Charles Dickens.

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

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fit now and then) ; and he digs and delves from
morn to eve in prodigious perspirations — "works
always," as he says— but, cover him with dust,
mud, weeds, water, any stains you will, you never
can cover the gentleman in ]\I. Loyal. A portly,
upright, broad-shouldered, brown-faced man,
whose soldierly bearing gives him the appear-
ance of being taller than he is, look into the
bright eye of M. Loyal, standing before you in
his working blouse and cap, not particularly well
shaved, and, it may be, very earthy, and you
shall discern in M. Loyal a gentleman whose
true politeness is in grain, and confirmation of
whose word by his bond you would blush to
think of. Not without reason is M. Loyal when
he tells that story, in his own vivacious way, of
his travelling to Fulham, near London, to buy all
these hundreds and hundreds of trees you now
see upon the Property, then a bare, bleak hill; and
of his sojourning in Fulham three months ; and
of his jovial evenings with the m.arket-gardeners ;
and of the crowning banquet before his depar-
ture, when the market-gardeners rose as one
man, clinked their glasses all together (as the
custom at Fulham is), and cried, " Vive Loyal ! "
j\I, Loyal has an agreeable wife, but no
family ; and he loves to drill the children of his
tenants, or run races with them, or do anything
with them, or for them, that is good-natured.
He is of a highly convivial temperament, and
his hospitality is unbounded. Billet a soldier
on him, and he is delighted. Five-and-thirty
soldiers had INI. Loyal billeted on him this pre-
sent summer, and they all got fat and red-faced
in two days. It became a legend among the
troops that whosoever got billeted on M. Loyal
rolled in clover ; and so it fell out that the for-
tunate man who drew the billet " M. Loyal
Devasseur " always leaped into the air, though
in heavy marching order. j\I. Loyal cannot
bear to admit anything that might seem by any
implication to disparage the military profession.
We hinted to him once, that we were conscious
of a remote doubt arising in our mind, whether
a sou a day for pocket-money, tobacco, stock-
ings, drink, washing, and social pleasures in
general, left a very large margin for a soldier's
enjoyment. Pardon ! said Monsieur Loyal,



M. LOYAL DEVASSEUR.



141



rather wincing. It was not a fortune, but — \
la bonne heure — it was better than it used to
be ! What, we asked him on another occasion,
were all those neighbouring peasants, each liv-
ing with his fxmily in one room, and each having
a soldier (perhaps two) billeted on him every
other night, required to provide for those
soldiers? "Faith!" said M. Loyal reluc-
tantly ; " a bed, monsieur, and fire to cook
with, and a candle. And ihey share their
supper with those soldiers. It is not possible
that they could eat alone." — "And what allow-
ance do they get for this? " said we. Monsieur
Loyal drew himself up taller, took a step back,
laid his hand upon his breast, and said, with
majesty, as speaking for himself and all France,
" Monsieur, it is a contribution to the State ! "

It is never going to rain, according to M.
Loyal. When it is impossible to deny that it is
now raining in torrents, he says it will be fine —
charming — magnificent — to-morrow. It is never
hot on the Property, he contends. Likewise it
is never cold. The flowers, he says, come out,
delighting to grow there ; it is like Paradise this
morning ; it is like the Garden of Eden. He is
a little fanciful in his language : smilingly ob-
serving of Madame Loyal, when she is absent
at vespers, that she is " gone to her salvation "
— allee a son salut. He has a great enjoyment
of tobacco, but nothing would induce him to
continue smoking face to face with a lady. His
short black pipe immediately goes into his
breast pocket, scorches his blouse, and nearly
sets him on fire. In the Town Council, and on
occasions of ceremony, he appears in a full suit
of black, with a waistcoat of magnificent breadth
across the chest, and a shirt collar of fabulous
proportions. Good M. Loyal ! Under blouse
or waistcoat, he carries one of the gentlest
hearts that beat in a nation teeming with gentle
people. He has had losses, and has been at
his best under them. Not only the loss of his
way by night in the Fulham times — when a bad
subject of an Englishman, under pretence cf
seeing him home, took him into all the night
public-houses, drank '"'arfanarf " in every one at
his expense, and finally fled, leaving him ship-
wrecked at Cleefeeway, which we apprehend to
be Ratcliff Highway — but heavier losses than
that. Long ago, a family of children and a
mother were left in one of his houses, without
money, a whole year. M. Loyal — anything but
as rich as we wish he had been — had not the
heart to say, " You must go ; " so they stayed
on and stayed on, and paying-tenants who
would have come in couldn't come in, and at
last they managed to get helped home across



the water, and M. Loyal kissed the whole

group, and said " Adieu, my poor infants ! "
and sat down in their deserted salon and
smoked his pipe of peace. — "The rent, M.
Loyal ? " " Eh ! well ! The rent ! " M. Loyal
shakes his head. " Le bon Dieu," says M.
Loyal presently, " will recompense me," and he
laughs and smokes his pipe of peace. May he
smoke it on the Property, and not be recom-
pensed, these fifty years !

