Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 42 of 103)
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And this conveys no special imputation on
the workhouse of the parish of St. So-and-so,
where, on the contrary, I saw many things to
commend. It was very agreeable, recollecting
that most infamous and atrocious enormity com-
mitted at Tooting — an enormity which, a hun-
dred years hence, will still be vividly remem-
bered in the by-ways of English life, and which
has done more to engender a gloomy discontent
and suspicion among many thousands of the
people than all the Chartisi leaders could have
done in all their lives — to find the pauper chil-
dren in this workhouse looking robust and
well, and apparently the objects of very great
care. In the infant school — a large, light, airy
room at the top of the building — the little crea-
tures, being at dinner, and eating their potatoes
heartily, were not cowed by the presence of
strange visitors, but stretched out their small
hands to be shaken, with a very pleasant confi-
dence. And it was comfortable to see two
mangey pauper rocking-horses rampant in a
corner. In the girls' school, where the dinner
was also in progress, everything bore a cheerful
and healthy aspect. The meal was over in the
boys' school by the time of our arrival theie, and
the room was not yet quite rearranged ; but the
boys were roaming unrestrained about a large
and airy yard, as any other school-boys might
have done. Some of them had been drawmg
large ships upon the schoolroom wall ; and if
they had a mast with shrouds and stays set up
for practice (as they have in the Middlesex
House of Correction), it would be so much the
better. At present, if a boy should feel a strong
impulse upon him to learn the art of going aloft,
he could only gratify it, I presume, as the men
and women paupers gratify their aspirations after
better board and lodging, by smashing as many
workhouse windows as possible, and being pro-
moted to prison.

In one place, the Newgate of the Workhouse,
a company of boys and youths were locked up
in a yard alone ; their day-room being a kind of
kennel where the casual poor used formerly to
be littered down at night. Divers of them had
been there some long time. "Are they never
going away?" was the natural inquiry. "Most



of them are crippled, in some form or other,"
said the Wardsman, " and not fit for anything."
They slunk about, like dispirited wolves or
hyaenas : and made a pounce at their food when
it was served out, much as those animals do.
The big-headed idiot shuffling his feet along the
pavement, in the sun-light outside, was a more
agreeable object every way.

Groves of babies in arms ; groves of mothers
and other sick women in bed ; groves of luna-
tics ; jungles of men in stone-paved down-stairs
day-rooms, waiting for their dinners ; longer and
longer groves of old people, in up-stairs In-
firmary wards, wearing out life, God knows how
— this was the scenery through which the walk
lay for two hours. In some of these latter
chambers there were pictures stuck against the
wall, and a neat display of crockery and pewter
on a kind of sideboard ; now and then it was a
treat to see a plant or two; in almost every
ward there was a cat.

In all of these Long Walks of aged and in-
firm, some old people were bedridden, and had
been for a long time ; some were sitting on their
beds half naked; some dying in their beds;
some out of bed, and sitting at a table near the
fire. A sullen or lethargic indifl'erence to what
was asked, a blunted sensibility to everything
but warmth and food, a moody absence of com-
plaint as being of no use, a dogged silence and
resentful desire to be left alone again, I thought
were generally apparent. On our walking into
the midst of one of these dreary perspectives of
old men, neaily the following little dialogue
took place, the nurse not being immediately at
hand :

"All well here?"

No answer. An old man in a Scotch cap
sitting among others on a form at the table,
eating out of a tin porringer, pushes back his
cap a little to look at us, claps it down on his
forehead again with the palm of his hand, and
goes on eatmg.

" All well here? " (repeated.)

No answer. Another old man sitting on his
bed, paralytically peeling a boiled potato, lifts
his head, and stares.

" Enough to eat ?"

No answer. Another old man, in bed, turns
himself and coughs.

"How are you to-day?" To the last old
man.

That old man says nothing; but another old
man, a tall old man of very good address,
speaking with perfect correctness, comes for-
ward from somewhere, and volunteers an an^
swer. The reply almost always proceeds from



AMONG THE OLD MEN.



217



a volunteer, and not from the person looked at
or spoken to.

" We are very old, sir," in a mild distinct
voice. " We can't expect to be well, most of
us."

" Are you comfortable ? "

" I have no complaint to make, sir." With
a half-shake of his head, a half-shrug of his
shoulders, and a kind of apologetic smile.

