Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 53 of 103)
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heard him prattling of the toy, and knew that in
his infant pleasure he kept it by his side in
bed. I felt no weariness or fatigue, but waited
patiently, and on the third day he passed rae,
running joyously along, with his silken hair
streaming in the wind, and he singing — God
have mercy upon me ! — singing a merry ballad,
— who could hardly lisp the words.

I stole down after him, creeping under certain
shrubs which grow in that place, and none but
devils know with what terror I, a strong, full-
grown man, tracked the footsteps of that baby
as he approached the water's brink. I was close
upon him, had sunk upon my knee and raised
my hand to thrust him in, when he saw my sha-
dow in the stream and turned him round.

His mother's ghost was looking from his eyes.
The sun burst forth from behind a cloud ; it
shone in the bright sky, the glistening earth, the
clear water, the sparkling droi)s of rain upon the
leaves. There were eyes in everything. The
whole great universe of liglit was there to see
the murder done. I know not what he said ; he
came of bold and manly blood, and, child as he
was, he did not crouch or fawn upon me. I
heard him cry that he would try to love me, —



272



MASTER HUMPHREY'S CLOCK.



not that he did,— and then I saw him running
back towards the house. The next I saw \yas
my own sword naked in my hand, and he lying
at my feet stark dead, — dabbled here and there
with blood, but otherwise no different from what
I had seen him in his sleep,— in the same attitude
too, with his cheek resting upon his litde hand.

I took him in my arms and laid him — very
gently now that he was dead — in a thicket. My
wife was from home that day, and would not
return until the next. Our bedroom window,
the only sleeping-room on that side of the house,
was but a few feet from the ground, and I re-
solved to descend from it at night and bury him
in the garden. I had no thought that I had
failed in my design, no thought that the water
would be dragged and nothing found, that the
money must now lie waste, since I must encou-
rage the idea that the child was lost or stolen.
All my thoughts were bound up and knotted
together in the one absorbing necessity of hiding
what I had done.

How I felt when they came to tell me that
the child was missing, when I ordered scouts in
all directions, when I gasped and trembled at
every one's approach, no tongue can tell or
mind of man conceive. I buried him that night.
When I parted the boughs and looked into the
dark thicket, there was a glow-worm shining like
the visible spirit of God upon the murdered
child. I glanced down into his grave when I
had placed him there, and still it gleamed upon
his breast ; an eye of fire looking up to Heaven
in supplication to the stars that watched me at
my work.

I had to meet my wife, and break the news,
and give her hope that the child would soon be
found. All this I did, — with some appearance,
I suppose, of being sincere, for I was the object
of no suspicion. This done, I sat at the bed-
room window all day long, and watched the
spot where the dreadful secret lay.

It was in a piece of ground which had been
(lug up to be newly turfed, and which I had
chosen on that account, as the traces of my
spade were less likely to attract attention. The
men who laid down the grass must have thought
me mad. I called to them continually to expe-
dite their work, ran out and worked beside them,
trod down the earth with my feet, and hurried
them with frantic eagerness. They had finished
their task before night, and then I thought my-
self comparatively safe.

I slept, — not as men do who wake refreshed
and cheerful, but I did sleep, passing from vague
and shadowy dreams of being hunted down, to
visions of the plot of grass, through which now



a hand, and now a foot, and now the head itself
was starting out. At this point I always woke
and stole to the window, to make sure that it
was not really so. That done, I crept to bed
again ; and thus I spent the night in fits and
starts, getting up and lying down full twenty
times, and dreaming the same dream over and
over again, — which was far worse than lying
awake, for every dream had a whole night's
suffering of its own. Once I thought the child
was alive, and that I had never tried to kill him.
To wake from that dream was the most dreadful
agony of all.

The next day I sat at the window again, never
once taking my eyes from the place, which,
although it was covered by the grass, was as
plain to me — its shape, its size, its depth, its
jagged sides, and all — as if it had been open to
the light of day. When a servant walked across
it, I felt as if he must sink in ; when he had
passed, I looked to see that his feet had not
worn the edges. If a bird lighted there, I was
in terror lest by some tremendous interposition
it should be instrumental in the discovery; if a
breath of air sighed across it, to me it whispered
murder. There was not a sight or sound — how
ordinary, mean, or unimportant soever — but was
fraught with fear. And in this state of ceaseless
watching I spent three days.

