Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 103 of 103)
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you was very much attached to ? "

The Chemist looked at him, and shook his
head. " I had a sister," he said vacantly. He
knew no more.

" One Christmas morning," pursued the old
man, " that you come here with her — and it
began to snow, and my wife invited the young
lady to walk in, and sit by the fire that is always
a burning on Christmas iJay in what used to be,
before our ten poor gentlemen commuted, our
great Dinner Hall. I was there ; and I recollect,
as I was stirring up the blaze for the young lady
to warm her pretty feet by, she read the scroll
out loud, that is underneath that picter. * Lord,
keep my memory green !' She and my poor
wife fell a talking about it ; and it's a strange
thing to think of, now, that they both said (both
being so unlike to die) that it was a good prayer,
and that it was one they Avould put up very ear-
nestly, if they were called away young, with
reference to those who were dearest to them.
' My brother,' says the young lady — ' My hus-
band,' says my poor wife — ' Lord, keep his
memory of me green, and do not let me be for-
gotten ! ' "

Tears more painful and more bitter than he
had ever shed in all his life coursed down Red-
law's face. Philip, fully occupied in recalling
his story, had not observed him until now, nor
Milly's anxiety that he should not proceed.

" Philip I " said Redlaw, laying his hand upon
his arm, " I am a stricken man, on whom the
hand of Providence has fallen heavily, although
deservedly. You speak to me, my friend, of
what I cannot follow ; my memory is gone."

" Merciful power!" cried the old man.

" I have lost my memory of sorrow, wrong,
and trouble," said the Chemist ; " and with that
I have lost all man would remember !"

To see old Philip's pity for him, to see him
wheel his own great chair for him to rest in, and
look down upon him with a solemn sense of his
bereavement, was to know, in some degree, how
precious to old age such recollections are.

The boy came running in, and ran to Milly.

" Here's the man," he said, " in the other
room. I don't want /^/w."

"What man does he mean?" asked Mr.

" Hush ! " said Milly.



01)edient to a sign from her, he and his old
father softly withdrew. As they went out un-
noticed, Redlaw beckoned to the boy to come
to him.

" I like the woman best," he answered, hold-
ing to her skirts.

" You are right," said Redlaw with a faint
smile. " But you needn't fear to come to me.
I am gewtler than I was. Of all the world, to
you, poor child !"

The boy still held back at first ; but yielding
little by little to her urging, he consented to


approach, and even to sit down at his feet. As
Redlaw laid his hand upon the shoulder of the
child, looking on him with compassion and a
fellow-feeling, he put out his other hand to
Milly. She stooped down on that side of him,

so that she could look into his face ; and, after

silence, said :

" Mr. Redlaw, may I speak to you.-*"
"Yes," he a^^swered, fixing his eyes upon her.

" Your voice and music are the same to me."



" May I ask you something?"

" What you will."

" Do you remember what I said when I
knocked at your door last night ? About one
who was your friend once, and who stood on
the verge of destruction?"

" Yes. I remember," he said with some hesi-

" Do you understand it?"

He smoothed the boy's hair — looking at her
fixedly the while, and shook his head.

" This person/' said Milly in her clear, soft
voice, which her mild eyes, looking at him,
made clearer and softer, " I found soon after-
wards. I went back to the house, and, with
Heaven's help, traced him. I was not too
soon. A very little, and I should have been
too late."

He took his hand from the boy, and, laying it
on the back of that hand of hers, whose timid
and yet earnest touch addressed him no less
appealingly than her voice and eyes, looked
more intently on her.

" He is the father of Mr. Edmund, the young
gentleman we saw just now. His real name is
Longford. — You recollect the name ? "

"I recollect the name."

" And the man ?"

" No, not the man. Did he ever wrong me ? "

" Yes ! "

" Ah ! Then it's hopeless — hopeless."

He shook his head, and softly beat upon the
hand he held, as though mutely asking her com-

"I did not go to Mr. Edmund last night,"
said Milly. " You will listen to me just the
same as if you did remember all?"

