Charles Dickens.

The mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories online

. (page 100 of 103)
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William," he rejoined slightingly. "The people
down-stairs will be paid in good time, I dare
say, for any little extra service they may have
rendered me ; and perhaps they anticipate no
less. I am much obliged to you, too."

Her fingers stopped, and she looked at him.



A DREADFUL GIFT,



179



- ■ " I cant be made to feel the more obliged by
your exaggerating the case,"' he said. " I am
sensible that you have been interested in me,
and I say I am much obliged to you. What
more would you have ? "

Her work fell on her lap, as she still looked
at him walking to and fro with an intolerant air,
and stopping now and then.

" I say again. I am much obliged to you.
Why weaken my sense of what is your due in
obligation, by i)referring enormous claims upon
me ? Trouble, sorrow, affliction, adversity !
One miglit suppose I had been dying a score of
deaths here ! "

" Do you believe, ]\Ir. Edmund," she asked,
rising and going nearer to him, " that I spoke of
the i)Oor people of the house with any reference
to myself? To me?" laying her hand upon
her bosom with a simple and innocent smile of
astonishment.

'• Oh ! I think nothing about it, my good
creature," he returned. " I have had an indis-
position, which your solicitude — observe ! I say
solicitude — makes a great deal more of than it
merits; and it's over, and we can't perpetuate it."

He coldly took a book, and sat down at the
table.

She watched him for a little while, until her
smile was quite gone, and then, returning to
where her basket was, said gently :

" ]\Ir. Edmund, would you rather be alone?"

" There is no reason why I should detain vou
here," he replied.

" Except " said Milly, hesitating, and show-
ing her work.

" Oh ! the curtain," he answered with a super-
cilious laugh. " That's not worth staying for,"

She made up the little packet again, and put
it in her basket. Then, standing before him
with such an air of patient entreaty that he could
not choose but look at her, she said :

" If you should want me, I will come back
willingly. When you did want me I was quite
happy to come ; there was no merit in it. I
think you must be afraid that, now you are
getting well, I may be troublesome to you ; but
I should not have been, indeed. I should have
come no longer than your weakness and confine-
ment lasted. You owe me nothing ; but it is
right that you should deal as justly by me as if
I was a lady — even the very lady that you love ;
and, if you suspect me of meanly making much
of the little I have tried to do to comfort your
sick-room, you do yourself more wrong than ever
you can do me. That is why I am sorry. That
is why I am \ery sorry."

If she had been as passionate as she was quiet,



2m indignant as she was calm, as angry in her
look as she was gentle, as loud of tone as she
was low and clear, she might have left no sense
of her departure in the room, compared with
that which fell upon the lonely student when she
went away.

He was gazing drearily upon the place where
she had been, when Rcdlaw came out of his
concealment, and came to the door.

'• When sickness lays its hand on you again,"
he said, looking fiercely back at him — " may it
be soon ! — die here ! Rot here ! "

" What have you done ? " returned the other,
catching at his cloak. " What change have you
wrought in me ? What curse have you brought
upon me ? Give me back myself ! "

" Give me back ///yself ! " exclaimed Redlavv
like a madman. " I am infected. I am in-
fectious ! I am charged with poison for my
own mind, and the minds of all mankind. Where
I felt interest, compassion, sympathy, I am turn-
ing into stone. Selfishness and ingratitude spring
up in my blighting footsteps. I am only so
much less base than the wretches whom I make
so, that in the moment of their transformation I
can hate them."

As he spoke — the young man still holding to
his cloak — he cast him off, and struck him ;
then wildly hurried out into the night air where
the wind was blowing, the snow falling, the
cloud-drift sweeping on, the moon dimly shining ;
and where, blowing in the wind, falling with the
snow, drifting with the clouds, shining in the
moonlight, and heavily looming in the darkness,
were the Phantom's words, " The gift that I
have given, you shall give again, go where you
will ! "

Whither he went he neither knew nor cared,
so that he avoided company. The change he
felt within him made the busy streets a desert,
and himself a desert, and the multitude around
him, in their manifold endurances and ways of
life, a mighty waste of sand, which the winds
tossed into unintelligible heaps, and made a
ruinous confusion of. Those traces in his breast
which the Phantom had told him would " die
out soon " were not, as yet, so far upon their way
to death, but that he understood enough of what
he was, and what he made of others, to desire
to be alone.

