Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 25 of 103)
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summed up in the New Testament, after the
miracle of the blind seeing, and the lame walk-
ing, and the restoration of the dead to life, was
the miracle that the poor had the Gospel
preached to them. That while the poor were
unnaturally and unnecessarily cut off by the
thousand, in the prematurity of their age, or in
the rottenness of their youth — for of flower or
blossom such youth has none — the Gospel was
NOT preached to them, saving in hollow and
unmeaning voices. That, of all wrongs, this
was the first mighty wrong the Pestilence
warned us to set right. And that no Post-
Office Order to any amount, given to a Begging-
Letter Writer for the quieting of an uneasy
breast, would be presentable on the Last Great
Day as anything towards it.

The poor never write these letters. Nothing
could be more unlike their habits.- The writers
are public robbers ; and we who support them
are parties to their depredations. They trade
upon every circumstance within their knowledge
that affects us, public or private, joyful or sor-
rowful ; they pervert the lessons of our lives ;
they change what ought to be our strength and
virtue into weakness, and encouragement of
vice. There is a plain remedy, and it is in our
own hands. We must resolve, at any sacrifice
of feeling, to be deaf to such appeals, and crush
the trade.

There are degrees in murder. Life must be
held sacred among us in more ways than one —
sacred, not merely from the murderous weapon,
or the subtle poison, or the cruel blow, but
sacred from preventible diseases, distortions,
and pains. That is the first great end we have
to set against this miserable imposition. Phy-
sical life respected, moral life comes next.
What will not content a Begging-Letter Writer
for a week would educate a score of children
for a year. Let us give all we can ; let us give
more than ever. Let us do all we can ; let us
do more than ever. But let us give, and do, with
a high purpose ; not to endow the scum of the
earth, to its own greater corruption, with the
ofifals of our duty.




A CHILD'S DREAM OF A STAR.

HERE was once a child, and he
strolled about a good deal, and
thought of a number of things. He
had a sister, who was a child too,
and his constant companion. These
two used to wonder all day long. They
wondered at the beauty of the flowers ;
they wondered at the height and blueness
of the sky ; they wondered at the depth of the
bright water ; they wondered at the goodness
and the power of God who made the lovely
world.

They used to say to one another, sometimes,
Supposing all the children upon earth were to
die, would the flowers, and the water, and the
sky, be sorry ? They believed they would be
sorry. For, said they, the buds are the children
of the flowers, and the litUe playful streams
that gambol down the hill-sides are the children
of the water ; and the smallest bright specks
playing at hide-and-seek in the sky all night
must surely be the chfldren of the stars ; and
they would all be grieved to see their playmates,
the children of men, no more.

There was one clear shining star that used to
come out in the sky before the rest, near the
church spire, above the graves. It was larger
and more beautiful, they thought, than all the
others, and every night they watched for it,
standing hand in hand at a window. Whoever
saw it first, cried out, " I see the star ! '"' And
often they cried out both together, knowing so
well when it would rise, and where. So they
grew to be such friends with it, that, before
lying down in their beds, they always looked
out once again, to bid it good night ; and when
they were turning round to sleep, they used to
say, " God bless the star ! "

But while she was still very young — oh, very
very young ! — the sister drooped, and came to be
so weak that she could no longer stand in the
window at night ; and then the child looked
sadly out by himself, and when he saw the star,
turned round and said to the patient pale face
on the bed, " I see the star ! '' and then a smile
would come upon the face, and a little weak
voice used to say, " God bless my brother and
the star ! "

And so the time came all too bOon ! when
the child looked out alone, and wl.en there was
no face on the bed, and when there was a little
grave among the graves, not there before ; and
when the star made long rays down towards
him, as he saw it through his tears.



u^



OUR ENGLISH WATERING-PLACE.



Now, these rays were so bright, and they
seemed to make such a shining way from earth
to Heaven, that when the child went to his
soHtary bed, he dreamed about the star ; and
dreamed that, lying where he was, he saw a
train of people taken up that sparkling road by
angels. And the star, opening, showed him a
great world of light, where many more such
angels waited to receive them.

