Charles Dickens.

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

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"the axle an't broke yet. We keeps up a steady
pace, — not too sewere, but vith a moderate de-
gree o' friction, — and the consekens is that ve're
still a runnin' and comes in to the timereg'lar. —
My son Samivel, sir, as you may have read on
in history," added Mr. Weller, introducing his
first-born.

I received Sam very graciously, but, before he
could say a word, his father struck in again.

'' Samivel Veller, sir," said the old gentleman,
"has con-ferred upon me the ancient title o'
grandfather, vich had long laid dormouse, and
wos s'posed to be nearly hex-tinct in our family,
Sammy, relate a anecdote o' vun o' them boys, —
that 'ere little anecdote about young Tonysayin'
as he vould smoke a pipe unbeknown to his
mother."

" Be quiet, can't you ? " said Sam. " I never
see such a old magpie — never."

" That 'ere Tony is the blessedest boy," said
Mr. Weller, heedless of this rebuff, " the bless-
edest boy as ever /see in 7ny days ! Of all the
charmin'est infants as ever I heerd tell on, in-
cludin' them as was kivered over by the robin
redbreasts arter they'd committed sooicide with
blackberries, there never wos any like that 'ere
little Tony. He's alvays a playin' vith a quart
pot, that boy is ! To see him a settin' down on
the door-step pretending to drink out of it, and
fetching a long breath artervards, and smoking
a bit of fire-vood, and sayin', ' Now I'm grand-
father,' — to see him a doin' that at two year old
is better than any play as wos ever wrote. ' Now
I'm grandfather ! ' He wouldn't take a pint pot
if you wos to make him a present on it, but he
gets his quart, and then he says, ' Now I'm
grandfather ! ' "

]Mr. Weller was so overpowered by this picture
that he straightway fell into a most alarming fit
of coughing, which must certainly have been at-
tended with some fatal result but for the dex-
terity and promptitude of Sam, who, taking a
firm grasp of the shawl just under his father's
chin, shook him to and fro with great violence,
at the same time administering some smart blows
between his shoulders. By this curious mode of
treatment Mr. Weller was finally recovered, but
with a very crimson face, and in a state of great
exhaustion.



" He'll do now, Sam," said Mr. Pickwick, who
had been in some alarm himself

" He'll do, sir !" cried Sam, looking reproach-
fully at his parent. " Yes, he will do one o'
these days, — he'll do for hisself, and then he'll
wish he hadn't. Did anybody ever see sich a
inconsiderate old file, — laughing into conwul-
sions afore company, and stamping on the
floor as if he'd brought his own carpet vith
him, and wos under a wager to punch the pat-
tern out in a given time ? He'll begin again in
a minute. There — he's a-goin' off — I said he
would ! "

In fact, Mr. Weller, whose mind was still run-
ning upon his precocious grandson, was seen to
shake his head from side to side, while a laugh,
working like an earthquake, below' the surface,
produced various extraordinary appearances in
his face, chest, and shoulders, — the more alarm-
ing because unaccompanied by any noise what-
ever. These emotions, however, gradually sub-
sided, and after three or four short relapses he
wiped his eyes with the cuff of his coat, and
looked about him with tolerable composure.

" Afore the governor vith-draws," said Mr.
Weller, " there is a pint respecting vich Sammy
has a qvestion to ask. Vile that qvestion is
a perwadin this here conwersation, p'raps the
gen'l'men vill permit me to re-tire."

" Wot are you goin' away for ? " demanded
Sam, seizing his father by the coat-tail.

" I never see such a undootiful boy as you,
Samivel," returned INIr. Weller. " Didn't you
make a solemn promise, amountin' almost to a
speeches o' wow, that you'd put that 'ere qves-
tion on my account } "

" Well, I'm agreeable to do it," said Sam, " but
not if you go cuttin' away like that, as the bull
turned round and mildly observed to the drover
ven they wos a goadin' him into the butcher's
door. The fact is, sir," said Sam, addressing
me, " that he wants to know somethin' respectin'
that 'ere lady as is housekeeper here."

" Ay. What is that ? "

" Vy, sir," said Sam, grinning still more, " he
wishes to know vether she "

" In short," interposed old Mr. Weller de-
cisively, a perspiration breaking out upon his
forehead, " vether that 'ere old creetur is or is
not a widder."

Mr. Pickwick laughed heartily, and so did I,
as I replied decisively, that "my housekeeper
was a spinster."