This ])ut it in his mind — he suddenly be-
thought himself, as he Avas going along, of the
boy who had rushed into his room. And then
he recollected that, of those with whom he had
communicated since the Phantom's disappear-
ance, that boy alone had shown no sign of being
changed.



I So



THE HA UNTED MAN.



Monstrous and odious as the wild thing was
to him, he determined to seek it out, and prove
if this were really so ; and also to seek it with
another intention, which came into his thoughts
at the same time.

So, resolving with some difficulty where he
was, he directed his steps back to the old Col-
lege, and to that part of it where the general
porch was, and where, alone, the pavement was
worn by the tread of the students' feet.

The keeper's house stood just within the iron
gates, forming a part of the chief quadrangle.
There was a little cloister outside, and from that
sheltered place he knew he could look in at the
window of their ordinary room, and see who was
within. The iron gates were shut, but his hand
was familiar with the fastening, and, drawing it
back by thrusting in his wrist between the bars,
he passed through softly, shut it again, and
crept up to the window, crumbling the thin
crust of snow with his feet.

The fire, to which he had directed the boy
last night, shining brightly through the glass,
made an illuminated place upon the ground.
Instinctively avoiding this, and going round it,
he looked in at the window. At first he thought
that there was no one there, and that the blaze
was reddening only the old beams in the ceil-
ing and the dark walls ; but, peering in more
narrowly, he saw the object of his search coiled
asleep before it on the floor. He passed quickly
to the door, opened it, and went in.

The creature lay in such a fiery heat, that, as
the Chemist stooped to rouse him, it scorched
his head. So soon as he was touched, the boy,
not half awake, clutched his rags together with
the instinct of flight upon him, half rolled and
half ran into a distant corner of the room, where,
heaped upon the ground, he struck his foot out
to defend himself.

" Get up ! " said the Chemist. " You have
not forgotten me ? "

" You let me alone ! " returned the boy.
" This is the woman's house— not yours."

The Chemist's steady eye controlled him
somewhat, or inspired him with enough submis-
sion to be raised upon his feet, and looked at.

" Who washed them, and put those bandages
where they were bruised and cracked ? " asked
the Chemist, pointing to their altered state.

" The woman did."

" And is it she who has made you cleaner in
the face, too?"

" Yes, the woman."

Redlaw asked these questions to attract his
eyes towards himself, and, with the same intent,
now held him by the chin, and threw his wild



hair back, thougli he loathed to touch him. The
boy watched his eyes keenly, as if he thought it
needful to his own defence, not knowing what
he might do next ; and Redlaw could see well
that no change came over him.

" Where are they ? " he inquired.

" The woman's out."

" I know she is. "Where is the old man with
the white hair, and his son?"

" The woman's husband, d'ye mean ? " in-
quired the boy.

" Ay. Where are those two ? "

" Out. Something's the matter somewhere.
They were fetched out in a hurry, and told me
to stop here."

" Come with me," said the Chemist, " and I'll
give you money."

"Come where? and how much will you
give?"

" I'll give you more shillings than you ever
saw, and bring you back soon. Do you know
your way to where you came from ? "

" You let me go," returned the boy, suddenly
twisting out of his grasp. " I'm not a-going to
take you there. Let me be, or I'll heave some
fire at you ! "

He was down before it, and ready, with his
savage httle hand, to pluck the burning coals
out.

What the Chemist had felt, in observing the
effect of his charmed influence stealing over
those with whom he came in contact, was not
nearly equal to the cold vague terror with which
he saw this babj'-monster put it at defiance. It
chilled his blood to look on the immovable,
impenetrable thing, in the likeness of a child,
with its sharp malignant face turned up to his,
and its almost infant hand ready at the bars.

" Listen, boy ! " he said. " You shall take
me where you please, so that you take me
where the people are very miserable or very
wicked. I want to do them good, and not to
harm them. You shall have money, as I have
told you, and I will bring you back. Get up !
Come quickly ! " He made a hasty step towards
the door, afraid of her returning.

" Will you let me walk by myself, and never
hold me, nor yet touch me?" said the boy,
slowly withdrawing the hand with which he
threatened, and beginning to get up.

" I will ! "

" And let me go before, behind, or anyways I
hke ? "

" I will ! "

" Give me some money first, then, and I'll
go."

The Chemist laid a few shilHngs, one by one.



