Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 48 of 103)
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pegs instead of legs, but it was not so when
they were brought home for a Christmas pre-



sent. They were all right then ; neither was

their harness unceremoniously nailed into their
chests, as ai)pears to be the case now. The
tinkling works of the music-cart I did find out
to be made of ([uill toothi)icks and wire ; and I
always thought that little tumbler in his shirt-
sleeves, perpetually swarming up one side of a
wooden frame, and coming down, head foremost,
on the other, rather a weak-minded person —
though good-natured ; but the Jacob's Ladder,
next him, made of little squares of red wood,
that went flapping and clattering over one
another, each developing a difterent picture,
and the whole enlivened by small bells, was a
mighty marvel and a great deliglit.

Ah ! The Doll's house ! — of which I was
not proprietor, but where 1 visited. I don't
admire the Houses of Parliament half so much
as that stone-fronted mansion with real glass
windows, anil door-steps, and a real balcony —
greener than I ever see now, except at watering-
places ; and even they afford but a poor imita-
tion. And though it did open all at once, the
entire house-front (which was a blow, I admit,
as cancelling the fiction of a staircase), it was
but to shut it up again, and I could believe.
Even open, there were three distinct rooms in
it : a sitting-room and bedroom, elegantly fur-
nished, and, best of all, a kitchen, with uncom-
monly soft fire-irons, a plentiful assortment of
diminutive utensils — oh, the warming-pan ! —
and a tin man-cook in profile, who was always
going to fry two fish. What Barmecide justice
have I done to the noble feasts wherein the set
of wooden platters figured, each with its own
peculiar delicacy, as a ham or turkey, glued
tight on to it, and garnished with something
green, which I recollect as moss ! Could all
the Temperance Societies of these later days,
united, give me such a tea-drinking as I have
had through the means of yonder little set of
blue crockery, which really would hold liquid
(it ran out of the small wooden cask, I recollect,
and tasted of- matches), and which made tea,
nectar ? And if the two legs of the ineffectual
little sugar-tongs did tumble over one another,
and want purpose, like Punch's hands, what
does it matter ? And if I did once shriek out,
as a poisoned child, and strike the fashionable
company with consternation, by reason of having
drunk a little tea-spoon, inadvertently dissolved
in too hot tea, I was never the worse for it,
except by a powder !

Upon the next branches of the tree, lower
down, hard by the green roller and miniature
gardening tools, how thick tlie books begin to
hang ! Thin books in themselves, at first, but



246



A CHRISTMAS TREE.



many of them, and with deliciously smooth covers
of bright red or green. What fat black letters
to begin with ! " A was an archer, and shot at
a frog." Of course he was. He was an apple-
pie also, and there he is ! He was a good many
things in his time, was A, and so were most of
his friends, except X, who had so little versatility,
that I never knew him to get beyond Xerxes or
Xantippe — like Y, who was always confined to
a Yacht or a Yew-tree ; and Z, condemned for
ever to be a Zebra or a Zany. But now, the
very tree itself changes, and becomes a bean-
stalk — the marvellous bean-stalk up which Jack
climbed to the Giant's house ! And now, those
dreadfully interesting, double - headed giants,
with their clubs over their shoulders, begin to
stride along the boughs in a perfect throng,
dragging knights and ladies home for dinner by
the hair of their heads. And Jack — how noble,
with his sword of sharpness, and his shoes of
swiftness ! Again those old meditations come
upon me as I gaze up at him ; and I debate
within myself whether there was more than one
Jack (which I am loath to believe possible), or
only one genuine original admirable Jack, who
achieved all the recorded exploits.

Good for Christmas-time is the ruddy colour
of the cloak in which — the tree making a forest of
itself for her to trip through with her basket — Little
Red Riding-Hood comes to me one Christmas
Eve to give me information of the cruelty and
treachery of that dissembling Wolf who ate her
grandmother, without making any impression on
his appetite, and then ate her, after making that
ferocious joke about his teeth. She was my first
love. I felt that if I could have married Little
Red Riding-Hood, I should have known perfect
bliss. But, it was not to be ; and there was
nothing for it but to look out the Wolf in the
Noah's Ark there, and put him late in the pro-
cession on the table, as a monster who was to
be degraded. Oh the wonderful Noah's Ark !
It was not found seaworthy when put in a wash-
ing-tub, and the animals were crammed in at
the roof, and needed to have their legs well
shaken down before they could be got in, even
there — and then, ten to one but they began to
tumble out at the door, which was but imper-
fectly fastened with a wire latch — but what was
i/iat against it ? Consider the noble fly, a size
or two smaller than the elephant : the lady-bird,
tlie butterfly — all triumphs of art ! Consider the
goose, whose feet were so small, and whose
balance was so indifi"erent, that she usually
tumbled forward, and knocked down all the
animal creation. Consider Noah and his family,
like idiotic tobacco-stoppers ; and how the Leo-



pard stuck to warm little fingers ; and how the
tails of the larger animals used gradually to
resolve themselves into frayed bits of string I

