Charles Dickens.

The battle of life. A love story online

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Title. Artist. Engraver.

Frontispiece . . . . D. Maclise, R. A. Thompson.

Title D. Maclise, R.A. Thompson.

Part the First . . . . R. Doyle. Dalziel.

War C. Stanfield, R.A. William*.

Peace C. Stanfield, R.A. Williams.

The Parting Breakfast . . J. Leech. Dalziel.

Part the Second . . . R. Doyle. Green.

Snitchey and Craggs . . . J. Leech. Dalziel.

The Secret Intkrvikw . . D. Maclise, R.A. Williams.

The Night of the Rett;rn . J. Leech. Dalziel.

Part the Third . . R. Doyle. Dalziel.

The Ntitmeg Grater . . . C. Stanfield, R.A. Williams.

The Sisters . . . . D. Maclise, R.A. irilUams.




was fought. It was fought upon a long summer
day when the waving grass was green. Many a
wild flower formed by the Almighty Hand to be a
perfumed goblet for the dew, felt its enamelled cup
fill high with blood that day, and shrinking dropped.
Many an insect deriving its delicate color from harm-
less leaves and herbs, was stained anew that day by
dying men, and marked its frightened way with an
unnatural track. The painted butterfly took blood
into the air upon the edges of its wings. The stream
ran red. The trodden ground became a quagmire,
whence, from sullen pools collected in the prints of
human feet and horses' hoofs, the one prevailing hue
still lowered and glimmered at the sun.

Heaven keep us from a knowledge of the sights
the moon beheld upon that field, when, coming up
above the black line of distant rising-ground, softened
and blurred at the edge by trees, she rose into the
sky and looked upon the plain, strewn with upturned
faces that had once at mothers' breasts sought
mothers' eyes, or slumbered happily. Heaven keep
us from a knowledge of the secrets whispered after-
wards upon the tainted wind that blew across the


scene of that day's work and that night's death and
suffering ! Many a lonely moon was bright upon the

battle-ground, and many
a star kept mournful watch
upon it, and many a wind
from every quarter of the
earth blew over it, before
the traces of the fight were
worn awav.


They lurked and lingered for a long time, but
survived in little things, for Nature, far above the
evil passions of men, soon recovered Her serenity, and
smiled upon the guilty battle-ground as she had done
before, when it was innocent. The larks sang high
above it, the swallows skimmed and dipped and flitted
to and fro, the shadows of the flying clouds pursued
each other swiftly, over grass and corn^>nd turnip-
field and wood, and over roof and church-spire in the
nestling town among the trees, away into the bright
distance on the borders of the sky and earth,
where the red suDsets faded. Crops were sown,
and grew up, and were gathered in ; the stream
that had been crimsoned, turned a watermill ; men
whistled at the plough ; gleaners and haymakers
were seen in quiet groups at work ; sheep and
oxen pastured ; boys whooped and called, in fields,
to scare away the birds ; smoke rose from cottage
chimneys ; sabbath bells rang peacefully ; old people
lived and died ; the timid creatures of the field,
and simple flowers of the bush and garden, grew
and withered in their destined terms : and all
upon the fierce and bloody battle-ground, where


thousands upon thousands had been killed in the
great fight.

But there were deep green patches in the growing
corn at first, that people looked at awfully. Year
after year they re-appeared ; and it was known that
underneath those fertile spots, heaps of men and
horses lay buried, indiscriminately, enriching the
ground. The husbandmen who ploughed those
places, shrunk from the great worms abounding
there ; and the sheaves they yielded, were, for
many a long year, called the Battle Sheaves, and
set apart ; and no one ever knew a Battle Sheaf


to be among the last load at a Harvest Home. For
a long time, every furrow that was turned, revealed
some fragments of the fight. For a long time, there
were wounded trees upon the battle-ground ; and
scraps of hacked and broken fence and wall, where
deadly struggles had been made ; and trampled
parts where not a leaf or blade would grow. For a
long time, no village-girl would dress her hair or
bosom with the sweetest flower from that field
of death : and after many a year had come and
gone, the berries growing there, were still believed