On the fourth there came to the gate one who
had served with me abroad, accompanied by a
brother officer of his whom I had never seen.
I felt that I could not bear to be out of sight of
the place. It was a summer evening, and I bade
my people take a table and a flask of wine into
the garden. Then I sat down with my chair
upon the grave, and being assured that nobody
could disturb it now without my knowledge,
tried to drink and talk.

They hoped that my wife was well, — that she
was not obliged to keep lier chamber, — that they
had not frightened her away. What could I do
but tell them with a faltering tongue about the
child ? The ofticer whom I did not know was a
down-looking man, and kept his eyes upon the
ground while I was speaking. Even that terri-
fied me. I could not divest myself of the idea
that he saw something there which caused him
to suspect the truth. I asked him hurriedly if

he supposed that and stopped. " That the

child has been murdered?" said he, looking
mildly at me. " Oh no ! what could a man gain
by murdering a poor child ? " / could have told
him what a man gained by such a deed, no one
better ; but I held my peace and shivered as
with an ague.

Mistaking my emotion, they were endeavour-



HUNTED DOWN.



273



ing to cheer me with the hope that the boy

would certainly be found, — great cheer that was
for me ! — when wo heard a low deep howl, and
l)resentiy there sprung over the wall two great
dogs, who, bounding into the garden, repeated
the baying sound we had heard before.

" Bloodhounds ! " cried my visitors.

What need to tell me that? I had never
seen one of that kind in all my life, but I knew
what they were, and for what purpose they had



come. I grasped the elbows of my chair, and
neither spoke nor moved.

" They are of the genuine breed," said the
man whom I had known abroad, "and being out
for exercise, have no doubt escaped from their
keeper."

Both he and his friend turned to look at the
dogs, who with their noses to the ground moved
restlessly about, running to and fro, and up and
down, and across, and round in circles, careering




" AS HE SAT UPON A LOW SEAT BESIDE MY WIFE, I WOULD PEER AT HIM FOR HOURS TOGETHER FROM

BEHIND A TREE."



about like wild things, and all this time taking
no notice of us, but ever and again repeating the
yell we had heard already, then dropping their
noses to the ground again, and tracking earnestly
here and there. They now began to snuff the
earth more eagerly than they had done yet, and
although they were still very restless, no longer
beat about in such wide circuits, but kept near
to one spot, and constantly diminished the dis-
tance between themselves and me.

At last they came up close to the great chair
Edwin Drood, Etc., 18.



on which I sat, and raising their frightful howl
once more, tried to tear away the wooden rails
that kept them from the ground beneath. I
saw how I looked in the faces of the two who
were with me.

" They scent some prey," said they, bo:h
together.

" They scent no prey ! " cried I.

" In Heaven's name, move," said the one I
knew, very earnestly, " or you will be torn to
pieces."



!74



MASTER HUMPHREY'S CLOCK,



" Let them tear me limb from limb, I'll never
leave this place ! " cried I. " Are dogs to hurry
men to shameful deaths? Hew them down,
cut them in pieces."

" There is some foul mystery here ! " said tlic
officer whom I did not know, drawing his sword.
" In King Charles's name, assist me to secure
this man."

They both set upon me and forced me away,
though I fought and bit and caught at them like
a madman. After a struggle, they got me
quietly between them ; and then, my God ! I
saw the angry dogs tearing at the earth and
throwing it up into the air like water.

What more have I to tell ? That I fell upon
my knees, and with chattering teeth confessed
the truth, and prayed to be forgiven. That I
have since denied, and now confess to it again.
That I have been tried for the crime, found guilty,
and sentenced. That I have not the courage
to anticipate my doom, or to bear up manfully
against it. That I have no compassion, no con-
solation, no hope, no friend. That my wife has
happily lost for the time those faculties which
would enable her to know my misery or hers.
That I am alone in this stone dungeon with my
evil spirit, and that I die to-morrow ! '■'



CORRESPONDENCE.

Master Humphrey has been favoured with
the following letter written on strongly-scented
paper, and sealed in light-blue wax with the
representation of two very plump doves inter-
changing beaks. It does not commence with
any of the usual forms of address, but begins as
is here set forth.

Bath, Wcdiiesday Night.

