Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 32 of 103)
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directly, and ran crowding round the carriage.
It was Jane ! In such a bonnet ! And if you
believe me, Jane was married to Old Cheese-
man.

It soon became quite a regular thing, when
our fellows were hard at it in the playground, to
see a carriage at the low part of the wall where
it joins the high part, and a lady and gentleman
standing up in it, looking over. The gentleman
was always Old Cheeseman, and the lady was
always Jane.

The first time I ever saw them, I saw them in
that way. There had been a good many
changes among our fellows then, and it had
turned out that Bob Tarter's father wasn't worth
Millions ! He wasn't worth anything. Bob



i66



NOBODY'S STORY.



had gone for a soldier, and Old Cheeseman had
purchased his discharge. But that's not the
carriage. The carriage stopped, and all our fel-
lows stopped as soon as it was seen.

" So you have never sent me to Coventry
after all ! " said the lady, laughing, as our fellows
swarmed up the wall to shake hands with her,
" Are you never going to do it ? "

" Never ! never ! never ! " on all sides.

I didn't understand what she meant then, but
of course I do now. I was very much pleased
with her face, though, and with her good way,
and 1 couldn't help looking at her — and at him
too — with all our fellows clustering so joyfully
about them.

They soon took notice of me as a new boy, so
I thought I might as well swarm up the wall
myself, and shake hands with them as the rest
did. I was quite as glad to see them as the
rest were, and was quite as familiar with them
in a moment.

" Only a fortnight, now," said Old Cheeseman,
" to the holidays. Who stops ? Anybody .? "

A good many fingers pointed at me, and a
good many voices cried, "He does!" For it
was the year when you were all away; and
rather low I was about it, I can tell you.

" Oh ! " said Old Cheeseman. " But it's
sohtary here in the holiday-time. He had better
come to us."

So I went to their delightful house, and was
as happy as I could possibly be. They under-
stand how to conduct themselves towards boys,
they do. When they take a boy to the play, for
instance, they do take him. They don't go in
after it's begun, or come out before its over.
They know how to bring a boy up, too. Look
at their own ! Though he is very little as yet,
what a capital boy he is ! Why, my next
favourite to Mrs. Cheeseman and Old Cheese-
man is young Cheeseman.

So, now I have told you all I know about Old
Cheeseman. And it's not much after all, I am
afraid. Is it ?



NOBODY'S STORY.

E lived on the bank • of a mighty
river, broad and deep, which was
always silently rolling on to a vast

, . , . . undiscovered ocean. It had rolled

nO^^; '/^-'■^ on ever since the world began. It
\f^y had changed its course sometunes, and
^^^T^ turned into new channels, leaving its
^ old ways dry and barren ; but it had

ever been upon the flow, and ever was to flow




until Time should be no more. Against its
strong, unfathomable stream nothing made head.
No living creature, no flower, no leaf, no particle
of animate or inanimate existence, ever strayed
back from the undiscovered ocean. The tide
of the river set resistlessly towards it ; and the
tide never stopped, any more than the earth
stops in its circling round the sun.

He lived in a busy place, and he worked very
hard to live. He had no hope of ever being
rich enough to live a month without hard work,
but he was quite content, God knows, to labour
with a cheerful will. He was one of an immense
family, all of whose sons and daughters gained
their daily bread by daily work, prolonged from
their rising up betimes until their lying down at
night. Beyond this destiny he had no prospect,
and he sought none.

There was over-much drumming, trumpeting,
and speech-making in the neighbourhood where
he dwelt ; but he had nothing to do with that.
Such clash and uproar came from the Bigwig
family, at the unaccountable proceedings of
which race he marvelled much. They set up
the strangest statues, in iron, marble, bronze,
and brass, before his door ; and darkened his
house with the legs and tails of uncouth
images of horses. He wondered what it all
meant, smiled in a rough good-humoured way
he had, and kept at his hard work.

The Bigwig family (composed of all the state-
liest people thereabouts, and all the noisiest)
had undertaken to save him the trouble of
thinking for himself, and to manage him and his
affairs. " Why, truly," said he, " I have little
time upon my hands; and if you will be so
good as to take care of me, in return for the
money I pay over " — for the Bigwig family were
not above his money — " I shall be relieved and
much obliged, considering that you know best."
Hence the drumming, trumpeting, and speech-
making, and the ugly images of horses which he
was expected to fall down and worship.