ALL GOOD IMAGINATION GONE.



in his extended hand. To count them was
beyond the boy's knowledge, but he said " one,"
every time, and avariciously looked at each as
it was given, and at the donor. He had no-
where to put them, out of his hand, but in his
mouth ; anil he put them there.

Redlaw then wrote with his pencil, on a leaf
of his pocket-book, that the boy was with him ;
and, laying it on the table, signed to him to
follow. Keeping his rags together, as usual,
the boy complied, and went out with his bare
head and his naked feet into the winter night.

Preferring not to depart by the iron gate by
which he had entered, where they were in
danger of meeting her whom he so anxiously
avoided, the Chemist led the way, through some
of those passages among which the boy had lost
himself, and by that portion of the building
where he lived, to a small door of which he had
the key. When they got into the street, he
stopped to ask his guide — who instantly re-
treated from him — if he knew where they were.

The savage thing looked here and there, and
at length, nodding his head, pointed in the
direction he designed to take. Redlaw going
on at once, he followed, somewhat less sus-
piciously ; shifting his money from his mouth
into his hand, and back again into his mouth,
and stealthily rubbing it bright upon his shreds
of dress, as he went along.

Three times, in their progress, they were side
by side. Three times they stopped, being side
by side. Three times the Chemist glanced down
at his face, and shuddered as it forced upon him
one reflection.

The first occasion was when the;' vere cross-
ing an old churchyard, and Redlaw stopped
among the graves, utterly at a loss how to con-
nect them with any tender, softening, or conso-
latory thought.

The second was when the breaking forth of
the moon induced him to look up at the hea-
vens, where he saw her in her glory, surrounded
by a host of stars he still knew by the names
and histories which human science has appended
to them ; but where he saw nothing else he had
been wont to see, felt nothing he had been woixC
to feel, in looking up there on a bright night.

The third was when he stopped to listen to a
plaintive strain of music, but could only hear a
tune, made manifest to him by the dry mecha-
nism of the instruments and his own ears, with
no address to any mystery within him, without a
whisper in it of the past, or of the future, power-
less upon him as the sound of last year's running
water, or the rushing of last year's wind.

At each of these three times he saw, with



horror, that in spite of the vast intellectual
distance between them, and their being unlike
each other in all physical respects, the exi)res-
sion on the boy's face was the expression on his
own.

They journeyed on for some time — now
througli such crowded places, that he often
looked over his shoulder, thinking he had lost
his guide, but generally finding him within his
shadow on his other side ; now by ways so
quiet, that he could have counted his short,
(^uick, naked footsteps coming on behind —
until they arrived at a ruinous collection of
houses, and the boy touched him and stopped.

" In there ! " he said, pointing out one house
where there were scattered lights in the win-
dows, and a dim lantern in the doorway, with
" Lodgings for Travellers " painted on it.

Redlaw looked about him ; from the houses,
to the waste piece of ground on which the
houses stood, or rather, did not altogether
tumble down, un fenced, undrained, unlighted,
and bordered by a sluggish ditch ; from that, to
the sloping line of arches, part of some neigh-
bouring viaduct or bridge with which it was
surrounded, and which lessened gradually
towards them, until the last but one was a mere
kennel for a dog, the last a plundered little heap
of bricks ; from that, to the child, close to him,
cowering and trembling with the cold, and limp-
ing on one little foot, Avhile he coiled the other
round his leg to w-arm it, yet staring at all these
things w'ith that frightful likeness of expression
so apparent in his face, that Redlaw started
from him.

" In there ! " said the boy, pointing out the
house again. " I'll wait."

•' Will they let me in ?" asked Redlaw.

" Say you're a doctor," he answered with a
nod. "There's plenty ill here."

Looking back on his way to the house-door,
Redlaw saw him trail himself upon the dust, and
crawl within the shelter of the smallest arch, as
if he were a rat. He had no pity for the thing,
but he was afraid of it ; and when it looked out
of its den at him, he hurried to the house as a
retreat.

" Sorrow, wrong, and trouble," said the
Chemist, with a painful effort at some more
distinct remembrance, " at least haunt this place
darkly. He can do no harm who brings forget-
fulness of such things here ! "

With these words he pushed the yielding
door, and went in.