to leave too deep a stain upon the hand that plucked

The Seasons in their course, however, though they
passed as lightly as the summer clouds themselves,
obliterated, in the lapse of time, even these remains
of the old conflict; and wore away such legendary
traces of it as the neighbouring people carried in
their minds, until they dwindled into old wives ' tales,
dimly remembered round the winter fire, and waning
every year. Where the wild flowers and berries had
so long remained upon the stem untouched, gardens
arose, and houses were built, and children played at
battles on the turf. The wounded trees had long ago
made Christmas logs, and blazed and roared away.
The deep green patches were no greener now than
the memory of those who lay in dust below. The
ploughshare still turned up from time to time some
rusty bits of metal, but it was hard to say what use
they had ever served, and those who found them
wondered and disputed. An old dinted corslet, and
a helmet, had been hanging in the church so long,
that the same weak half-blind old man who tried in
vain to make them out above the whitewashed arch,



had marvelled at them as a baby. If the host
slain upon the field, could have been for a moment

reanimated in the
>.* forms in which
they fell, each
upon the spot that
was the bed of his
untimely death, gashed
and ghastly soldiers
would have stared in, hun-
dreds deep, at household door


and window ; and would have risen on the hearths of
quiet homes ; and would have heen the garnered store
of barns and granaries ; and would have started up
between the cradled infant and its nurse ; and would
have floated with the stream, and whirled round on
the mill, and crowded the orchard, and burdened the
meadow, and piled the rickyard high with dying men.
So altered was the battle-ground, where thousands
upon thousands had been killed in the great fight.

Nowhere more altered, perhaps, about a hundred
years ago, than in one little orchard attached to an
old stone house with a honeysuckle porch : where, on
a bright autumn morning, there were sounds of music
and laughter, and where two girls danced merrily
together on the grass, while some half-dozen peasant
women standing on ladders, gathering the apples from
the trees, stopped in their work to look down, and share
their enjoyment. It was a pleasant, lively, natural
scene ; a beautiful day, a retired spot ; and the two
girls, quite unconstrained and careless, danced in the
very freedom and gaiety of their hearts.

If there were no such thing as display in the
world, my private opinion is, and I hope you agree


with me, that we might get on a great deal better
than we do, and might be infinitely more agreeable
company than we are. It was charming to see how
these girls danced. They had no spectators but
the apple-pickers on the ladders. They were very
glad to please them, but they danced to please them-
selves (or at least you would have supposed so) ; and
you could no more help admiring, than they could help
dancing. How they did dance !

Not like opera dancers. Not at all. And not like
Madame Anybody's finished pupils. Not the least.
It was not quadrille dancing, nor minuet dancing,
nor even country-dance dancing. It was neither in
the old style, nor the new style, nor the French
style, nor the English style ; though it may have
been, by accident, a trifle in the Spanish style, which
is a free and joyous one, I am told, deriving a delight-
ful air of off-hand inspiration, from the chirping
little castanets. As they danced among the orchard
trees, and down the groves of stems and back again,
and twirled each other lightly round and round, the
influence of their airy motion seemed to spread and
spread, in the sun-lighted scene, like an expanding


circle in the water. Their streaming hair and flutter-
ing skirts, the elastic grass beneath their feet, the
boughs that rustled in the morning air — the flashing
leaves, their speckled shadows on the soft green
ground — the balmy wind that swept along the land-
scape, glad to turn the distant windmill, cheerily —
everything between the two girls, and the man and
team at plough upon the ridge of land, where they
showed against the sky as if they were the last
things in the world — seemed dancing too.

At last the younger of the dancing sisters, out of
breath, and laughing gaily, threw herself upon a
bench to rest. The other leaned against a tree
hard by. The music, a wandering harp and fiddle,
left off with a flourish, as if it boasted of its freshness ;
though, the truth is, it had gone at such a pace,
and worked itself to such a pitch of competition with
the dancing, that it never could have held on half a
minute longer. The apple-pickers on the ladders
raised a hum and murmur of applause, and then, in
keeping with the sound, bestirred themselves to work
again, like bees.

The more actively, perhaps, because an elderly


gentleman, who was no other than Doctor Jeddler
himself — it was Doctor Jeddler's house and orchard,
you should know, and these were Doctor Jeddler's
daughters — came bustling out to see what was the
matter, and who the deuce played music on his pro-
perty, before breakfast. For he was a great philo-
sopher, Doctor Jeddler, and not very musical.

