Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 58 of 103)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 58 of 103)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

payin' compliments, and talkin' about hearts
and piercers."

The imputation of gallantry appeared to
afford Mr. Weller the utmost delight, for he
replied, in a voice choked by suppressed
laughter, and with the tears in his eyes :

" Wos I a talkin' about hearts and piercers, —
wos I though, Sammy, eh ? "

" Wos you ? Of course you wos."

" She don't know no better, Sammy ; there
ain't no harm in it, — no danger, Sammy ; she's

only a punster. She seemed pleased, though,
didn't she ? O' course, she wos pleased ; it's
nat'ral she should be, wery nat'ral."

" He's wain of it ! " exclaimed Sam, joining
in his father's mirth. " He's actually wain ! "

" Hush ! " replied Mr. Weller, composing his
features, "they're a-comin' back, — the little
heart's a-comin' back. But mark these wurds
o' mine once more, and remember 'em ven your
father says he said 'em. Samivel, I mistrust
that 'ere deceitful barber."

[Old Curiosity Shop is continued to the end of the



^^■0 or three evenings after the in-
stitution of Mr. Weller's Watch, I
thought I heard, as I walked in the
garden, the voice of Mr. Weller him-
self at no great distance ; and, stop-
ping once or twice to listen more atten-
rtively, I found that the sounds proceeded
from my housekeeper's little sitting-room,
which is at the back of the house, I took no
further notice of the circumstance at that time,
but it formed the subject of a conversation be-
tween me and my friend Jack Redburn next morn-
ing, when I found that I had not been deceived
in my impression. Jack furnished me with the
following particulars ; and, as he appeared to
take extraordinary pleasure in relating them, I
have begged him in future to jot down any such
domestic scenes or occurrences that may please
his humour, in order that they may be told in
his own way. I must confess that, as Mr. Pick-
wick and he are constantly together, I have been
influenced, in making this request, by a secret
desire to know something of their proceedings.

On the evening in question, the housekeeper's
room was arranged with particular care, and the
housekeeper herself was very smartly dressed.
The preparations, however, were not confined
to mere showy demonstrations, as tea was pre-
pared for three persons, with a small display of
preserves and jams and sweet cakes, which
heralded some uncommon occasion. Miss Ben-
ton (my housekeeper bears that name) was in
a state of great expectation, too, frequently going
to the front-door and looking anxiously down



the lane, and more than once observing to the

servant-girl that she expected company, and
hoped no accident had happened to delay them.

A modest ring at the bell at length allayed
her fears, and Miss Benton hurrying into her
own room and shutting herself up, in order that
she might preserve that appearance of being
taken by surprise which is so essential to the
polite reception of visitors, awaited their coming
with a smiling countenance.

" Good ev'nin', mum," said the older Mr.
Weller, looking in at the door after a prefatory
tap. " I'm afeard we've come in rayther arter
the time, mum, but the young colt, being full o'
wice, has been a boltin' and shyin' and gettin'
his leg over the traces to sich a extent that
if he an't wery soon broke in, he'll wex me into
a broken heart, and then he'll never be brought
out no more except to learn his letters from the
writin' on his grandfather's tombstone."

With these pathetic words, which were ad-
dressed to something outside the door about two
feet six from the ground, Mr. Weller introduced
a very small boy firmly set upon a couple of
very sturdy legs, who looked as if nothing could
ever knock him down. Besides having a very
round face strongly resembling Mr. Weller's, and
a stout little body of exactly his build, this young
gentleman, standing with his little legs very wide
apart, as if the top-boots were familiar to them,
actually winked upon the housekeeper with his
infant eye, in imitation of his grandfather.

" There's a naughty boy, mum," said Mr.
Weller, bursting with delight ; " there's a im-
moral Tony ! Wos there ever a little chap o'
four year and eight months old as vinked his eye
at a strange lady afore ? "

As little affected by this observation as by
the former appeal to his feelings, ]Master Weller
elevated in the air a small model of a coach
whip which he carried in his hand, and address-
ing the housekeeper with a shrill " Ya — hip ! "
inquired if she was " going down the road;" at
which happy adaptation of a lesson he had been
taught from infancy, Mr. Weller could restrain
his feelings no longer, but gave him twopence
on the spot.