" To every syllable you say."

" Both because I did not know, then, that
this really was his father, and because I was
fearful of the effect of such intelligence upon
him, after his illness, if it should be. Since I
have known who this person is, I have not gone
either; but that is for another reason. He has
long been separated from his wife and son — has
been a stranger to his home almost from his
son's infancy, I learn from him — and has aban-
doned and deserted what he should have held
most dear. In all that time he has been falling
from the state of a gentleman, more and more,

until " She rose up hastily, and, going out

for a moment, returned, accompanied by the
wreck that Redlaw had beheld last night.

" Do you know me?" asked the Chemist.

" I should be glad," returned the other, " and
that is an unwonted word for me to use, if I
could answer no."

The Chemist looked at the man standing, in
self-abasement and degradation before him, and
would have looked longer, in an ineffectual
struggle for enlightenment, but that Milly re-
sumed her late position by his side, and at-
tracted his attentive gaze to her own face.

" See how low he is sunk, how lost he is ! "
she whispered, stretching out her arm towards
him, without looking from the Chemist's face.
" If you could remember all that is connected
with him, do you not think it would move your
pity to reflect that one you ever loved (do not
let us mind how long ago, or in what belief that
he has forfeited), should come to this ? "

'■' I hope it would," he answered. " I believe
it would."

His eyes wandered to the figure standing near
the door, but came back speedily to her, on
whom he gazed intently, as if he strove to learn
some lesson from every tone of her voice, and
every beam of her eyes.

" I have no learning, and you have much,"
said Milly ; " I am not used to think, and you
are always thinking. May I tell you why it
seems to me a good thing for us to remember
wrong that has been done us?"


" That we may forgive it."

" Pardon me, great Heaven ! " said Redlaw,
lifting up his eyes, " for having thrown away
thine own high attribute ! "

" And if," said Milly, " if your memory should
one day be restored, as we will hope and pray it
may be, would it not be a blessing to you to re-
call at once a wrong and its forgiveness ? "

He looked at the figure by the door, and fast-
ened his attentive eyes on her again. A ray of
clearer light appeared to him to shine into his
mind from her bright face.

" He cannot go to his abandoned home. He
does not seek to go there. He knows that he
could only carry shame and trouble to those he
has so cruelly neglected ; and that the best repa-
ration he can make them now is to avoid them.
A very little money, carefully bestowed, would
remove him to some distant place, where he
might live and do no wrong, and make such
atonement as is left within his power for the
wrong he has done. To the unfortunate lady
who is his wife, and to his son, this would be
the best and kindest boon that their best friend
could give them — one, too, that they need never
know of; and to him, shattered in reputation,
mind, and body, it might be salvation."

He took her head between his hands, and
kissed it, and said : " It shall be done. I trust
to you to do it for me, now and secretly ; and to



tell him that I would forgive him, if I were so
happy as to know for what."

As she rose, and turned her beaming face to-
wards the fallen man, implying that her media-
tion had been successful, he advanced a step,
and, without raising his eyes, addressed himself
to RedUiw.

"You are so generous," he said — "you ever
were — that you will try to banish your rising
sense of retribution in the spectacle that is
before you. I do not try to banish it from my-
self, Redlaw. If you can, believe me."

The Chemist entreated Milly, by a gesture, to
come nearer to him ; and, as he listened, looked
in her face, as if to find in it the clue to what he

" I am too decayed a wretch to make pro-
fessions ; I recollect my own career too well to
array any such before you. But from the day
on which I made my first step downward, in
dealing falsely by you, I have gone down with a
certain, steady, doomed progression. That I

Redlaw, keeping her close at his side, turned
his face towards the speaker, and there was sor-
row in it. Something hke mournful recognition

" I might have been another man, my life
might have been another life, if I had avoided
that first fatal step. I don't know that it would
have been. I claim nothing for the possibility.
Your sister is at rest, and better than she could
have been with me, if I liad rontinued even what
you thought me : even what I once supposed
myself to be."