Hush ! Again a forest, and somebody up in
a tree — not Robin Hood, not Valentine, not
the Yellow Dwarf (I have passed him, and all
Mother Bunch's wonders, without mention), but
an Eastern King with a glittering scimitar and
turban. By Allah ! two Eastern Kings, for I
see another looking over his shoulder ! Down
upon the grass, at the tree's foot, lies the full •
length of a coal-black Giant, stretched asleep,
with his head in a lady's lap ; and near them is
a glass box, fastened with four locks of shining
steel, in which he keeps the lady prisoner when
he is awake. I see the four keys at his girdle
now. The lady makes signs to the two kmgs
in the tree, who softly descend. It is the setting-
in of the bright Arabian Nights.

Oh, now all common things become uncom-
mon and enchanted to me ! All lamps are
wonderful ; all rings are talismans. Common
flower-pots are full of treasure, with a little earth
scattered on the top ; trees are for Ali Baba to
hide in ; beefsteaks are to throw down into the
Valley of Diamonds, that the precious stones
may stick to them, and be carried by the eagles
to their nests, whence the traders, with loud
cries, will scare them. Tarts are made, accord-
ing to the recipe of the Vizier's son of Bussorah,
who turned pastrycook after he was set down in
his drawers at the gate of Damascus ; cobblers
are all Mustaphas, and m the habit of sewing up
people cut into four pieces, to whom they are
taken blindfold.

Any iron ring let into stone is the entrance
to a cave which only waits for the magician, and
the little fire, and the necromancy, that will
make the earth shake. All the dates imported
come from the same tree as that unlucky date,
with whose shell the merchant knocked out the
eye of the genie's invisible son. All olives are
of the stock of that fresh fruit, concerning which
the Commander of the Faithful overheard the
boy conduct the fictitious trial of the fraudulent
olive merchant ; all apples are akin to the apple
purchased (with two others) from the Sultan's
gardener for three sequins, and which the tall
black slave stole from the child. All dogs are
associated with the dog, really a transformed
man, who jumped upon the baker's counter, and
put his paw on the piece of bad money. All
rice recalls the rice which the awful lady, who
was a ghoule, could only peck by grains, because
of her nightly feasts in the burial-place. My
very rocking-horse, — there he is, with his nostrils
turned completely inside out, indicative of



CHRISTMAS-TREE THEATRICALS.



247



Blood ! — should have a peg in his neck, by
virtue thereof to ily away with me, as the wooden
horse did with the Prince of Persia, in the sight
of all his father's Court.

Yes, on every object that I recognise arubng
those upper branches of my Christmas Tree, I
see this fairy light ! AVhen I wake in bed, at
daybreak, on the cold dark winter mornings, the
white snow dimly beheld, outside, through the
frost on the window pane, I hear Dinarzade.
" Sister, sister, if you are yet awake, I pray you
finish the history of the Young King of the
Black Islands." Scheherazade replies, " If my
lord the Sultan will suffer me to live another
day, sister, I will not only finish that, but tell
you a more wonderful story yet." Then, the
gracious Sultan goes out, giving no orders for
the execution, and we all tliree breathe again.

At this height of my tree I begin to see, cower-
ing among the leaves — it may be born of tur-
key, or of pudding, or mince-pie, or of these
many fancies, jumbled with Robinson Crusoe on
his desert island, Philip Quarll among the mon-
keys, Sandford and Merton with Mr. Barlow,
jNIother Bunch, and the Mask — or it may be the
result of indigestion, assisted by imagination and
over-doctoring — a prodigious nightmare. It is
so exceedingly indistinct, that I don't know why
it's frightful — but I know it is. I can only make
out that it is an immense array of shapeless
things, which appear to be planted on a vast
exaggeration of the lazy-tongs that used to bear
the toy-soldiers, and to be slowly coming close
to my eyes, and receding to an immeasurable
distance. When it comes closest, it is worst.
In connection with it I descry remembrances of
winter nights incredibly long; of being sent
early to bed, as a punishment for some small
offence, and waking in two hours, with a sensa-
tion of having been asleep two nights ; of the
laden hopelessness of morning ever dawning ;
•and the oppression of a weight of remorse.