All these angels, who were waiting, turned
their beaming eyes upon the people who were
carried up into the star ; and some came out
from the long rows in which they stood, and
fell upon the people's necks, and kissed them
tenderly, and went away with them down
avenues of light, and were so happy in their
com pan}-, that lying in his bed he wept for
joy.

But, there were many angels who did not go
with them, and among them one he knew. The
patient face that once had lain upon the bed
was glorified and radiant, but his heart found
out his sister among all the host.

His sister's angel lingered near the entrance
of the star, and said to the leader among those
who had brought the people thither :

" Is my brother come ? "

And he said " No."

She was turning hopefully away, when the
child stretched out his arms and cried, " Oh,
sister, I am here ! Take me ! " and then she
turned her beaming eyes upon him, and it was
night ; and the star was shining into the room,
making long rays down towards him as he saw
It through his tears.

From that hour forth, the child looked out
upon the star as on the home he was to go to,
when his time should come ; and he thought
that he did not belong to the earth alone, but to
the star too, because of his sister's angel gone
before.

There was a baby born to be a brother to the
child : and while he was so little that he never
yet had spoken word, he stretched his tiny form
out on his bed, and died.

Again the child dreamed of the opened star,
and of the company of angels, and the train of
people, and the rows of angels with their beam-
ing eyes all turned upon those people's faces.

Said his sister's angel to the leader :

" Is my brother come ? "

And he said, " Not that one, but another."

As the child beheld his brother's angel in her
arms, he cried, " Oh, sister, I am here ! Take
me ! " And she turned and smiled upon him,
and the star was shining.

He grew to be a young man, and was busy at



his books when an old servant came to him
and said :

" Thy mother is no more. I bring her bless-
ing on her darling son ! "

Again at night he saw the star, and all that
former company. Said his sister's angel to tlie
leader :

" Is my brother come ? "

And he said, " Thy mother ! "

A mighty cryof joy went forth through all the
star, because the mother was reunited to her
two children. And he stretched out his arms
and cried, " Oh, mother, sister, and brother, I
am here ! Take me ! " And they answered
him, " Not yet," and the star was shining.

He grew to be a man, whose hair was turning
grey, and he was sitting in his chair by the fire-
side, heavy with grief, and with his face bedewed
with tears, when the star opened once again.

Said his sister's angel to the leader, "Is my
brother come ? "'

And he said, " Nay, but his maiden daughter."

And the man who had been the child saw his
daughter, newly lost to him, a celestial creature
among those three, and he said, '' My daughter's
head is on my sister's bosom, and her arm is
round my mother's neck, and at her feet there is
the baby of old time, and I can bear the parting
from her, God be praised ! "

And the star was shining.

Thus the child came to be an old man, and
his once smooth face was wrinkled, and his steps
were slow and feeble, and his back was bent.
And one night as he lay upon his bed, his
children standing round, he cried, as he had
cried so long ago :

'* I see the star ! "

They whispered one another, " He is dying."

And he said, " 1 am. My age is falling from
me like a garment, and I move towards the star
as a child. And oh, my Father, now I thank
thee that it has so often opened to receive those
dear ones who await me ! "

And the star was shining ; and it shines upon
his grave.



OUR ENGLISH WATERING-PLACE.

IN the Autumn-time of the year, when the great
metropolis is so much hotter, so much noisier,
so much more dusty or so much more water-
carted, so much more crowded, so much more
disturbing and distracting in all respects, than it
usually is, a quiet sea-beach becomes indeed a
blessed spot. Half awake and half asleep, this



ITS ASSEMBLY ROOMS.



^i^



idle morniny in our sunny window on the edge
of a chalk, chtt in the old-fashioned watering-
place to which we are a faithful resorter, we
feel a lazy inclination to sketch its picture.

The place seems to respond. Sky, sea,
beach, and village lie as still before us as if
they were sitting for the picture. It is dead low
water. A ripple plays among the ripening
corn upon the cliff, as if it were faintly trying
from recollection to imitate the sea ; and the
world of butterflies hovering over the crop of
radish seed are as restless in their littlevway as
the gulls are in their larger manner when the
wind blows. But the ocean lies winking in the
sun-light like a drowsy lion — its glassy waters
scarcely curve upon the shore — the fishing-boats
in the tiny harbour are all stranded in the mud —
our two colliers (our watering-place has a mari-
time trade employing that amount of shipping)
have not an inch of water wi-thin a quarter of a
mile of them, and turn, exhausted, on their sides,
like faint fish of an antediluvian species. Rusty
cables and chains, ropes and rings, undermost
parts of posts and piles, and confused timber
defences against the waves, lie strewn about in a
brown litter of tangled seaweed and fallen clift",
which looks as if a family of giants had been
making tea here for ages, and had observed an
untidy custom of throwing their tea-leaves on
the shore.

