Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 44 of 103)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 44 of 103)
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Verbosity on the occasion of one particular
glorious triumph, it was supposed by some of
his enemies, that even he would be placed in a
situation of difiiculty by the following compara-
tively trifling conjunction of circumstances. The
dozen noblemen and gentlemen whom our ho-
nourable friend supported had " come in " ex-
pressly to do a certain thing. Now, four of the
dozen said, at a certain place, that they didn't
mean to do that thing, and had never meant to
do it ; another four of the dozen said, at another
certain place, that they did mean to do that
thing, and had always meant to do it ; two of the
remaining four said, at two other certain places,
that they meant to do half of that thing (but
differed about which half), and to do a variety
of nameless wonders instead of the other half ;
and one of the remaining two declared that the
thing itself was dead and buried, while the other
as strenuously protested that it was alive and
kicking. It was admitted that the parliamentary
genius of our honourable friend would be quite
able to reconcile such small discrepancies as
these ; but, there remained the additional difii-
culty that each of the twelve made entirely dif-
ferent statements at different places, and that
all the twelve called everything visible and in-
visible, sacred and profane, to witness, that
they were a perfectly impregnable phalanx
of unanimity. This, it was apprehended,



226



OUR HONOURABLE FRIEND.



would be a stumbling-block to our honourable
friend.

The difficulty came before our honourable
friend in this way. He went down to Verbosity
to meet his free and independent constituents,
and to render an account (as he informed them
in the local papers) of the trust they had con-
fided to his hands — that trust which it was one
of the proudest privileges of an Englishman to
possess — that trust which it was the proudest
privilege of an Englishman to hold. It may be
mentioned as a proof of the great general in-
terest attaching to the contest, that a Lunatic
whom nobody employed or knew, wont down to
Verbosity with several thousand pounds in gold,
determined to give the whole away — which he
actually did ; and that all the publicans opened
their houses for nothing. Likewise, several
fighting- men, and a patriotic group of burglars
sportively armed with life-preservers, proceeded
(in barouches and very drunk) to the scene
of action at their own expense ; these children
of nature having conceived a warm attach-
ment to our honourable friend, and intend-
ing, in their artless manner, to testify it by
knocking the voters in the ojDposite interest on
the head.

Our honourable friend being come into the
presence of his constituents, and having pro-
fessed with great suavity that he was delighted
to see his good friend Tipkisson there, in his
working dress — his good friend Tipkisson being
an inveterate saddler, who always opposes him,
and for whom he has a mortal hatred — made
them a brisk, ginger-beery sort of speech, in
which he showed them how the dozen noble-
men and gentlemen had (in exactly ten days
from their coming in) exercised a surprisingly
beneficial effect on the whole financial condition
of Europe, had altered the state of the ex[)orts
and imports for the current half-year, had pre-
vented the drain of gold, had made all that
matter right about the glut of the raw material,
and had restored all sorts of balances with
which the superseded noblemen and gentlemen
had played the deuce — and all this, with wheat
at so much a quarter, gold at so much an ounce,
and the pjank of England discounting good bills
at so much per cent. ! He might be asked, he
observed in a peroration of great power, what
were his principles ? His principles were what
they always had been. His principles were
written in the countenances of the lion and
unicorn ; were stamped indelibly upon the
royal shield which those grand animals sup-
ported, and upon the free words of fire which that
shield bore. His principles were, Britannia



and her sea-king trident ! His principles were-
commercial prosperity co-existently with perfect
and profound agricultural contentment \ but
short of this he would never stop. His prin-
ciples were these, — with the addition of his
colours nailed to the mast, every man's heart in
the right place, every man's eye open, every
man's hand ready, every man's mind on the
alert. His principles were these, concurrently
with a general revision of something — speaking
generally — and a possible readjustment of some-
thing else, not to be mentioned more particu-
larly. His principles, to sum up all in a word,
were. Hearths and Altars, Labour and Capital,
Crown and Sceptre, Elephant and Castle. And
now, if his good friend Tipkisson required any
further explanation from him, he (our honour-
able friend) was there, willing and ready to
give it.

