Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 29 of 103)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 29 of 103)
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Is my son a Nutmeg, that he is to be grated
on the stiff" edges of sharp frills? Am I the
parent of a Muslin boy, that his yielding surface
is to be crimped and small-plaited ? Or is my
child composed of Paper or of Linen, that im-
pressions of the finer getting-up art, practised
by the laundress, are to be printed off, all over
his soft arms and legs, as I constantly observe
them ? The starch enters his soul : who can
wonder that he cries?

Was Augustus George intended to have limbs,
or to be born a Torso ? I presume that limbs
were the intention, as they are the usual prac-
tice. Then, why are my poor child's limbs
fettered and tied up ? Am I to be told that
there is any analogy between Augustus George
Meek and Jack Sheppard ?

Analyse Castor Oil at any Institution of
Chemistry that may be agreed upon, and inform
me what resemblance, in taste, it bears to that
natural provision which it is at once the pride
and duty of Maria Jane to administer to Augustus
George! Yet, I charge Mrs. Prodgit (aided
and abetted by Mrs. Bigby) with systematically
forcing Castor Oil on my innocent son, from the
first hour of his birth. When that medicine, in
its efficient action, causes internr.l disturbance



INHUMAN TREATMENT OF AUGUSTUS GEORGE.



151



to Augustus George, I charge Mrs. Prodgit
(aided and abetted "by Mrs. Bigby) with insanely
and inconsistently administering opium to allay
the storm she has raised ! What is the meaning
of this ?

If the days of Egyptian Mummies are past,
how dare Mrs. Prodgit require, for the use of
my son, an amount of flannel and linen that
would carpet my humble roof? Do I wonder
that she requires it ? No ! This morning,
within an hour, I beheld this agonising sight.
I beheld my son — Augustus George— in Mrs.
Prodgit's hands, and on Mrs. Prodgit's knee,
being dressed. He was at the moment, com-
paratively speaking, in a state of nature ; having
nothing on but an extremely short shirt, remark-
ably disproportionate to the length of his usual
outer garments. Trailing from Mrs. Prodgit's
kip, on the floor, was a long narrow roller or
bandage — I should say of several yards in ex-
tent. In this I SAW Mrs. Prodgit tightly roll
the body of my unoffending infant, turning him
over and over, now presenting his unconscious
face upwards, now the back of his bald head,
until the unnatural feat was accomplished, and
the bandage secured by a pin, which I have
every reason to believe entered the body of my
only child. In this tourniquet he passes the
present phase of his existence. Can I know it
and smile?

I fear I have been betrayed into expressing
myself warmly, but I feel deeply. Not for
myself ; for Augustus George. I dare not inter-
fere. Will any one? Will any publication?
Any doctor ? Any parent ? Any body ? I do
not complain that Mrs. Prodgit (aided and
abetted by Mrs. Bigby) entirely alienates Maria
Jane's affections from me, and interposes an
impassable barrier between us. I do not com-
plain of being made of no account. I do not
want to be of any account. But, Augustus
George is a production of Nature (I cannot
think otherwise), and I claim that he should be
treated with some remote reference to Nature.
In my opinion, Mrs. Prodgit is, from first to
last, a convention and a superstition. Are all
the faculty afraid of Mrs. Prodgit ? If not, why
don't they take her in hand and improve her ?

P.S. Maria Jane's mamma boasts of her own
knowledge of the subject, and says she brought
up seven children besides j\Iaria Jane. But
liow do / know that she might not have
brought them up much better? Maria Jane
herself is far from strong, and is subject to head-
aches and nervous indigestion. Besides which,
I learn from the statistical tables that one child
in five dies within the first year of its life ; and



one child in three within the fifth. That don't
look as if we could never improve in these par-
ticulars, I think !

P. P.S. Augustus George is in convulsions.




LYING AWAKE.

Y uncle lay with his eyes half closed,
and his nightcap dra\»n almost down
to his nose. Plis fancy was already
wandering, and began to mingle up
the present scene with the crater of
Vesuvius, the French Opera, the
Coliseum at Rome, Dolly's Chop-house
in London, and all the farrago of noted
places with which the brain of a traveller is
crammed; in a word, he was just falling
asleep."

Thus that delightful writer, Washington
Irving, in his Tales of a Traveller. But, it
happened to me the other night to be lying:
not with my eyes half closed, but with my eyes
wide open ; not with my nightcap drawn almost
down to my nose, for on sanitary principles I
never wear a nightcap : but with my hair pitch-
forked and tousled all over the pillow ; not just
falling asleep by any means, but glaringly, per-
sistently, and obstinately broad awake. Per-
haps, with no scientific intention or invention,
I was illustrating the theory of the Duality of
the Brain : perhaps one part of my brain, being
wakeful, sat up to watch the other part which
was sleepy. Be that as it may, something in
me was as desirous to go to sleep as it possibly
could be, but something else in me would not
go to sleep, and was as obstinate as George the
Third.