There are public amusements in our French
watering-place, or it would not be French.
They are very popular, and very cheap. The
sea-bathing — which may rank as the most
favoured daylight entertainment, inasmuch as
the French visitors bathe all day long, and
seldom appear to think of remaining less than
an hour at a time in the water — is astoundingly
cheap. Omnibuses convey you, if you please,
from a convenient part of the town to the beach
and back again ; you have a clean and com.fort-
able bathing machine, dress, linen, and all ap-
pliances ; and the charge for the whole is half-a-
franc, or fivepence. On the pier there is usually
a guitar, which seems presumptuously enough to
set its tinkling against the deep hoarseness of
the sea, and there is always some boy or woman
who sings, without any voice, little songs without
any tune : the strain we have most frequently
heard being an appeal to " the sportsman " not
to bag that choicest of game, the swallow. For
bathing purposes, we have also a subscription
establishment with an esplanade, where people
lounge about with telescopes, and seem to get
a good deal of weariness for their money ; and
we have also an association of individual ma-
chine proprietors combined against this for-
midable rival. M. Fcroce, our own particular
friend in the badiing line, is one of these. How
he ever came by his name, we cannot imagine.
He is as gentle and polite a man as M. Loyal
Devasseur himself; immensely stout withal, and
of a beaming aspect. M. Feroce has saved so
many people from drowning, and has been
decorated with so many medals in consequence,,
that his stoutness seems a special dispensation
of Providence to enable him to wear them ; if
his girth were the girth of an ordinary man, he
could never hang them on all at once. It is
only on very great occasions that M. Feroce
displays his shining honours. At other times,
they lie by, with rolls of manuscript testifying to
the causes of their presentation, in a huge glass
case in the red-sofa'd salon of his private resi-
dence on the beach, where !M. Fe'roce also
keeps his family pictures, his portraits of him-
self as he appears both in bathing life and in



1.;.'



OUR FRENCH WATERING-PLACE.



private life, his little boats that rock by clock-
Avork, and his other ornamental possessions.

Tlien, Ave have a commotlious and gay
Theatre — or had, for it is burned down now —
where the opera was always preceded by a
vaudeville, in which (as usual) everybody, down
to the little old man with the large hat and the
little cane and tassel, who always played either
my Uncle or my Papa, suddenly broke out of
the dialogue into the mildest vocal snatches, to
the great perplexity of unaccustomed strangers
from Great Britain, who never could make out
when they were singing and when they were
talking — and indeed it Avas pretty much the
same. But, the caterers in the way of enter-
tainment to whom we are most beholden are
the Society of Well-doing, who are active all
the summer, and give the proceeds of their good
works to the poor. Some of the most agree-
able fetes they contrive are announced as
*' Dedicated to the Children ; " and the taste
with which they turn a small ]uiblic enclosure
into an elegant garden beautifully illuminated ;
and the thorough-going heartiness and energy
with which they personally direct the childish
pleasures ; are supremely delightful. For five-
pence a head we have, on these occasions,
donkey races with English '•' Jokeis," and other
rustic sports ; lotteries for toys ; roundabouts,
dancing on the grass to the music of an admi-
rable band, fire balloons, and fireworks. Fur-
ther, almost every week all through the summer
— never mind, now, on what day of the week —
there is a fete in some adjoining village (called
in that part of the country a Ducasse), where
the people — really the people — dance on the
green turf in the open air, round a little or-
chestra, that seems itself to dance, there is such
an airy motion of flags and streamers all about
it. And we do not suppose that between the
Torrid Zone and the North Pole there are to be
found male dancers with such astonishingly
loose legs, furnished with so many joints in
Avrong places, utterly unknown to Professor
Owen, as those who here disport themselves.
Sometimes the fete appertains to a particular
trade ; you will see among the cheerful young
"women, at the joint Ducasse of the milliners
and tailors, a wholesome knowledge of the art
of making common and cheap things uncommon
and pretty, by good sense and good taste, that
is a practical lesson to any rank of society in a
whole island we could mention. The oddest
feature of these agreeable scenes is the everlast-
ing Roundabout (we preserve an English word
wherever we can, as we are writing the English
language), on the wooden horses of which



machine grown-up people of all ages are wound
round and round with the utmost solemnity,
while the proprietor's wife grinds an organ,
capable of only one tune, in the centre.