" There ! " cried Sam, " now you're satisfied.
You hear she's a spinster."

"A wot? " said his father with deep scorn.

" A spinster," replied Sam.



288



MASTER HUMPHREY'S CLOCK.



Mr. Weller looked very hard at his son for a
minute or two, and then said :

" Never mind vether she makes jokes or not,
that's no matter. Wot I say is, is that 'ere
female a widder, or is she not ? "

"Wot do you mean by her making jokes?"
demanded Sam, quite aghast at the obscurity of
his parent's speech.

" Never you mind, Samivel," returned Mr.
Weller gravely ; " puns may be wery good
things, or they may be wery bad 'uns, and a
female may be none the better, or she may be
none the vurse, for making of 'em ; that's got
nothing to do vith widders."

" Wy now," said Sam, looking round, " would
anybody believe as a man at his time o' life could
be running his head agin spinsters and punsters
being the same thing ? "

" There an't a straw's difference between 'em,"
said Mr. Weller. " Your father didn't drive a
coach for so many years, not to be ekal to his
own langvidge as far as that goes, Sammy."

Avoiding the question of etymology, upon
which the old gentleman's mind was quite made
up, he was several times assured that the house-
keeper had never been married. He expressed
great satisfaction on hearing this, and apolo-
gised for the question, remarking that he had
been greatly terrified by a widow not long before,
and that his natural timidity was increased in
consequence.

" It wos on the rail," said Mr. Weller with
strong emphasis. " I was a-goin' down to Bir-
mingham by the rail, and I wos locked up in a
close carriage vith a living widder. Alone we
wos ; the widder and me wos alone ; and I be-
lieve it wos only because we wos alone, and
there was no clerg>'man in the conwayance, that
that 'ere widder didn't niarry me afore ve reached
the half-way station. Ven I think how she began
a screaming as we wos a-goin' under them tun-
nels in the dark,— how she kept on a faintin'
and ketchin' hold o' me, — and how I tried to
bust open the door as was tight-locked and per-

wented all escape Ah ! It was a awful

thing, most awful !"

Mr. Weller was so very much overcome by
this retrospect that he was unable, until he had
wiped his brow several times, to return any
reply to the question whether he approved of
railway communication, notwithstanding that it
would appear, from the answer which he ulti-
mately gave, that he entertained strong opinions
on the subject.

" I con-sider," said Mr. Weller, "that the rail
is unconstitootional and an inwasero' priwileges,
and I should wery much like to know what that



'ere old Carter as once stood up for our liberties,
and wun 'em too, — I should like to know wot he
vouldsay,ifhewos alive now, to Englishmen being
locked up vith widders or with anybody again
their wills. Wot a old Carter wouhl have said,
a old Coachman may say, and I as-sert that in
that pint o' view alone, the rail is an inwaser.
As to the comfort, vere's the comfort o' sittin' in
a harm-cheer lookin' at brick walls or heaps o'
mud, never comin' to a public-house, never seein'
a glass o' ale, never goin' through a pike, never
meetin' a change o' no kind (horses or other-
vise), but alvays comin' to a place, ven you come
to one at all, the wery picter o' the last, vith
the same p'leesemen standing about, the same
blessed old bell a ringin', the same unfort'nate
people standing behind the bars a waitin' to be
let in; and everythin' the same except the name,
vich is wrote up in the same sized letters as the
last name, and vith the same colours ? As to the
//onour and dignity o' travellin', vere can that be
vithout a coachman ; and wot's the rail to sich
coachmen and guards as is sometimes forced to
go by it, but a outrage and a insult ? As to
the pace, wot sort o' pace do you think I, Tony
Veller, could have kept a coach goin' at, for five
hundred thousand pound a mile, paid in ad-
wance afore the coach was on the road ? And
as to the ingein, — a nasty, wheezin', creakin',
gaspin', puffin', bustin' monster, alvays out o'
breath, with a shiny green-and-gold back, like a
unpleasant beetle in that 'ere gas magnifier, — as
to the ingein as is alvays a pourin' out red-hot
coals at night, and black smoke in the day, the
sensiblest thing it does, in my opinion, is ven
there's somethin' in the vay, and it sets up that
'ere frightful scream vich seems to say, ' Now
here's two hundred and forty passengers in the
wery greatest extremity o' danger, and here's
their two hundred and forty screams in vun ! ' ",
By this time I began to fear that my friends
would be rendered impatient by my protracted
absence. I therefore begged ]\Ir. Pickwick to
accompany me up-stairs, and left the two Mr.
Wellers in the care of the housekeeper, laying
strict injunctions upon her to treat them with all
possible hospitality.