" I don't understand all this," said he, rubbing
his furrowed brow confusedly. " But it has a
meaning, maybe, if I could find it out."

" It means," returned the Bigwig family, sus-
pecting something of what he said, "honour and
glory in the highest to the highest merit."

" Oh ! " said he. And he was glad to hear
that.

But, when he looked among the images in
iron, marble, bronze, and brass, he failed to find
a rather meritorious countryman of his, once the
son of a Warwickshire wool-dealer, or any single
countryman whomsoever, of that kind. He
could find none of the men whose knowledge



THE BIGWIG FA Mil Y.



167



had rescued him ami his children from terrific
and disfiguring disease, whose boldness had
raised his forefathers from the condition of serfs,
whose wise flmcy had opened a new and high
existence to the humblest, whose skill had filled
the working man's world with accumulated won-
ders. Whereas, he did find others whom he
knew no good of, and even others whom he
knew much ill of.

" Humph ! " said he. " I don't quite under-
stand it."

So he went home, and sat down by his fire-
side to get it out of his mind.

Now, his fireside was a bare one, all hemmed
in by blackened streets ; but it was a precious
place to him. The hands of his wife were
hardened with toil, and she was old before her
time : but she was dear to him. His children,
stunted in their growth, bore traces of unwhole-
some nurture ; but they had beauty in his sight.
Above all other things, it was an earnest desire
of this man's soul that his children should be
taught. " If I am sometimes misled," said he,
'• for want of knowledge, at least let them know
better, and avoid my mistakes. If it is hard to
me to reap the harvest of pleasure and instruc-
tion that is stored in books, let it be easier to
them."

But, the Bigwig family broke out into violent
family quarrels concerning what it was lawful to
teach to this man's children. Some of the family
insisted on such a thing being primary and in-
dispensable above all other things ; and others
of the family insisted on such another thing being
primary and indispensable above all other things;
and the Bigwig family, rent into factions, wrote
pamphlets, held convocations, delivered charges,
orations, and all varieties of discourses ; im-
pounded one another in courts Lay and courts
Ecclesiastical ; threw dirt, exchanged pummel-
lings, and fell together by the ears in unintel-
ligible animosity. Meanwhile, this man, in his
short evening snatches at his fireside, saw the
demon Ignorance arise there, and take his chil-
dren to itself. He saw his daughter perverted
into a heavy slatternly drudge ; he saw his son
go moping down the w-ays of low sensuality, to
brutality and crime ; he saw the dawning light
of intelligence in the eyes of his babies so
changing into cunning and suspicion, that he
could have rather wished them idiots.

" I don't understand this any the better," said
he; "but I think it cannot be right. Nay, by
the clouded Heaven above me, I protest against
this as my wrong ! "

Becoming peaceable again (for his passion
was usually short-lived, and his nature kind), he



looked about hiin on his Sundays and holidays,
and he saw how much monotony and weariness
there was, and thence how drunkenness arose
witli all its train of ruin. Then he appealed to
the Bigwig family, and said, " \Ve are a labour-
ing people, and I have a glimmering suspicion
in me that labouring people of whatever condi-
tion were made — by a higher intelligence than
yours, as I poorly understand it — to be in need
of mental refreshment and recreation. See what
we fall into when we rest without it. Come !
Amuse me harmlessly, show me something, give
me an escape ! "

But, here the Bigwig family fell into a state of
uproar absolutely deafening. When some few
voices were faintly heard, proposing to show
him the wonders of the world, the greatness of
creation, the mighty changes of time, the work-
ings of nature and the beauties of art — to show
him these things, that is to say, at any period of
his life when he could look upon them — there
arose among the Bigwigs such roaring and rav-
ing, such pulpiting and petitioning, such maun-
dering and memorialising, such name-calling and
dirt-throwing, such a shrill wind of parliament-
ary questioning and feeble replying — where " I
dare not " waited on " I would " — that the poor
fellow stood aghast, staring wildly around.

" Have I provoked all this," said he, with his
hands to his afirighted ears, " by what was meant
to be an innocent request, plainly arising out of
my familiar experience, and the common know-
ledge of all men who choose to open their eyes ?
I don't understand, and I am not understood.
What is to come of such a state of things ? "

He was bending over his work, often asking
himself the question, when the news began to
spread that a pestilence had appeared among
the labourers, and was slaying them by thou-
sands. Going forth to look about him, he soon
found this to be true. The dying and the dead
were mingled in the close and tainted houses
among which his life was passed. New poison
was distilled into the always murky, always sick-
ening air. The robust and the weak, old age
and infancy, the father and the mother, all were
stricken down alike.