As to the boarding-houses of our French
watering-place, they are Legion, and would
require a distinct treatise. It is not without a
sentiment of national pride that we believe them
to contain more bores from the shores of Albion
than all the clubs in London. As you walk
timidly in their neighbourhood, the very neck-
cloths and hats of your elderly compatriots cry
to you from the stones of the streets, " We are
Bores — avoid us ! " We have never overheard
at street corners such lunatic scraps of political
and social discussion as among these dear
countrymen of ours. They believe everything
that is impossible and nothing that is true.
They carry rumours, and ask questions, and
make corrections and improvements on one
another, staggering to the human intellect.
And they are for ever rushing into the English
library, propounding such incomprehensible
paradoxes to the fair mistress of that establish-
ment, that we beg to recommend her to her
Majesty's gracious consideration as a fit object
for a pension.

The English form a considerable part of the
population of our French watering-place, and
are deservedly addressed and respected in many
ways. Some of the surface-addresses to them
are odd enough, as when a laundress puts a
placard outside her house announcing her pos-
session of that curious British instrument, a
"Mingle;" or when a tavern-keeper provides
acconunodation for the celebrated English game
of " Nokemdon." But, to us, it is not the least
pleasant feature of our French watering-place
that a long and constant fusionof thetwo great na-
tions there has taught each to like the other, and
to learn from the other, and to rise superior to
the absurd prejudices that have lingered among
the weak and ignorant in both countries equally.

Drumming and trumpeting of course go on
for ever in our French watering-place. Flag-
flying is at a premium, too ; but, we cheerfully
avow that we consider a flag a very pretty
object, and that we take such outward signs
of innocent liveliness to our heart of hearts.
The people, in the town and in the country, are
a busy people who work hard ; they are sober,
temperate, good-humoured, light-hearted, and
generally remarkable for their engaging man-
ners. Few just men, not immoderately bilious,
could see them in their recreations without very
much respecting the character that is so easily,
so harmlessly, and so simply pleased.



MORAL PHILOSOPHY OF BILL-STICKING.



143




BILL-STICKING.

^^W~ -"^ I had an enemy whom I hated—
'i^-nit^'/ whicli Heaven forbid !— and if I
knew of something that sat heavy
on his conscience, I think I would
introduce that something into a
Posting-Bill, and place a large im-
pression in the hands of an active sticker.
I can scarcely imagine a more terrible
revenge. I should haunt him, by this means,
night and day. I do not mean to say that I
would publish his secret, in red letters two feet
high, for all the town to read : I would darkly
refer to it. It should be between him, and me,
and the Posting-Bill. Say, for example, that, at
a certain period of his life, my enemy had
surreptitiously possessed himself of a key. I
would then embark my capital in the lock busi-
ness, and conduct that business on the advertis-
ing principle. In all my placards and advertise-
ments I would throw up the line Secret Keys.
Thus, if my enemy passed an uninhabited house,
he would see his conscience glaring down on
him from the parapets, and peeping up at him
from the cellars. If he took a dead wall in his
walk, it would be alive with reproaches. If he
sought refuge in an omnibus, the panels thereof
would become Belshazzar's palace to him. If
he took a boat, in a wild endeavour to escape,
he would see the fatal words lurking under the
arches of the bridges over the Thames. If he
walked the streets with downcast eyes, he would
recoil from the very stones of the pavement,
made eloquent by lamp-black lithograph. If he
drove or rode, his way would be blocked up by
enormous vans, each proclaiming the same
words over and over again from its whole extent
of surface. Until, having gradually grown
thinner and paler, and having at last totally
rejected food, he would miserably perish, and I
should be revenged. This conclusion I should,
no doubt, celebrate by laughing a hoarse laugh
in three syllables, and folding my arms tight
upon my chest, agreeably to most of the exam-
ples of glutted animosity that I have had an
opportunity of observing in connection with the
Drama — which, by-the-bye, as involving a good
deal of noise, appears to me to be occasionally
confounded with the Drummer.