Redlaw made a hasty motion with his hand,
as if he would have put that subject on one side.

" I speak," the other went on, " like a man
taken from the grave. I should have made my
own grave last night, had it not been for this
blessed hand."

" Oh dear, he likes me too ! " sobbed Milly
under her breath. " That's another ! "

" I could not have put myself in your way last
night, even for bread. But, to-day, my recollec-
tion of what has been between us is so strongly
stirred, and is presented to me, I don't know
how, so vividly, that I have dared to come at
her suggestion, and to take your bounty, and
to thank you for it, and to beg you, Redlaw, in
your dying hour, to be as merciful to me in your
thoughts as you are in your deeds."

He turned towards the door, and stopped a
moment on his way forth.

" I hope my son may interest you, for his
mother's sake. I hope he may deserve to do
so. Unless my life should be preserved a long

time, and I should know that I have not mis-
used your ait!, I shall never look upon him

Going out, he raised his eyes to Redlaw for
the first time. Redlaw, whose steadfast gaze
was fixed upon him, dreamily held out his hand.
He returned and toucheil it — little more — with
both his own — and, bending down his head,
went slowly out.

In the few moments that elapsed while Milly
silently took him to the gate, the Chemist
dropped into his chair, and covered his face
with his hands. Seeing him thus when she
came back, accompanied by her husband and
his father (who were both greatly concerned
for him), she avoided disturbing him, or per-
mitting him to be disturbed ; and kneeled down
near the chair to put some warm clothing on the

" That's exactly where it is. That's what I
always say, father!" exclaimed her admiring
husband. " There's a motherly feeling in Mrs.
William's breast that must and will have went !"

"Ay, ay," said the old man; "you're right.
My son William's right ! "

" It happens all for the best, Milly dear, no
doubt," said Mr. William tenderly, " that we
have no children of our own ; and yet I some-
times wish you had one to love and cherish.
Q\7.: little dead child that you built such hopes
upon, and that never breathed the breath of
life — it has made you quiet-like, Milly."

" I am very happy in the recollection of it,
William dear," she answered. " I think of it
every day."

" I was afraid you thought of it a good deal."

" Don't say afraid ; it is a comfort to me ; it
speaks to me in so many ways. The innocent
thing that never lived on earth is like an angel
to me, William."

" You are like an angel to father and me,"
said i\h-. William softly. " I know that."

" AVhen I think of all those hopes I built
upon it, and the many times I sat and pictured
to myself the little smiling face upon my bosom,
that never lay there, and the sweet eyes turned
up to mine that never opened to the light," said
Milly, " I can feel a greater tenderness, I think,
for all the disappointed hopes in which there is
no harm. When I see a beautiful child in its
fond mother's arms, I love it all the better,
thinking that my child might have been like
that, and might have made my heart as proud
and happy."

Redlaw raised his head, and looked towards

" All through life, it seems by me," she con-



tinued, " to tell me something. For poor
neglected children my little child pleads as if it
were alive, and had a voice I knew, with which
to speak to me. When I hear of youth in suffer-
ing or shame, I think that my child might have
come to that, perhaps, and that God took it
from me in his mercy. Even in age and grey
hair, such as father's, it is present : saying that
it too might have lived to be old, long and long
after you and I were gone, and to have needed
the respect and love of younger people."

Her quiet voice was quieter than ever as she
took her husband's arm, and laid her head
against it.

" Children love me so, that sometimes I half
fancy — it's a silly fancy, William — they have
some way I don't know of, of feeling for my
little child, and me, and understanding why
their love is precious to me. If I have been
quiet since, I have been more happy, William,
in a hundred ways. Not least happy, dear, in
this — that even when my little child was born
and dead but a {qv^ days, and I was weak and
sorrowful, and could not help grieving a little,
the thought arose that, if I tried to lead a good
life, I should meet in Heaven a bright creature
who would call i)ie Mother ! "

Redlaw fell upon his knees with a loud cry.