In trutli, our watering-place itself has been
left somewhat high and dry by the tide of years.
Concerned as we are for its honour, we must
reluctantly admit that the time when this pretty
little semicircular sweep of houses, tapering off
at the end of the wooden pier into a point in the
sea, was a gay place, and when the lighthouse
overlooking it shone at daybreak on company
dispersing from public balls, is but dimly tra-
ditional now. There is a bleak chamber in our
ivatering-place which is yet called the Assembly
" Rooms," and understood to be available on
hire for balls or concerts ; and, some itw seasons
since, an ancient little gentleman came down
and stayed at the hotel, who said he had danced
there, in bygone ages, with the Honourable Miss
Peepy, well known to have been the Beauty of
her day and the cruel occasion of innumerable
duels. But he was so old and shrivelled, and so
very rheumatic in the legs, that it demanded
more imagination than our watering-place can
usually muster to believe him ; therefore, except
the jNlaster of the " Rooms" (who to this hour
wears knee breeches, and who confirmed the
statement with tears in his eyes), nobody did
believe in the little lame old gentleman, or even
in the Honourable jNIiss Peepy, long deceased.



As to subscription balls in the Assembly
Rooms of our watering-place now, red-hot can-
non balls are less improbable. Sometimes, a
misguided wanderer of a Ventriloquist, or an
Infant Phenomenon, or a Juggler, or somebody
with an Orrery that is several stars behind the
time, takes the ])lace for a night, and issues bills
with the name of his last town lined out, and the
name of ours ignominiously written in, but you
may be sure this never happens twice to the
same unfortunate person. On such occasions
the discoloured old Billiard Table that is seldom
played at (unless the ghost of the Honourable
Miss Peepy plays at pool with other ghosts) is
pushed into a corner, and benches are solemnly
constituted into front seats, back seats, and re-
served seats — which are much the same after
you have paid — and a few dull candles are
lighted — wind permitting — and the performer
and the scanty audience play out a short match
which shall make the other most lovv - spirited —
which is usually a drawn game. After that, the
performer instantly departs with male'Uctory
expressions, and is never heard of more.

But the most wonderful feature of our As-
sembly Rooms is, that an annual sale of " Fancy
and other China " is announced here with mys-
terious constancy and perseverance. Where the
china comes from, where it goes to, why it is
annually put up to auction when nobody ever
thinks of bidding for it, how it comes to pass
that it is always the same china, whether it
would not have been cheaper, with the sea at
hand, to have thrown it away, say in eighteen
hundred and thirty, are standing enigmas.
Every year the bills come out, every year the
Master of the Rooms gets into a little pulpit on
a table, and offers it for sale, every year nobody
buys it, every year it is put away somewhere
until next year, when it appears again as if the
whole thing were a new idea. We have a faint
remembrance of an unearthly collection of
clocks, purporting to be the work of Parisian
and Genevese artists — chiefly bilious-faced
clocks, supported on sickly white crutches, with
their pendulums dangling like lame legs — to
which a similar course of events occurred for
several years, until they seemed to lapse away
of mere imbecilit)'.

Attached to our Assembly Rooms is a library.
There is a wheel of fortune in it, but it is rusty
and dusty, and never turns. A large doll, with
movable eyes, was put up to be raffled for, by
five-and-twenty members at two shiUings, seven
years ago this autumn, and the list is not full
yet. We are rather sanguine, now, that the
raffle will come off next year. We think so.



134



OUR ENGLISH WATERING-PLACE.



because we only want nine members, and should
only want eight, but for number two having
grown up since her name was entered, and with-
drawn it when she was married. Down the
street there is a toy-ship of considerable burden,
in the same condition. Two of the boys who
were entered for that raffle have gone to India
in real ships since ; and one was shot, and died
in the arms of his sister's lover, by whom he
sent his last words home.