What means of flight had he ? He remained
there, where he was, and saw those who were
dearest to him die. A kind preacher came to
him, and would have said some prayers to soften
his heart in his gloom, but he replied :

" Oh, what avails it, missionary, to come to
me, a man condemned to residence in this foetid
place, where every sense bestowed upon me for
my delight becomes a torment, and where every
minute of my numbered days is new mire added



i68



THE GHOST OF ART.



to the heap under which I He oppressed ? But,
give nie my first glimpse of Heaven, through a
little of its light and air ; give me pure water ;
help me to be clean ; lighten this heavy atmo-
sphere and heavy life, in which our spirits sink,
and we become the indifferent and callous crea-
tures you too often see us ; gently and kindly
take the bodies of those who die among us out
of the small room, where we grow to be so
familiar with the awful change that even its
sanctity is lost to us ; and, Teacher, then I will
hear — none know better than you, how willingly
— of Him whose thoughts were so much with
the poor, and who had compassion for all human
sorrow ! "

He was at his work again, solitary and sad,
when his Master came and stood near to him
dressed in black. He, also, had suffered heavily.
His young wife, his beautiful and good young
wife, was dead ; so, too, his only child.

" Master, 'tis hard to bear — I know it — but
be comforted. I would give you comfort if I
could."

The Master thanked him from his heart, but,
said he, " Oh, you labouring men ! The cala-
mity began among you. If you had but lived
more healthily and decently, I should not be
the widowed and bereft mourner that I am this
day."

" Master," returned the other, shaking his
head, " I have begun to understand a little that
most calamities will come from us, as this one did,
and that none will stop at our poor doors, until
we are united with that great squabbling family
yonder, to do the things that are right. We
cannot live healthily and decently unless they
who undertook to manage us provide the means.
^V'e cannot be instructed unless they will teach
us ; we cannot be rationally amused unless they
will amuse us ; we cannot but have some false
gods of our own, while they set up so many of
theirs in all the public places. The evil conse-
quences of imperfect instruction, the evil con-
sequences of pernicious neglect, the evil conse-
quences of unnatural restraint and the denial of
humanising enjoyments, will all come from us,
and none of them will stop with us. They will
spread far and wide. They always do ; they
always have done — just like the pestilence. I
understand so much, I think, at last."

But the Master said again, " Oh, you labour-
ing men ! How seldom do we ever hear of you,
except in connection with some trouble ! "

" Master," he replied, " I am Nobody, and
little likely to be heard of (nor yet much wanted
to be heard of, perhaps), except when there is
some trouble. But it never begins with me, and



it never can end with me. As sure as Death, it
comes down to me, and it goes up from me."

There was so much reason in what he said,
that the Bigwig family, getting wind of it, and
being horribly frightened by the late desolation,
resolved to unite with him to do the things that
were right — at all events, so far as the said
things were associated with the direct prevention,
humanly speaking, of another pestilence. But,
as their fear wore off, which it soon began to do,
they resumed their falling out among themselves,
and did nothing. Consequently the scourge ap-
peared again — low down as before — and spread
avengingly upward as before, and carried off
vast numbers of the brawlers. But not a man
among them ever admitted, if in the least de-
gree he ever perceived, that he had anything to
do with it.

So Nobody lived and died in the old, old, old
way ; and this, in the main, is the whole of No-
body's story.

Had he no name, you ask ? Perhaps it was
Legion. It matters little what his name was.
Let us call him Legion.

If you were ever in the Belgian villages near
the field of Waterloo, you will have seen, in
some quiet little church, a monument erected
by faithful companions in arms to the memory
of Colonel A, Major B, Captains C, D, and E,
Lieutenants F and G, Ensigns H, I, and J,
seven non-commissioned officers, and one hun-
dred and thirty rank and file, who fell in the dis-
charge of their duty on the memorable day.
The story of Nobody is the story of the rank
and file of the earth. They bear their share of
the battle ; they have their part in the victory ;
they fall ; they leave no name but in the mass.
The march of the proudest of us leads to the
dusty way by which they go. Oh ! let us think
of them this year at the Christmas fire, and not
forget them when it is burnt out.