" It's in wain to deny it, mum," said Mr.
Weller, *' this here is a boy arter his grandfather's
own heart, and beats out all the boys as ever
wos or will be. Though at the same time,
mum," added Mr. Weller, trying to look gravely
down upon his favourite, " it was wery wrong on
him to want to over all the posts as we come
.along, and wery cruel on him to force poor
grandfather to lift him cross-legged over every
vun of 'em. He wouldn't pass vun single blessed

post, mum, and at the top o' the lane there's
seven-and-forty on 'em all in a row, and wery
close together."

Here Mr. Weller, whose feelings were in a
perpetual conflict between pride in his grand-
son's achievements and a sense of his own re-
sponsibility, and the importance of impressing
him with moral truths, burst into a fit of laughter,
and, suddenly checking himself, rem.arked in a
severe tone that little boys as made their grand-
fathers put 'em over posts never went to heaven
at any price.

By this time the housekeeper had made tea,
and little Tony, placed on a chair beside her,
with his eyes nearly on a level with the top of
the table, was provided with various delicacies
which yielded him extreme contentment. The
housekeeper (who seemed rather afraid of the
child, notwithstanding her caresses) then patted
him on the head, and declared that he was the
finest boy she had ever seen.

" Wy, mum," said Mr. Weller, " I don't think
you'll see a many sich, and that's the truth. But
if my son Samivel vould give me my vay, mum,

and only dis-pense with his Might I wen-

ter to say the vurd ? "

" What word, Mr. Weller ? " said the house-
keeper, blushing slightly.

" Petticuts, mum," returned that gentleman,
laying his hand upon the garments of his grand-
son. " If my son Samivel, mum, vould only dis-
pense vith these here, you'd see such a alteration
in his appearance as the imagination can't de-

" But what would you have the child wear
instead, Mr. Weller ? " said the housekeeper.

" I've offered my son Samivel, mum, agen
and agen," returned the old gentleman, " to
punvide him at my own cost vitli a suit o' clothes
as 'ud be the makin' on him, and form his mind
in infancy for those pursuits as I hope the family
o' the Vellers.vill alvays dewote themselves to.
Tony, my boy, tell the lady wot them clothes
are, as grandfather says father ought to let you

" A little white hat and a little sprig weskut
and little knee cords and little top-boots and a
little green coat with little bright buttons and
a little welwet collar," replied Tony, with great
readiness and no stops.

" That's the cos-toom, mum," said Mr. Weller,
looking proudly at the housekeeper. " Once
make sich a model on him as that, and you'd
say he luos a angel ! "

Perhaps the housekeeper thought that in such
a guise young Tony would look more like the
angel at Islington than anything else of that



name, or perhaps she was disconcerted to find
her previously -conceived ideas disturbed, as
angels are not commonly represented in top-
boots and sprig waistcoats. She coughed doubt-
fully, but said nothing.

" How many brothers and sisters have you,
my dear?" she asked after a short silence.

" One brother and no sister at all," replied
Tony. " Sam his name is, and so's my father's.
Do you know my father ?"

" Oh yes, I know him ! " said the housekeeper

" Is my father fond of you ? " pursued Tony.

" I hope so," rejoined the smiling house-

Tony considered a moment, and then said,
*•■ Is my grandfather fond of you ? "

This would seem a very easy question to
answer, but, instead of replying to it, the house-
keeper smiled in great confusion, and said that
really children did ask such extraordinary ques-
tions that it was the most difficult thing in the
ivorld to talk to them. Mr. Weller took upon
himself to reply that he was very fond of the
lady ; but the housekeeper entreating that he
would not put such things into the child's head,
Mr. Weller shook his own while she looked
another way, and seemed to be troubled with a
misgiving that captivation was in progress. It
was, perhaps, on this account that he changed
the subject precipitately.