" Enough to eat ? '

" Why, sir, I have but a poor appetite," with
the same air as before ; *' and yet I get through
my allowance very easily."

'• But," showing a porringer with a Sunday
dinner in it ; " here is a portion of mutton, and
three potatoes. You can't starve on that ? "

" Oh dear no, sir," with the same apologetic
air. '• Not starve."

" What do you want ? "

" We have very little bread, sir. It's an ex-
ceedingly small quantity of bread."

The nurse, who is now rubbing her hands at
the questioner's elbow, interferes with, " It ain't
much raly, sir. You see they've only six
ounces a day, and when they've took their
breakfast, there can only be a little left for
night, sir."

Another old man, hitherto invisible, rises out
of his bedclothes, as out of a grave, and looks
on.

"You have tea at night?" The questioner
is still addressing the well-spoken old man.

"Yes, sir, w-e have tea at night."

"And you save what bread you can from the
morning, to eat with it?"

'• Yes, sir — if we can save any."

" And you want more to eat with it ? "

'• Yes, sir." With a very anxious face.

The questioner, in the kindness of his heart,
appears a little discomposed, and changes the
subject.

" What has become of the old man who used
to lie in that bed in the corner?"

The nurse don't remember what old man is
referred to. There has been such a many old
men. The well-spoken old man is doubtful.
The spectral old man, who has come to life in
bed, says, " Billy Stevens." Another old man,
who has previously had his head in the fire-
place, pipes out,

" Charley Walters."

Something like a feeble interest is awakened.
I suppose Charley Walters had conversation in
n;m.

" He's dead," says the piping old man.

Another ol^I man, with one eye screwed up,
hastily displaces the piping old man, and says :



Charley Walters died in that bed,
J)

the spectral old



" Yes !
and — and-

" Billy Stevens," persists
man.

" No, no ! and Johnny Rogers died in that
bed, and — and — they're both on 'em dead —
and Sam'l Bowyer ; " this seems very extraordi-
nary to him ; " he went out !"

With this he subsides, and all the old men
{having had quite enough of it) subside, and the
spectral old man goes into his grave again, and
takes the shade of Billy Stevens with him.

As we turn to go out at the door, another
previously invisible old man, a hoarse old man
in a flannel gown, is standing there, as if he had
just come up through the floor.

" I beg your pardon, sir, could I take the
liberty of saying a word ? "

" Yes ; what is it ? "

" I am greatly better in my health, sir ; but
what I want, to get me quite round," with his
hand on his throat, " is a little fresh air, sir. It
has always done my complaint so much good,
sir. The regular leave for going out comes
round so seldom, that if the gentlemen, next
Friday, would give me leave to go out walking
now and then — for only an hour or so, sir "

Who could wonder, looking through those
weary vistas of bed and infirmity, that it should
do him good to meet Avith some other scenes,
and assure himself that there was something else
on earth ? Who could help wondering why the
old men lived on as they did ; what grasp they
had on life ; what crumbs of interest or occupa-
tion they could pick up from its bare board ;
whether Charley Walters had ever described to
them the days when he kept company with some
old pauper woman in the bud, or Billy Stevens
ever told them of the time when he was a
dweller in the far-off foreign land called Home ?

The morsel of burnt chiki, lying in another
room, so patiently, in bed, wrapped in lint, and
looking steadfastly at us with his bright quiet
eyes when we spoke to him kindly, looked as if
the knowledge of these things, and of all the
tender things there are to think about, might
have been in his mind — as if he thought, with
us, that there was a fellow-feeling in the paupei
nurses which appeared to make them more kind
to their charges than the race of common nurses
in the hospitals — as if he mused upon the
Future of some older children lying around him
in the same place, and thought it best, perhaps,
all things considered, that he should die — as if
he knew, without fear, of those many coftins,
made and unmade, piled up in the store below
— and of his unknown friend, "the dropped



2l8



PRINCE BULL. A FAIRY TALE.



child," calm upon the box-lid covered with a
cloth. But there was something wistful and
appealing, too, in his tiny face, as if, in the
midst of all the hard necessities and incongrui-
ties he i)ondered on, he pleaded, in behalf of
the helpless and the aged poor, for a little more
liberty — and a little more bread.




PRINCE BULL. A FAIRY TALE.

