Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 30 of 103)
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Those are holiday occasions, and then I gene-
rally walk in the Park. I am a solitary man,
and seldom walk with anybody. Not that I am
avoided because I am shabby ; for I am not at
all shabby, having always a very good suit of
black on (or rather Oxford mixture, which has
the appearance of black, and wears much better; ;
but I have got into a habit of speaking low, and
being rather silent, and my spirits are not high,
and I am sensible that I am not an attractive
companion.

The only exception to this general rule is the
child of my first cousin. Little Frank. I have a
particular affection for that child, and he takes
very kindly to me. Pie is a diftident boy by
nature ; and in a crowd he is soon run over, as
I may say, and forgotten. He and I, however,
get on exceedingly well. I have a fancy that
the poor child will in time succeed to my pecu-
liar position in the family. We talk but little ;
still, we understand each other. We walk about
hand-in-hand ; and without much speaking he
knows what I mean, and I know what he means.
When he was very little indeed, I used to take
him to the windows of the toy-shops, and show
him the toys inside. It is surprising how soon
he found out that I would have made him a
great many presents if I had been in circum-
stances to do it.

Little Frank and I go and look at the outside
of the Monument — he is very fond of the Monu-
ment — and at the Bridges, and at all the sights
that are free. On two of my birthdays we have
dined on a-la-mode beef, and gone at half-price
to the play, and been deeply interested. 1 was
once walking with him in Lombard Street, which
we often visit on account of my having men-
tioned to him that there are great riches there —
he is very fond of Lombard Street — when a gen-
tleman said to me as he passed by, " Sir, your
little son has dropped his glove." I assure you,
if you will excuse my remarking on so trivial a
circumstance, this accidental mention of the
child as mine, ([uite touched my heart and
brought the foolish tears into my eyes.

When little Frank is sent to school in the
country, I shall be very much at a loss what to
do with myself, but I have the intention of walk-
ing down there once a month, and seeing him
on a half-holiday. I am told he will then be at
play upon the Heath ; and if my visits should
be objected to, as unsettling the child, I can see
him from a distance without his seeing me, and
walk back again. His mother comes of a highly
genteel family, and rather disapproves, I am



i:^6



THE POOR RELATION'S STORY.



aware, of our being too much together. I know
that I am not calculated to improve his retiring
disposition; but I think he would miss me be-
yond the feeling of the moment, if we were
wholly separated.

When I die in the Clapham Road, I shall not
leave much more in this world than I shall take
out of it ; but, I happen to have a miniature of
a bright-fliced boy, with a curling head, and an
open shirt-frill waving down his bosom (my
mother had it taken for me, but I can't believe
that it was ever like), which will be worth nothing
to sell, and which 1 shall beg may be given to
Frank. I have written my dear boy a little
letter with it, in which I have told him that I
felt very sorry to part from him, though bound
to confess that I knew no reason why I should
remain here. I have given him some short
advice, the best in my power, to take warning
of the consequences of being nobody's enemy
but his own ; and I have endeavoured to com-
fort him for what I fear he will consider a
bereavement, by pointing out to him that I was
■only a superfluous something to every one but
him ; and that having by some means failed to
find a place in this great assembly, I am better
out of it.

Such (said the poor relation, clearing his
throat and beginning to speak a little louder) is
the general impression about me. Now, it is a
remarkable circumstance, which forms the aim
and purpose of my story, that this is all wrong.
This is not my life, and these are not my habits.
I do not even live in the Clapham Road. Com-
paratively speaking, I am very seldom there. I
reside, mostl}', in a — I am almost ashamed to
say the word, it sounds so full of pretension —
in a Castle. I do not mean that it is an old
baronial habitation, but still it is a building
always known to every one by the name of a
Castle. In it I preserve the particulars of my
history ; they run thus :

It was Avhen I first took John Spatter (who
had been my clerk) into partnership, and when
I was still a young man of not more than five-
and-twenty, residing in the house of my uncle
Chill, from whom I had considerable expecta-
tions, that I ventured to propose to Christiana.
I had loved Christiana a long time. She was
very beautiful, and very winning in all respects.
I rather mistrusted her widowed mother, who I
feared was of a plotting and mercenary turn of
mind ; but, I thought as well of her as I could,
for Christiana's sake. I never had loved any
one but Christiana, and she had been all the
world, and oh, far more than all the world, to
me, from our childhood !