Heavens ! into what an indiscretion do I
suffer myself to be betrayed ! To address these
faltering lines to a total stranger, and that
stranger one of a conllicting sex ! — and yet I
am precipitated into the abyss, and have no
power of self-snatchation (forgive me if I coin
that phrase) from the yawning gulf before me.

Yes, I am writing to a man ; but let me not
think of that, for madness is in the thought.
You will understand my feelings ? Oh yes, I
am sure you will ; and you will respect them
too, and not despise them, — will you ?

Let me be calm. That portrait, — smiling as
once he smiled on me ; that cane, dangling as I
have seen it dangle from his hand I know not
* Old Curiosity Shop begins here.



how oft ; those legs that have glided through
my nighdy dreams and never stopped to speak ;
the perfectly gentlemanly, though false original,
— can I be mistaken ? Oh no, no.

Let me be calmer yet ; I would be calm as
coffins. You have published a letter from one
w^iose likeness is engraved, but whose name
(and wherefore ?) is suppressed. Shall / breathe

that name ? Is it But why ask when my

heart tells me too truly that it is ?

I would not upbraid him with his treachery ;
I would not remind him of those times when
he plighted the most eloquent of vows, and pro-
cured from me a small pecuniary accommoda-
tion ; and yet I would see him — see him did I
say ? — him — alas ! such is woman's nature. For

as the poet beautifully says But you will

already have anticipated the sentiment. Is it
not sweet ? Oh yes !

It was in this city (hallowed by the recollec-
tion) that I met him first ; and assuredly if
mortal happiness be recorded anywhere, then
those rubbers with their three-and-sixpenny
points are scored on tablets of celestial brass.
He always held an honour, — geneially two. On
that eventful night we stood at eight. He raised
his eyes (luminous in their seductive sweetness)
to my agitated face. " Can you?" said he, with
peculiar meaning. I felt the gentle pressure of
his foot on mine ; our corns throbbed in unison.
'■'■Can you?" he said again; and every linea-
ment of his expressive countenance added the
words, "resist me?" I murmured " No," and
fainted.

They said, when I recovered, it was the
weather. / said it was the nutmeg in the negus.
How little did they suspect the truth ! How
little did they guess the deep mysterious mean-
ing of that inquiry ! He called next morning
on his knees ; I do not mean to say that he
actually came in that position to the house-door,
but that he went down upon those joints di-
rectly the servant had retired. He brought
some verses in his hat, which he said were origi-
nal, but which I have since found were Milton's;
likewise a little bottle labelled laudanum ; also
a pistol and a sword-stick. He drew the latter,
uncorked the former, and clicked the trigger of
the pocket fire-arm. He had come, he said, to
conquer or to die. He did not die. He wrested
from me an avowal of my love, and let off the
pistol out of a back-window previous to partak-
ing of a slight repast.

Faithless, inconstant man ! How many ages
seem to have elapsed since his unaccountable
and perfidious disappearance ! Could I still
forgive him both that and the borrowed lucre



A VISITOR ANNO UN CEB-



ITS



that he promised to pay next week ? Could I
spurn him from my feet if he approached in
penitence, and with a matrimonial object ?
Would the blandishing enchanter still weave his
spells arounil me, or should I burst them all
and turn away in coldness ? I dare not trust
my weakness with the thought.

My brain is in a whirl again. Vou know his
address, his occupations, his mode of life, — are
acquainted, perhaps, with his inmost thoughts.
You are a humane and philanthropic character ;
reveal all you know — all ; but especially the
street and number of his lodgings. The post is
departing, the bellman rings, — pray Heaven it
be not the knell of love and hope to

Belinda.

P.S. Pardon the wanderings of a bad pen and
a distracted mind. Address to the Post Office.
The bellman, rendered impatient by delay, is
ringing dreadfully in the passage.

P. P.S. I open this to say that the bellman is
gone, and that you must not expect it till the
next post ; so don't be surprised when you don't
get it.



Master Humphrey does not feel himself at
liberty to furnish his fair correspondent with the
address of the gentleman in question, but he
publishes her letter as a public appeal to his
faith and gallantry.



in.

MASTER HUMPHREYS VISITOR.

■ HEN I am in a thoughtful mood,
I often succeed in diverting the
current of some mournful reflec-
tions by conjuring up a number of
fanciful associations with th^ ob-
jects that surround me, and dwell-
upon the scenes and characters they
suggest.

