakes his head). You wouldn't, eh? But suppose I was to die, wouldn't you fret very much after me? (Spike to ear again, and another shake of the head). You wouldn't, eh? I suppose then you'd be pleased? (Application of spike to pony's nose-pony tosses his head). You would, eh? Be off with you, you saucy little monkey.'

« PreviousContinue »