Charles Dickens.

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

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through the medium of a substitute.

There was a fat little dancing-master, who
used to come in a gig, and taught the more
advanced among us hornpii)es (as an accom-
plishment in great social demand in after life) ;
and there was a brisk little French master who
used to come, in the sunniest weather, with a
handleless umbrella, and to whom the Chief
was always polite, because (as we believed), if
the Chief offended him, he would instantly
address the Chief in French, and for ever con-
found him before the boys with his inability to
understand or repl)'.

There was, besides, a serving-man, whose
name was Phil. Our retrospective glance pre-
sents Phil as a shipwrecked carpenter, cast away
upon the desert island of a school, and carrying
into practice an ingenious inkling of many trades.
He mended whatever was broken, and made
whatever was wanted. He was general glazier,
among other things, and mended all the broken
windows — at the prime cost (as was darkly
rumoured among us) of ninepence for every
square charged three-and-six to parents. We
had a high opinion of his mechanical genius,
and generally held that the Chief " knew some-
thing bad of him," and on pain of divulgence
enforced Phil to be his bondsman. We parti-
cularly remember that Phil had a sovereign con-
tempt for learning; which engenders in us a
respect for his sagacity, as it implies his accurate
observation of the relative positions of the Chief
and the ushers. He was an impenetrable man,
who waited at table between-whiles, and through-
out " the half" kept the boxes in severe custody.
He was morose, even to the Chief, and never
smiled, except at breaking -up, when, in ac-
knowledgment of the toast, " Success to Phil !
Hooray!" he would slowly carve a grin out of
his wooden face, wdiere it would remain until we
were all gone. Nevertheless, one time when we
had the scarlet fever in the school, Phil nursed
all the sick boys of his own accord, and was
like a mother to them.

There was another school not far oft", and of
course our school could have nothing to say to
that school. It is mostly the way with schools,
whether of boys or men. Well ! the railway has
swallowed up ours, and the locomotives now run
smoothly over its ashes.

So fades and languishes, grows dim and dies,
All that this world is proud of,

— and is not protid of, too. It had little reason
to be proud of Our School, and has done much
better since in that way, and will do far better





l'W;E liave the glorious privilege of
t/fb. being always in hot water if wc
like. We are a shareholder in a
Great Parochial British Joint-
Stock Bank of Baklerdash. We
have a Vestry in our borough, and
can vote for a vestryman — might even /u-
_ a vestryman, mayhap, if we were inspired
by a lofty and noble ambition. Which we
are not.

Our Vestry is a deliberative assembly of the
utmost dignity and importance. Like the Senate
of ancient Rome, its awful gravity overpowers
(or ought to overpower) barbarian visitors. It
sits in the Capitol (we mean in the capital
building erected for it), chiefly on Saturdays,
and shakes the earth to its centre with the echoes
of its thundering eloquence in a Sunday

To get into this Vestry in the eminent capa-
city of Vestryman, gigantic efforts are made, and
herculean exertions used. It is made manifest
to the dullest capacity at every election, that if
we reject Snozzle we are done for, and that if we
fail to bring in Blunderbooze at the top of the
poll, we are unworthy of the dearest rights of
Britons. Flaming placards are rife on all the
dead walls in the borough, public-houses hang
out banners, hackney cabs burst into full-grown
flowers of type, and everybody is, or should be,
in a paroxysm of anxiety.

At these momentous crises of the national
fate, we are much assisted in our deliberations
by two eminent volunteers ; one of whom sub-
scribes himself A Fellow-Parishioner, the other
A Rate-Payer. Who they are, or what they are,
or wliere they are, nobody knows ; but, whatever
one asserts, the other contradicts. They are
both voluminous writers, inditing more epistles
than Lord Chesterfield in a single week ; and
the greater part of their feelings are too big for
utterance in anything less than capital letters.
They require the additional aid of whole rows of
notes of admiration, like balloons, to point their
generous indignation ; and they sometimes com-
municate a crushing severity to stars. As thus :


Is it, or is it not, a ■■'■ ■■' ■■' to saddle the parish
with a debt of j£2,']4^ 6s. gr/., yet claim to be a


Is it, or is it not, a * " " to state as a fact
what is proved to be l>of/i a moral a7id a physical


Is it, or is it not, a * * '■' to call ;^2,745
ds. Cjd. nothing ; and nothing, something ?