I have been led by this habit to assign to
every room in my house and every old staring
portrait on its walls a separate interest of its
own. Thus, I am persuaded that a stately
dame, terrible to behold in her rigid modesty,
who hangs above the chimney-piece of my bed-
room, is the former lady of the mansion. In the
courtyard below is a stone face of surpassing
ugliness, which I have somehow — in a kind of




jealousy, I am afraid — associated with her hus-
band. Above my study is a little room with
ivy peeping through the lattice, from which I
bring their daughter, a lovely girl of eighteen or
nineteen years of age, and dutiful in all respects
save one, that one being her devoted attachment
to a young gentleman on the stairs, whose grand-
mother (degraded to a disused laundry in the
garden) piques herself upon an old family
quarrel, and is the implacable enemy of their
love. With such materials as these I work out
many a little drama, whose chief merit is, that I
can bring it to a happy end at will. I have so
many of them on hand, that if, on my return
home one of these evenings, I were to find some
bluff old wight of two centuries ago comfortably
seated in my easy-chair, and a love-lorn damsel
vainly appealing to his heart, and leaning her
white arm upon my clock itself, I verily believe
I should only express my surprise that they had
kept me waiting so long, and never honoured
me with a call before.

I was in such a mood as this, sitting in my
garden yesterday morning under the shade of a
favourite tree, revelling in all the bloom and
brightness about me, and feeling every sense of
hope and enjoyment quickened by this most
beautiful season of Spring, when my meditations
were interrupted by the unexpected appearance
of my barber at the end of the walk, who I imme-
diately saw was coming towards me with a hasty
step that betokened something remarkable.

My barber is at all times a very brisk, bus-
tling, active little man, — for he is, as it were,
chubby all over, without being stout or unwieldy,
— but yesterday his alacrity was so very uncom-
mon that it quite took me by surprise. For could
I fail to observe, wlien he came up to me, that
his grey eyes were twinkling in a most extra-
ordinary manner, that his little red nose was in
an unusual glow, that every line in his round
bright face was twisted and curved into an ex-
pression of pleased surprise, and that his whole
countenance was radiant with glee ? I was still
more surprised to see my housekeeper, who
usually preserves a very staid air, and stands
somewhat upon her dignity, peeping round the
hedge at the bottom of the walk, and exchang-
ing nods and smiles with the barber, who twice
or thrice looked over his shoulder for that pur-
pose. I could conceive no announcement to
which these appearances could be the prelude,
unless it were that they had married each other
that morning.

I was, consequendy, a little disappointed when
it only came out that there was a gentleman in
the house who wished to speak with me.



276



MASTER HUMPHREY'S CLOCK.



" And who is it ? " said I.

The barber, with his face screwed up still
tiyhter than before, replied that the gentleman
would not send Iris name, but wished to see me.
I pondered for a moment, wondering who this
visitor might be, and I remarked that he em-
braced the opportunity of exchanging another
nod with the housekeeper, who still lingered in
the distance.

" Well ! " said I, " bid the gentleman come
here."

This seemed to be the consummation of the
barber's hopes, for he turned sharp round, and
actually ran away.

Now, my sight is not very good at a distance,
and therefore, when the gentleman first appeared
in the walk, I was not quite clear whether he
was a stranger to me or otherwise. He was an
elderly gentleman, but came tripping along in
the pleasantest manner conceivable, avoiding
the garden-roller and the borders of the beds
with inimitable dexterity, picking his way among
the flower-pots, and smiling with unspeakable
good-humour. Before he was half-way up the
walk he began to salute me ; then I thought I
knew him ; but when he came towards me with
his hat in his hand, the sun shining on his bald
head, his bland face, his bright spectacles, his
fawn-coloured tights, and his black gaiters, —
then my heart warmed towards him, and I felt
quite certain that it was Mr. Pickwick.

" My dear sir," said that gentleman as I rose
to receive him, " pray be seated. Pray sit down.
Now, do not stand on my account. I must insist
upon it, really." With these words Mr. Pick-
wick gently pressed me down into my seat, and
taking my hand in his, shook it again and again
with a warmth of manner perfectly irresistible.
I endeavoured to express in my welcome some-
thing of that heartiness and pleasure which the
sight of him awakened, and made him sit down
beside me. All this time he kept alternately
releasing my hand and grasping it again, and
surveying me through his spectacles with such a
beaming countenance as I never till then beheld.