IV.
THE CLOCK.

AS we were going upstairs, Mr. Pickwick
put on his spectacles, which he had held
in his hand hitheo-to ; arranged his neckerchief,
smoothed down his waistcoat, and made many
other like preparations of that kind which men



MR, PICKWICK INTRODUCED TO THE CLUB.



289



are accustomed to be mindful of, when they are
going among strangers for the first time, and are
anxious to impress them pleasantly. Seeing that
I smiled, he smiled too, and said that if it had
occurred to him before he left home, he would
certainly have presented himself in pumps and
silk stockings.

" I would, indeed, my dear sir," he said very
seriously ; " I would have shown my respect for
the society by laying aside my gaiters."

"You may rest assured," said I, " that they
would have regretted your doing so very much,
for they are quite attached to them."

" No, really ! " cried Mr. Pickwick with mani-
fest pleasure. " Do you think they care about
my gaiters ? Do you seriously think that they
identify me at all with my gaiters ? "

" I am sure they do," I replied.

" Well, now," said Mr. Pickwick, "that is one
of the most changing and agreeable circum-
stances that could possibly have occurred to me !"

I should not have written down this short
conversation, but that it developed a slight point
in Mr. Pickwick's character, with which I was
not previously acquainted. He has a secret
pride in his legs. The manner in which he
spoke, and the accompanying glance he be-
stowed upon his tights, convince me that Mr.
Pickwick regards his legs with much innocent
vanity.

" But here are our friends," said I, opening
the door and taking his arm in mine ; " let them
speak for themselves. — Gentlemen, I present to
you Mr. Pickwick."

Mr. Pickwick and I must have been a good
contrast just then. I, leaning quietly on my
crutch-stick, with something of a careworn,
patient air ; he having hold of my arm, and
bowing in every direction with the most elastic
politeness, and an expression of face whose
sprightly cheerfulness and good-humour knew
no bounds. The difference between us must
have been more striking yet, as we advanced
towards the table, and the amiable gentleman,
adapting his jocund step to my poor tread, had
his attention divided between treating my in-
firmities with the utmost consideration, and
affecting to be wholly unconscious that 1 re-
quired any.

I made him personally known to each of my
friends in turn. First, to the deaf gentleman,
whom he regarded with much interest, and
accosted with great frankness and cordiality.
He had evidently some vague idea, at the mo-
ment, that my friend, being deaf, must be dumb
also; for, when the latter opened his lips to
express the pleasure it afforded him to know
Edwin Drood, Etc, 19.



a gentleman of whom he had heard so much,
Mr. Pickwick was so extremely disconcerted,
that I was obliged to step in to his relief.

His meeting with Jack Redburn was quite a
treat to see. Mr. Pickwick smiled and shook
hands, and looked at him through his spectacles,
and under them, and over them, and nodded
his head approvingly, and then nodded to me,
as much as to say, "This is just the man ; you
were quite right;" and then turned to Jack and
said a few hearty words, and then did and said
everything over again with unimpaired vivacity.
As to Jack himself, he was quite as much de-
lighted with Mr. Pickwick as Mr. Pickwick could
possibly be with him. Two people never can
have met together since the world began, who
exchanged a warmer or more enthusiastic greet-
ing.

It was amusing to observe the difference be-
tween this encounter and that which succeeded,
between Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Miles. It was
clear that the latter gentleman viewed our new
member as a kind of rival in the affections of
Jack Redburn, and, besides this, he had more
than once hinted to me, in secret, that although
he had no doubt Mr. Pickwick was a very worthy
man, still he did consider that some of his ex-
ploits were unbecoming a gentleman of his years
and gravity. Over and above these grounds of
distrust, it is one of his fixed opinions, that the
law never can by possibility do anything wrong ;
he therefore looks upon Mr. Pickwick as one
who has justly suffered in purse and peace for a
breach of his plighted faith to an unprotected
female, and holds that he is called upon to regard
him with some suspicion on that account. These
causes led to a rather cold and formal reception ;
which Mr. Pickwick acknowledged with the same
stateliness and intense politeness as was dis-
played on the other side. Indeed, he assumed
an air of such majestic defiance, that I was fear-
ful he might break out into some solemn pro-
test or declaration, and therefore inducted him
into his chair without a moment's delay.

