Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 102 of 103)
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their offspring. Usually they were an unselfish,
good-natured, yielding little race, sharing shoit
commons when it happened (which was pretty
often) contentedly, and even generously, and
taking a great deal of enjoyment out of a verj
little meat. Cut they were fighting now, nol
only for the soap-and-water, but even for the
breakfast which was yet in perspective. The
hand of every little Tetterby was against the
other little Tetterby's ; and even Johnny's hand
— the patient, much-enduring, and devoted
Johnny — rose against the baby ! Yes. Mrs.
Tetterby, going to the door by a mere accident,
saw him viciously pick out a weak place in the
suit of armour, where a slap would tell, and slap
that blessed child.

Mrs. Tetterby had him into the i)arlour, by
the collar, in that same flash of time, and repaid
him the assault with usury thereto.

" You brute, you murdering little boy ! " said
Mrs. Tetterby. " Had you the heart to do it ? "

"Why don't her teeth come through, then."'
retorted Johnny in a loud rebellious voice, " in-
stead of bothering me ? How would you like it
yourself? "

"Like it, sir!" said INIrs. Tetterby, relieving
him of his dishonoured load.

" Yes, like it," said Johnny. " How would
you ? Not at all. If you was me, you'd go for
a soldier. I will, too. There an't no babies in
the army."

Mr. Tetterby, who had arrived upon the scene
of action, rubbed his chin thoughtfully, instead
of correcting the rebel, and seemed rather
struck by this view of a military life.

" I wish I in the army myself, if the
child's in the right," said j\Irs, Tetterby, looking
at her husband, "for I have no peace of my
life here. I'm a slave — a Virginia slave," some
indistinct association with their weak descent on
the tobacco trade, perhaps, suggested this aggra-
vated expression to JNlrs. Tetterby. " I never
have a holiday, or any pleasure at all, from
year's end to year's end ! Why, Lord bless
and save the child," said ]\Irs. Tetterby, shak-
ing the baby with an irritability hardly suited to
so pious an aspiration, " what's the matter with
her now?"

Not being able to discover, and not rendering
the subject much clearer by shaking it, Mrs. Tet-
terby put the baby away in a cradle, and, folding
her arms, sat rocking it angrily with her foot.

" How you stand there, 'Dolj^hus ! " said Mrs.
Tetterby to her husband. " Why don't you do
something ? "

" Because I don't care about doing anything,"
Mr. Tetterby replied.



" I'm sure / don't," said Mrs. Tetterby,

" I'll take my oath / don't," said Mr. Tet-

A diversion arose here among Johnny and his
five younger brothers, who, in preparing the
family breakfast-table, had fallen to skirmishing
for the temporary possession of the loaf, and
were buffeting one another with great hearti-
ness; the smallest boy of all, with precocious
discretion, hovering outside the knot of com-
batants, and harassing their legs. Into the
midst of this fray Mr. and Mrs. Tetterby both
precipitated themselves with great ardour, as if
such ground were the only ground on whicli they
could now agree ; and having, v/ith no visible
remains of their late soft-heartedness, laid about
them without any lenity, and done much execu-
tion, resumed their former relative positions.

"You had better read your paper than do
nothing at all," said Mrs. Tetterby.

" What's there to read in a paper ? " returned
Mr. Tetterby with excessive discontent.

" What ? " said Mrs. Tetterby. " Police."

" It's nothing to me," said Tetterby. " What
do I care what people do, or are done to ? "

" Suicides," suggested Mrs. Tetterby.

" No business of mine," replied her husband.

" Births, deaths, and marriages, are those
-nothing to you ? " said Mrs. Tetterby.

" If the births were all over for good and all
to-day ; and the deaths were all to begin to come
off to-morrow; I don't see why it should interest
me, till I thought it was a-coming to my turn,"
grumbled Tetterby. " As to marriages, I've
done it myself. I know quite enough about them."

To judge from the dissatisfied expression of
her face and manner, Mrs. Tetterby appeared to
entertain the same opinions as her husband ; but
she opposed him, nevertheless, for the gratifica-
tion of quarrelling with him.

" Oh ! you're a consistent man," said jNIrs.
Tetterby, " an't you ? You, with the screen of
your own making there, made of nothing else
but bits of newspapers, which you sit and read
to the children by the half-hour together ! "

*' Say used to, if you please," returned her
husband. " You won't find me doing so any
more. I'm Aviser now."

