Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 101 of 103)
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this gave him still a hold upon us, that nothing
else could have given. Oh, Father, so much
better than the fathers upon earth ! Oh, Father,
so much more afflicted by the errors of thy
children ! take this wanderer back ! Not as he
is, but as he was then, let him cry to thee, as he
has so often seemed to cry to us ! "

As the old man lifted up his trembling hands,

the son, for whom he made the supplication,
laid his sinking head against him for support
and comfort, as if he were indeed the child of
whom he spoke.

When did man ever tremjle as Redlaw
trembled in the silence that ensued? He knew
it must come upon them, knew that it was com-
ing fast.

" My time is very short, my breath is shorter,"
said the sick man, supporting himself on one


arm, and with the other groping in the air, " and
I remember there is something on my mind con-
cerning the man who was here just now. Father
and William — wait ! — is there really anything in
black out there ? "

" Yes, yes, it is real," said his aged father.

" Is it a man ? "

"What I say myself, George," interposed his
brother, bending kindly over him. " It's Mr.

" I thought I had dreamed of him. Ask him
to come here."

The Chemist, whiter than the dying man,
appeared before him. Obedient to the motion
of his hand, he sat upon the bed.

" It has been so ripped up to-night, sir," said
the sick man, laying his hand upon his heart,
with a look in which the mute, imploring agony
of his condition was concentrated, " by llie
sight of my poor old father, and the thought of



all the trouble I have been the cause of, and
all the wrong and sorrow lying at my door,
that "

Was it the extremity to which he had come,
or was it the dawning of another change, that
made him stop ?

" — That what I can do right, with my mind
running on so much, so fast, I'll try to do.
There was another man here. Did you see
him ? "

Redlaw could not reply by any word ; for
when he saw that fatal sign he knew so well
now, of the wandering hand upon the forehead,
his voice died at his lips. But he made some
indication of assent.

** He is penniless, hungry, and destitute. He
is completely beaten down, and has no resource
at all. Look after him ! Lose no time ! I
know he has it in his mind to kill himself"

It was working. It was on his face. His
face was changing, hardening, deepening in all
its shades, and losing all its sorrow.

"Don't you remember? Don't you know
him ? " he pursued.

He shut his facfe out for a moment with the
hand that again wandered over his forehead,
and then it lowered on Redlaw, reckless, ruf-
fianly, and callous.

" Why, d— n you ! " he said, scowling round,
"what have you been doing to me here.'* I
have lived bold, and I mean to die bold. To
the Devil with you ! "

And so lay down upon his bed, and put
his arms up over his head and ears, as resolute
from that time to keep out all access, and to
die in his indifference.

If Redlaw had been struck by lightning, it
could not have struck him from the bedside
with a more tremendous shock. But the old
man, who had left the bed while his son was
speaking to him, now returning, avoided it
quickly likewise, and with abhorrence.

""Where's my boy William ? " said the old man
hurriedly. " William, come away from here.
We'll go home."

" Home, father ! " returned William. " Are
you going to leave your own son ? "

" Where's my own son ? " replied the old man.

" AVhere ? Why, there ! "

"That's no son of mine," said Philip, trem-
bling with resentment. " No such wretch as that
has any claim on me. My children are pleasant
to look at, and they wait upon me, and get my
meat and drink ready, and are useful to me.
I've a right to it ! I'm eighty-seven ! "

" You're old enough to be no older," muttered •
William, looking at him grudgingly, with his

hands in liis pockets. " I don't know what
good you are myself. We could have a deal
more pleasure without you."

" Aly son, Mr. Redlaw ! " said the old man.
" My son, too ! The boy talking to me of my
son ! Why, what has he ever done to give me
any pleasure, I should like to know ? "

" I don't know what you have ever done to
give mc any pleasure," said William sulkily.

"Let me think," said the old man. "For
how many Christmas-times running have I sat
in my warm place, and never had to come out in
the cold night air ; and have made good cheer,
without being disturbed by any such uncomfort-
able, wretched sight as him there ? Is it twenty,
William ? "

" Nigher forty, it seems," he muttered. " Why,
when I look at my father, sir, and come to think
of it," addressing Redlaw with an impatience
and an irritation that were quite new, " I'm
whipped if I can see anything in him but a
calendar of ever so many years of eating, and
drinking, and making himself comfortable over
and over again."