The foregoing reflections presented themselves
to my mind, the oQier day, as I contemplated
(being newly come to London from the East
Riding of Yorkshire, on a house-hunting expe-
dition for next May), an old warehouse which
rotting paste and rotting paper had brought



down to the condition of an old cheese. It
would have been impossible to say, on the most
conscientious survey, how much of its front was
brick and mortar, and how much decaying and
decayed plaster. It was so thickly incrusted
with fragments of bills, that no ship's keel after
a long voyage could be half so foul. All traces
of the broken windows were billed out, the doors
were billed across, the water-spout was billed
over. The building was shored up to prevent its
tumbling into the street ; and the very beams
erected against it were less wood than paste
and paper, they had been so continually posted
and reposted. The forlorn dregs of old posters
so encumbered this wreck, that there was no
hold for new posters, and the stickers had aban-
doned the place in despair, except one enter-
prising man who had hoisted the last masquerade
to a clear spot near the level of the stack of
chimneys, where it waved and drooped like a
shattered flag. Below the rusty cellar-grating,
crumpled remnants of old bills torn down rotted
away in wasting heaps of fallen leaves. Here
and there, some of the thick rind of tlie house
had peeled off" in strips, and fluttered heavily
down, Uttering the street ; but still, below these
rents and gashes, layers of decomposing posters
showed themselves, as if they were interminable.
I thought the building could never even be
pulled down, but in one adhesive heap of rot-
tenness and poster. As to getting in — I don't
believe that if the Sleeping Beauty and her
Court had been so billed up, the young Prince
could have done it.

Knowing all the posters that were yet legible,
intimately, and pondering on their ubiquitous
nature, I was led into the reflections with which
I began this paper, by considering what an
awful thing it would be ever to have wronged —
say M. JuLLiEN for example — and to have his
avenging name in characters of fire incessantly
before my eyes. Or to have injured Madame
TussAUD, and undergo a similar retribution.
Has any man a self-reproachful thought asso-
ciated with pills or ointment? What an
avenging spirit to that man is Professor Hol-
low ay ! Have I sinned in oil ? Cabburn
pursues me. Have I a dark remembrance
associated with any gentlemanly garments, be-
spoke or ready made ? Moses and Son are on
my track. Did I ever aim a blow at a defence-
less fellow-creature's head ? That head eternally
being measured for a wig, or that worse head
which was bald before it used the balsam, and
hirsute afterwards, — enforcing the benevolent
moral, " Better to be bald as a Dutch cheese
than come to this," — undoes me. Have I no



144



BILL-STICKING.



sore places in my mind which Mechi touches —
which NicoLL probes — which no registered
article whatever lacerates ? Does no discordant
note within me thrill responsive to mysterious
watchwords, as " Revalenta Arabica," or " Num-
ber One, St. Paul's Churchyard?" Then may I
enjoy life, and be happy.

Lifting up my eyes, as I was musing to this
effect, I beheld advancing towards me (I was
then on Cornhill, near to the Royal Exchange),
a solemn procession of three advertising vans,
of first-class dimensions, each drawn by a very
little horse. As the cavalcade approached, I
was at a loss to reconcile the careless deport-
ment of the drivers of these vehicles with the
terrific announcements they conducted through
the City, which, being a summary of the con-
tents of a Sunday newspaper, were of the most
thrilling kind. Robbery, fire, murder, and the
ruin of the United Kingdom — each discharged
in a line by itself, like a separate broadside of
red-hot shot — were among the least of the
warnings addressed to an unthinking people.
Yet the Ministers of Fate who drove the awful
cars leaned forward, with their arms upon their
knees, in a State of extreme lassitude, for vv^ant
of any subject of interest. The first man, whose
hair I might naturally have expected to see
standing on end, scratched his head — one of the
smoothest I ever beheld — with profound indif-
ference. The second whistled. The third
yawned.