" Bah ! Wiser, indeed ! " said Mrs. Tetterby.
" Are you better ? "

The question sounded some discordant note
in Mr. Tetterby's breast. He ruminated de-
jectedly, and passed his hand across and across
his forehead.

" Better 1 " murmured Mr. Tetterby. " I don't
know as any of us are better, or happier either.
Better is it ? "

* He turned to the screen, and traced about it
with his finger, until he found a certain iwra-
graph of which he was in quest.

" This used to be one of the family favourites,
I recollect," said Tetterby in a forlorn and stupid
way, " and used to draw tears from the children,
and make 'em good, if there was any little bicker-
ing or discontent among 'em, next to the story
of the robin redbreasts in the wood. ' Melan-
choly case of destitution. Yesterday a small
man, with a baby in his arms, and surrounded
by half-a-dozen ragged little ones, of various
ages between ten and two, the whole of whom
were evidently in a famishing condition, appeared
before the worthy magistrate, and made the fol-
lowing recital.' — Ha ! I don't understand it, I'm
sure," said Tetterby; " I don't see what it has
got to do with us."

'' How old and shabby he looks ! " said Mrs.
Tetterby, watching him. " I never saw such a
change in a man. Ah ! dear me, dear me, dear
me, it was a sacrifice ! "

" What was a sacrifice ? " her husband sourly

Mrs. Tetterby shook her head ; and, without
replying in words, raised a complete sea-storm
about the baby by her violent agitation of the

" If you mean your marriage was a sacrifice,
my good woman " said her husband.

" I do mean it," said his wife.

" Why, then, I mean to say," pursued Mr.
Tetterby as sulkily and surlily as she, " that
there are two sides to that affair ; and that /
was the sacrifice ; and that I wish the sacrifice
hadn't been accepted."

" I wish it hadn't, Tetterby, with all my heart
and soul, I do assure you," said his wife. " You
can't wish it more than I do, Tetterby."

" I don't know what I saw in her," muttered
the newsman, " I'm sure ; — certainly, if I saw
anything, it's not there now. I was thinking so
last night, after supper, by the fire. She's fat,
she's ageing, &he won't bear comparison with
most other women." '

" He's common-looking, he has no air with
him, he's small, he's beginning to stoop, and he's
getting ball," muttered Mrs. Tetterby.

" I mM-ot have been half out of my mind when
I did it," muttered Mr. Tetterby.

" My senses must have forsook me. That's
the only way in which I can explain it to my-
self," said Mrs. Tetterby with elaboration.

In this mood they sat down to breakfast.
The little Tetterbys were not habituated to
regard that meal in the light of a sedentary
occupation, but discussed it as a dance or trot ;



rather resembling a savage ceremony, in the
occasional shrill whoops and brandishings of
bread-and-butter with which it was accompanied,
as well as in the intricate filings off into the
street and back again, and the hopj)ings up and
down the door-steps, which were incidental to
the performance. In the present instance, the
contentions between these Tetterby children for
the milk-and-water jug, common to all, which
stood upon tlie table, presented so lamentable
an instance of angry passions risen very high
indeed, that it was an outrage on the memory of
Doctor Watts. It was not until Mr. Tetterby
had driven the whole herd out of the front-door
that a moment's peace was secured ; and even
that was broken by the discovery that Johnny
had surreptitiously come back, and was at that
instant choking in the jug like a ventriloquist,
in his indecent and rapacious haste.

"These children will be the death of me
at last!" said Mrs. Tetterby after banishing
the culprit. "And the sooner the better, I

"Poor people," said Mr. Tetterby, "ought
not to have ''Vdldren at all. They give 7is no

He was at that moment taking up the cup
which Mrs. Tetterby had rudely pushed towards
him, and Mrs. Tetterby w^as lifting her own cup
to her lips, when they both stopped, as if they
w^ere transfixed.

" Here ! Mother ! Father ! " cried Johnny,
running into the room. " Here's Mrs. William
coming down the street ! "

And if ever, since the world began, a young
boy took a baby from a cradle with the care of
an old nurse, and hushed and soothed it ten-
derly, and tottered away with it cheerfully,
Johnny was that boy, and Moloch was that
baby, as they went out together.

Mr. Tetterby put down his cup ; Mrs. Tet-
terby put down her cup. Mr. Tetterby rubbed
his forehead ; Mrs. Tetterby rubbed hers. Mr.
Tetterby 's face began to smooth and brighten ;
Mrs. Tetterby's began to smooth and brighten.