" Music and dancing to-day I " said the Doctor,
stopping short, and speaking to himself, " I thought
they dreaded to-day. But it's a world of contradic-
tions. Why, Grace ; why, Marion ! " he added, aloud,
" is the world more mad than usual this morning ? M

"Make some allowance for it, father, if it be,"
replied his younger daughter, Marion, going close to
him, and looking into his face, " for it's somebody's

" Somebody's birth-day, Puss," replied the Doctor.
"Don't you know it's always somebody's birth-day?
Did you never hear how many new performers enter
on this — ha ! ha ! ha ! — it's impossible to speak
gravely of it — on this preposterous and ridiculous
business called Life, every minute ? "

"No, father!"


"No, not you, of course; you're a woman —
almost," said the Doctor. "By the bye," and he
looked into the pretty face, still close to his, " I sup-
pose it's your birth-day."

"No! Do you really, father?" cried his pet
daughter, pursing up her red lips to be kissed.

" There ! Take my love with it," said the Doctor,
imprinting his upon them ; " and many happy returns
of the — the idea ! — of the day. The notion of wish-
ing happy returns in such a farce as this," said the
Doctor to himself, " is good ! Ha ! ha ! ha ! "

Doctor Jeddler was, as I have said, a great philo-
sopher ; and the heart and mystery of his philosophy
was, to look upon the world as a gigantic practical
joke : as something too absurd to be considered
seriously, by any rational man. His system of belief
had been, in the beginning, part and parcel of the
battle-ground on which he lived ; as you shall pre-
sently understand.

" Well ! But how did you get the music ? " asked
the Doctor. u Poultry-stealers, of course. Where did
the minstrels come from ? "

" Alfred sent the music," said his daughter Grace,


adjusting a few simple flowers in her sister's hair,
with which, in her admiration of that youthful beauty,
she had herself adorned it half-an-hour before, and
which the dancing had disarranged.

" Oh ! Alfred sent the music, did he ? " returned
the Doctor.

" Yes. He met it coming out of the town as
he was entering early. The men are travelling on
foot, and rested there last night ; and as it was
Marion's birth-day, and he thought it would please
her, he sent them on, with a pencilled note to me,
saying that if I thought so too, they had come to
serenade her."

" Ay, ay," said the Doctor, carelessly, " he always
takes your opinion.' '

"And my opinion being favorable," said Grace,
good-humouredly ; and pausing for a moment to
admire the pretty head she decorated, with her own
thrown back ; " and Marion being in high spirits,
and beginning to dance, I joined her : and so we
danced to Alfred's music till we were out of breath.
And we thought the music all the gayer for being
sent by Alfred. Didn't we, dear Marion ?"


" Oh, I don't know, Grace. How jou teaze me
about Alfred."

" Teaze you by mentioning your lover !" said her

44 1 am sure I don't much care to have him men-
tioned," said the wilful beauty, stripping the petals
from some flowers she held, and scattering them on
the ground. "I am almost tired of hearing of him ;
and as to his being my lover "

" Hush ! Don't speak lightly of a true heart,
which is all your own, Marion," cried her sister,
" even in jest. There is not a truer heart than Alfred's
in the world !"

" No — no," said Marion, raising her eyebrows with
a pleasant air of careless consideration, " perhaps
not. But I don't know that there's any great merit
in that. I — I don't want him to be so very true.

I never asked him. If he expects that I . But,

dear Grace, why need we talk of him at all, just now !"

It was agreeable to see the graceful figures of the
blooming sisters, twined together, lingering among
the trees, conversing thus, with earnestness opposed
to lightness, yet with love responding tenderly to


love. And it was very curious indeed to see the
younger sister's eyes suffused with tears ; and some-
thing fervently and deeply felt, breaking through
the wilfulness of what she said, and striving with it

The difference between them, in respect of age,
could not exceed four years at most : but Grace, as
often happens in such cases, when no mother watches
over both (the Doctor's wife was dead), seemed, in
her gentle care of her young sister, and in the
steadiness of her devotion to her, older than she
was ; and more removed, in course of nature, from
all competition with her, or participation, otherwise
than through her sympathy and true affection, in
her wayward fancies, than their ages seemed to
warrant. Great character of mother, that, even
in this shadow, and faint reflection of it, purifies the
heart, and raises the exalted nature nearer to the
angels !