Christiana accepted me with her mother's
consent, and I was rendered very happy indeed.
My life at my uncle Chill's was of a spare dull
kind, and my garret chamber was as dull, and
bare, and cold, as an upper prison-room in some
stern northern fortress. But, having Christiana's
love, I wanted nothing upon earth. I would
not have changed my lot with any human being.

Avarice was, unhappily, my uncle Chill's mas-
ter vice. Though he was rich, he pinched, and
scraped, and clutched, and hved miserably. As
Christiana had no fortune, I was for some time
a little fearful of confessing our engagement to
him : but, at length I wrote him a letter, saying
how it all truly was. I put it into his hand one
night, on going to bed.

As I came down-stairs next morning, shiver-
ing in the cold December air ; colder in my
uncle's unwarrned house than in the street, where
the winter sun did sometimes shine, and which
was at all events enlivened by cheerful faces and
voices passing along; I carried a heavy heart
towards the long, low breakfast-room in which
my uncle sat. It was a large room with a small
fire, and there was a great bay-window in it,
which the rain had marked in the night as if
with the tears of houseless people. It stared
upon a raw yard, with a cracked stone pave-
ment, and some rusted iron railings half up-
rooted, whence an ugly outbuilding that had
once been a dissecting-room (in the time of the
great surgeon who had mortgaged the house to
my uncle) stared at it.

We rose so early always, that at that time of
the year we breakfasted by candle-light. When I
went into the room, my uncle was so contracted
by the cold, and so huddled together in his chair
behind the one dim candle, that I did not see
him until I was close to the table.

As I held out my hand to him, he caught up
his stick (being infirm, he always walked about
the house with a stick), and made a blow at me,
and said, " You fool ! "

" Uncle," I returned, "I didn't expect you to
be so angry as this." Nor had I expected it,
though he was a hard and angry old man.

" You didn't expect ! " said he. " When did
you ever expect ? When did you ever calcu-
late, or look forward, you contemptible dog ? "

" These are hard words, uncle ! "

" Hard words ? Feathers, to pelt such an
idiot as you with," said he. " Here ! Betsy
Snap ! Look at him ! "

Betsy Snap was a withered, hard-favoured,
yellow old woman — our only domestic — always
employed, at this time of the morning, in rubbing
my uncle's legs. As my uncle adjured her to



HIS UNCLE'S RAGE.



157



look at me, he put his lean grip on the crown of
her head, she kneeling beside him, and turned
her face towards me. An involuntary thought
connecting them both with the Dissecting Room,
as it must often have been in the surgeon's time,
pasesd across my mind in the midst of my anxiety.
" Look at the snivelling milksop ! " said my
uncle. " Look at the baby ! This is the gentle-
man who, people say, is nobody's enemy but
his own. This is the gentleman who can't say
no. This is the gentleman who was making



such large profits in his business that he must
needs take a partner t'other day. This is the
gentleman who is going to marry a wife without
a penny, and who falls into the hands of Jeze-
bels who are speculating on my death ! "

I knew, now, how great my uncle's rage was ;
for nothing short of his being almost beside
himself would have induced him to utter that
concluding word, which he held in such repug-
nance that it was never spoken or hinted at
before him on any account.




" LOOK AT THE SNIVELLING illLKSOP ! " SAID MY UNCLE.



" On my death," he repeated, as if he were
defying me by defying his own abhorrence of the
word. " On my death — death — Death ! But
I'll spoil the speculation. Eat your last under
this roof, you feeble wretch, and may it choke you ! "

You may suppose that I had not much appe-
tite for the breakfast to which I was bidden in
these terms ; but I took my accustomed seat. I
saw that I was repudiated henceforth by my
uncle ; still I could bear that very well, possess-
ing Christiana's heart.



He emptied his basin of bread-and-milk as
usual, only that he took it on his knees with his
chair turned away from the table where I sat.
When he had done, he carefully snuffed out the
candle; and the cold, slate-coloured, miserable
day looked in upon us.

" Now, Mr. Michael," said he, " before we
part, I should like to have a word with these
ladies in your presence."