" Why, Lord forgive me," said Mr. Tetterby
to himself, "what evil tempers have I been
giving way to ? What has been the matter

" How could I ever treat him ill again, after
all I said and felt last night ? " sobbed Mrs.
Tetterby, with her apron to her eyes.

"Am I a brute," said Mr. Tetterby, "or is
there any good in me at all ? Sophia ! My
little woman 1 "

" 'Dolphus dear ! " returned his wife.

" I — I've been in a state of mind," said Mr.

Tetterby, "that I can't abcar to think of.

" Oh ! P's nothing to what I've been in,
Dolf," cried his wife in a great burst of grief.
'^ "My Sophia," said Mr. Tetterby, "don't take
on ! I never shall forgive myself I must have
nearly broke your heart, I know."

" No, Dolf, no. It was me ! Me ! " cried
Mrs. Tetterby.

" My little woman," said her husband, " don't.
You make me reproach myself dreadful when
you show such a noble spirit. Sophia, my dear,
you don't know what I thought. I showed it
bad enough, no doubt ; but what I thought, my
little woman "

" Oh, dear Dolf, don't ! Don't ! " cried his

" Sophia," said Mr. Tetterby, " I must reveal
it. I couldn't rest in my conscience unless I
mentioned it. My little woman "

" Mrs. William's very nearly here ! " screamed
Johnny at the door.

" My little woman, I w'ondered how," gasped
Mr. Tetterby, supporting himself by his chair,
" I wondered how I had ever admired you — I
forgot the precious children you have brought
about me, and thought you didn't look as shm
as I could wish. I — I never gave a recollec-
tion," said Mr. Tetterby with severe self-accusa-
tion, " to the cares you've had as my wife, and
along of me and mine, when you might have
had hardly any with another man, who got on
better and was luckier than me (anybody might
have found such a man easily, I am sure) ; and
I quarrelled with you for having aged a little in
the rough years you've lightened for me. Can
you believe it, my little woman ? I hardly can

Mrs. Tetterby, in a whirlwind of laughing and
crying, caught his face within her hands, and
held it there.

"Oh, Dolf!" she cried. "I am so happy
that you thought so ; I am so grateful that you
thought so ! For I thought that you were
common-looking, Dolf; and so you are, my
dear, and may you be the commonest of all
sights in my eyes, till you close them with your
own good hands ! I thought that you were
small \ and so you are, and I'll make much of
you because you are, and more of you because
I love my husband. I thought that you began
to stoop ; and so you do, and you shall lean on
me, and I'll do all I can to keep you up. I
thought there was no air about you ; but there
is, and it's the air of home, and that's the purest
and the best there is, and God bless home once
more, and all belonging to it, Dolf ! "



" Hurrah . Here's Mrs. William ! ", cried

So she was, and all the children with her ;
and, as she cam> in, they kissed her, and kissed
one another, anc kissed the baby, and kissed
their father and mother, and then ran back and
flocked and danced about her, trooping on with
her in triumph.

Mr. and Mrs. Tetterby were not a bit behind-
hand in the warmth of their reception. They
were as much attracted to her as the children
were ; they ran towards her, kissed her hands,
pressed round her, could not receive her ardently
or enthusiastically enough. She came among
them like the spirit of all goodness, affection,
gentle consideration, love, and domesticity.

" What ! are yoti all so glad to see me, too,
this bright Christmas morning ? " said Milly,
clapping her hands in a pleasant wonder. " Oh
dear, how delightful this is ! "

More shouting from the children, more kiss-
ing, more trooping round her, more happiness,
more love, more joy, more honour, on all sides,
than she could bear.

" Oh dear ! " said Milly, "what delicious tears
you make me shed ! How can I ever have
deserved this ? What have I done to be so
loved ? "

" Who can help it ?" cried Mr. Tetterby.

" Who can help it ? " cried Mrs. Tetterby.

"Who can help it?" echoed the children in
a joyful chorus. And they danced and trooped
about her again, and clung to her, and laid
their rosy faces against her dress, and kissed
and fondled it, and could not fondle it, or her,

" I never was so moved," said Milly, drying
her eyes, " as I have been this morning. I must
tell you as soon as I can speak. — Mr. Rediaw
came to me at sunrise, and with a tenderness in
his manner, more as if I had been his darling
daughter than myself, implored me to go with
him to where William's brother George is lying
ill. We went together, and all the way along
he was so kind, and so subdued, and seemed to
put such trust and hope in me, that I could not
help crying with pleasure. When we got to the
house, we met a woman at the door (somebody
had bruised and hurt her, I am afraid), who
caught me by the hand, and blessed me as I

" She was right," said Mr. Tetterby. Mrs.
Tetterby said she was right. All the children
cried out she was right.