Thinking of George the Third — for I devote
this paper to my train of thoughts as I lay awake .
most people lying awake sometimes, and having
some interest in the subject — put me in mind of
Benjamin Franklin, and so Benjamin Frank-
lin's paper on the art of procuring pleasant
dreams, which would seem necessarily to include
the art of going to sleep, came into my head.
Now, as I often used to read that paper when I
was a very small boy, and as I recollect every-
thing I read then as perfectly as I forget every-
thing I read now, I quoted " Get out of bed,
beat up and turn your pillow, shake the bed-
clothes well with at least twenty shakes, then
throw the bed open, and leave it to cool ; in
the meanwhile, continuing undressed, walk about
your chamber. When you begin to feel the cold



15^



LYING AWAKE.



air unpleasant, then return to your bed, and
you will soon fall asleep, and your sleep will be
sweet and pleasant." Not a bit of it ! I per-
formed the whole ceremony, and if it were pos-
sible for me to be more saucer-eyed than I was
before, that was the only result that came of it.

Except Niagara. The two f]uotations from
Washington Irving and Benjamin Franklin may
have put it in my head by an American associa-
tion of ideas ; but there I was, and the Horse-
shoe Fall was thundering and tumbling in my
eyes and ears, and the very rainbows that I left
upon the spray, when I really did last look upon
it, were beautiful to see. The night-light being
•quite as plain, however, and sleep seeming to
be many thousand miles further off than Niagara,
I made up my mind to think a little about
Sleep ; which I no sooner did than I whirled
off in spite of myself to Drury-Lane Theatre,
and there saw a great actor and dear friend of
mine (whom I had been thinking of in the day)
playing INIacbeth, and heard him apostrophising
" the death of each day's life," as I have heard
him many a time in the days that are gone.

But Sleep. I will think about Sleep. I am
determined to think (this is the way I went on)
about Sleep. I must hold the word Sleep tight
and fast, or I shall be off at a tangent, in half a
second. I feel myself unaccountably straying,
already, into Clare Market. Sleep. It would be
curious, as illustrating the equality of sleep, to in-
quire how many of its phenomena are common to
all classes, to all degrees of wealth and poverty, to
every grade of education and ignorance. Here,
for example, is her INIajesty Queen Victoria in
her palace, this present blessed night, and here
is Winking Charley, a sturdy vagrant, in one of
her Majesty's gaols. Her Majesty has fallen,
many thousands of times, from that same Tower
which / claim a right to tumble off now and
then. So has Winking Charley. Her Majesty
in her sleep has opened or prorogued Parlia-
ment, or has held a Drawing Room, attired in
■some very scanty dress, the deficiencies and
improprieties of which have caused her great
uneasiness. I, in my degree, have suffered
unspeakable agitation of mind from taking the
chair at a public dinner at the London Tavern
in my night-clothes, which not all the courtesy
of my kind friend and host Mr. Bathe could
persuade me were quite adapted to the occasion.
VVinking Charley has been repeatedly tried in a
worse condition. Her Majesty is no stranger
to a vault or firmament, of a sort of floor-cloth,
with an indistinct pattern distantly resembling
eyes, which occasionally obtrudes itself on her
jepose. Neither am I. Neither is Winking



Charley. It is quite common to all three of us
to skim along with airy strides a little above the
ground ; also to hold, with the deepest interest,
dialogues with various people, all represented
by ourselves ; and to be at our wit's end to knov,-
what they are going to tell us ; and to be inde-
scribably astonished by the secrets they disclose.
It is probable that we have all three committed
murders and hidden bodies. It is pretty certain
that we have all desperately wanted to cry out,
and have had no voice ; that we have all gone
to the play, and not been able to get in ; that
we have all dreamed much more of our youth

than of our later lives; that I have lost

it ! The thread's broken.

And up I go. I, lying here with the night-
light before me, up I go, lor no reason on eartli
that I can find out, and drawn by no links that
are visible to me, uj) the Great St. Bernard ! I
have lived in Switzerland, and rambled among
the mountains ; but, why I should go there now,
and why up the Great St. Bernard in preference
to any other mountain, I have no idea. As I
lie here broad awake, and with every sense so
sharpened that I can distinctly hear distant
noises inaudible to me at another time, I make
that journey, as I really did, on the same sum-
mer day, with the same happy party — ah ! two
since dead, I grieve to think — and there is the
same track, with the same black wooden arms
to point the way, and there are the same storm-
refuges here and there ; and there is the same
snow falling at the top, and there are the same
frosty mists, and there is the same intensely cold
convent with its me'nagerie smell, and the same
breed of dogs fast dying out, and the same breed
of jolly young monks whom I mourn to know as
humbugs, and the same convent parlour with its
piano and the sitting round the fire, and the
same supper, and the same lone night in a cell,
and the same bright fresh morning when going
out into the highly rarefied air was like a plunge
into an icy bath. Now, see here what conies
along ; and why does this thing stalk into my
mind on the top of a Swiss mountain ?

It is a figure that I once saw, just after dark,
chalked upon a door in a little back-lane near a
country church — my first church. How young
a child I may have been at the time I don't
know, but it horrified me so intensely — in con-
nection with the churchyard, I suppose, for it
smokes a pipe, and has a big hat, with each of
its ears sticking out in a horizontal, line under
the brim, and is not in itself more oppressive
than a mouth from ear to ear, a pair of goggle
eyes, and hands like two bunches of carrots, five
in each, can make it — that it is still vaguely



RAMBLING NIGHT THOUGHTS.



153



alarming to me to recall (as I have often done
before lying awake) the running home, the look-
ing behind, the horror of its following me ;
though whetlier disconnected from the door, or



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 29 of 103)