Hide and Seek


Wilkie Collins

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Hide and Seek

by Wilkie Collins









This novel ranks the third, in order of succession, of the works of fiction which I have produced. The history of its reception, on its first appearance, is soon told.

Unfortunately for me, "Hide And Seek" was originally published in the year eighteen hundred and fifty-four, at the outbreak of the Crimean War. All England felt the absorbing interest of watching that serious national event; and new books--some of them books of far higher pretensions than mine--found the minds of readers in general pre-occupied or indifferent. My own little venture in fiction necessarily felt the adverse influence of the time. The demand among the booksellers was just large enough to exhaust the first edition, and there the sale of this novel, in its original form, terminated.

Since that period, the book has been, in the technical phrase, "out of print." Proposals have reached me, at various times, for its republication; but I have resolutely abstained from availing myself of them for two reasons.

In the first place, I was anxious to wait until "Hide And Seek" could make its re-appearance on a footing of perfect equality with my other works. In the second place, I was resolved to keep it back until it might obtain the advantage of a careful revisal, guided by the light of the author's later experience. The period for the accomplishment of both these objects has now presented itself. "Hide And Seek," in this edition, forms one among the uniform series of my novels, which has begun with "Antonina," "The Dead Secret," and "The Woman In White;" and which will be continued with "Basil," and "The Queen Of Hearts." My project of revisal has, at the same time, been carefully and rigidly executed. I have abridged, and in many cases omitted, several passages in the first edition, which made larger demands upon the reader's patience than I should now think it desirable to venture on if I were writing a new book; and I have, in one important respect, so altered the termination of the story as to make it, I hope, more satisfactory and more complete than it was in its original form.

With such advantages, therefore, as my diligent revision can give it, "Hide And Seek" now appeals, after an interval of seven years, for another hearing. I cannot think it becoming--especially in this age of universal self-assertion--to state the grounds on which I believe my book to be worthy of gaining more attention than it obtained, through accidental circumstances, when it was first published. Neither can I consent to shelter myself under the favorable opinions which many of my brother writers--and notably, the great writer to whom "Hide And Seek" is dedicated--expressed of these pages when I originally wrote them. I leave it to the reader to compare this novel--especially in reference to the conception and delineation of character--with the two novels ("Antonina" and "Basil") which preceded it; and then to decide whether my third attempt in fiction, with all its faults, was, or was not, an advance in Art on my earlier efforts. This is all the favor I ask for a work which I once wrote with anxious care--which I have since corrected with no sparing hand--which I have now finally dismissed to take its second journey through the world of letters as usefully and prosperously as it can.




At a quarter to one o'clock, on a wet Sunday afternoon, in November 1837, Samuel Snoxell, page to Mr. Zachary Thorpe, of Baregrove Square, London, left the area gate with three umbrellas under his arm, to meet his master and mistress at the church door, on the conclusion of morning service. Snoxell had been specially directed by the housemaid to distribute his three umbrellas in the following manner: the new silk umbrella was to be given to Mr. and Mrs. Thorpe; the old silk umbrella was to be handed to Mr. Goodworth, Mrs. Thorpe's father; and the heavy gingham was to be kept by Snoxell himself, for the special protection of "Master Zack," aged six years, and the only child of Mr. Thorpe. Furnished with these instructions, the page set forth on his way to the church.

The morning had been fine for November; but before midday the clouds had gathered, the rain had begun, and the inveterate fog of the season had closed dingily over the wet streets, far and near. The garden in the middle of Baregrove Square--with its close-cut turf, its vacant beds, its bran-new rustic seats, its withered young trees that had not yet grown as high as the railings around them--seemed to be absolutely rotting away in yellow mist and softly-steady rain, and was deserted even by the cats. All blinds were drawn down for the most part over all windows; what light came from the sky came like light seen through dusty glass; the grim brown hue of the brick houses looked more dirtily mournful than ever; the smoke from the chimney-pots was lost mysteriously in deepening superincumbent fog; the muddy gutters gurgled; the heavy rain-drops dripped into empty areas audibly. No object great or small, no out-of-door litter whatever appeared anywhere, to break the dismal uniformity of line and substance in the perspective of the square. No living being moved over the watery pavement, save the solitary Snoxell. He plodded on into a Crescent, and still the awful Sunday solitude spread grimly humid all around him. He next entered a street with some closed shops in it; and here, at last, some consoling signs of human life attracted his attention. He now saw the crossing-sweeper of the district (off duty till church came out) smoking a pipe under the covered way that led to a mews. He detected, through half closed shutters, a chemist's apprentice yawing over a large book. He passed a navigator, an ostler, and two costermongers wandering wearily backwards and forwards before a closed public-house door. He heard the heavy clop clop of thickly-booted feet advancing behind him, and a stern voice growling, "Now then! be off with you, or you'll get locked up!"--and, looking round, saw an orange-girl, guilty of having obstructed an empty pavement by sitting on the curb-stone, driven along before a policeman, who was followed admiringly by a ragged boy gnawing a piece of orange-peel. Having delayed a moment to watch this Sunday procession of three with melancholy curiosity as it moved by him, Snoxell was about to turn the corner of a street which led directly to the church, when a shrill series of cries in a child's voice struck on his ear and stopped his progress immediately.

The page stood stock-still in astonishment for an instant--then pulled the new silk umbrella from under his arm, and turned the corner in a violent hurry. His suspicions had not deceived him. There was Mr. Thorpe himself walking sternly homeward through the rain, before church was over.

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