" As you will, sir," I returned ; " but you de-
ceive yourself, and wrong us cruelly, if you



i=;8



THE POOR RELATION'S STORY



suppose that there is any feeling at stake in this
contract but pure, disinterested, faithful love."

To this he only rephed, " You lie ! " and not
one other word.

^^^e went, through half-thawed snow and half-
frozen rain, to the house where Christiana and
her mother lived. My uncle knew them very
well. They Avere sitting at their breakfast, and
were surprised to see us at that hour.

" Your servant, ma'am," said my uncle to the
mother. " You divine the purpose of my visit,
I dare say, ma'am. I understand there is a
world of pure, disinterested, faithful love cooped
up here. I am happy to bring it all it wants, to
make it complete. I bring you your son-in-
law, ma'am — and you your husband, miss. The
gentleman is a perfect stranger to me, but I wish
him joy of his wise bargain."

He snarled at me as he went out, and I never
saw him again.

It is altogether a mistake (continued the poor
relation) to suppose that my dear Christiana,
over-persuaded and influenced by her mother,
married a rich man, the dirt from whose carriage
wheels is often, in these changed limes, thrown
upon me as she rides by. No, no. She married
me.

The Avay we came to be married rather sooner
than we intended was this. I took a frugal
lodging, and was saving and planning for her
sake, when, one day, she spoke to me with great
earnestness, and said :

" My dear Michael, I have given you my
heart. I have said that I loved you, and I have
pledged myself to be your wife. I am as much
yours through all changes of good and evil as if
we had been married on the day when such
words passed between us. I know you Avell,
and know that if we should be separated and
our union broken off, your whole life would be
shadowed, and all that might, even now, be
stronger in your character for the conflict with
the world would then be weakened to the shadow
of what it is ! "

" God help me, Christiana ! " said I. " You
speak the truth."

" Michael ! " said she, putting her hand in
mine, in all maidenly devotion, "let us keep
apart no longer. It is but for me to say that I
can live contented upon such means as you
have, and I well know you are happy. I say so
from my heart. Strive no more alone ; let us
strive together. My dear Michael, it is not
right that I should keep secret from you what
you do not suspect, but what distresses my whole
life. ISIy mother : without considering that what



you have lost, you have lost for me, and on the
assurance of my faith : sets her heart on riches,
and urges another suit upon me, to my misery.
I cannot bear this, for to bear it is to be untrue
to you. I would rather share your struggles
than look on. I want no better home than you
can give me. I know that you will aspire and
labour A\ith a higher courage if I am wholly
yours, and let it be so when you will !"

I was blessed indeed that day, and a new
world opened to me. We were married in a very
little while, and I took my wife to our happy
home. That was the beginning of the residence
I have spoken of ; the Castle we have ever since
inhabited together, dates from that time. All
our children have been born in it. Our first
child — now married — was a little girl, whom we
called Christiana. Her son is so like little
Frank, that I hardly know which is which.

The current impression as to my partner's
dealings with me is also quite erroneous. He
did not begin to treat me coldly, as a poor
simpleton, when my uncle and I so fatally quar-
relled ; nor did lie afterwards gradually possess
himself of our business and edge me out. On
the contrary, he behaved to me with the utmost
good faith and honour.

Matters between us took this turn : — On the
day of my separation from my uncle, and even
before the arrival at our counting-house of my
trunks (which he sent after me, 7iot carriage
paid), I went down to our room of business on
our little wharf, overlooking the river ; and there
I told John Spatter what had happened. John
did not say, in reply, that rich old relatives were
palpable facts, and that love and sentiment were
moonshine and fiction. He addressed me
thus :

"Michael," said John, "we were at school
together, and I generally had the knack of get-
ting on better than you, and making a higher
reputation."

" You had, John," I returned.

" Although," said John, " I borrowed your
books and lost them; borrowed your pocket-
money, and never repaid it ; got you to buy my
damaged knives at a higher price than I had
given for them new ; and to own to the windows
that I had broken."

" All not worth mentioning, John Spatter,"
said I, " but certainly true."

" When you were first established in this infant
business, which promises to thrive so well," pur-
sued John, " I came to you, in my search for
almost any employment, and you made me your
clerk."



HIS CASTLE.



159



" Still not worth mentioning, my dear John
Spatter," said I ; " still, equally true."