The Doctor's reflections, as he looked after them,
and heard the purport of their discourse, were limited,
at first, to certain merry meditations on the folly of
all loves and likings, and the idle imposition prac-


tised on themselves by young people, who believed,
for a moment, that there could be anything serious
in such bubbles, and were always undeceived —
always !

But the home-adorning, self-denying qualities of
Grace, and her sweet temper, so gentle and retiring,
yet including so much constancy and bravery of
spirit, seemed all expressed to him in the contrast
between her quiet household figure and that of his
younger and more beautiful child ; and he was sorry
for her sake — sorry for them both — that life should
be such a very ridiculous business as it was.

The Doctor never dreamed of inquiring whether
his children, or either of them, helped in any way to
make the scheme a serious one. But then he was a

A kind and generous man by nature, he had
stumbled, by chance, over that common Philosopher's
stone (much more easily discovered than the object
of the alchemist's researches), which sometimes trips
up kind and generous men, and has the fatal property
of turning gold to dross, and every precious thing to
poor account.


"Britain! " cried the Doctor. "Britain ! Halloa!"

A small man, with an uncommonly sour and dis-
contented face, emerged from the house, and returned
to this call the unceremonious acknowledgment of
" Now then ! "

" Where's the hreakfast table ? " said the Doctor.

" In the house," returned Britain.

" Are you going to spread it out here, as you were
told last night ? " said the Doctor. " Don't you
know that there are gentlemen coming ? That there's
business to be done this morning, before the coach
comes by ? That this is a very particular occasion ? "

" I couldn't do anything, Doctor Jeddler, till the
women had done getting in the apples, could I ? "
said Britain, his voice rising with his reasoning, so
that it was very loud at last.

" Well, have they done now ? " returned the
Doctor, looking at his watch, and clapping his hands.
" Come ! make haste ! where 's Clemency ? "

" Here am I, Mister," said a voice from one of the
. ladders, which a pair of clumsy feet descended briskly.
" It's all done now. Clear away, gals. Everything
shall be ready for you in half a minute, Mister."


With that she began to bustle about most
vigorously ; presenting, as she did so, an appearance
sufficiently peculiar to justify a word of introduction.

She was about thirty years old ; and had a suffi-
ciently plump and cheerful face, though it was twisted
up into an odd expression of tightness that made it
comical. But the extraordinary homeliness of her
gait and manner, would have superseded any face in
the world. To say that she had two left legs, and
somebody else's arms ; and that all four limbs seemed
to be out of joint, and to start from perfectly wrong
places when they were set in motion ; is to offer the
mildest outline of the reality. To say that she was
perfectly content and satisfied with these arrange-
ments, and regarded them as being no business of
hers, and took her arms and legs as they came, and
allowed them to dispose of themselves just as it hap-
pened, is to render faint justice to her equanimity.
Her dress was a prodigious pair of self-willed shoes,
that never wanted to go where her feet went ; blue stock-
ings ; a printed gown of many colours, and the most hide-
ous pattern procurable for money ; and a white apron.
She always wore short sleeves, and always had, by


some accident, grazed elbows, in which she took so
lively an interest that she was continually trying to
turn them round and get impossible views of them.
In general, a little cap perched somewhere on her
head ; though it was rarely to be met with in the
place usually occupied in other subjects, by that
article of dress ; but from head to foot she was scru-
pulously clean, and maintained a kind of dislocated
tidiness. Indeed her laudable anxiety to be tidy and
compact in her own conscience as well as in the
public eye, gave rise to one of her most startling
evolutions, which was to grasp herself sometimes by
a sort of wooden handle (part of her clothing, and
familiarly called a busk), and wrestle as it were with
her garments, until they fell into a symmetrical

Such, in outward form and garb, was Clemency
Newcome ; who was supposed to have unconsciously
originated a corruption of her own christian name,
from Clementina (but nobody knew, for the deaf old
mother, a very phenomenon of age, whom she had
supported almost from a child, was dead, and she
had no other relation) ; who now busied herself in


preparing the table ; and who stood, at intervals,
with her bare red arms crossed, rubbing her grazed
elbows with opposite hands, and staring at it very com-
posedly, until she suddenly remembered something
else it wanted, and jogged off to fetch it.