THE GHOST OF ART.

AM a bachelor, residing in rather a
dreary set of chambers in the Tem-
ple. They are situated in a square
court of high houses, which would
be a complete well, but for the want
of water and the absence of a bucket.
I live at the top of the house, among
the tiles and sparrows. Like the little
man in the nursery story, I live by myself, and
all the bread and cheese I get — which is not
much — I put upon a shelf. I need scarcely




A TERRIBLE BEING.



169



add, perhaps, that I am in love, and that the
father of my charming JuHa objects to our
union.

I mention these little particulars as I might
deliver a letter of introduction. The reader is
now acquainted with me, and perhaps will con-
descend to listen to my narrative.

I am naturally of a dreamy turn of mind ;
and my abundant leisure — for I am called to
the bar — coupled with much lonely listening to
the twittering of sparrows and the pattering of
rain, has encouraged that disposition. In my
"■ top set " I hear the wind howl, on a winter
night, when the man on the ground-floor be-
lieves it is perfectly still weather. The dim
lamps with which our Honourable Society (sup-
posed to be as yet unconscious of the new
discovery called Gas) make the horrors of the
staircase visible, deepen the gloom which
generally settles on my soul when I go home
at night.

I am in the Law, but not of it. I can't
exactly make out what it means. I sit in
Westminster Hall sometimes (in character)
from ten to four ; and when I go out of Court,
I don't know whether I am standing on my wig
or my boots.

It appears to me (I mention this in confi-
dence) as if there were too much talk and too
much law — as if some grains of truth were
started overboard into a tempestuous sea of
chatf.

All this may make me mystical. Still, I am
confident that what I am going to describe
myself as having seen and heard, I actually did
see and hear.

It is necessary that I should observe that I
have a great delight in pictures. I am no
painter myself, but I have studied pictures and
written about them. I have seen all the most
famous pictures in the world ; my education
and reading have been sufficiently general to
possess me beforehand with a knowledge of
most of the subjects to which a Painter is likely
to have recourse ; and, although I might be in
some doubt as to the rightful fashion of the
scabbard of King Lear's sword, for instance, I
think I should know King Lear tolerably well,
if I happened to meet with him.

I go to all the Modern Exhibitions every
season, and of course I revere the Royal
Academy. I stand by its forty Academical
articles almost as firmly as I stand by the thirty-
nine Articles of the Church of England. I am
convinced that in neither case could there be,
by any rightful possibility, one article more or
less.



It is now exactly three years — three years
ago this very month — since I went from West-
minster to the Temple, one Thursday afternoon,
in a cheap steamboat. The sky was black
when I imprudently walked on board. It be-
gan to thunder and lighten immediately after-
wards, and the rain poured down in torrents.
The deck seeming to smoke with the wet, I
went below ; but so many passengers were
there, smoking too, that I came up again, and
buttoning my pea-coat, and standing in the
shadow of the paddle-box, stood as upright as
I could, and made the best of it.

It was at this moment that I first beheld the
terrible Being who is the subject of my present
recollections.

Standing against the funnel, apparently with
the intention of drying himself by the heat as
fast as he got wet, was a shabby man in thread-
bare black, and with his hands in his pockets,
who fascinated me from the memorable instant
when I caught his eye.

Where had I caught that eye before ? Who
was he ? Why did I connect him, all at once,
with the Vicar of Wakefield, Alfred the Great,
Gil Bias, Charles the Second, Joseph and his
Brethren, the Fairy Queen, Tom Jones, the
Decameron of Boccaccio, Tarn O'Shanter, the
Marriage of the Doge of Venice with the
Adriatic, and the Great Plague of London ?
Why, when he bent one leg, and placed one
hand upon the back of the seat near him, did
my mind associate him wildly with the words,
" Number one hundred and forty-two, Portrait
of a gentleman ? " Could it be that I was going
mad?

I looked at him again, and now I could have
taken my affidavit that he belonged to the Vicar
of Wakefield's family. Whether he was the
Vicar, or Moses, or Mr. Burchill, or the Squire,
or a conglomeration of all four, I knew not ;
but I was impelled to seize him by the throat,
and charge him with being, in some fell way,
connected with the Primrose blood. He looked
up at the rain, and then — oh heaven ! — he
became St. John. He folded his arms, resign-
ing himself to the weather, and I was frantically
inclined to address him as the Spectator, and
firmly demand to know what he had done with
Sir Roger de Coverley.