Pausing to dwell upon this apathy, it appeared
to me, as the fatal cars came by me, that I
descried in the second car, through the portal
in which the charioteer was seated, a figure
stretched upon the floor. At the same time, I
thought I smelt tobacco. The latter impression
passed quickly from me ; the former remained.
Curious to know whether this prostrate figure
was the one impressible man of the whole capital
who had been stricken insensible by the terrors
revealed to him, and whose form had been
placed in the car by the charioteer from motives
of humanity, I followed the procession. It
turned into Leadenhall Market, and halted at a
public-house. Each driver dismounted. I then
distinctly heard, proceeding from the second
car, where I had dimly seen the prostrate form,
the words :

" And a pipe ! "

The driver entering the public-house with his
fellows, apparently for the purposes of refresh-
ment, I could not refrain from mounting on the
shaft of the second vehicle, and looking in at the
portal. I then beheld, reclining on his back upon
the floor, on a kind of mattress or divan, a httle



man in a shooting-coat. The exclamation,
" Dear me ! " which irresistibly escaped my lips,
caused him to sit upright, and survey me. I
found him to be a good-looking little man of
about fifty, with a shining face, a tight head, a
bright eye, a moist wink, a quick speech, and a
ready air. He had something of a sporting way
with him.

H looked at me, and I looked at him, until
the driver displaced me by handing in a pint of
beer, a pipe, and what I understand is called
"a screw" of tobacco — an object which has
the appearance of a curl-paper taken off the
barmaid's head, with the curl in it.

■' I beg your pardon," said I, when the re-
moved person of the driver again admitted of
my presenting my face at the portal. " But —
excuse my curiosity, which I inherit from my
mother — do you live here ? "

" That's good, too ! " returned the little man,
composedly laying aside a pipe he had smoked
out, and filling the pipe just brought to him.

" Oh, you don't live here, then ? " said I.

He shook his head, as he calmly lighted his
pipe by means of a German tinder-box, and
replied, " This is my carriage. When things are
flat, I take a ride sometimes, and enjoy myself.
I am the inventor of these wans."

His pipe was now alight. He drank his beer
all at once, and he smoked and he smiled at
me.

" It was a great idea ! " said I.

" Not so bad," returned the little man, with
the modesty of merit.

" Might I be permitted to inscribe your name
upon the tablets of my memory ? " I asked.

" There's not much odds in the name," re-
turned the little man ; " no name particular — I
am the King of the Bill-Stickers."

*' Good gracious ! " said I,

The monarch informed me, with a smile, that
he had never been crowned or installed with
any public ceremonies, but that he was peace-
ably acknowledged as King of the Bill-Stickers
in right of being the oldest and most respected
member of " the old school of bill-sticking."
He likewise gave me »to understand that there
was a Lord Mayor of the Bill-Stickers, whose
genius was chiefly exercised within the limits of
the City. He made some allusion, also, to an
inferior potentate, called " Turkey-legs ; " but I
did not understand that this gentleman was in-
vested with much power, I rather inferred
that he derived his title from some peculiarity
of gait, and that it was of an honorary cha-
racter.

" My father," pursued the King of the Bill-



7IIE KING OF THE BILL-STICKERS.



t45



Stickers, " was Engineer, Beadle, and Bill-
Sticker to the parish of St. Andrew's, Holborn,
in the year one thousand seven hundred and
eighty. My fother stuck bills at the time of the
riots of London."

"You must be acquainted with the whole
subject of bill-sticking, from that time to the
present," said I.

" Pretty well so," was the answer.

" Excuse me," said I ; " but I am a sort of
collector "

" Not Income-tax ? "' cried his Mjjesty, hastily
removing his pipe horn his lips.

"No, no," said I.

"Water-rate?" said his Majesty.

" No, no," I returned.

" Gas ? Assessed ? Sewers ? " said his ]\Ia-
jesty.

" You misunderstand me," I replied sooth-
ingly. " Not that sort of collector at all : a
collector of facts."

" Oh ! if it's only facts," cried the King of the
Bill-Stickers, recovering his good-humour, and
banishing the great mistrust that had suddenly
fallen upon him, " come in and welcome ! If it
had been income, or winders, I think I should
have pitched you out of the wan, upon my
soul ! "

Readily complying with the invitation, I
squeezed myself in at the small aperture. His
iSIajesty, graciously handing me a little three-
legged stool on which I took my seat in a
corner, inquired if I smoked.

" I do ; — that is, I can," I answered.

" Pipe and a screw ! " said his Majesty to the
attendant charioteer. " Do you prefer a dry
smoke, or do you moisten it?"

As unmitigated tobacco produces most dis-
turbing eftects upon my system (indeed, if I had
perfect moral courage, I doubt if I should smoke



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 27 of 103)