And now, I see a wonderful row of little lights
rise smoothly out of the ground, before a vast
green curtain. Now, a bell rings — a magic bell,
which still sounds in my ears unlike all other
bells — and music plays, amidst a buzz of voices,
and a fragrant smell of orange-peel and oil.
Anon, the magic bell commands the music to
cease, and the great green curtain rolls itself up
majestically, and The Play begins ! The de-
voted dog of Montargis avenges the death of his
master, foully murdered in the Forest of Bondy ;
and a humorous Peasant with a red nose and a
very little hat, whom I take from this hour forth
to my bosom as a friend (I think he was a
Waiter or an Hostler at a village Inn, but many



years have passed since he and I have met), re-
marks that the sassigassity of that dog is indeed
surprising ; and evermore this jocular conceit
will live in my remembrance fresh and unfolding,
overtopping all possible jokes, unto the end of
time. Or now, I learn with bitter tears how
poor Jane Sliore, dressed all in white, and with
her brown hair hanging down, went starving
through the streets ; or how George Barnwell
killed the worthiest uncle that ever man had,
and was afterwards so sorry for it that he ought
to have been let off. Comes swift to comfort
me, the Pantomime — stupendous Phenomenon !
—when Clowns are shot from loaded mortars
into the great chandelier, bright constellation
that it is ; when Harlequins, covered all over
with scales of pure gold, twist and sparkle, like
amazing fish ; when Pantaloon (whom I deem it
no irreverence to compare in my own mind to
my grandfather) puts red-hot pokers in his
pocket, and cries, " Here's somebody coming ! "
or taxes the Clown with petty larceny by saying,
" Now I sawed you do it ! " when Everything
is capable, with the greatest ease, of being
changed into Anything ; and " Nothing is, but
thinking makes it so." Now, too, I perceive my
first experience of the dreary sensation — often to
return in after life — of being unable, next day,
to get back to the dull, settled world ; of want-
ing to live for ever in the bright atmosphere I
have quitted ; of doting on the little Fairy, with
the wand like a celestial Barber's Pole, and
pining for a Fairy immortality along with her. Ah,
she comes back, in many shapes, as my eye wan-
ders down the branchesof my Christmas Tree, and
goes as often, and has never yet stayed by me !

Out of this delight springs the toy theatre, —
there it is, with its familiar proscenium, and
ladies in feathers in the boxes ! — and all
its attendant occupation with paste and glue,
and gum, and water colours, in the getting-up of
the Miller and his Men, and Elizabeth, or the
Exile of Siberia. In spite of a few besetting
accidents and failures (particularly an unreason-
able disposition, in the respectable Kelmar and
some others, to become faint in the legs, and
double up, at exciting points of the drama), a
teeming world of fancies so suggestive and all-
embracing, that, far below it on my Christmas
Tree. I see dark, dirty, real Theatres, in the day-
time, adorned with these associations as with
the freshest garlands of the rarest flowers, and
charming me yet.

But hark ! The Waits are playing, and they
break my childish sleep ! What images do I
associate with the Christmas music as I see them
set forth on the Christmas Tree ? Known before



248



A CHRISTMAS ; REE.



all the others, keeping far apart from all the
others, they gather round my little bed. An
angel, speaking to a group of she])herds in a
field ; some travellers, with eyes uplifted, follow-
ing a star ; a baby in a manger ; a chilil in a
spacious temple, talking with grave men; a
solemn figure, with a mild and beautiful face,
raising a dead girl by the hand ; again, near a
city gate, calling back the son of a widow, on
his bier, to life; a crowd of people looking
through the opened roof of a chamber where he
sits, and letting down a sick person on a bed
with ropes ; the same, in a tempest, walking on
the water to a ship ; again, on a seashore, teach-
ing a great multitude ; again, with a child upon
his knee, and other children round ; again, re-
storing sight to the blind, speech to the dumb,
hearing to the deaf, health to the sick, strength
to the lame, knowledge to the ignorant; again,
dying upon a Cross, watched by armed soldiers,
a thick darkness coming on, the earth beginning
to shake, and only one voice heard : " Forgive
them, for they know not Avhat they do ! "