" And finding that I had a good head for
business, and that I was really useful to the busi-
ness, you did not like to retain me in that capa-
city, and thought it an act of justice soon to
make me your partner."

" Still less Avorth mentioning than any of those
other little circumstances you have recalled,
John Spatter," said I ; " for I was, and am, sen-
sible of your merits and my deficiencies."

" Now, my good friend," said John, drawing
my arm through his, as he had had a habit of
doing at school ; while two vessels outside the
windows of our counting-house — which were
shaped like the stern windows of a ship — went
lightly down the river with the tide, as John and
I might then be sailing away in company, and in
trust and confidence, on our voyage of life ; " let
there, under these friendly circumstances, be a
right understanding between us. You are too
easy, Michael. You are nobody's enemy but
your own. If I were to give you that damaging
character among our connection, with a shrug,
and a shake of the head, and a sigh ; and if I
were further to abuse the trust you place in
me

" But you never will abuse it at all, John," I
observed.

" Never ! " said he ; " but I am putting a case
— I sa)'-, and if I were further to abuse that trust
by keeping this piece of our common aftairs in
the dark, and this other piece in the light, and
again this other piece in the twilight, and so on,
I should strengthen my strength, and weaken
your weakness, day b)'' day, until at last I found
myself on the high-road to fortune, and you left
behind on some bare common, a hopeless num-
ber of miles out of the way."

" Exactly so," said I.

" To prevent this, Michael," said John Spatter,
" or the remotest chance of this, there must be
perfect openness between us. Nothing must
be concealed, and we must have but one in-
terest."

" My dear John Spatter," I assured him, " that
is precisely what I mean."

" And when you are too easy," pursued John,
his face glowing with friendship, " you must
allow me to prevent that imperfection in your
nature from being taken advantage of by any
one ; you must not expect me to humour it "

'' My dear John Spatter," I interrupted, " I
don't expect you to humour it. I want to correct
it."

" And I, too ! " said John.

" Exactly so ! " cried I. " We both have the



same end in view; and honourably seeking it,
and fully trusting one another, and having but
one interest, ours will be a prosperous and happy
partnership."

" I am sure of it," returned John Spatter.
And we shook hands most aftectionately.

I took John home to my Castle, and we had
a very happy day. Our partnership throve well.
My friend and partner supplied what I wanted,
as I had foreseen that he would ; and by improv-
ing both the business and myself, amply acknow-
ledged any little rise in life to which 1 had helped
him.

I am not {said the poor relation, looking at
the fire as he slowly rubbed his hands) very rich,
for I never cared to be that ; but I have enough,
and am above all moderate wants and an.xieties.
My Castle is not a splendid place, but it is very
comfortable, and it has a warm and cheerful air,
and is quite a picture of Home.

Our eldest girl, who is very like her mother,
married John Spatter's eldest son. Our two
families are closely united in other ties of at-
tachment. It is very pleasaiit of an evening,
when v/e are all assembled together — which fre-
quently happens — and when John and I talk
over old times, and the one interest there has
always been between us.

I really do not know, in my Castle, what lone-
liness is. Some of our children or grandchildren
are always about it, and the young voices of my
descendants are delightful — oh, how delightful !
— to me to hear. My dearest and most devoted
wife, ever faithful, ever loving, ever helpful and
sustaining and consoHng, is the priceless bless-
ing of my house ; from whom all its other bless-
ings spring. We are rather a musical family,
and when Christiana sees me, at any time, a
little weary or depressed, she steals to the piano
and sings a gentle air she used to sing when Ave
were first betrothed. So weak a man am I, that
I cannot bear to hear it from any other source.
They played it once at the theatre, when I was
there with little Frank ; and the child said won-
dering, " Cousin Michael, whose hot tears are
these that have fallen on my hand ?"

Such is my Castle, and such are the real par-
ticulars of my life therein preserved. I often
take little Frank home there. He is very wel-
come to my grandchildren, and they play to-
gether. At this time of the year — the Christmas
and New Year time — I am seldom out of my
Castle. For, the associations of the season seem
to hold me there, and the precepts of the
season seem to teach me that it is well to be
there.



i6o



THE CHILD'S STORY.




" And the Castle is " observed a grave,

kind voice among the company.