Tipkisson, who all this time had stood con-
spicuous in the crowd, with his arms folded and
his eyes intently fastened on our honourable
friend ; Tipkisson, who throughout our honour-
able friend's address had not relaxed a muscle
of his visage, but had stood there wholly un-
affected by the torrent of eloquence : an object
of contempt and scorn to mankind (by which
we mean, of course, to the supporters of our
honourable friend) ; Tipkisson now said that he
was a plain man (cries of " You are indeed ! '')
and that what he wanted to know was, what our
honourable friend and the dozen noblemen and
gentlemen were driving at ?

Our honourable friend immediately replied,
" At the illimitable perspective."

It was considered by the whole assembly
that this happy statement of our honourable
friend's political views ought, immediately, to
have settled Tipkisson's business and covered
him with confusion ; but that implacable per-
son, regardless of the execrations that were
heaped upon him from all sides (by which we
mean, of course, from our honourable friend's
side), persisted in retaining an unmoved coun-
tenance, and obstinately retorted that if our
honourable friend meant that, he wished to know
Mhat that meant ?

It was in repelling this most objectionable
and indecent opposition, that our honourable
friend displayed his highest qualifications for
the representation of Verbosity. His warmest
supporters present, and those who were best
act^uainted with his generalship, supposed that
the moment was come when lie would fall back
upon the sacred bulwarks of our nationality.
No such thing. He replied thus : " My good
friend Tipkisson, gentlemen, wishes to know



OUR HONOURABLE FRIEND EXPLAINS.



227



what I mean when he asks me what we are
driving at, and when I canchdly tell him, at the
inimitable persi)ective. He wishes (if I undei'-
stand him) to know what I mean ? " " I do ! "
says Tipkisson, amid cries of " Shame ! " and
^'Down with him!" "Gentlemen," says our
honourable friend, " I will indulge my good
friend Tipkisson by telling him, both what I
mean and what I don't mean. (Cheers and
cries of " Give it him ! ") Be it known to him
then, and to all whom it may concern, that I
do mean altars, hearths, and homes, and that I
don't mean mosques and Mahommedanism ! "
The effect of this home-thrust was terrific.
Tipkisson (who is a Baptist) was hooted down
and hustled out, and has ever since been re-
garded as a Turkish Renegade who contem-
plates an early pilgrimage to Mecca. Nor was
he the only discomfited man. The charge,
while it stuck to him, was magically transferred
to our honourable friend's opponent, who was
represented in an immense variety of placards
as a firm believer in Mahomet ; and the men
of Verbosity were asked to choose between our
honourable friend and the Bible, and our ho-
nourable friend's opponent and the Koran. They
decided for our honourable friend, and rallied
round the illimitable i)erspective.

It has been claimed for our honourable
friend, with much appearance of reason, that he
was the first to bend sacred matters to elec-
tioneering tactics. However this may be, the
fine precedent was undoubtedly set in a Ver-
bosity election : and it is certain that our
honourable friend (who was a disciple of
Brahma in his youth, and was a Buddhist when
we had the honour of travelling with him a few
years ago) always professes in public more
anxiety than the whole Bench of Bishops, re-
garding the theological and doxological opinions
of every man, woman, and child in the United
Kingdom.

As we began by saying that our honourable
friend has got in again at this last election, and
that we are dehghied to find that he has got in,
so we will conclude. Our honourable friend
cannot come in for Verbosity too often. It is a
good sign ; it is a great example. It is to men
like our honourable friend, and to contests like
those from which he comes triumphant, that we
are mainly indebted for that ready interest in
politics, that fresh enthusiasm in the discharge
of the duties of citizenship, that ardent desire to
rush to the poll, at present so manifest through-
out England. When the contest lies (as it
sometimes dees) between two such men as our
honourable friend, it stimulates the finest emo-



tions of our nature, and awakens the highest
admiration of which our heads and hearts are
capable.

It is not too much to predict that our honour-
able friend will be always at his post in the en-
suing session. Whatever the question be, or
whatever the form of its discussion ; address to
the crown, election petition, expenditure of the
public money, extension of the public suffrage,
education, crime ; in the whole House, in com-
mittee of the whole House, in select committee ;
in every parliamentary discussion of every sub-
ject, everywhere : the Honourable Member for
Verbosity will most certainly be found.