" Ah ! but there's more than that," said Milly.
" When we got up-stairs into the room, the sick
man, who had lain for hours in a state from which
Christmas Bucks, 13.

*no effort could rouse him, rose up in his bed,
and, bursting into tears, stretched out his arms
to me, and said that he had led a misspent life,
but that he was truly repentant now in his
sorrow for the past, which was all as plain to
him as a great prospect from which a dense
black cloud had cleared away, and that he en-
treated me to ask his poor old father for his
pardon and his blessing, and to say a prayer
beside his bed. And, when I did so, Mr. Red-
law joined in it so fervently, and then so thanked
and thanked me, and thanked Heaven, that my
heart quite overflowed, and I could have done
nothing but sob and cry, if the sick man had not
begged me to sit down by him, — which made
me quiet, of course. As I sat there, he held my
hand in his until he sunk in a doze ; and even
then, when I withdrew my hand to leave him
to come here (which Mr. Rediaw was very
earnest indeed in wishing me to do), his hand
felt for mine, so that some one else was obliged
to take my place, and make believe to give him
my hand back. Oh dear, oh dear ! " said Milly,
sobbing. " How thankful and how happy I
should feel, and do feel, for all this ! "

While she was speaking Rediaw had come in,
and, after pausing for a moment to observe the
group of which she was the centre, had silently
ascended the stairs. Upon those stairs he now
appeared again ; remaining there while the young
student passed him, and came running down.

" Kind nurse, gentlest, best of creatures," he
said, falling on his knee to her, and catching at
her hand, " forgive my cruel ingratitude ! "

" Oh dear, oh dear ! " cried Milly innocently,
" here's another of them ! Oh dear, here's some-
body else who likes me ! What shall I ever

The guileless, simple way in which she said
it, and in which she put her hands before her
eyes and wept for very happiness, was as touch-
ing as it was delightful.

" I was not myself," he said. " I don't know
what it was — it was some consequence of my
disorder, perhaps — I was mad. But I am so no
longer. Almost as I speak I am restored. I
heard the children crying out your name, and
the shade passed from me at the very sound of
it. Oh, don't weep ! Dear Milly, if you could
read my heart, and only know with what affec-
tion and what grateful homage it is glowing, you
would not let me see you weep. It is such deep

" No, no," said Milly, " it's not that. It's
not, indeed. It's joy. It's wonder that you
should think it necessary to ask me to forgive so
little, and yet it's pleasure that you do."



" And will you come again ? and will you
finish the little curtain?"

" No," said Milly, drying her eyes, and shak-
ing her head. " You won't care for my needle-
work now."

" Is it forgiving me to say that ? "

She beckoned him aside, and whispered in his

" There is news from your home, Mr. Ed-

" News ? How ? "

" Either your not writing when you were very
ill, or the change in your handwriting when you
began to be better, created some suspicion of

the truth. However, that is But you're

sure you'll not be the worse for any news, if it's
not bad news ? "

" Sure."

" Then there's some one come !" said Milly.

"My mother?" asked the student, glancing
round involuntarily towards Redlaw, who had
come down from the stairs.

" Hush ! No," said Milly.

" It can be no one else."

" Indeed !" said Milly. "Are you sure?"

" It is not " Before he could say more

she put her hand upon his mouth.

" Yes, it is ! " said Milly. " The young lady
(she is very like the miniature, Mr. Edmund,
but she is prettier) was too unhappy to rest with-
out satisfying her doubts, and came up last night,
with a little servant-maid. As you always dated
your letters from the College, she came there ;
and, before I saw Mr. Redlaw this morning, I
saw her. — She likes me too ! " said Milly. " Oh
dear, that's another ! "

" This morning ! Where is she now ? "

" Why, she is now," said Milly, advancing her
lips to his ear, " in my little parlour in the
Lodge, and waiting to see you."

He pressed her hand, and was darting off, but
she detained him.

" Mr. Redlaw is much altered, and has told
me this morning that his memory is impaired.
Be very considerate to him, Mr. Edmund ; he
needs that from us all."

The young man assured her, by a look, that
her caution was not ill bestowed ; and, as he
passed the Chemist on his way out, bent re-
spectfully and with an obvious interest before

Redlaw returned the salutation courteously,
and even humbly, and looked after him as he
passed on. He drooped his head upon his
hand too, as trying to re-awaken something he
had lost. But it was gone.