NCE upon a time, and of course it
was in the Golden Age, and I hope
you may know when that was, for I
am sure I don't, though I have tried
hard to find out, there lived, in a rich
and fertile country, a powerful Prince
whose name was Bull. He had gone
through a great deal of fighting, in his
time, about all sorts of things, including nothing ;
but, had gradually settled down to be a steady,
peaceable, good-natured, corpulent, rather sleepy
Prince.

This Puissant Prince was married to a lovely
Princess whose name was Fair Freedom. She
had brought him a large fortune, and had borne
him an immense number of children, and had
set them to spinning, and farming, and engineer-
ing, and soldiering, and sailoring, and doctoring,
and lawyering, and preaching, and all kinds of
trades. The cofters of Prince Bull were full of
treasure, his cellars were crammed with delicious
wines from all parts of the world, the richest
gold and silver plate that ever was seen adorned
his sideboards, his sons were strong, his daugh-
ters were handsome, and, in short, you might
have supposed that if there ever lived upon
earth a fortunate and happy Prince, the name of
that Prince, take him for all in all, was assuredly
Prince Bull.

But appearances, as we all know, are not
always to be trusted — far from it ; and if they
had led you to this conclusion respecting Prince
Bull, they would have led you wrong, as they
often have led me.

For, this good Prince had two sharp thorns in
his pillow, two hard knobs in his crown, two
heavy loads on his mind, two unbridled night-
mares in his sleep, two rocks ahead in his course.
He could not by any means get servants to suit
him, and he had a tyrannical old godmother
whose name was Tape.

She was a Fairy, this Tape, and was a bright
red all over. She was disgustingly prim and
formal, and could never bend herself a hair's



breadth this way or that way out of her naturally
crooked shajje. But, she was very potent in
her wicked art. She could stop the fastest thing
in the world, change the strongest thing into the
weakest, and the most useful into the most use-
less. To do this she had only to put her cold
hand upon it, and repeat her own name, Tape,
Then it withered away.

At the Court of Prince Bull — at least I don't
mean literally at his court, because he was a very
genteel Prince, and readily yielded to his god-
mother when she always reserved that for his
hereditary Lords and Ladies — in the dominions
of Prince Bull, among the great mass of the
community who were called in the language of
that polite country the Mobs and the Snobs,
were a number of very ingenious men, who were
always busy with some invention or other, for
promoting the prosperity of the Prince's sub-
jects, and augmenting the Prince's power. But,
whenever they submitted their models for the
Prince's approval, his godmother stepped for-
ward, laid her hand upon them, and said " Tape."
Hence it came to pass, that when any particu-
larly good discovery was made, the discoverer
usually carried it oft" to some other Prince, in
foreign parts, who had no old godmother who
said Tape. This was not, on the whole, an
advantageous state of things for Prince Bull, to
the best of my understanding.

The worst of it was, that Prince Bull had in
course of years lapsed into such a state of sub-
jection to this unlucky godmother, that he never
made any serious eftbrt to rid himself of her
tyranny. I have said this was the worst of it,
but there I was wrong, because there is a worse
consequence still behind. The Prince's nume-
rous family became so downright sick and tired
of Tape, that when they should have helped the
Prince out of the difticulties into which that evil
creature led him, they fell into a dangerous
habit of moodily keeping away from him in an
impassive and indifferent manner, as though
they had quite forgotten that no harm could
happen to the Prince their father, without its
inevitably affecting themselves.

Such was the aspect of affairs at the court of
Prince Bull, when this great Prince found it
necessary to go to war with Prince Bear. He
had been for some time very doubtful of his
servants, who, besides being indolent and ad-
dicted to enriching their families at his expense,
domineered over him dreadfully ; threatening to
discharge themselves if they were found the least
fault with, pretending that they had done a won-
derful amount of work when they had done
nothing, making the most unmeaning speeches



TAPE.



219



that ever were heard in the Prince's name, and
uniformly showing themselves to be very ineffi-
cient indeed. Though, that some of them iiad
excellent characters from previous situations is
not to be denied. Well ; Prince Bull called his
servants together, and said to them one and all,
" Send out my army against Prince Bear. Clothe
it, arm it, feed it, provide it with all necessaries
and contingencies, and I will pay the piper ! Do
your d^ity by my brave troops," said the Prince,
"and do it well, and I will pour my treasure
out like water, to defray the cost. Who ever
heard me complain of money well laid out ? "
^^'hich indeed he had reason for saying, inas-
much as he was well known to be a truly gene-
rous and munificent Prince.