Still, on the lower and maturer branches of
the Tree, Christmas associations cluster thick.
School-books shut up ; Ovid and Virgil silenced ;
the Rule of Three, with its cool impertinent
inquiries long disposed of; Terence and Plau-
tus acted no more, in an arena of huddled desks
and forms, all chipped, and notched, and inked ;
cricket bats, stumps, and balls left higher up,
with the smell of trodden grass and the softened
noise of shouts in the evening air ; the tree is
still fresh, still gay. If I no more come home
at Chri-stmas-time, there will be girls and boys
(thank Heaven !) while the AVorld lasts ; and
they do ! Yonder they dance and play upon
the branches of my Tree, God bless them,
merrily, and my heart dances and plays too !

And I do come home at Christmas. We all
do, or we all should. We all come home, or
ought to come home, for a short holiday — the
longer, the better — from the great boarding-
school, where we are for ever working at our
arithmetical slates, to take and give a rest. As
to going a visiting, where can we not go, if we
will ; where have we not been, when we would ;
starting our fancy from our Christmas Tree?

Away into the winter prospect. There are
many such upon the tree ! On, by low-lying
misty grounds, through fens and fogs, up long
hills, winding dark as caverns between thick
plantations, almost shutting out the sparkling
stars ; so, out on broad heights, until we sto[) at
last, with sudden silence, at an avenue. The
gate bell has a deep, half-awful sound in the
frosty air; the gate swings open on its hinges;



and, as we drive up to a great house, the glancing
lights grow larger in the windows, and the
opposing rows of trees seem to fall solemnly
back on either side, to give us place. At inter-
vals, all day, a frightened hare has shot across
this whitened turf; or the distant clatter of a
herd of deer trampling the hard frost has, for
the minute, crushed the silence too. Their
watchful eyes beneath the fern may be shining
now, if we could see them, like the icy dewdrops
on the leaves ; but they are still, and all is still.
And so, the lights growing larger, and the trees
falling back before us, and closing up again be-
hind us, as if to forbid retreat, we come to the
house.

There is probably a smell of roasted chest-
nuts and other good comfortable things all the
time, for we are telling Winter Stories — Ghost
Stories, or more shame for us — round the Christ-
mas fire ; and we have never stirred, except to
draw a little nearer to it. But, no matter for
that. We come to the house, and it is an old
house, full of great chimneys where wood is
burnt on ancient dogs upon the hearth, and
grim portraits (some of them with grim legends,
too) lower distrustfully from the oaken panels
of the walls. We are a middle-aged nobleman,
and we make a generous supper with our host
and hostess and their guests — it being Christmas-
time, and the old house full of company — and
then we go to bed. Our room is a very old
room. It is hung with tapestry. We don't like
the portrait of a cavalier in green, over the
fire-place. There are great black beams in the
ceiling, and there is a great black bedstead,
supported at the foot by two great black figures,
who seem to have come off a couple of tombs
in the old baronial church in the park, for our
particular accommodation. But, we are not a
superstitious nobleman, and we don't mind.
Well ! we dismiss our servant, lock the door,
and sit before the fire in our dressing-gown,
musing about a great many things. At length
we go to bed. Well ! we can't sleep. We toss
and tumble, and can't sleep. The embers on
the hearth burn fitfully, and make the room look
ghostly. We can't help peeping out, over the
counterpane, at the two black figures and the
cavalier — that wicked-looking cavalier in green.
In the flickering light they seem to advance
and retire : which, though we are not by any
means a superstitious nobleman, is not agree-
able. Well ! we get nervous — more and more
nervous. We say, " This is very foolish, but we
can't stand this ; we'll pretend to be ill, and
knock up somebody." Well ! we are just going
to do it, when the locked door opens, and there



CHRISTMAS-TREE GHOSTS.



249



comes in a young woman, deadly pale, and with
long fair hair, who glides to the fire, and sits
down in the chair we have left there, wringing
her hands. Then, we notice that her clothes
are wet. Our tongue cleaves to the roof of our
mouUi, and we can't speak ; but, we observe her



accurately. Her clothes are wet ; her long hair
is dabbled with moist mud ; she is dressed in
the fashion of two hundred years ago ; and she
has at her girtlle a bunch of rusty keys. Well !
there she sits, and we can't even faint, we are in
such a state about it. Presently she gets up.