OUR SCHOOL.



jE went to look at it, only this last
Midsummer, and found that the
Railway had cut it up root and
branch. A great trunk-line had
swallowed the playground, sliced
away the schoolroom, and pared
ofif the corner of the house : which, thus
curtailed of its proportions, presented
in a green stage of stucco, profilewise,
towards the road, like a forlorn flat-iron without
a handfe, standing on end.

It seems as if our schools were doomed to be
the sport of change. We have faint recollec-
tions of a Preparatory Day School, which we
have sought in vain, and which must have been
pulled down to make a new street ages ago.
We have dim impressions, scarcely amounting
to a belief, that it was over a dyer's shop. We
know that you went up steps to it ; that you
frequently grazed your knees in doing so ; that
you generally got your leg over the scraper, in
trying to scrape the mud off a very unsteady
little shoe. The mistress of the Establishment
holds no place in our memory ; but, rampant
on one eternal door-mat, in an eternal entry
long and narrow, is a pufty pug-dog, with a per-
sonal animosity towards us, who triumphs over
Time. The bark of that baleful Pug, a certain
radiating way he had of snapping at our unde-
fended legs, the ghastly grinning of his moist
black muzzle and white teeth, and the insolence
of his crisp tail curled like a pastoral crook, all
Hve and flourish. From an otherwise unaccount-
able association of him with a fiddle, we con-
clude that he was of French extraction, and his
name Fidclc. He belonged to some female,
chiefly inhabiting a back-parlour, whose life
appears to us to have been consumed in sniff-



228



OUR SCHOOL.



ing, and in wearing a brown beaver bonnet.
For her, he would sit up and balance cake upon
his nose, and not eat it until twenty had been
counted. To the best of our belief, we were
once called in to witness this performance ;
when, unable, even in his milder moments, to
endure our presence, he instantly made at us,
cake and all.

Why a something in mourning, called "Miss
Frost," should still connect itself with our pre-
paratory school, we are unable to say. We
retain no impression of the beauty of Miss Frost
— if she were beautiful ; or of the mental fasci-
nations of Miss Frost — if she were accom-
plished ; yet her name and her black dress
hold an enduring place in our remembrance.
An equally imjjersonal boy, whose name has
long since shaped itself unalterably into " Mas-
ter Mawls," is not to be dislodged from our
brain. Retaining no vindictive feeling towards
Mawls — no feeling whatever, indeed — we infer
that neither he nor we can have loved Miss
Frost. Our first impression of Death and
Burial is associated with this formless pair.
We all three nestled awfully in a corner one
wintry day, when the wind was blowing shrill,
with Miss Frost's pinafore over our heads : and
Miss Frost told us in a whisper about some-
body being "screwed down." It is the only
distinct recollection we preserve of these impal-
pable creatures, except a suspicion that the
manners of Master Mawls were susceptible of
much improvement. Generally speaking, we
may observe that whenever we see a child in-
tently occupied with its nose, to the exclusion
of all other subjects of interest, our mind
reverts, in a flash, to Master Mawls.

But, the School that was Our School before
the Railroad came and overthrew it, was quite
another sort of place. We were old enough to
be put into Virgil when we went there, and to
get Prizes for a variety of polishing on which
the rust has long accumulated. It was a School
of some celebrity in its neighbourhood — nobody
could have said why — and we had the honour
to attain and hold the eminent position of first
boy. The master was supposed among us to
know nothing, and one of the ushers was sup-
posed to know everything. We are still in-
clined to think the first-named supposition
perfectly correct.

We have a general idea that its subject had
been in the leather trade, and had bought us —
meaning Our School — of another proprietor,
who was immensely learned. Whether this
belief had any real foundation, we are not likely
ever to know now. The only branches of edu-



cation with which he showed the least acquaint-
ance were, ruling and corporally punishing.
He was always ruling ciphering-books with a
bloated mahogany ruler, or smiting the palms of
oftenders with the same diabolical instrument,
or viciously drawing a pair of pantaloons tight
with one of his large hands, and caning the
wearer with the other. We have no doubt
whatever that this occupation was the principal
solace of his existence.