When the servants heard those words, they
sent out the army against Prince Bear, and they
set the army tailors to work, and the army pro-
vision merchants, and the makers of guns both
great and small, and the gunpowder makers,
and the makers of ball, shell, and shot ; and
they bought up all manner of stores and ships,
without troubling their heads about the price,
and appeared to be so busy that the good Prince
rubbed his hands, and (using a favourite expres-
sion of his), said, " It's all right !" But, while
they were thus employed, the Prince's god-
mother, who was a great favourite with those
servants, looked in upon them continually all
day long, and whenever she popped in her head
at the door, said, " How do you do, my chil-
dren ? What are you doing here ?" — " Official
business, godmother." — "Oho ! " says this wicked
Fairy. " — Tape ! " And then the business
all went wrong, whatever it was, and the ser-
vants' heads became so addled and muddled
that they thought they were doing wonders.

Now, this was very bad conduct on the part
of the vicious old nuisance, and she ought to
have been strangled, even if she had stopped
here ; but, she didn't stop here, as you shall
learn.' For, a number of the Prince's subjects,
being very fond of the Prince's army, who were
the bravest of men, assembled together and pro-
vided all manner of eatables and drinkables,
and books to read, and clothes to wear, and
tobacco to smoke, and candles to burn, and
nailed them up in great packing-cases, and put
them aboard a great many ships, to be carried
out to that brave army in the cold and in-
clement country where they were fighting Prince
Bear. Then, up comes this wicked Fairy as
the ships were weighing anchor, and says,
" How do you do, my children ? What are
you doing here?" — "We are going with all
these comforts to the army, godmother." —



"Oho!" says she. "A pleasant voyage, my
darlings. — Tape ! " And from that time
forth, those enchanted ships went sailing,
against wind and tide and rhyme and reason,
round and round the world, and whenever they
touched at any port were ordered off imme-
diately, and could never deliver their cargoes
anywhere.

This, again, was very bad conduct on the
part of the vicious old nuisance, and she ought
to have been strangled for it, if she had done
nothing worse ; but, she did sometliing worse
still, as you shall learn. For, she got astride of
an official broomstick, and muttered as a spell
these two sentences, "On her Majesty's ser-
vice," and " I have the honour to be, sir, your
most obedient servant," and presently alighted
in the cold and inclement country where the
army of Prince Bull were encamped to fight the
army of Prince Bear. On the seashore of that
country, she found piled together a number of
houses for the army to live in, and a quantity
of provisions for the army to live upon, and a
quantity of clothes for the army to wear : while,
sitting in the mud, gazing at them, were a group
of officers as red to look at as the wicked old
woman herself. So, she said to one of them,
" Who are you, my darling, and how do you
do ? " — '' I am the Quartermaster General's
Department, godmother, and I am pretty well."
Then she said to another, " Who are yoii^ my
darling, and how do yott do ? " — " I am the
Commissariat Department, godmother, and /
am pretty well." Then she said to another,
" Who are yoii, my darling, and how do yoic
do ? " — " I am the Head of the Medical De-
partment, godmother, and I am pretty well."
Then, she said to some gentlemen scented
with lavender, who kept themselves at a great
distance from the rest, " And who are you, my
pretty pets, and how do yoii do ? " And they
answered, " We-aw-are-the-aw-Staft-aw-Depart-
ment, godmother, and we are very well in-
deed." — " I am delighted to see you all, my
beauties," says this wicked old Fairy.
" — Tape ! " Upon that, the houses, clothes,
and provisions, all mouldered away; and the
soldiers who were sound, fell sick ; and the sol-
diers who were sick, died miserably ; and the
noble army of Prince Bull perished.

' When the dismal news of his great loss was
carried to the Prince, he suspected his god-
mother very much indeed ; but, he knew that
his servants must have kept company with the
malicious beldame, and must have given way to
her, and therefore he resolved to turn those ser-
vants out of their places. So, he called to hiua



A PLATED ARTICLE.



a Roebuck who had the gift of speech, and he
said, " Good Roebuck, tell them they must go."
So, the good Roebuck delivered his message,
so like a man that you might have supposed
him to be nothing but a man, and they were
turned out — but, not without warning, for that
they had had a long time.