" You knew me directly ! " saiil Mr. Pickwick.
" What a pleasure it is to think that you knew
me directly ! "

I remarked that I had read his adventures
very often, and his features were quite familiar
to me from the published portraits. As I thought
it a good opportunity of adverting to the circum-
stance, I condoled with him upon the various
libels on his character which had found their
way into print. Mr. Pickwick shook his head,
and for a moment looked very indignant, but
smiling again directly, added that no doubt 1



was acquainted with Cervantes's introduction to
the second part of Don Quixote, and that it
fully expressed his sentiments on the subject.

" But now," said Mr. Pickwick, " don't you
wonder how I found you out ? "

" I shall never wonder, and, with your good
leave, never know," said I, smiling in my turn.
" It is enough for me that you give me this grati-
fication. I have not the least desire that you
should tell me by what means I have obtained it."

" You are very kind," returned Mr. Pickwick,
shaking me by the hand again ; " you are so
exactly what I expected ! But for what parti-
cular purpose do you think I have sought you,
my dear sir? Now, what do you think I have
come for? "

Mr. Pickwick i)ut this ([uestion as though he
were persuaded that it was morally impossible
that I could by any means divine the deep pur-
pose of his visit, and that it must be hidden
from all human ken. Therefore, although I was
rejoiced to think that I had anticipated his
drift, I feigned to be quite ignorant of it, and
after a brief consideration shook my head
despairingly.

" What should you say," said Mr. Pickwick,
laying the forefinger of his left hand upon my
coat-sleeve, and looking at me with his head
thrown back, and a little on one side, — " what
should you say if I confessed that after reading
your account of yourself and your little society,
I had come here a humble candidate for one of
those empty chairs ? "

" I should say," I returned, " that I know of
only one circumstance which could still furdier
endear that little society to me, and that would
be the associating with it my old friend, — for
you must let me call you so, — my old friend,
Mr. Pickwick."

As I made him this answer every feature of
Mr. Pickwick's face fused itself into one all-
pervading expression of delight. After shaking
me heartily by both hands at once, he patted me
gently on the back, and then — I well understood
why— coloured up to the eyes, and hoped T\ith
great earnestness of manner that he had not
hurt me.

If he had, I would have been content that he
should have repeated the offence a hundred
times rather than suppose so ; but as he had not,
I had no difticulty in changing the subject by
making an inquiry which had been upon my lips
twenty times already.

" You have not told me," said I, " anything
about Sam Weller."

" Oh ! Sam," replied Mr. Pickwick, " is the
same as ever. The same true, faithful fellow



— WHO PROVES TO BE MR. PICKWICK.



277



that he ever was. What should I tell you about
Sam, my dear sir, except that he is more indis-
pensable to my happiness and comfort every day
of my life?"

"And Mr. Weller senior?" said I.
" Old Mr. Weller," returned Mr. Pickwick,
" is in no respect more altered than Sam, unless
it be that he is a little more opinionated than he
was formerly, and perhaps at times more talka-
tive. He spends a good deal of his time now in
our neighbourhood, and has so constituted him-
self a part of my body-guard, that when I ask
permission for Sam to have a seat in your kitchen
on clock nights (supposing your three friends
think me worthy to fill one of the chairs), I am
afraid I must often include Mr. Weller too."

I very readily pledged myself to give both
Sam and his father a free admission to my house
at all hours and seasons, and this point settled,
we fell into a lengthy conversation which was
carried on with as little reserve on both sides as
if we had been intimate friends from our youth,
and which conveyed to me the comfortable
assurance that Mr. Pickwick's buoyancy of
spirit, and indeed all his old cheerful character-
istics, were wholly unimpaired. As he had
spoken of the consent of my friends as being
yet in abeyance, I repeatedly assured him that
his proposal was certain to receive their most
joyful sanction, and several times entreated that
lie would give me leave to introduce him to
Jack Redburn and Mr. Miles (who were near at
hand) without further ceremony.

To this proposal, however, Mr. Pickwick's
delicacy would by no means allow him to ac-
cede, for he urged that his eligibility must be
formally discussed, and that until this had been
done, he could not think of obtruding himself
further. The utmost I could obtain from him
was a promise that he would attend upon our next



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 53 of 103)