This is the library for the Minerva Press. If
you want that kind of reading, come to our
watering-place. The leaves of the romances,
reduced to a condition very like curl-paper, are
thickly studded with notes in pencil : sometimes
complimentary, sometimes jocose. Some of
these commentators, like commentators in a
more extensive way, quarrel with one another.
One young gentleman who sarcastically writes
" Oh ! ! ! " atter every sentimental passage, is
pursued through his literary career by another,
who writes " Insulting Beast ! " j>.Iiss Juha
MiMs has read the whole collection of these
books. She has left marginal notes on the
pages, as, " Is not this truly touching ? J. M."
" How thrilling ! J. M." " Entranced here by
the Magician's potent spell. J.M." She has also
italicised her favourite traits in the description
of the hero, as, " His hair, which was dark and
wavy, clustered in rich profusion around a marble
broiu, whose lofty paleness bespoke the intellect
within." It reminds her of another hero. She
adds, " How like B. L. ! Can this be mere
coincidence? J. M."

You would hardly guess w^iich is the main
street of our watering-place, but you may know
it by its being always stopped up with donkey-
chaises. Whenever you come here, and see
harnessed donkeys eating clover out of barrows
drawn completely across a narrow thoroughfare,
you may be quite sure you are in our High
Street. Our Police you may know by his uniform,
likewise by his never on any account interfering
with anybody — especially the tramps and vaga-
bonds. In our fancy shops we have a capital
collection of damaged goods, among which the
flies of countless summers " have been roaming."
We are great in obsolete seals, and in faded pin-
cushions, and in rickety camp-stools, and in
exploded cutler}% and in miniature vessels, and
in stunted little telescopes, and in objects made
of shells that pretend not to be shells. Diminu-
tive spades, barrows, and baskets are our prin-
cipal articles of commerce ; but even they don't
look quite new somehow. They always seem
to have been offered and refused somewhere else,
before they came down to our watering-place.



Yet, it must not be supposed that our watering-
place is an empty place, deserted by all visitors
except a few staunch persons of approved fidelity.
On the contrary, the chances are that if you came
down here in August or September, you wouldn't
find a house to lay your head in. As to finding
either house or lodging of which you could reduce
the terms, you could scarcely engage in a more
hopeless pursuit. For all this, you are to observe
that every season is the worst season ever known,
and that the householding population of our
\vatering-place are ruined regularly every autumn.
They are like the farmers, in regard that it is
surprising how much ruin they will bear. We
have an excellent hotel — capital baths, warm,
cold, and shower — first-rate bathing machines
— and as good butchers, bakers, and grocers as
heart could desire. They all do business, it is to
be presumed, from motives of philanthropy — but
it is quite certain that they are all being ruined.
Their interest in strangers, and their politeness
under ruin, bespeak their amiable nature. You
would say so, if you only saw the baker helping
a new-comer to find suitable apartments.

So far from being at a discount as to com-
pany, we are, in fact, what would be popularly
called rather a nobby place. Some tiptop
" Nobs " come doAvn occasionally — even Dukes
and Duchesses. We have known such car-
riages to blaze among the donkey-chaises as
made beholders wink. Attendant on these
equipages come resplendent creatures in plush
and powder, who are sure to be stricken dis-
gusted with the indifterent accommodation of
our watering-place, and who, of an evening
(particularly when it rains), may be seen very
much out of drawing, in rooms far too small for
their fine figures, looking discontentedly out of
little back-windows into by-streets. The lords
and ladies get on well enough and quite good-
humouredly : but if you want to see the gorgeous
phenomena who wait upon them at a perfect
nonplus, you should come and look at the
resplendent creatures with little back-parlours
for servants' halls, and turn-up bedsteads to
sleep in, at our watering-place. You have no
idea how they take it to heart.

We have a pier — a queer old wooden pier,
fortunately Avithout the slightest pretensions to
architecture, and very picturesque in conse-
quence. Boats are hauled up upon it, ropes
are coiled all over it ; lobster-pots, nets, masts,
oars, spars, sails, ballast, and rickety capstans
make a perfect lal^yrinth of it. For ever hover-
ing about this pier, with their hands in their
pockets, or leaning over the rough bulwark it
opposes to the sea, gazing through telescopes



ITS BOATMEN.