" O Thou," he said, " who, through the teach-
ing of pure love, hast graciously restored me to
the memory which was the memory of Christ
upon the cross, and of all the good who perished
in His cause, receive my thanks, and bless her !"

Then he folded her to his heart ; and Milly,
sobbing more than ever, cried, as she laughed,
"He is come back to himself! He likes me
very much indeed, too ! Oh dear, dear, dear
me, here's another ! "

Then, the student entered, leading by the
hand a lovely girl, who was afraid to come.
And Redlaw, so changed towards him, seeing
in him, and in his youthful choice, the softened
shadow of that chastening passage in his own
life, to which, as to a shady tree, the dove so
long imprisoned in his solitary ark might fly for
rest and company, fell upon his neck, entreating
them to be his children.

Then, as Christmas is a time in which, of all
times in the year, the memory of every reme-
diable sorrow, wrong, and trouble in the world
around us, should be active with us, not less
than our own experiences, for all good, he laid
his hand upon the boy, and, silently calling Him
to witness who laid His hand on children in old
time, rebuking, in the majesty of His prophetic
knowledge, those who kept them from him,
vowed to protect him, teach him, and reclaim him.

Then, he gave his right hand cheerily to
Philip, and said that they would that day hold a
Christmas dinner in what used to be, before the
ten poor gentlemen commuted, their great
Dinner Hall ; and that they would bid to it as
many of that Swidger family, who, his son had
told him, were so numerous that they might join
hands and make a ring round England, as could
be brought together on so short a notice.

And it was that day done. There were so
many Swidgers there, grown up and children,
that an attempt to state them in round numbers
might engender doubts, in the distrustful, of the
veracity of this history. Therefore the attempt
shall not be made. But there they were, by
dozens and scores — and there was good news
and good hope there, ready for them, of George,
who had been visited again by his father and
brother, and by Milly, and again left in a quiet
sleep. There, present at the dinner too, were
the Tetterbys, including young Adolphus, who
arrived in his prismatic comforter, in good time
for the beef. Johnny and the baby were too late,
of course, and came in all on one side, the one
exhausted, the other in a supposed state of
double-toolh; but that was customary, and not
alarming. . ,

It was sad to see the child who had no name
or lineage watching the other children as they
played, not knowing how to talk with them,
or sport with them, and more strange to the
ways of childhood than a rough dog. It was
sad, though in a different way, to see what an in-
stinctive knowledge the youngest children there
had of his being different from all the rest, and
how they made timid approaches to him with
soft words and touches, and with little presents,
that he might not be unhappy. But he kept by
Milly, and began to love her — that was another,
as she said ! — and, as they all liked her dearly,
they were glad of that, and when they saw him
peeping at them from beliind her chair, they
were pleased that he was so close to it.

All this the Chemist, sitting with the student
and his bride that was to be, and Philip, and
the rest, saw.

Some people have said since that he only
thought what has been herein set down ; others,
that he read it in the fire, one winter night about
the twilight-time; others, that the Ghost was
but the representation of his gloomy thoughts,
and Milly the embodiment of his better wisdom.
/ say nothing.

— Except this. That as they were assembled
in the old Hall, by no other light than that of a
great fire (liaving dined early), the shadows once
more stole out of their hiding-places, and



danced about the room, showing the children
marvellous shapes and faces on the walls, and
gradually changing what was real and familiar
there to what was wild and magical. But that
there was one thing in the Hall to which the
eyes of Redlaw, and of Milly and her husband,
and of the old man, and of the student, and his
bride that was to be, were often turned, which
the shadows did not obscure or change. Deep-

ened in its gravity by the fire-light, and gazing
from the darkness of the panelled wall like life,
the sedate face in the portrait, with the beard
and ruff, looked down at them from under its
verdant wreath of holly, as they looked up at it,
and, clear and plain below, as if a voice had

uttered them, were the words :





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