'HE TOOK HER IN HIS ARMS, AND TOLD HER IT WAS FANCY."



and tries all the locks in the room with the rusty
keys, which won't fit one of them ; then, she
fixes her eyes on the portrait of the cavalier in
green, and says, in a low, terrible voice, " The
stags know it ! " After that, she wrings her
hands again, passes the bedside, and goes out



at the door. We hurry on our dressing-gown,
seize our pistols (we always travel with pistols),
and are following, when we find the door locked.
We turn the key, look out into the dark gallery;
no one there. ^Ve wander away, and try to find
our servant. Can't be done. We jjace the gallery



250



A CHRISTMAS TREE.



till daybreak ; then return to our deserted room,
fall asleep, and are awakened by our servant
(nothing ever haunts hi in) and the shining sun.
Well ! we make a wretched breakfast, and all the
company say we look queer. After breakfast,
we go over the house with our host, and then
we take him to the portrait of the cavalier in
green, and then it all comes out. He was false
to a young housekeeper once attached to that
family, and famous for her beauty, who drowned
herself in a pond, and whose body was dis-
covered, after a long time, because the stags
refused to drink of the water. Since which, it
has been whispered that she traverses the laouse
at midnight (but goes especially to that room,
where the cavalier in green was wont to sleep),
trying the old locks with the rusty keys. Well !
we tell our host of what we have seen, and a
shade comes over his features, and he begs it
may be hushed up ; and so it is. But, it's all
true ; and we said so, before we died (we are
dead now), to many responsible people.

There is no end to the old houses, with re-
sounding galleries, and dismal state bedchambers,
and haunted wings shut up for many years,
through which we may ramble, with an agree-
able creeping up our back, and encounter any
number of ghosts, but (it is worthy of remark
perhaps) reducible to a very few general types
and classes ; for, ghosts have little originality,
and " walk" in a beaten track. Thus, it comes
to pass that a certain room in a certain old hall,
where a certain bad lord, baronet, knight, or
gentleman shot himself, has certain planks in
the floor from which the blood 76'/// 7iot be taken
out. You may scrape and scrape, as the pre-
sent owner has done, or plane and plane, as his
father did, or scrub and scrub, as his grandfather
did, or burn and burn with strong acids, as his
great-grandfather did, but there the blood will
still be — no redder and no paler — no more and
no less — always just the same. Thus, in such
another house there is a haunted door that never
will keep open; or another door that never will
keep shut; or a haunted sound of a spinning-
wheel, or a hammer, or a footstep, or a cry, or
a sigh, or a horse's tramp, or the rattling of a
chain. Or else there is a turret clock, which, at
the midnight hour, strikes thirteen when the
head of the family is going to die ; or a shadowy,
immovable black carriage which at such a time
is always seen by somebody, waiting near the
great gates in the stable-yard. Or thus, it came
to pass how Lady Mary went to pay a visit at a
large wild house in the Scottish Highlands, and,
being fatigued with her long journey, retired to
bed early, and innocently said, next morning, at



the breakfast-table, " How odd to have so late
a party last night in this remote place, and not
to tell me of it before I went to bed ! " Then,
every one asked Lady Mary what she meant.
Then, Lady Mary replied, " Why, all night long,
the carriages were driving round and round the
terrace, underneath my window ! " Then, the
owner of the house turned pale, and so did his
Lady, and Charles Macdoodle of Macdoodle
signed to Lady Mary to say no more, and every
one was silent. After breakfast, Charles Mac-
doodle told Lady Mary that it was a tradition
in the family that those rumbling carriages on
the terrace betokened death. And so it proved,
for, two months afterwards, the Lady of the
mansion died. And Lady Mary, who was a
IMaid of Honour at Court, often told this story
to the old Queen Charlotte ; by this token, that
the old King always said, " Eh, eh ? What,
what ? Ghosts, ghosts ? No such thing, no
such thing ! " And never left off saying so until
he went to bed.

Or, a friend of somebody's, whom most of us
know, w^hen he was a young man at college, had
a particular friend, with whom he made the
compact that, if it were possible for the Spirit to
return to this earth after its separation from the
body, he of the twain who first died should re-
appear to the other. In course of time this
compact was forgotten by our friend ; the two
young men having progressed in life, and taken
diverging paths that were wide asunder. But
one night, many years afterwards, our friend
being in the North of England, and staying for
the night in an inn on the Yorkshire INIoors, hap-
pened to look out of bed ; and there, in the
moonlight, leaning on a bureau near the window,
steadfastly regarding him, saw his old college
friend ! The appearance being solemnly ad-



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 48 of 103)