"I — I'm eighty-seven," said the old man,
rambling on, childishly and weakly, " and I
don't know as I ever was much put out by any-
thing. I'm not a-going to begin now, because
of what he calls my son. He's not my son.
I've had a power of pleasant times. I recollect
once — no, I don't — no, it's broken off. It was
something about a game of cricket and a friend
of mine, but it's somehow broken off. I wonder
who he was — I suppose I liked him ? And I
wonder what became of him — I suppose he
died ? But I don't know. And I don't care,
neither; I don't care a bit."

In his drowsy chuckling, and tlie shaking of
his head, he put his hands into his waistcoat
pockets. In one of them he found a bit of
holly (left there, probably, last night), which he
now took out, and looked at.

"Berries, eh?" said the old man. "Ah!
It's a pity they're not good to eat. I recollect
when I was a little chap about as high as that,
and out a walking with — .'et me see — who was I
out a walking with ? — no, I don't remember
how that was. I don't remember as I ever
walked with any one particular, or cared for any
one, or any one for me. Berries, eh ? There's
good cheer when there's berries. Well, I ought
to have my share of it, and to be waited on, and
kept warm and comfortable ; for I'm eighty-
seven, and a poor old man. I'm eigh-ty-seven.
Eigh-ty-seven ! "

The drivelling, pitiable manner in which, as
he repeated this, he nibbled at the leaves, and



spat the morsels out ; the cold, uninterested eye
with which his youngest son (so changed) re-
garded him ; the determined apathy witli which
his eldest son lay hardened in his sin; — im-
pressed themselves no more on Redlaw's obser-
vation ; for he broke his way from the spot to
which his feet seemed to have been fixed, and
ran out of the house.

His guide came crawling forth from his place
of refuge, and was ready for him before he
reached the arches.

" Back to the woman's ? " he inquired.

"Back quickly! " answered Redlaw, "Stop
nowhere on the way ! "

For a short distance the boy went on before ;
but their return was more like a flight than a
walk, and it was as much as his bare feet could
do to keep pace with the Chemist's rapid strides.
Shrinking from all who passed, shrouded in his
< loak, and keeping it drawn closely about him,
as though there were mortal contagion in any
fluttering touch of his garments, he made no
pause until they reached the door by which they
had come out. He unlocked it with his key,
went in, accompanied by the boy, and hastened
through the dark passages to his own chamber.

The boy watched him as he made the door
fast, and withdrew behind the table when he
looked round.

" Come ! " he said. " Don't you touch me !
You've not brought me here to take my money

Redlaw threw some more upon the ground.
He flung his body on it immediately, as if to
hide it from him, lest the sight of it should
tempt him to reclaim it ; and not until he saw
him seated by his lamp, with his face hidden in
his hands, began furtively to pick it up. When
he had done so, he crept near the fire, and,
sitting down in a great chair before it, took
from his breast some broken scraps of food, and
fell to munching, and to staring at the blaze, and
now and then to glancing at his shillings, which
he kept clenched up in a bunch in one hand.

*' And this," said Redlaw, gazing on him with
increasing repugnance and fear, " is the only one
companion I have left on earth ! "

How long it was before he was aroused from
his contemplation of this creature whom he
dreaded so — whether half an hour, or half the
night — he knew not. But the stillness of the
room was broken by the boy (whom he had
seen listening) starting up, and running towards
the door.

" Here's the woman coming ! " he exclaimed.

The Chemist stopped him on his way, at the
moment when she knocked.

" Let me go to her, will you ? " said the


" Not now," returned the Chemist. " Stay
here. Nobody must pass in or out of the room
now. Who's that ? "

"It's I, sir," cried Milly. "Pray, sir, let
me in."

" No ! not for the world ! " he said.

" Mr. Redlaw, Mr. Redlaw, pray, sir, let me
in ! "

" A\'hat is the matter ? " he said, holding the

" The miserable man you saw is worse, and
nothing I can say will wake him from his ter-
rible infatuation. William's father has turned
childish in a moment. William himself is
changed. The shock has been too sudden for
him ; I cannot understand him : he is not like
himself Oh, ISlr. Redlaw, pray advise me,
help me ! "

" No ! No ! No ! " he answered.

" ]\Ir. Redlaw ! Dear sir ! George has been
muttering in his doze about the man you saw
there, who, he fears, will kill himself."