" It's wery wrong in little boys to make game
o' their grandfathers, an't it, mum ? " said Mr.
Weller, shaking his head waggishly until Tony
looked at him, when he counterfeited the deepest
dejection and sorrow.

" Oh, very sad ! " assented the housekeeper.
■" But I hope no little boys do that ? "

" There is vun young Turk, mum," said Mr.
Weller, " as havin' seen his grandfather a little
overcome vith drink on the occasion of a friend's
birthday, goes a reelin' and staggerin' about the
house, and makin' believe that he's the old

"Oh, quite shocking!" cried the house-

" Yes, mum," said Mr. Weller ; " and pre-
viously to so doin', this here young traitor that
I'm a speakin' of, pinches his little nose to make
it red, and then he gives a hiccup and says,
' I'm all right,' he says ; ' give us another song ! '
Ha, ha ! ' Give us another song ! ' he says.
Ha, ha, ha ! "

In his excessive delight, Mr. Weller was quite
unmindful of his moral responsibility, until little
Tony kicked up his legs, and, laughing immo-
derately, cried, " That was me, that was ;" where-

upon the grandfather, by a great eflfort, became

extremely solemn.

" No, Tony, not you," said Mr. Weller. " I
hope it warn't you, Tony. It must ha' been
that 'ere naughty little chap as comes sometimes
out o' the empty watch-box round the corner, —
that same little chap as wos found standing on
the table afore the looking-glass, pretending to
shave himself vith a oyster knife."

" He didn't hurt himself, I hope ? " observed
the housekeeper.

" Not he, mum," said Mr. Weller proudly ;
" bless your heart, you might trust that 'ere boy
vith a steam-engine a'most, he's such a knowing

young " But suddenly recollecting himself,

and observing that Tony perfectly understood
and appreciated the compliment, the old gentle-
man groaned, and observed that " it wos all wery
shockin' — wery."

" Oh, he's a bad 'un ! " said Mr. Weller, " is that
'ere watch-box boy, makin' such a noise and litter
in the back-yard, he does, waterin' wooden horses
and feedin' of 'em vith grass, and perpetivally
spillin' his little brother out of a veelbarrow and
frightenin' his mother out of her vits, at the
v/ery moment wen she's expectin' to increase his
stock of happiness vith another playfeller. Oh,
he's a bad one ! He's even gone so far as to
put on a pair of paper spectacles as he got his
father to make for him, and walk up and down,
the garden vith his hands behind him in imita-
tion of Mr. Pickwick, — but Tony don't do sich
things, oh no ! "

" Oh no ! " echoed Tony.

" He knows better, he does," said Mr. Weller.
" He knows that if he wos to come sich games
as these nobody wouldn't love him, and that
his grandfather in partickler couldn't abear the
sight on him ; for vich reasons Tony's always

"Always good," echoed Tony; and his
grandfather immediately took him on his knee
and kissed him, at the same time, with ihany
nods and winks, slily pointing at the child's
head with his thumb, in order that the house-
keeper, otherwise deceived by the admirable
manner in which he (Mr. Weller) had sustained
his character, might not suppose that any other
young gentleman was referred to, and might
clearly understand that the boy of the watch-
box was but an imaginary creation, and a fetch
of Tony himself, invented for his improvement
and reformation.

Not confining himself to a mere verbal de-
scription of his grandson's abilities, Mr. Weller,
when tea was finished, invited him by various
gifts of pence and halfpence to smoke imaginary



pipes, drink visionary beer from real pots, imi-
tate his grandfather without reserve, and in par-
ticular to go through the drunken scene, which
threw the old gentleman into ecstasies, and filled
the housekeeper with wonder. Nor was Mr.
Wellers pride satisfied with even this display,
for when he took his leave he carried the child,
like some rare and astonishing curiosity, first to
the barber's house, and afterwards to the tobac-
conist's, at each of which places he repeated his
performances with the utmost effect to applaud-
ing and delighted audiences. It was half-past
nine o'clock when Mr. Weller was last seen
carrying him home upon his shoulder, and it
has been whispered abroad that at that time the
infant Tony was rather intoxicated.''