Do you, or do you not, want a * * ''' ''' to


Your consideration of these questions is re-
commended to you by

A Fellow-Parishioner.

It was to this important public document that
one of our first orators, Mr. Magg (of Little
Winkling Street), adverted, when he opened the
great debate of the fourteenth of November by
saying, " Sir, I hold in my hand an anonymous
slander" — and when the interruption, with which
he was at that point assailed by the opposite
faction, gave rise to that memorable discussion
on a point of order which will ever be remem-
bered with interest by constitutional assemblies.
In the animated debate to which w^c refer, no
fewer than tliirty-seven gentlemen, many of them
of great eminence, including Mr. Wigsey (of
Chumbledon Square), were seen upon their legs
at one time ; and it was on the same great occa-
sion that DoGGiNSON — regarded in our Vestry as
'•a regular John Bull:" we believe in conse-
quence of his having always made up his mind
on every subject without knowing anything
about it — informed another gentleman of similar
principles on the opposite side, that if he
" cheek'd him" he would resort to the extreme
measure of knocking his blessed head off.

This was a great occasion. But, our Vestry
shines habitual!}'. In asserting its own pre-emi-
nence, for instance, it is very strong. On the
least provocation, or on none, it will be clamor-
ous to know whether it is to be " dictated to,"
or " trampled on," or "ridden over rough-shod."
Its great watchword is Self-government. That
is to say, supposing our Vestry to favour any
little harmless disorder like Typhus Fever, and
supposing the Government of the country to be,
by any accident, in such ridiculous hands as that
any ot its authorities should consider it a duty
to object to Typhus Fever — obviously an un-
constitutional objection— then, our Vestry cuts
in with a terrible manifesto about Self-govern-
ment, and claims its independent right to have
as much Typhus Fever as pleases itself. Some
absurd and dangerous persons have represented,
on the other hand, that though our Vestry may
be able to " beat the bounds " of its own parish,
it may not be able to beat the bounds of its own
diseases ; which (say they) spread over the whole
land in an ever-expanding circle of waste, and
misery, and death, and widowhood, and orphan-
age, and desolation. But, our Vestry makes
short work of any such fellows as these.



It was our Vestry — pink of Vestries as it is —
that in support of its favourite principle took the
celebrated ground of denying the existence of
the last pestilence that raged in England, when
the pestilence was raging at the Vestry doors.
Dogginson said it was plums ; Mr. Wigsby (of

Chumbledon Square) said it was oysters ; Mr.
Magg (of Little Winkling Street) said, amid
great cheering, it was the newspapers. The
noble indignation of our Vestry with that un-
English institution, the Board of Health, under
those circumstances, yields one of the finest pas-


sages in its history. It wouldn't hear of rescue.
Like Mr. Joseph Miller's Frenchman, it would
be drowned and nobody should save it. Trans-
ported beyond grammar by its kindled ire, it
spoke in unknown tongues, and vented unin-
telligible bellowings, more like an ancient oracle

than the modern oracle it is admitted on all
hands to be. Rare exigencies produce rare
things; and even our Vestry, new hatched to the
woeful time, came fortli a greater goose than


But this, again, was a special occasion. Our



Vestry, at more ordinary periods, demands its
meed of praise.

Our Vestry is eminently parliamentary. Play-
ing at Parliament is its favourite game. It is
even regarded by some of its members as a
chapel-of-ease to the House of Commons ; a
Little Go to be passed first. It has its strangers'
gallery, and its reported debates (see the Sunday
paper before mentioned), and our Vestrymen
are in and out of order, and on and off their
legs, and, above all, are transcendently quarrel-
some, after the pattern of the real original.