The frightful suspicion that I was becoming
deranged returned upon me with redoubled
force. Meantime, this awful stranger, inexpli-
cably linked to my distress, stood drying him-
self at the funnel ; and ever, as the steam rose
from his clothes, diffusing a mist around him, I
saw through the ghostly medium all the people



lyo



THE GHOST OF ART



I have mentioned, and a score more, sacred and
profane.

I am conscious of a dreadful inclination that
stole upon me, as it thundered and lightened,
to grapple with this man, or demon, and plunge
him over the side. But, I constrained myself —
I know not how — to speak to him, and in a
pause of the storm I crossed the deck, and said :

" What are you ? "

He replied hoarsely, " A Model."

"A what?" said I.

" A Model," he replied. " I sets to the pro-
fession for a bob a hour." (All through this
narrative I give his own words, which are in-
delibly imprinted on my memory.)

The relief which this disclosure gave me, the
jexquisite delight of the restoration of my confi-
dence in my own sanity, I cannot describe. I
should have fallen on his neck, but for the con-
sciousness of being observed by the man at the
wheel.

" You, then," said I, shaking him so warmly
by the hand, that I wrung the rain out of his
coat-cuff, " are the gentleman whom I have so
frequently contemplated, in connection with a
high-backed chair with a red cushion, and a
table with twisted legs ? "

" I am that Model," he rejoined moodily,
" and I wish I was anything else."

" Say not so," I returned. " I have seen you
in the society of many beautiful young women j"
as in truth I had, and always (I now remember)
in the act of making the most of his legs.

" No doubt," said he. " And you've seen me
along with warses of flowers, and any number of
table-kivers, and antique cabinets, and warious
gammon."

" Sir .^ " said I.

" And warious gammon," he repeated in a
louder voice. " You might have seen me in
armour, too, if you had looked sharp. Blest if
I ha'n't stood in half the suits of armour as ever
came out of Pratt's shop : and sat, for weeks
together, a eating nothing, out of half the gold
and silver dishes as has ever been lent for the
purpose out of Storrses, and Mortimerses, or
Garrardses, and Davenportseseses."

Excited, as it appeared, by a sense of injury,
I thought he never would have found an end for
the last word. But, at length it rolled sullenly
away wth the thunder.

" Pardon me," said I, "you are a well-favoured,
well-made man, and yet — forgive me — I find, on
examining my mind, that I associate you with —
that my recollection indistinctly makes you, in
short — excuse me — a kind of powerful mon-
ster."



" It would be a wonder it it didn't," he said.
" Do you know what my points are?"

" No," said I.

" My throat and my legs," said he. " When
I don't set for a head, I mostly sets for a throat
and a pair of legs. Now, granted you was a
painter, and was to work at my throat for a week
together, I suppose you'd see a lot of lumps and
bumps there, that would never be there at all, if
you looked at me complete, instead of only my
throat. Wouldn't you ? "

" Probably," said I, surveying him.

" Why, it stands to reason," said the Model.
" Work another week at my legs, and it'll be
the same thing. You'll make 'em out as knotty
and as knobby, at last, as if they was the trunks
of two old trees. Then, take and stick my legs
and throat on to another man's body, and you'll
make a reg'lar monster. And that's the way the
public gets their reg'lar monsters, every first
Monday in May, when the Royal Academy
Exhibition opens."

" You are a critic," said I, with an air of
deference.

" Pm in an uncommon ill-humour, if that's
it," rejoined the Model, with great indignation.
" As if it warn't bad enough, for a bob a hour,
for a man to be mixing himself up with that
there jolly old furniter that one 'ud think the
public know'd the wery nails in by this time — or
to be putting on greasy old 'ats and cloaks, and
playing tambourines in the Bay o' Naples, with
Wesuvius a smokin' according to pattern in the
background, and the wines a bearing wonderful
in the middle distance — or to be unpolitely kick-
ing up his legs among a lot o' gals, with no
reason whatever in his mind, but to show 'em —
as if this warn't bad enough, Pm to go and be
thrown out of employment too ! ''

" Surely no !" said I.

" Surely yes," said the indignant Model. "But
I'll grow one."

The gloomy and threatening manner in which



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 32 of 103)