" Better he should do it than come near
me ! "

" He says, in his wandering, that you know
him ; that he was your friend once, long ago ;
that he is the ruined father of a student here —
my mind misgives me, of the young gentleman
who has been ill. What is to be done ? How
is he to be followed ? How is he to be saved ?
Mr. Redlaw, pray, oh, pray advise me ! Help
me ! "

All this time he held the boy, who was half
mad to pass him, and let her in.

" Phantoms ! Punishers of impious thoughts ! "
cried Redlaw, gazing round in anguish. " Look
upon me ! From the darkness of my mind, let
the glimmering of contrition that I know is
there, shine up and show my misery ! In the
material world, as I have long taught, nothing
can be spared ; no step or atom in the won-
drous structure could be lost, without a blank
being made in the great universe. I know, now,
that it is the same with good and evil, happiness
and sorrow, in the memories of men. Pity me !
Relieve me ! "

There was no response but her " Help me,
help me, let me in ! " and the boy's struggling
to get to her.

"Shadow of myself! Spirit of my darker
hours ! " cried Redlaw in distraction. " Come
back, and haunt me day and night, but take
this gift away ! Or, if it must still rest with me,
deprive me of the dreadful power of giving it to
others. Undo what I have done. Leave me



benighted, but restore the day to those whom I
have cursed. As I have spared this woman
from the first, and as I never will go forth again,
but will die here, with no hand to tend me, save
this creature's who is proof against me, — hear
me ! "

The only reply still was, the boy struggling to
get to her, while he held him back ; and the cry
increasing in its energy, " Help ! let me in !
He was your friend once : how shall he be fol-
lowed, how shall he be saved ? They are all
changed, there is no one else to help me : pray,
pray let me in ! "



o||g|^IGHT was still heavy in tfoe sky.
^ ^l^/j 0! On open plains, from hill-tops, and
^^k from the decks of solitary ships at
^^^ sea, a distant low-lying line, that
I'^Vi^^ promised by -and -by to change to
i^L^ ^ light, was visible in the dim horizon ;
^^ but its promise was remote and doubt-
-.o" "^ ful, and the moon was striving with the
night clouds busily.

The shadows upon Redlaw's mind succeeded
thick and fast to one another, and obscured its
light as the night clouds hovered between the
moon and earth, and kept the latter veiled in
darkness. Fitful and uncertain as the shadows
which the night clouds cast were their conceal-
ments from him, and imperfect revelations to
liim ; and, like the night clouds still, if the clear
light broke forth for a moment, it was only that
they might sweep over it, and make the dark-
ness deeper than before.

Without, there was a profound and solemn
hush upon the ancient pile of building, and its
buttresses and angles made dark shapes of mys-
tery upon the ground, which now seemed to
retire into the smooth white snow, and now
seemed to come out of it, as the moon's path
was more or less beset. Within, the Chemist's
room was indistinct and murky, by the light of
the expiring lamp ; a ghostly silence had suc-
ceeded to the knocking and the voice outside ;
nothing was audible but, now and then, a low
sound among the whitened ashes of the fire, as
of its yielding up its last breath. Before it, on
the ground, the boy lay fast asleep. In his chair
the Chemist sat, as he had sat there since the
calling at his door had ceased — like a man
turned to stone.

At such a time, the Christmas music he had
heard before began to play. He listened to it,
at first, as he had listened in the churchyard ;
but presently — it playing still, and being borne
towards him on the night air, in a low, sweet,
melancholy strain — he rose, and stood stretch-
ing his hands about him, as if there were some
friend approaching within his reach, on whom
his desolate touch might rest, yet do no harm.
As he did this, his face became less fixed and
wondering ; a gentle trembling came upon him ;
and at last his eyes filled with tears, and he put
his hands before them, and bowed down his
head. i ■

His memory of sorrow, wrong, and trouble
had not come back to him ; he knew that it was
not restored ; he had no passing belief or h.o\)Q.
that it was. But some dumb stir within him
made him capable, again, of being moved b;,-
what was hidden, afar off, in the music. If u
were only that it told him sorrovi-fully the value
of what he had lost, he thanked Heaven for it
with a fervent gratitude.

As the last chord died upon his ear, he raised
his head to listen to its lingering vibration. Be-
yond the boy, so that his sleeping figure lay at
its feet, the Phantom stood, immovable and
silent, with its eyes upon him.