There was a woman sitting on the stairs,
either asleep or forlorn, whose head was bent
down on her han-'s and knees. As it was not



l83



THE HAUNTED MAN.



easy to pass without treading on her, and as she
was perfectly regardlecs of his near approach, he
stopped, and touched her on the shoulder.
Looking up, she showed him quite a young
face, but one whose bloom and promise were
all swept away, as if the haggard winter should
unnaturally kill the spring.

With little or no show of concern on his
account, she moved nearer to the wall to leave
him a wider passage.

"What are you?" said Redlaw, pausing, with
his hand upon the broken stair-rail.

"What do you think lam?" she answered,
showing him her face again.

He looked upon the ruined temple of God,
so lately made, so soon disfigured ; and some-
thing, which was not compassion — for the springs
in which a true compassion for such miseries
has its rise were dried up in his breast — but
which was nearer to it, for the moment, than
any feeling that had lately struggled into the
darkening, but not yet wholly darkened, night
of his mind — mingled a touch of softness with
his next words.

" I am come here to give relief, if I can," he
said. " Are you thinking of any wrong ?"

She frowned at him, and then laughed ; and
then her laugh prolonged itself into a shivering
sigh, as she dropped her head again, and hid
her fingers in her hair.

"Arc you thinking of a wrong?" he asked
once more.

" I am thinking of my life," she said with a
momentary look at him.

He had a perception that she was one of
many, and that he saw the type of thousands
when he saw her drooping at his feet.

" What are your parents ?" he demanded.

" I had a good home once. My father was a
gardener, far away in the country."

" Is he dead ?"

" He's dead to me. All such things are dead
to me. You a gentleman, and not know that !"
She raised her eyes again, and laughed at him.

"Girl!" said Redlaw sternly, "before this
death of all such things was brought about, was
there no wrong done to you ? In spite of all
that you can do, does no remembrance of wrong
cleave to you? Are there not times upon times
when it is misery to you?"

So little of what was womanly was left in her
appearance, that now, when she burst into tears,
he stood amazed. But he was more amazed,
and much disquieted, to note that, in her
awakened recollection of this wrong, the first
trace of her old humanity and frozen tenderness
appeared to show itself.



He drew a little off, and, in doing so, observed
that her arms were black, her fiice cut, and her
bosom bruised.

"What brutal hand has hurt you so?" he
asked.

" My own. I did it myself I " she answered
quickl)-.

" It is impossible."

" I'll swear I did ! He didn't touch me. J
did it to myself in a passion, and threw myself
down here. He wasn't near me. He never
laid a hand upon me ! "

In the white determination of her face, con-
fronting him with this untruth, he saw enough
of the last perversion and distortion of good
surviving in that miserable breast, to be stricken
with remorse that he had ever come near her.

"Sorrow, wrong, and trouble ! " he muttered,
turning his fearful gaze away. "All that con-
nects her with the state from which she has
fallen has those roots ! In the name of God,
let me go by !"

Afraid to look at her again, afraid to touch
her, afraid to think of having sundered the last
thread by which she held upon the mercy of
Heaven, he gathered his cloak about him, and
glided swiftly up the stairs.

Opposite to him, on the landing, was a door,
which stood parti)'' open, and which, as he
ascended, a man with a candle in his hand
came forward from within to shut. But this
man, on seeing him, drew back, with much
emotion in his manner, and, as if by a sudden
impulse, mentioned his name aloud.

In the surprise of such a recognition there, he
stopped, endeavouring to recollect the wan and
startled face. He had no time to consider it,
for, to his yet greater amazement, old Philip
came out of the room, and took him by the
hand.

" Mr. Redlaw," said the old man, " this is
like you, this is like you, sir ! You have heard
of it, and have come after us to render any help
you can. Ah, too late, too late ! "

Redlaw, with a bewildered look, submitted to
be led into the room. A man lay there on a
truckle-bed, and William Swidger stood at the
bedside.

" Too late ! " murmured the old man, looking
wistfully into the Chemist's face ; and the tears
stole down his cheeks.

"That's what I say, father," interposed his
son in a low voice. " That's where it is exactly.
To keep as quiet as ever we can while he's a
dozing is the only thing to do. You're right,
father!"

Redlaw paused at the bedside, and looked



THE FAVOURITE SON.



183



down on the figure that was stretched upon the
mattress. It was that of a man who should
have been in the vigour of his Ufe, but on whom
it was not hkely that the sun would ever shine
again. The vices of his forty or fifty years'
career had so branded him, that, in comparison
with their efiects upon his face, the heavy hand
of time upon the old man's face who watched
him had been merciful and beautifying.