Our Vestry being assembled, Mr. Magg never
begs to trouble Mr. Wigsby with a simple in-
quiry. He knows better than that. Seeing the
honourable gentleman, associated in their minds
with Chumbledon Square, in his place, he wishes
to ask that honourable gentleman what the inten-
tions of himself, and those with whom he acts,
may be, on the subject of the paving of the dis-
trict known as Piggleum Buildings ? Mr. Wigsby
replies (with his eye on next Sunday's paper),
that in reference to the question which has been
put to him by the honourable gentleman oppo-
site, he must take leave to say, that if that
honourable gentleman had had the courtesy to
give him notice of that question, he (Mr. Wigsby)
would have consulted with his colleagues in
reference to the advisability, in the present state
of the discussions on the new paving-rate, of
answering that question. But, as the honourable
gentleman has not had the courtesy to give him
notice of that question (great cheering from the
Wigsby interest), he must decline to give the
honourable gentleman the satisfaction he re-
quires. Mr. Magg, instantly rising to retort, is
received with loud cries of " Spoke ! " from the
Wigsby interest, and with cheers from the Magg
side of the house. Moreover, five gentlemen
rise to order, and one of them, in revenge for
being taken no notice of, petrifies the assembly
by moving that this Vestry do now adjourn ;
but is persuaded to withdraw that awful pro-
posal, in consideration of its tremendous conse-
quences if persevered in. Mr. Magg, for the
purpose of being heard, then begs to move, that
you, sir, do now pass to the order of the day ;
and takes that opportunity of saying, that if an
honourable gentleman whom he has in his eye,
and will not demean himself by more particu-
larly naming (Oh, oh, and cheers), supposes that
he is to be put down by clamour, that honour-
able gentleman — however supported he may be,
through thick and thin, by a Fellow- Parishioner,
with whom he is well acquainted (cheers and
counter-cheers, Mr. Magg being invariably backed
by the Rate-Payer) — will find himself mistaken.

Upon this, twenty members of our Vestry speak
in succession concerning what the two great
men have meant, until it appears, after an hour
and twenty minutes, that neither of them
meant anything. Then our Vestry begins busi-

We have said that, after the pattern of the
real original, our Vestry in playing at Parliament
is transcendently quarrelsome. It enjoys a per-
sonal altercation above all things. Perhaps the
most redoubtable case of this kind we have ever
had — though we have had so many that it is
difticult to decide — was that on which the last
extreme solemnities passed between Mr. Tiddy-
pot (of Gumtion House) and Captain Banger (of
Wilderness Walk).

In an adjourned debate on the question
whether water could be regarded in the light of
a necessary of life ; respecting which there were
great differences of opinion, and many shades
of sentiment ; Mr. Tiddypot, in a powerful burst
of eloquence against that hypothesis, frequently
made use of the expression that such and such a
rumour had " reached his ears." Captain Banger,
following him, and holding that, for purposes
of ablution and refreshment, a pint of water per
diem was necessary for every adult of the lower
classes, and half a pint for every child, cast ridi-
cule upon his address in a sparkling speech, and
concluded by saying that instead of those ru-
mours having reached the ears of the honourable
gentleman, he rather thought the honourable
gentleman's ears must have reached the rumours,
in consequence of their well-known length. Mr.
Tiddypot immediately rose, looked the honour-
able and gallant gentleman full in the face, and
left the Vestry.

The excitement, at this moment painfully
intense, was heightened to an acute degree when
Captain Banger rose, and also left the Vestry.
After a {q.\s moments of profound silence — one
of those breathless pauses never to be forgotten
— Mr. Chib (of Tucket's Terrace, and the father
of the Vestry) rose. He said that words and
looks had passed in that assembly, replete with
consequences which every feeling mind must
deplore. Time pressed. The sword was drawn,
and while he spoke the scabbard might be
thrown away. He moved that those honourable
gentlemen who had left the Vestry be recalled,
and required to pledge themselves upon their
honour that this affair should go no farther.
The motion being by a general union of parties
unanimously agreed to (for everybody wanted
to have the belligerents there, instead of out of
sight : which was no fun at all), Mr. Magg was
deputed to recover Captain Banger, and lilr.