" Here are them two lawyers a-coming, Mister! "
said Clemency, in a tone of no very great good-will.

" Aha! " cried the Doctor, advancing to the gate
to meet them. " Good morning, good morning !
Grace, my dear ! Marion ! Here are Messrs. Snitchey
and Craggs. Where's Alfred ? "

"He'll be back directly, father, no doubt," said
Grace. " He had so much to do this morning in his
preparations for departure, that he was up and out by
daybreak. Good morning, gentlemen."

" Ladies ! " said Mr. Snitchey, " For Self and
Craggs," who bowed, "good morning. Miss," to
Marion, " I kiss your hand." Which he did. "And
I wish you " — which he might or might not, for he
didn't look, at first sight, like a gentleman troubled
with many warm outpourings of soul, in behalf of
other people, "a hundred happy returns of this
auspicious day."


" Ha ha ha ! " laughed the Doctor thoughtfully,
with his hands in his pockets. " The great farce in
a hundred acts ! "

" You wouldn't, I am sure," said Mr. Snitchey,
standing a small professional blue bag against one
leg of the table, " cut the great farce short for this
actress, at all events, Doctor Jeddler."

" No," returned the Doctor. " God forbid ! May
she live to laugh at it, as long as she can laugh, and
then say, with the French wit, * The farce is ended ;
draw the curtain.' "

"The French wit," said Mr. Snitchey, peeping
sharply into his blue bag, " was wrong, Doctor
Jeddler ; and your philosophy is altogether wrong,
depend upon it, as I have often told you. Nothing
serious in life ! What do you call law ? "

" A joke," replied the Doctor.

" Did you ever go to law? " asked Mr. Snitchey,
looking out of the blue bag.

" Never," returned the Doctor.

"If you ever do," said Mr. Snitchey, "perhaps
you'll alter that opinion."

Craggs, who seemed to be represented by


Snitchey, and to be conscious of little or no separate
existence or personal individuality, offered a remark
of his own in this place. It involved the only idea of
which he did not stand seised and possessed in equal
moieties with Snitchey ; but he had some partners in
it among the wise men of the world.

" It 's made a great deal too easy," said Mr. Craggs.

"Law is ? " asked the Doctor.

"Yes," said Mr. Craggs, "everything is. Everything
appears to me to be made too easy, now-a-days. It's
the vice of these times. If the world is a joke (I am
not prepared to say it isn't), it ought to be made a
very difficult joke to crack. It ought to be as hard a
struggle, Sir, as possible. That 's the intention.
But it's being made far too easy. We are oiling the
gates of life. They ought to be rusty. We shall
have them beginning to turn, soon, with a smooth
sound. Whereas they ought to grate upon their
hinges, Sir."

Mr. Craggs seemed positively to grate upon his own
hinges, as he delivered this opinion ; to which he com-
municated immense effect— being a cold, hard, dry
man, dressed in grey and white, like a flint ; with


small twinkles in his eyes, as if something struck
sparks out of them. The three natural kingdoms,
indeed, had each a fanciful representative among this
brotherhood of disputants : for Snitchey was like a
magpie or a raven (only not so sleek), and the Doctor
had a streaked face like a winter-pippin, with here
and there a dimple to express the peckings of the
birds, and a very little bit of pigtail behind, that
stood for the stalk.

As the active figure of a handsome young man,
dressed for a journey, and followed by a porter, bear-
ing several packages and baskets, entered the orchard
at a brisk pace, and with an air of gaiety and hope
that accorded well with the morning, — these three drew
together, like the brothers of the sister Fates, or like
the Graces most effectually disguised, or like the three
weird prophets on the heath, and greeted him.

" Happy returns, Alf," said the Doctor, lightly.

" A hundred happy returns of this auspicious day,
Mr. Heathfeld, ,, said Snitchey, bowing low.

" Returns ! " Craggs murmured in a deep voice,
all alone.

"Why, what a battery! " exclaimed Alfred, stop-


ping short, "and one — two — three — all foreboders
of no good, in the great sea before me. I am glad

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Online LibraryCharles DickensThe battle of life. A love story → online text (page 1 of 8)