" Yes. My Castle," said the poor relation,
shaking his head as he still looked at the fire,
" is in the Air. John, our esteemed host, sug-
gests its situation accurately. My Castle is in
the Air ! I have done. Will you be so good
as to pass the story ? "



THE CHILD'S STORY.

NCE upon a lime, a good many years
ago, there was a traveller, and he set
out upon a journey. It was a magic
journey, and was to seem very long
when he began it, and very short
Avhen he got half-way through.
He travelled along a rather dark path
for some little time, without meeting
anything, until at last he came to a beautiful
child. So he said to the child, " What do you
do here ? " And the child said, " I am always
at play. Come and play with me ! "

So he played with the child the whole day
long, and they were very merry. The sky was
so blue, the sun was so bright, the water was so
sparkling, the leaves were so green, the flowers
were so lovely, and they heard such singing-
birds, and saw so many butterflies, that every-
thing was beautiful. This was in fine v/eather.
When it rained, they loved to watch the falling
drops, and to smell the fresh scents. When ic
blew, it was delightful to listen to the wind, and
fancy what it said, as it came rushing from its
home — where w-as that, they wondered ? — whis-
tling and howling, driving the clouds before it,
bending the trees, rumbling in the chimneys,
shaking the house, and making the sea roar in
fury. But, when it snowed, that was best of
all ; for, they liked nothing so well as to look
up at the white flakes falling fast and thick, like
down from the breasts of millions of white birds ;
and to see how smooth and deep the drift was ;
and to listen to the hush upon the paths and roads.
They had plenty of the finest toys in the
world, and the most astonishing picture-books ;
all about scimitars and slippers and turbans,
and dwarfs and giants and genii and fairies, and
Blue-Beards and bean-stalks and riches and
caverns and forests and Valentines and Orsons ;
and all new and all true.

But, one day, of a sudden, the traveller lost
the child. He called to him over and over
again, but got no answer. So he went upon his



road, and went on for a little while without
meeting anything, until at last he came to a
handsome boy. So he said to the boy, " What
do you do here?" And the boy said, "I am
always learning. Come and learn with me."

So he learned with that boy about Jupiter
and Juno, and the Greeks and the Romans, and
I don't know what, and learned more than I
could tell — or he either, for he soon forgot a
great deal of it. But, they were not always
learning ; they had the merriest games that ever
were played. They rowed upon the river in
summer, and skated on the ice in winter; they
were active afoot, and active on horseback ; at
cricket, and all games at ball ; at prisoners'
base, hare and hounds, follow my _ leader, and
more sports than I can think of; nobody could
beat them. They had holidays, too, and Twelfth
cakes, and parties where they danced till mid-
night, and real Theatres where they saw palaces
of real gold and silver rise out of the real earth,
and saw all the wonders of the world at once. As
to friends, they had such dear friends and so
many of them, that I want the time to reckon
them up. They were all young, like the hand-
some boy, and were never to be strange to one
another all their lives through.

Still, one day, in the midst of all these plea-
sures, the traveller lost the boy as he had lost
the child, and, after calling to him in vain, went
on upon his journey. So he went on for a little
while without seeing anything, until at last he
came to a young man. So he said to the young
man, "What do you do here?" And die young
man said, "I am always in love. Come and
love with me."

So he went away with that young man, and
presently they came to one of the prettiest girls
that ever was seen — just hke Fanny in the
corner there — and she had eyes like Fanny,
and hair like Fanny, and dimples like Fanny's,
and she laughed and coloured just as Fanny
does while I am talking about her. So the
young man fell in love directly — ^just as Some-
body I won't mention, the first time he came
here, did with Fanny. Well ! He was teased
sometimes — just as Somebody used to be by
Fanny; and they quarrelled sometimes — just as
Somebody and Fanny used to quarrel ; and they
made it up, and sat in the dark, and wrote
letters every day, and never were happy asunder,
and were always looking out for one another
and pretending not to, and were engaged at
Christmas-time, and sat close to one another by
the fire, and were going to be married very soon
— all exactly like Somebody I won't mention,
and Fanny !



A VISION OF LIFE.



iGx



But, the traveller lost them one day, as he
had lost the rest of his friends, and, after calling
to them to come back, which they never did,
went on upon his journey. So he went on for



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 30 of 103)