Ghastly it was, as it had ever been, 'out not so
cruel and relentless in its aspect — or he thought
or hoped so, as he looked upon it, trembling.
It was not alone, but in its shadowy hand it
held another hand.

And whose was that? Was the form that
stood beside it indeed Milly's, or but her shade
and picture ? The quiet head was bent a little,
as her manner was, and her eyes were looking
down, as if in pity, on the sleeping child. A
radiant light fell on her face, but did not touch
the Phantom ; for^ though close beside her, it
was dark and colourless as ever.

" Spectre ! " said the Chemist, newly troubled
as he looked, " I have not been stubborn or
presumptuous in respect of her. Oh, do not
bring her here ! Spare me that ! "

•' This is but a shadow," said the Phantom ;
" when the morning shines, seek out the reality
whose image I present before you."

" Is it my inexorable doom to do so ? " cried
the Chemist.

'• It is," replied the Phantom.

" To destroy her peace, her goodness ; to
make her Avhat I am myself, and what I have
made of others ? "

"I have saidj 'Seek her out,'" returned the
Phantom. " I have said no more."

" Oh, tell me ! " exclaimed Redlaw, catching

1 88


at the hope which he fancied might He hidden
in the words. " Can I undo what I 1 ave

" No," returned the Phantom.

" I do not ask for restoration to myself," said
Redlaw. " What I abandoned, 1 abandoned of
my own will, and have justly lost. But for those
to whom I have transferred tlie fatal gift ; who
never sought it; who unknowingly received a
curse of which they had no warning, and which
they had no power to shun ; can I do nothing ?"

" Nothing," said the Phantom.

" If I cannot, can any one ? "

The Phantom, standing like a statue, kept its
gaze upon him for awhile ; then turned its head
suddenly, and looked upon the shadow at its

" Ah ! Can she ? " cried Redlaw, still looking
upon the shade.

The Phantom released the hand it had re-
tained till now, and softly raised its own with a
gesture of dismissal. Upon that, her shadow,
still preserving the same attitude, began to move
or melt away. '

" Stay ! " cried Redlaw with an earnestness to
which he could not give enough expression.
" For a moment ! As an act of mercy ! I know
that some change fell upon me when those
sounds were in the air just now. Tell me, have
I lost the power of harming her? May I go
near her without dread ? Oh, let her give me
any sign of hope ! "

The Phantom looked upon the shade as he
did — not at him — and gave no answer.

"At least, say this — has she, henceforth, the
consciousness of any power to set right what I
have done ? "

" She has not," the Phantom answered.

" Has she the power bestowed on her with-
out the consciousness ? "

The Phantom answered : '' Seek her out,"
And her shadow slowly vanished.

They were face to face again, and looking on
each other as intently and awfully as at the time
of the bestowal of the gift, across the boy who
still lay on the ground between them, at the
Phantom's feet.

" Terrible instructor," said the Chemist, sink-
ing on his knee before it in an attitude of sup-
phcation, " by whom I was renounced, but by
whom I am revisited (in which, and in whose
milder aspect, I would fain believe I have a
gleam of hope), I will obey without inquiry,
praying that the cry I have sent up in the
anguish of my soul has been, or will be, heard
in behalf of those whom I have injured beyond
hun^n reparation. But there is one thing "

" You speak to me of what is lying here," the
Phantom interposed, and pointed with its finger
to the boy.

" I do," returned the Chemist. " You know
what I would ask. Why has this child alone
been proof against my influence, and why, why
have I detected in its thoughts a terrible com-
panionship with mine?"

" This," said the Phantom, pointing to the
boy, " is the last, completcst illustration of a
human creature utterly bereft of such remem-
brances as you have yielded up. No softening
memory of sorrow, wrong, or trouble enters
here, because this wretched mortal from his
birth has been abandoned to a worse condition
than the beasts, and has, within his knowledge,
no one contrast, no humanising touch to make a
grain of such a memory spring up in his hardened
breast. All within this desolate creature is
barren wilderness. All within the man bereft of
what you have resigned is the same barren wilder-
ness. \soQ to such a man ! Woe, tenfold, to the
nation that shall count its monsters such as this,
lying here by hundreds and by thousands ! "

Redlaw shrunk, appalled, from what he heard.