This piece of generalship was perfectly suc-
cessful. The instant he took his seat, Mr. Pick-
wick surveyed us all with a most benevolent
aspect, and was taken with a fit of smiling full
five minutes long. His interest in our cere-
monies was immense. They are not very nume-
rous or complicated, and a description of them
may be comprised in very few words. As our
transactions have already been, and must neces-
sarily continue to be, more or less anticipated
by being presented in these pages at different
times, and under various forms, they do not
require a detailed account.



890



MASTER HUMPHREY'S CLOCK.



Our first proceeding when we are assembled
is to shake hands all round, and greet each other
with cheerful and pleasant looks. Remember-
ing that we assemble not only for the promotion
of our happiness, but with the view of adding
something to the common stock, an air of lan-
guor or indifference in any member of our body
would be regarded by the others as a kind of
treason. We have never had an offender in
this respect ; but, if we had, there is no doubt
that he would be taken to task pretty severely.

Our salutation over, the venerable piece of
antiquity from which we take our name is wound
up in silence. This ceremony is always per-
formed by Master Humphrey himself (in treat-
ing of the club, I may be permitted to assume
the historical style, and speak of myself in
the third person), who mounts upon a chair
for the purpose, armed with a large key. While
it is in progress, Jack Redburn is required to
keep at the farther end of the room under the
guardianship of Mr. Miles, for he is known to
entertain certain aspiring and unhallowed
thoughts connected v/ith the clock, and has
even gone so far as to state that, if he might
take the works out for a day or two, he thinks
he could improve them. We pardon him his
presumption in consideration of his good inten-
tions, and his keeping this respectful distance,
which last penalty is insisted on, lest by secretly
wounding the object of our regard in some
tender part, in the ardour of his zeal for its
improvement, he should fill us with dismay and
consternation.

This regulation afforded Mr. Pickwick the
highest delight, and seemed, if possible, to exalt
Jack in his good opinion.

The next ceremony is the opening of the
clock-case (of which Master Humphrey has
likewise the key), the taking from it as many
papers as will furnish forth our evening's enter-
tainment, and arranging in the recess such new-
contributions as have been provided since our
last meeting. This is always done with peculiar
solemnity. The deaf gentleman then fills and
lights his pipe, and we once more take our seats
round the table before mentioned, Master Hum-
phrey acting as president, — if we can be said to
have any president, where all are on the same
social footing, — and our friend Jack as secre-
tary. Our preliminaries being now concluded,
we fall into any train of conversation that hap-
pens to suggest itself, or proceed immediately to
one of our readings. In the latter case, the
paper selected is consigned to Master Hum-
phrey, who flattens it carefully on the table, and
makes dog's ears in the corner of every page.



ready for turning over easily; Jack Redburn
trims the lamp with a small machine of his own
invention, which usually puts it out ; Mr. Miles
looks on with great approval notwithstanding ;
the deaf gentleman draws in his chair, so that
he can follow the words on the paper or on
Master Humphrey's lips as he pleases ; and
Master Humphrey himself, looking round with
mighty gratification, and glancing up at his old
clock, begins to read aloud.

Mr. Pickwick's face, wliile his tale was being
read, would have attracted the attention of the
dullest man alive. The complacent motion of
his head and forefinger as he gently beat time,
and corrected the air with imaginary punctua-
tion, the smile that mantled on his features at
every jocose passage, and the sly look he stole
around to observe its effect, the calm manner
in which he shut his eyes and listened when
there was some little piece of description, the
changing expression with which he acted the
dialogue to himself, his agony that the deaf
gentleman should know what it was all about,
and his extraordinary anxiety to correct the
reader when he hesitated at a word in the
manuscript, or substituted a wrong one, were
alike worthy of remark. And when at last,
endeavouring to communicate with the deaf
gentleman by means of the finger alphabet, with
which he constructed such words as are un-
known in any civilised or savage language, he
took up a slate and wrote in large text, one
word in a line, the question, " How — do — you
— like — it ? " — when he did this, and handing it
over the table awaited the reply, with a counte-
nance only brightened and improved by his
great excitement, even Mr. Miles relaxed, and
could not forbear looking at him for the moment
with interest and favour.

" It has occurred to me," said the deaf gen-
tleman, who had watched Mr. Pickwick and
everybody else with silent satisfaction — " it has
occurred to me," said the deaf gentleman, taking
his pipe from his lips, " that now is our time for
filling our only empty chair."

As our conversation had naturally turned
upon the vacant seat, we lent a willing ear to
this remark, and looked at our friend inquir-
ingly.

