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1846/09/23 - Wilkie Collins’ Captain Wragge, an amiable rogue, walks out into York

<p>Captain Wragge finds Magdalen in York

Captain Wragge finds Magdalen in York (McLenan 1863). Source: Google Books.

Wilkie Collins. 1863. No name, vol. 1. New York: Harper and Brothers. Source: Google Books.

Short excerpt

In that part of the city of York which is situated on the western bank of the Ouse there is a narrow street, called Skeldergate, running nearly north and south, parallel with the course of the river. The postern by which Skeldergate was formerly approached no longer exists; and the few old houses left in the street are disguised in melancholy modern costume of whitewash and cement. Shops of the smaller and poorer order, intermixed here and there with dingy warehouses and joyless private residences of red brick, compose the present aspect of Skeldergate. On the river-side the houses are separated at intervals by lanes running down to the water, and disclosing lonely little plots of open ground, with the masts of sailing-barges rising beyond. At its southward extremity the street ceases on a sudden, and the broad flow of the Ouse, the trees, the meadows, the public-walk on one bank and the towing-path on the other, open to view. Here, where the street ends, and on the side of it furthest from the river, a narrow little lane leads up to the paved footway surmounting the ancient Walls of York. The one small row of buildings, which is all that the lane possesses, is composed of cheap lodging-houses, with an opposite view, at the distance of a few feet, of a portion of the massive city wall. This place is called Rosemary Lane. Very little light enters it; very few people live in it; the floating population of Skeldergate passes it by; and visitors to the Walk on the Walls, who use it as the way up or the way down, get out of the dreary little passage as fast as they can. The door of one of the houses in this lost corner of York opened softly on the evening of the twenty-third of September, eighteen hundred and forty-six; and a solitary individual of the male sex sauntered into Skeldergate from the seclusion of Rosemary Lane. Turning northward, this person directed his steps toward the bridge over the Ouse and the busy center of the city. He bore the external appearance of respectable poverty; he carried a gingham umbrella, preserved in an oilskin case; he picked his steps, with the neatest avoidance of all dirty places on the pavement; and he surveyed the scene around him with eyes of two different colours – a bilious brown eye on the lookout for employment, and a bilious green eye in a similar predicament. In plainer terms, the stranger from Rosemary Lane was no other than – Captain Wragge.

428 words.

Long excerpt

In that part of the city of York which is situated on the western bank of the Ouse there is a narrow street, called Skeldergate, running nearly north and south, parallel with the course of the river. The postern by which Skeldergate was formerly approached no longer exists; and the few old houses left in the street are disguised in melancholy modern costume of whitewash and cement. Shops of the smaller and poorer order, intermixed here and there with dingy warehouses and joyless private residences of red brick, compose the present aspect of Skeldergate. On the river-side the houses are separated at intervals by lanes running down to the water, and disclosing lonely little plots of open ground, with the masts of sailing-barges rising beyond. At its southward extremity the street ceases on a sudden, and the broad flow of the Ouse, the trees, the meadows, the public-walk on one bank and the towing-path on the other, open to view.

Here, where the street ends, and on the side of it furthest from the river, a narrow little lane leads up to the paved footway surmounting the ancient Walls of York. The one small row of buildings, which is all that the lane possesses, is composed of cheap lodging-houses, with an opposite view, at the distance of a few feet, of a portion of the massive city wall. This place is called Rosemary Lane. Very little light enters it; very few people live in it; the floating population of Skeldergate passes it by; and visitors to the Walk on the Walls, who use it as the way up or the way down, get out of the dreary little passage as fast as they can.

The door of one of the houses in this lost corner of York opened softly on the evening of the twenty-third of September, eighteen hundred and forty-six; and a solitary individual of the male sex sauntered into Skeldergate from the seclusion of Rosemary Lane.

Turning northward, this person directed his steps toward the bridge over the Ouse and the busy center of the city. He bore the external appearance of respectable poverty; he carried a gingham umbrella, preserved in an oilskin case; he picked his steps, with the neatest avoidance of all dirty places on the pavement; and he surveyed the scene around him with eyes of two different colors — a bilious brown eye on the lookout for employment, and a bilious green eye in a similar predicament. In plainer terms, the stranger from Rosemary Lane was no other than – Captain Wragge.

Outwardly speaking, the captain had not altered for the better since the memorable spring day when he had presented himself to Miss Garth at the lodge-gate at Combe-Raven. The railway mania of that famous year had attacked even the wary Wragge; had withdrawn him from his customary pursuits; and had left him prostrate in the end, like many a better man. He had lost his clerical appearance—he had faded with the autumn leaves. His crape hat-band had put itself in brown mourning for its own bereavement of black. His dingy white collar and cravat had died the death of old linen, and had gone to their long home at the paper-maker’s, to live again one day in quires at a stationer’s shop. A gray shooting-jacket in the last stage of woolen atrophy replaced the black frockcoat of former times, and, like a faithful servant, kept the dark secret of its master’s linen from the eyes of a prying world. From top to toe every square inch of the captain’s clothing was altered for the worse; but the man himself remained unchanged—superior to all forms of moral mildew, impervious to the action of social rust. He was as courteous, as persuasive, as blandly dignified as ever. He carried his head as high without a shirt-collar as ever he had carried it with one. The threadbare black handkerchief round his neck was perfectly tied; his rotten old shoes were neatly blacked; he might have compared chins, in the matter of smooth shaving, with the highest church dignitary in York. Time, change, and poverty had all attacked the captain together, and had all failed alike to get him down on the ground. He paced the streets of York, a man superior to clothes and circumstances—his vagabond varnish as bright on him as ever.

Arrived at the bridge, Captain Wragge stopped and looked idly over the parapet at the barges in the river. It was plainly evident that he had no particular destination to reach and nothing whatever to do. While he was still loitering, the clock of York Minster chimed the half-hour past five. Cabs rattled by him over the bridge on their way to meet the train from London, at twenty minutes to six. After a moment’s hesitation, the captain sauntered after the cabs. When it is one of a man’s regular habits to live upon his fellow-creatures, that man is always more or less fond of haunting large railway stations. Captain Wragge gleaned the human field, and on that unoccupied afternoon the York terminus was as likely a corner to look about in as any other.

He reached the platform a few minutes after the train had arrived. That entire incapability of devising administrative measures for the management of large crowds, which is one of the characteristics of Englishmen in authority, is nowhere more strikingly exemplified than at York. Three different lines of railway assemble three passenger mobs, from morning to-night, under one roof; and leave them to raise a traveler’s riot, with all the assistance which the bewildered servants of the company can render to increase the confusion. The customary disturbance was rising to its climax as Captain Wragge approached the platform. Dozens of different people were trying to attain dozens of different objects, in dozens of different directions, all starting from the same common point and all equally deprived of the means of information.

1015 words.

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Via John Bibby (Bibby 2022).

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