A profound respect for money pervaded Our
School, which was, of course, derived from its
Chief. We remember an idiotic goggle-eyed
boy, with a big head and half-crowns without
end, who suddenly appeared as a parlour
boarder, and was rumoured to have come by
sea from some mysterious part of the earth
where his parents rolled in gold. He was
usually called " Mr." by the Chief, and was said
to feed in the parlour on steaks and gravy;
likewise to drink currant wine. And he openly
stated that if rolls and coffee were ever denied
him at breakfast, he would write home to that
unknown part of the globe from which he had
come, and cause himself to be recalled to the
regions of gold. He was put into no form or
class, but learnt alone, as little as he liked —
and he liked very little — and there was a beUef
among us that this was because he was too
wealthy to be " taken down." His special
treatment^ and our vague association of him
with the sea, and with storms, and sharks, and
Coral Reefs, occasioned the wildest legends to
be circulated as his history. A tragedy in blank
verse was written on the subject — if our memory
does not deceive us, by the hand that now
chronicles these recollections — in which his
father figured as a Pirate, and was shot for a
voluminous catalogue of atrocities : first impart-
ing to his wife the secret of the cave in which
his wealth was stored, and from which his only
son's half-crowns now issued. Dumbledon (the
boy's name) was represented as " yet unborn "
when his brave father met his fate ; and the
despair and grief of Mrs. Dumbledon at that
calamity was movingly shadowed forth as hav-
ing weakened the parlour boarder's mind. This
production was received with great favour, and
was twice performed with closed doors in the
dining-room. But, it got wind, and was seized
as libellous, and brought the unlucky poet into
severe afifiiction. Some two years afterwards,
all of a sudden one day, Dumbledon vanished.
It was whispered that the Chief himself had
taken him down to the Docks, and re-shipped
him for the Spanish Main ; but nothing certain
was ever known about his disappearance. At



MYSTERIOUS PUPILS.



229



this hour, we cannot thoroughly disconnect him
from Cahfornia.

Our School was rather flimous for mysterious
pupils. There was another — a heavy young
man, with a large double-cased silver watch,
and a ixX. knife, the handle of which was a per-
fect tool-box — who unaccountably appeared one
day at a special desk of his own, erected close
to that of the Chief, with whom he held familiar
converse. He lived in the parlour, and went
out for walks, and never took the least notice of
us — even of us, the first boy — unless to give us
a depreciatory kick, or grimly to take our hat
oft" and throw it away, when he encountered us
out of doors, which unpleasant ceremony he
always performed as he passed — not even con-
descending to stop for the purpose. Some of
us believed that the classical attainments of this
phenomenon were terrific, but that his penman-
ship and arithmetic were defective, and he had
come there to mend them ; others, that he was
going to set up a school, and had paid the
Chief " twenty-five pound down," for leave to
see Our School at work. The gloomier spirits
even said that he was going to buy us ; against
which contingency, conspiracies were set on
foot for a general defection and running away.
However, he never did that. After staying for
a quarter, during which period, though closely
observed, he was never seen to do anything but
make pens out of quills, write small-hand in a
secret portfolio, and punch the point of the
sharpest blade in his knife into his desk all over
it, he too disappeared, and his place knew him
no more.

There was another boy, a fair, meek boy,
with a delicate complexion and rich curling hair,
who, we found out, or thought we found out (we
have no idea now, and probably had none then,
on what grounds, but it was confidentially re-
vealed from mouth to mouth) was the son of a
Viscount who had deserted his lovely mother.
It was understood that if he had his rights, he
would be worth twenty thousand a year. And
that if his mother ever met his father, she would
shoot him with a silver pistol, which she carried,
always loaded to the muzzle, for that purpose.
He was a very suggestive topic. So was a young
Mulatto, who was always believed (though very
amiable) to have a dagger about him somewhere.
But, we think they were both outshone, upon
the whole, by another boy who claimed to have
been born on the twenty-ninth of February, and
to have only one birthday in four years. AVe
suspect this to have been a fiction — but he lived
upon it all the time he was at Our School.

The principal currency of Our School was



slate-pencil. It had some inexplicable value
that was never ascertained, never reduced to a
standard. To have a great hoard of it was
somehow to be rich. We used to bestow it in
charity, and confer it as a precious boon upon
our chosen friends. When the holidays were
coming, contributions were solicited for certain
boys whose relatives were in India, and who
were appealed for under the generic name of
" Holiday-stopijers," — appropriate marks of re-
membrance that should enliven and cheer them
in their homeless state. Personally, we always
contributed these tokens of sympathy in the form
of slate-pencil, and always felt that it would be
a comfort and a treasure to them.