Chib himself to go in search of Mr. Tiddypot.
The Captain was found in a conspicuous posi-
tion, surveying the passing omnibuses from the
top step of the front-door immediately adjoining
the beadle's box ; Mr. Tiddypot made a des-
perate attempt at resistance, but was over-
powered by Mr. Cliib (a remarkably hale old
gentleman of eighty-two), and brought back in

Mr. Tiddypot and the Captain being restored
to their places, and glaring on each other, were
called upon by the chair to abandon all homi-
cidal intentions, and give the Vestry an assur-
ance that they did so. Mr. Tiddypot remained
profoundly silent. The Captain likewise re-
mained profoundly silent, saving that he was
observed by those around him to fold his arms
like Napoleon Euonaparte, and to snort in his
breathing — actions but too expressive of gun-

The most intense emotion now prevailed.
Several members clustered in remonstrance
round the Captain, and several round ]\Ir.
Tiddypot ; but, both were obdurate. ]\Ir. Chib
then presented himself amid tremendous cheer-
ing, and said, that not to shrink from the dis-
charge of his painful duty, he must now move
that both honourable gentlemen be taken into
custody by the beadle, and conveyed to the
nearest police-office, there to be held to bail.
The union of parties still continuing, the motion
was seconded by Mr. Wigsby — on all usual occa-
sions Mr. Chib's opponent — and rapturously
carried with only one dissentient voice. This
was Dogginson's, who said from his place, " I^et
'em fight it out with fistes ;" but whose coarse
remark was received as it merited.

The beadle now advanced along the floor of
the Vestr)', and beckoned with his cocked-hat to
both members. Every breath was suspended.
To say that a pin might have been heard to fall,
would be feebly to express the all-absorbing
interest and silence. Suddenly, enthusiastic
cheering broke out from every side of the Vestry.
Captain Banger had risen — being, in fact, pulled
up by a friend on either side^ and poked up by
a friend behind.

The Captain said, in a deep determined voice,
that he had every respect for that Vestry and
every respect for that chair ; that he also re-
spected the honourable gentleman of Gumtion
House ; but, that he respected his honour more.
Hereupon the Captain sat down, leaving the
whole Vestry much affected. Mr. Tiddypot
instantly rose, and was received with the same
encouragement. He likewise said — and the ex-
quisite art of this orator communicated to the

observation an air of freshness and novelty —
that he too had every respect for that Vestry ;
that he too had every respect for that chair.
That he too respected the honourable and gal-
lant gentleman of Wilderness Walk ; but, that
he too respected his honour more. " Hows'-
ever," added the distinguished Vestryman, " if
the honourable or gallant gentleman's honour is
never more doubted and damaged than it is by
me, he's all right." Captain Banger imme-
diately started up again, and said that after those
observations, involving as they did ample con-
cession to his honour without compromising the
honour of the honourable gentleman, he would
be wanting in honour, as well as in generosity, if
he did not at once repudiate all intention of
wounding the honour of the honourable gentle-
man, or saying anything dishonourable to his
honourable feelings. These observations were
repeatedly interrupted by bursts of cheers. IMr.
Tiddypot retorted that he well knew the spirit
of honour by which the honourable and gallant
gentleman was so honourably animated, and
that he accepted an honourable explanation,
offered in a way that did him honour ; but, he
trusted that the Vestry would consider that his
(Mr. Tiddypot's) honour had imperatively de-
manded of him that painful course which he had
felt it due to his honour to adopt. The Captain
and Mr. Tiddypot then touched their hats to
one another across the Vestry a great many
times, and it is thought that these proceedings
(reported to the extent of several columns in next
Sunday's paper) will bring them in as church-
wardens next year.

All this was strictly after the pattern of the
real original, and so are the whole of our
Vestry's proceedings. In all their debates,
they are laudably imitative of the windy and
wordy slang of the real original, and of nothing
that is better in it. They have headstrong
party animosities, without any reference to the
merits of (questions ; they tack a surprising
amount of debate to a very little business ; they
set more store by forms than they do by sub-
stances ; — all very like the real original ! It
has been doubted in our borough whether our
Vestry is of any utility ; but our own conclusion
is, that it is of the use to the Borough that a
diminishing mirror is to a Painter, as enabling
it to perceive in a small focus of absurdity all
the surface defects of the real original.




T is unnecessary to say that we keep

a bore. Everybody does. But, tlie

bore whom we have the pleasure

and honour of enumerating among

our particular friends is such a

generic bore, and has so many

^^ ^ traits (as it appears to us) in common

*^ with the great bore family, that we are

tempted to make him the subject of the present

notes. May he be generally accepted !