And now comes the most extraordinary part
of the history of this Prince. When he had
turned out those servants, of course he wanted
others. What was his astonishment to find that
in all his dominions, which contained no less
than twenty-seven millions of people, there were
not above five-and-twenty servants altogether !
They were so lofty about it, too, that instead of
discussing whether they should hire themselves
as servants to Prince Bull, they turned things
topsy-turvy, and considered whether as a favour
they should hire Prince Bull to be their master !
While they were arguing this point among them-
selves quite at their leisure, the wicked old red
Fairy was incessantly going up and down,
knocking at the doors of twelve of the oldest of
the five-and-twenty, who were the oldest inha-
bitants in all that country, and whose united
ages amounted to one thousand, saying, " Will
you hire Prince Bull for your master? — \^\\\ you
hire Prince Bull for your master?" To which
one answered, " I will if next door will ; " and
another, " I won't if over the way does ; " and
another, " I can't if he, she, or they, might,
could, would, or should." And all this time
Prince Bull's affairs were going to rack and
ruin.

At last. Prince Bull, in the height of his per-
plexity, assumed a thoughtful face, as if he
were struck by an entirely new idea. The
wicked old Fairy, seeing this, was at his elbow
directly, and said, " How do you do, my Prince,
and what are you thinking of? " — " I am think-
ing, godmother," says he, " that among all the
seven-and-twenty millions of my subjects who
have never been in service, there are men of
intellect and business who have made me
very famous both among my friends and
enemies." — " Ay, truly ! " says the Fairy. —
" Ay, truly," says the Prince. — " And what
then?" says the Fairy. — "Why, then," says he,
" since the regular old class of servants do so
ill, are so hard to get, and carry it with so high
a hand, perhaps I might try to make good ser-
vants of some of these." The words had no
sooner passed his lips than she returned, chuck-
ling, *' You think so, do you ? Indeed, my
Prince ? — Tape ! " Thereupon he directly
forgot what he was thinking of, and cried out
lamentably to the old servants, " Oh, do come



and hire your poor old master ! Pray do ! On
any terms ! "

And this, for the present, finishes the story of
Prince Bull. I wish I could wind it up by say-
ing that he lived happy ever afterwards, but I
cannot in my conscience do so ; for, with Tape
at his elbow, and his estranged children fatallv
repelled by her from coming near him, I dc
not, to tell you the plain truth, believe in the
possibility of such an end to it.




A PLATED ARTICLE.

TJTTING up for the night in one of
the chiefest towns of Staffordshire, 1
find it to be by no means a lively
town. In fact, it is as dull and dead
a town as any one could desire not
to see. It seems as if its whole population
might be imprisoned in its Railway Sta-
tion. The Refreshment Room at that
Station is a vortex of dissipation compared with
the extinct town inn, the Dodo, in the dull High
Street. ■

Why High Street ? Why not rather Low
Street, Flat Street, Low-spirited Street, Used-
up Street ? Where are the people who belong
to the High Street ? Can they all be dispersed
over the face of the country, seeking the unfor-
tunate Strolling Manager who decamped from
the mouldy little Theatre last week, in the be-
ginning of his season (as his playbills testify),
repentantly resolved to bring him back, and feed
him and be entertained ? Or, can they all be
gathered to their fathers in the two old church-
yards near to the High Street — retirement into
which churchyards ajipears to be a mere cere-
mony, there is so very little life outside their
confines, and such small discernible difierence
between being buried alive in the town, and
buried dead in the town tombs ? Over the way,
opposite to the staring blank bow-windows of
the Dodo, are a little ironmonger's shop, a little
tailor's shop (with a picture of the Fashions in
the small window, and a bandy-legged baby on
the pavement staring at it) — a watchmaker's
shop, where all the clocks and watches must be
stopped, I am sure, for they could never have
the courage to go, with the town in general, and
the Dodo in particular, looking at them. Shade
of Miss Linwood, erst of Leicester Square, Lon-
don, thou art welcome here, and thy retreat is
fitly chosen ! I myself was one of the last
visitors to that awful storehouse of thy life's



THE DODO.



221



work, where an anchorite old man and woman
took my shilUng with a solemn wonder, and,
conducting me to a gloomy sepulchre of needle-
work dropping to jjieces with dust and age, and
shrouded in twiliglit at high noon, left me there,
chilled, frightened, and alone. And now, in



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 42 of 103)