"I feel sure," said he, " that Mr. Pickwick
must be acquainted with somebody who would
be an acquisition to us ; that he must know the
man we want. Pray let us not lose any time,
but set this question at rest. Is it so, Mr-
Pickwick ? "

The gentleman addressed was about to return
a verbal reply, but, remembering our friend's



A NEW MEMBER PROPOSED.



291



infirmity, he substituted for this kind of answer
some fitly nods. Then taking up the slate, and
printing on it a gigantic " Yes," he handed it
across the table, and, rubbing his hands as he
looked round upon our faces, protested that he
and the deaf gentleman quite understood each
other already.

"The person I have in my mind," sa'ia Mr.
Pickwick, " and whom I should not have pre-
sumed to mention to you until some time hence,
but for the opportunity you have given me, is a
^•ery strange old man. His name is Bamber."

" Bamber ! " said Jack. " I have certainly
heard the name before."

" I have no doubt, then," returned Mr. Pick-
wick, " that you remember him in those adven-
tures of mine (the Posthumous Papers of our
old Club, I mean), although he is only inci-
dentally mentioned ; and, if I remember right,
appears but once.''

" That's it," said Jack. " Let me see. He
is the ])erson who has a grave interest in old
mouldy chambers and the Inns of Court, and
who relates some anecdotes having reference to
his favourite theme, — and an odd ghost story, —
is that the man ? "

" The very same. Now," said Mr. Pickwick,
lowering his voice to a mysterious and confi-
dential tone, " he is a very extraordinary and
remarkable person ; living, and talking, and look-
ing like some strange spirit, whose delight is to
haunt old buildings ; and absorbed in that one
subject which you have just mentioned, to an
extent which is quite wonderful. When I retired
into private life, I sought him out, and I do
assure you that, the more I see of him, the more
strongly I am impressed with the strange and
dreamy character of his mind."

" Where does he live?" I inquired.

" He lives," said Mr. Pickwick, " in one of
those dull, lonely old places with which his
thoughts and stories are all connected ; quite
alone, and often shut up close for several weeks
together. In this dusty solitude he broods upon
the fancies he has so long indulged, and when he
goes into the Avorld, or anybody from the world
without goes to see him, they are still present to
his mind and still his favourite topic. I may
say, I believe, that he has brought himself to
entertain a regard for me, and an interest in my
visits ; feelings which I am certain he would
extend to Master Humphrey's Clock, if he were
once tempted to join us. All I wish you to
understand is, that he is a strange secluded
visionary ; in the world, but not of it ; and as
unlike anybody here as he is unlike anybody
elsewhere that I have ever met or known."



Mr, Miles received this account of our pro-
posed companion with rather a wry face, and,
after murmuring that perhaps he was a little mad,
inquired if he were rich.

" I never asked him," said Mr. Pickwick.

" You might know, sir, for all that," retorted
Mr. Miles sharply.

'- Perhaps so, sir," said Mr. Pickwick, no less
sharply than the other, " but I do not. Indeed,"
he added, relapsing into his usual mildness, " I
have no means of judging. He lives poorly,
but that would seem to be in keeping with his
character. I never heard him allude to his cir-
cumstances, and never fell into the society of
any man who had the slightest acquaintance
with them. I have really told you all I know
about him, and it rests with you to say whethor
you wish to know more, or know quite enougk
already."

We were unanimously of opinion that we
would seek to know more ; and, as a sort of
compromise with Mr. Miles (who, although he
said " Yes — oh ! certainly — he should like to
know more about the gentleman — he had no
right to put himself in opposition to the general
wish," and so forth, shook his head doubtfully,
and hemmed several times with peculiar gravity),
it was arranged that Mr. Pickwick should carry
me with him on an evening visit to the subject
of our discussion, for which purpose an early
appointment between that gentleman and my-
self was immediately agreed upon ; it being
understood that I was to act upon my own
responsibility, and to invite him to join us or
not, as I might think proper. This solemn
question determined, we returned to the clock-
case (where we have been forestalled by the
reader), and between its contents, and the con-
versation they occasioned, the remainder of our
time passed very quickly.

When we broke up, Mr. Pickwick took me
aside to tell me that he had spent a most charm-
ing and delightful evening. Having made this
communication with an air of the strictest secrecy,
he took Jack Redburn into another corner to
tell him the same, and then retired into another
corner with the deaf gentleman and the slate, to



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 56 of 103)