Our School was remarkable for white mice.
Red-polls, linnets, and even canaries, were kept
in desks, drawers, hat-boxes, and other strange
refuges for birds; but white mice were the
favourite stock. The boys trained the mice
much better than the masters trained the boys.
We recall one white mouse, who lived in the
cover of a Latin dictionary, who ran up ladders,
drew Roman chariots, shouldered muskets, turned
wheels, and even made a very creditable appear-
ance on the stage as the Dog of Montargis. He
might have achieved greater things, but for hav-
ing the misfortune to mistake his way in a
triumphal procession to the Capitol, when he
fell into a deep inkstand, and was dyed black
and drowned. The mice were the occasion of
some most ingenious engineering, in the con-
struction of their houses and instruments of per-
formance. The famous one belonged to a
Company of proprietors, some of whom have
since made Railroads, Engines, and Telegraphs ;
the chairman has erected mills and bridges in
New Zealand.

The usher at Our School, who was considered
to know everything as opposed to the Chief,
who was considered to know nothing, was a
bony, gentle-faced, clerical-looking young man
in rusty black. It was whispered that he was
sweet upon one of Maxby's sisters (Maxby lived
close by, and was a day pupil), and further, that
he " favoured Maxby." As we remember, he
taught Italian to Maxby's sisters on half-holi-
days. He once went to the play with them,
and wore a white waistcoat and a rose ; which
was considered among us equivalent to a de-
claration. We were of opinion on that occa-
sion, that to the last moment he expected
Maxby's father to ask him to dinner at five
o'clock, and therefore neglected his own dinner
at half-past one, and finally got none. We
exaggerated in our imaginations the extent to
which he punished Maxby's father's cold meat



230



OUR SCHOOL.



at supper; and we agreed to believe that he
was elevated with wine-and- water when he came
home. But, we all liked him : for he had a
good knowledge of boys, and would have made
it a much better school if he had had more
power. He was writing-master, mathematical
master, English master, made out the bills,
mended die pens, and did all sorts of things.
He divided the little boys with the Latin master
(they were smuggled through their rudimentary
books, at odd times when there was nothing else
to do), and he always called at parents' houses
to inquire after sick boys, because he had gen-
tlemanly manners. He was rather musical, and
on some remote quarter-day had bought an old
trombone ; but a bit of it was lost, and it made
the most extraordinary sounds when he some-
times tried to play it of an evening. His holi-
days never began (on account of the bills) until
long after ours ; but, in the summer vacations
he used to take pedestrian excursions with a
knapsack ; and at Christmas-time he went to
see his father at Chipping Norton, who we all
said (on no authority) was a dairy-fed pork-
butcher. Poor fellow ! He was very low all day
on Maxby's sister's wedding-day, and afterwards
was thought to favour Maxby more than ever,
though he had been expected to spite him. He
has been dead these twenty years. Poor fellow !
Our remembrance of Our School presents the
Latin master as a colourless, doubled-up, near-
sighted man witli a crutch, who was always cold,
and always putting onions into his ears for deaf-
ness, and always disclosing ends of flannel under
all his garments, and almost always applying a
ball of pocket-handkerchief to some part of his
face with a screwing action round and round.
He was a very good scholar, and took great
pains where he saw intelligence and a desire to
learn : otherwise, perhaps not. Our memory
presents him (unless teased into a passion) with
as little energy as colour — as having been wor-
ried and tormented into monotonous feebleness
— as having had the bes*- part of his life ground
out of him in a Mill of boys. We remember
with terror how he fell asleep one sultry after-
noon with the little smuggled class before him,
and awoke not when the footstep of the Chief
fell heavily on the floor ; how the Chief aroused
him, in the midst of a dread silence, and
said, "Mr. Blinkins, are you ill, sir?" how he
blushingly replied, "Sir, rather so;" how the
Chief retorted with severity, " Mr. Blinkins, this
is no place to be ill in " (which was very, very
true), and walked back, solemn as the ghost in
Hamlet, until catching a wandering eye, he
caned that boy for inattention and happily ex-



pressed his feelings towards the Latin master



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 44 of 103)