" Who is this ? " asked the Chemist, looking
round.

'■ My son George, Mr. Redlaw," said the old
man, wringing his hands. " My eldest son,
George, who was more his mother's pride than
all the rest ! "

Redlaw's eyes wandered from the old man's
grey head, as he laid it down upon the bed, to
the i)erson who had recognised him, and who
had kept aloof in the remotest comer of the
room. He seemed to be about his own age ;
and, although he knew no such hopeless decay
and broken man as he appeared to be, there
was something in the turn of his figure, as he
stood with his back towards him, and now went
out at the door, that made him pass his hand
uneasily across his brow.

" William," he said in a gloomy whisper, " who
is that man ?"

" Why, you see, sir," returned Mr. William,
"that's w'hat I say myself. Why should a man
ever go and gamble, and the like of that, and let
himself down inch by inch till he can't let him-
self down any loAver ? "

" Has he done so?" asked Redlaw, glancing
after him with the same uneasy action as before.

"Just exactly that, sir," returned William
Swidger, " as I'm told. He knows a little about
medicine, sir, it seems ; and having been way-
faring towards London with my unhappy brother
that you see here," — Mr. William passed his
coat-sleeve across his eyes, — " and being lodging
up-stairs for the niglit — what I say, you see, is,
that strange companions come together here
sometimes — he looked in to attend upon him,
and came for us at his request. What a mourn-
ful spectacle, sir ! But that's where it is. It's
enough to kill my father ! "

Redlaw looked up at these words, and, recall-
ing where he was and with whom, and the spell
he carried with him — which his surprise had
obscured — retired a little, hurriedly, debating
with himself whether to shun the house that
moment, or remain.

Yielding to a certain sullen doggedness, which
it seemed to be part of his condition to struggle
with, he argued for remaining.

"Was it only yesterday," he said, "when I



cA)served the memory of this old man to be s
tissue of sorrow and trouble, and shall I be
afraid, to-night, to shake it ? Arc such remem-
brances as I can drive away so precious to this
dying man, that I need fear for ////;/ i No, I'll
stay here."

But he stayed in fear and trembling none the
less for these Avords ; and, shrouded in Jiis black
cloak with his face turned from them, stood
away from the bedside, listening to what they
said, as if he felt himself a demon in the i)lace.

" Father ! " murmured the sick man, rallying
a little from his stupor.

" My boy ! My son George ! " said old Philip„

"You spoke, just now, of my being mother's
favourite long ago. It's a dreadful thing to
think, now, of long ago ! "

'' No, no, no ! " returned the old man. " Think
of it. Don't say it's dreadful. It's not dreadful
to me, my son."

" It cuts you to the heart, father." For the
old man's tears were falling on him.

" Yes, yes," said Philip, " so it does ; but it
does me good. It's a heavy sorrow to think of
that time, but it does me good, George. Oh,
think of it too, think of it too, and your heart
will be softened more and more ! Where's ray
son William ? William, my boy, your mother
loved him dearly to the last, and with her latesJ.
breath said, ' Tell him I forgave him, blessed
him, and prayed for him.' Those were her
words to me. I have never forgotten them, and
I'm eighty-seven ! "

" Father ! " said the man upon the bed, " I
am dying, I know. I am so far gone, that I can
hardly speak, even of what my mind most runs
on. Is there any hope for me beyond this bed?"

" There is hope," returned the old man, " for
all who are softened and penitent. There is
hope for all such. Oh ! " he exclaimed, clasp-
ing his hands and looking up, " I was thankful,,
only yesterday, that I could remember this un-
happy son when he was an innocent child. But
what a comfort is it, now, to think that even
God himself has that remembrance of him ! "

Redlaw spread his hands upon his face, and
shrunk like a murderer.

" Ah ! " feebly moaned the man upon the bed.
" The waste since then, the waste of life since
then ! "

" But he was a child once," said the old man.
" He played with children. Before he lay down
on his bed at night, and fell into his guiltless
rest, he said his prayers at his poor mother's
knee. I have seen him do it many a time ; and
seen her lay his head upon her breast and kiss
him. Sorrowful as it was to her, and to me, to



i84



THE HA UNTED MAN.



think of this, when he went so wrong, and when
our hopes and plans for him were all broken,



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 100 of 103)