" There is not," said the Phantom, " one of
these — not one — but sows a harvest that man-
kind MUST reap. From every seed of evil in
this boy a field of ruin is grown tliat shall be
gathered in, and garnered up, and sown again in
many places in the world, until regions are over-
spread with wickedness enough to raise the
waters of another Deluge. Open and unpunished
murder in a city's streets would be less guilty in its
daily toleration than one such spectacle as this."

It seemed to look down upon the boy in his
sleep. Redlaw, too, looked down upon him
with a new emotion.

" There is not a father," said the Phantom,
" by whose side, in his daily or his nightly walk,
these creatures pass ; there is not a mother among
all the ranks of loving mothers in this land ;
there is no one risen from the state of childhood,
but shall be responsible in his or her degree for
this enormity. There is^not a country through-
out the earth on which it would not bring a
curse. There is no religion upon earth that it
would not deny ; there is no people upon earth
it would not put to shame."

The Chemist clasped his hands, and looked,
with trembling fear and pity, from the sleeping
boy to the Phantom, standing above him with
its finger pointing down.

" Behold, I say," pursued the Spectre, " the
per.fect type of what it was your choice to be.
Your influence is powerless here, because from
this child's bosom you can banish nothing. His



thoughts have been in * terrible companionship '
with yours, because you have gone down to his
unnatural level. He is the growth of man's in-
difference ; you are the growth of man's pre-
sumption. The beneficent design of Heaven is,

in each case, overthrown, and from the two poles
of the immaterial world you come together."

The Chemist stooped upon the ground beside
the boy, and, with the same kind of compassion
for him that he now felt for himself, covered him



as he slept, and no longer shrunk irom him with
abhorrence or indifference.

Soon, now, the distant line on the horizon
brightened, the darkness faded, the sun rose red
and glorious, and the chimney-stacks and gables
of the ancient building gleamed in the clear air,

which turned the smoke and vapour of the city
into a cloud of gold. The very sun-dial in his
shady corner, where the wind was used to spin
with such unwindy constancy, shook off the
finer particles of snow that had accumulated on
his dull old face in the night, and looked out at



the little white wreaths eddying round and round
him. Doubtless some blind groping of the
morning made its way down into the forgotten
crypt, so cold and earthy, where the Norman
arches were half buried in tlie ground, and
stirred the dull sap in the lazy vegetation liang-
ing to the walls, and quickened the slow prin-
ciple of life within the little world of wonderful
and delicate creation which existed there, with
some faint knowledge that the sun was up.

The Tetterbys were up, and doing. ]\Ir. Tet-
terby took down the shutters of the shop, and,
strip by strip, revealed the treasures of the win-
dow to the eyes, so proof against their seduc-
tions, of Jerusalem Buildings. Adolphus had
been out so long already, that he was half-way
on to Morning Pepper. Five small Tetterbys,
whose ten round eyes were much inflamed by
soap and friction, were in the tortures of a cool
wash in the back-kitchen ; INIrs. Tetterby pre-
siding. Johnny, who was pushed and hustled
through his toilet with great rapidity when INIo-
loch chanced to be in an exacting frame of mind
{which was always the case), staggered up and
down with his charge before the shop-door, under
greater difficulties than usual ; the weight of Mo-
loch being much increased by a complication of
defences against the cold, composed of knitted
worsted-work, and forming a complete suit of
chain-armour, with a head-piece and blue gaiters.
" It was a peculiarity of this baby to be always
cutting teeth. Whether they never came, or
whether they came and went away again, is not
in evidence ; but it had certainly cut enough,
on the showing of Mrs. Tetterby, to make a
handsome dental provision for the sign of the
3ju11 and Mouth. All sorts of objects were im-
pressed for the rubbing of its gums, notwith-
standing that it always carried, dangling at its
waist (which was immediately under its chin), a
bone ring, large enough to have represented the
rosary of a young nun. Knife handles, umbrella
tops, the heads of walking-sticks selected from
the stock, the fingers of the family in general,
but especially of Johnny, nutmeg-graters, crusts,
the handles of doors, and the cool knobs on the
tops of pokers, were among the commonest in-
struments indiscriminately applied for this baby's
relief. The amount of electricity that must have
been rubbed out of it in a week is not to be cal-
culated. Still Mrs. Tetterby always said "it
was coming through, and then the child would
be herself;" and still it never did come through,
and the child continued to be somebody else.

The tempers of the little Tetterbys had sadly
changed with a few hours. Mr. and Mrs. Tet-
terby themselves were not more altered than

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 101 of 103)