135



which they carry about in tlie same profound
receptacles, are the Boatmen of our watering-
place. Looking at them, you would say that
surely these must be the laziest boatmen in the
world. They lounge about, in obstinate and
inflexible pantaloons that are apparently made
of wood, the whole season through. Whether
talking together about the shipping in the Chan-
nel, or gruffly unbending over mugs of beer at
the public-house, you would consider them the
slowest of men. The chances are a thousand to
one that you might stay here for ten seasons,
and never see a boatman in a hurry. A certain
expression about his loose hands, when they are
not in his pockets, as if he were carrying a con-
siderable lump of iron in each, without any in-
convenience, suggests strength, but he never
seems to use it. He has the appearance of
perpetually strolling — running is too inappro-
priate a word to be thought of — to seed. The
only subject on which he seems to feel any
approach to enthusiasm is pitch. He pitches
everything he can lay hold of, — the pier, the
palings, his boat, his house, — when there is
nothing else left he turns to, and even pitches
his hat, or his rough-weather clothing. Do not
judge him by deceitful appearances. These are
among the bravest and most skilful mariners
that exist. Let a gale arise and swell into a
storm, let a sea run that might appal the stoutest
heart that ever beat, let the Light-boat on these
dangerous sands throw up a rocket in the night,
or let them hear through the angry roar the
signal-guns of a ship in distress, and these men
spring up into activity so dauntless, so valiant,
and heroic, that the world cannot surpass it.
Cavillers may object that they chiefly live upon
the salvage of valuable cargoes. So they do,
and God knows it is no great living that they
get out of the deadly risks they run. But put
that hope of gain aside. Let these rough fellows
be asked, in any storm, who volunteers for the
life-boat to save some perishing souls, as poor
and empty-handed as themselves, whose lives
the perfection of human reason does not rate at
the value of a farthing each ; and that boat will
be manned, as surely and as cheerfully as if a
thousand pounds were told down on the weather-
beaten pier. For this, and for the recollection
of their comrades whom we have known, whom
the raging sea has engulfed before their children's
eyes in such brave efforts, whom the secret sand
has buried, we hold the boatmen of our watering-
place in our love and honour, and are tender of
the fame they well deserve.

So many children are brought down to our
watering-place that, when they are not out of



doors, as they usually are in fine weather, it is
wonderful where they are put : the whole village
seeming much too small to hold them under
cover. In the afternoons, you see no end of
salt and sandy little boots drying on upper
window-sills. At bathing-time in the morning,
the little bay re-echoes with every shrill variety
of shriek and sj^lash — after which, if the weather
be at all fresh, the sands teem with small blue
mottled legs. The sands are the children's
great resort. They cluster there like ants : so
busy burying their particular friends, and making
castles with infinite labour which the next tide
overthrows, that it is curious to consider how
their play, to the music of the sea, foreshadows
the realities of their after lives.

It is curious, too, to observe a natural ease of
approach that there seems to be between the
childnen and the boatmen. They mutually make
acquaintance, and take individual likings, with-
out any help. You will come upon one of those
slow heavy fellows sitting down patiently mend-
ing a little ship for a mite of a boy, whom he
could crush to death by throwing his lightest
pair of trousers on him. You will be sensible of
the oddest contrast between the smooth little
creature, and the rough man who seems to be
carved out of hard-grained wood — between the
delicate hand expectantly held out, and the
immense thumb and finger that can hardly feel
the rigging of thread they mend — between the
small voice and the gruff growl — and yet there
is a natural propriety in the companionship :
always to be noted in confidence between a
child and a person who has any merit of reality
and genuineness : which is admirably pleasant.

We have a preventive station at our watering-
place, and much the same thing may be observed
— in a lesser degree, because of their official
character — of the coast blockade; a steady,
trusty, well-conditioned, well-conducted set of
men, with no misgiving about looking you full
in the face, and with a quiet, thorough-going
way of passing along to their duty at night,
c::irrying huge sou-wester clothing in reserve,
that is fraught with all good prepossession.
They are handy fellows — neat about their houses
— industrious at gardening — would get on with



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 25 of 103)