Our bore is admitted on all hands to be a
good-hearted man. He may put fifty people
out of temper, but he keeps his own. He pre-
serves a sickly solid smile upon his face, when
other faces are ruffled by the perfection he has
attained in his art, and has an equable voice
which never travels out of one key or rises
above one pitch. His manner is a manner of
tranquil interest. None of his opinions are
startling. Among his deepest-rooted convic-
tions, it may be mentioned that he considers
the air of England damp, and holds that our
lively neighbours — he always calls the French
our lively neighbours — have the advantage of
us in that particular. Nevertheless, he is un-
able to forget that John Bull is John Bull all
the world over, and that England, with all her
faults, is England still.

Our bore has travelled. He could not pos-
sibly be a complete bore without having tra-
velled. He rarely speaks of his travels without
introducing, sometimes on his own plan of con-
struction, morsels of the language of the country :
which he always translates. You cannot name
to him any little remote town in France, Italy,
Germany, or Switzerland, but he knows it well ;
stayed there a fortnight under peculiar circum-
stances. And talking of that little place, per-
haps you know a statue over an old fountain,
up a little court, which is the second — no, the
third — stay — yes, tlie third turning on the right,
after you come out of the I'ost-house, going up
the hill towards the market? You doii't know
that statue ? Nor that fountain ? You surprise
him ! They are not usually seen by travellers
(most extraordinary, he has never yet met with
a single traveller who knew them, except one
German, the most intelligent man he ever met
in his life !) but he thought that you would have
been the man to find them out. And then he
describes them, in a circumstantial lecture half
an hour long, generally delivered behind a door
which is constantly being opened from the other
side; and implores you, if you ever revisit that

place, now do go and look at that statue and

fountain !

Our bore, in a similar manner, being in Italy,
made a discovery of a dreadful ])icture, whicli
has been the terror of a large portion of the
civilised world ever since. We have seen the
liveliest men paralysed by it across a broad
dining-table. He was lounging among the
mountains, sir, basking in the mellow influences
of the climate, when he came to una piccola
chicsa — a little church — or perhaps it would be
more correct to say una piccolissiiua cappcUa —
the smallest chapel you can possibly imagine —
and walked in. There was nobody inside but a
cieco — a blind man — saying his prayers, and a
vccchio padre — old friar — rattling a money-box.
But, above the head of that friar, and immedi-
ately to the right of the altar as you enter — to
the right of the altar ? No. To the left of the
altar as you enter — or say near the centre — there
hung a painting (subject. Virgin and Child) so
divine in its expression, so pure and yet so
warm and rich in its tone, so fresh in its touch,
at once so glowing in its colour and so statu-
esque in its repose, that our bore cried out in
an ecstasy, " That's the finest picture in Italy ! "
And so it is, sir. There is no doubt of it.
It is astonishing that that picture is so little
known. Even the painter is uncertain. He
afterwards took Blumb, of the Royal Academy
(it is to be observed that our bore takes none
but eminent people to see sights, and that none
but eminent people take our bore), and you
never saw a man so affected in your life as
Blumb' was. He cried like a child ! And then
our bore begins his description in detail — for all
this is introductory — and strangles his hearers
with the folds of the purple drapery.

By an equally fortunate conjunction of acci-
dental circumstances, it happened that when
our bore was in Switzerland, he discovered a
Valley, of that superb character, that Chamouni
is not to be mentioned in the same breath with
it. This is how it was, sir. He was travelling
on a mule — had been in the saddle some days
— when, as he and the guide, Pierre Blanquo :
whom you may know, perhaps ? — our bore is
sorry you don't, because he is the only guide
deserving of the name — as he and Pierre were
descending, towards evening, among those
everlasting snows, to the little village of La
Croix, our bore observed a mountain track turn-
ing off sharply to the right. At first he was un^
certain whether it ^uas a track at all, and, in
fact, he said to Pierre, " Quest que c'cst done,
mon amil — what is that, my friend?" " C'//,
viousieurV said Pierre — "where, sir?" ^^ Lai



— there ! " said our bore. " Monsieur, ce 71' est
rien de tout — sir, it's nothing at all," said Pierre.
" A/ions ! — make haste. // va nciger — it's going
to snow ! " But our bore was not to be done
in that way, and lie firmly replied, " I wish to go
in that direction^/"^ veux y allcr. I am bent
upon it-^

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 45 of 103)