The abiding change that had come upon him

since the influence of the music, and the Phan-
tom's reappearance, was, that now he truly felt
how much he had lost, and could compassionate
his own condition, and contrast it, clearly, with
the natural state of those who were around him.
In this, an interest in those who were around
him was revived, and a meek, submissive sense
of his calamity was bred, resembling that which
sometimes obtains in age, when its mental
powers are weakened, without insensibility or
sullenness being added to the list of its in-

He was conscious that, as he redeemed,
through Milly, more and more of the evil he
had done, and as he was more and more with
her, this change ripened itself within him.
Therefore, and because of the attachment she
inspired him with (but without other hope), he
felt that he was quite dependent on her, and
that she was his staff in his affliction.

So, when she asked him whether they should
go home now to where the old man and her
husband were, and he readily replied, " Yes " —
being anxious in that regard — he put his arm
through hers, and walked beside her ; not as if
he were the wise and learned man to whom the
wonders of nature were an open book, and hers
were the uninstructed mind, but as if their two
positions were reversed, and he knew nothing,
and she all.

He saw the children throng about her, and
caress her, as he and she went away together
thus out of the house ; he heard the ringing
of their laughter, and their merry voices ; he
saw their bright faces clustering round him like
flowers, he witnessed the renewed contentment
and affection of their parents ; he breathed the
simple air of their poor home, restored to its
tranquillity ; he thought of the unwholesome
blight he had shed upon it, and might, but for her,
have been diftusing then ; and perhaps it is no
wonder that he walked submissively beside her,
and drew her gentle bosom nearer to his own.

When they arrived at the Lodge, the old man
was sitting in his chair in the chimney-corner,
with his eyes fixed on the ground, and his son
was leaning against the opposite side of the fire-
place, looking at him. As she can:ie in at the
door, both started and turned round towards
her, and a radiant change came upon their

" Oh dear, dear, dear, they are pleased to see
me, like the rest ! " cried Milly, clapping her
hands in an ecstasy, and stopping short. " Here
are two more ! "

Pleased to see her ! Pleasure was no word
for it. She ran into her husband's arms, thrown



wide open to receive her, and he would have
been glad to have her there, with her head lying
on his shoulder, through the short winter's
day. Rut the old man couldn't spare her.
He had arms for her too, and he locked her in

" Why, where has my quiet Mouse been all
this time ? " said the old man. " She has been
a long while away. I find that it's impossible
for me to get on without Mouse. I — where's
my son William ? — I fancy I have been dream-
ing, William."

'• That's what I say myself, father," returned
his son. " / have been in an ugly sort of dream,
I think. — How are you, father ? Are you
pretty well ? "

" Strong and brave, my boy," returned the old

It was quite a sight to see Mr. William shaking
ho.nds with his father, and patting him on the
back, and rubbing him gently down with his
hand, as if he could not possibly do enough to
show an interest in him.

" What a wonderful man you are, father ! —
How are you, father ? Are you really pretty
hearty, though ? " said William, shaking hands
with him again, and patting him again, and
rubbing him gently down again.

" I never was fresher or Stouter in my life,
my boy."

" What a wonderful man you are, father !
But that's exactly where it is," said Mr. William
with enthusiasm. "When I think of all that
my father's gone through, and all the chances
and changes, and sorrows and troubles, that
have happened to him in the course of his long
life, and under which his head has grown grey,
and years upon years have gathered on it, I feel
as if we couldn't do enough to honour the old
gentleman, and make his old age easy. — How
are you, father ? Are you really pretty well,
though ? "

Mr. William might never have left off repeat-
ing this inquiry and shaking hands with him
again, and patting him again, and rubbing him
down again, if the old man had not espied the
Chemist, whom until now he had not seen.

" I ask your pardon, Mr. Redlaw," said Philip,
" but didn't know you were here, sir, or should
have made less free. It reminds me, Mr.
Redlaw, seeing you here on a Christmas morn-
ing, of the time when you was a student your-
self, and worked so hard that you was backwards
and forwards in our library even at Christ-
mas-time. Ha, ha ! I'm old enough to remem-
ber that ; and I remember it right well, I do,
though I am eighty-seven. It was after you left

here that my poor wife died. You remember
my poor wife, Mr. Redlaw?"
The Chemist answered, " Yes."
" Yes," said the old man. " She was a dear
creetur. — I recollect you come here one Christ-
mas morning with a young lady — I ask your
pardon, Mr. Redlaw, but I think it was a sister

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 102 of 103)