[Master Humphrey is revived thus, at the close of the
Old Curiosity Shop, merely to introduce Barnaby

I was musing the other evening upon the
characters and incidents with which I had been
so long engaged ; wondering how I could ever
have looked forward with pleasure to the com-
pletion of my tale, and reproaching myself for
having done so, as if it were a kind of cruelty to
those companions of my solitude whom I had
now dismissed, and could never again recall;
when my clock struck ten. Punctual to the
hour, my friends appeared.

On our last night of meeting we had finished
the story which the reader has just concluded.
Our conversation took the same current as the
meditations which the entrance of my friends
had interrupted, and The Old Curiosity Shop
was the staple of our discourse.

I may confide to the reader now, that in con-
nection with this little history I had something
upon my mind ; something to communicate
which I had all along with difficulty repressed ;
something I had deemed it, during the progress
of the story, necessary to its interest to disguise,
and which, now that it was over, I wished, and
was yet reluctant, to disclose.

To conceal anything from those to Avhom I
am attached is not in my nature. I can never
close my lips where I have opened my heart.
This temper, and the consciousness of having
done some violence to it in my narrative, laid
me under a restraint which I should have had
great difficulty in overcoming, but for a timely
remark from Mr. Miles, who, as I hinted in a
former paper, is a gentleman of business habits,
and of great exactness and propriety in all his

* Old Curiosity Shop is continued from here to the
end without farther break.

"I could have wished," my friend objected,
"that we had been made acquainted with the
single gentleman's name. I don't like his with-
holding his name. It made me look upon him
at first with suspicion, and caused me to doubt
his moral character, I assure you. I am fully
satisfied by this time of his being a worthy
creature ; but in this respect he certainly would
not appear to have acted at all like a man of

" My friends," said I, drawing to the table, at
which they were by this time seated in their
usual chairs, " do you remember that this story
bore another title besides that one we have so
often heard of late ? "

Mr. Miles had his pocket-book out in an
instant, and referring to an entry therein, re-
joined, " Certainly. Personal Adventures of
Master Humphrey. Here it is. I made a note
of it at the time."

I was about to resume what I had to tell them,
when the same Mr. Miles again interrupted me,
observing that the narrative originated in a per-
sonal adventure of my own, and that was no
doubt the reason for its being thus designated.

This led me to the point at once.

" You will one and all forgive me," I returned,
" if, for the greater convenience of the story, and
for its better introduction, that adventure was
fictitious. I had my share, indeed, — no light or
trivial one, — in the pages we have read, but it
was not the share I feigned to have at first. The
younger brother, the single gentleman, the name-
less actor in this little drama, stands before you

It was easy to see they had not expected this

" Yes ! " I pursued. " I can look back upon
my part in it with a calm, half-smiling pity for
myself, as for some other man. But I am he,
indeed ; and now the chief sorrows of my life
are yours."

I need not say what true gratification I de-
rived from the sympathy and kindness with
which this acknowledgment was received ; nor
how often it had risen to my lips before ; nor
how difficult I had found it — how impossible,
when I came to those passages which touched
me most, and most nearly concerned me — to
sustain the character I had assumed. It is
enough to say that I replaced in the clock-case
the record of so many trials, — sorrowfully, it is
true, but with a softened sorrow which was
almost pleasure ; and felt that in living through
the past again, and communicating to others the
lesson it had helped to teach me, I had been a
happier man.



We lingered so long over the leaves from which
I had read, that, as I consigned them to their
former resting-place, the hand of my trusty clock
pointed to twelve, and there came towards us
upon the wind the voice of the deep and distant
bellof St. Paul'sasit struck the hour of midnight.

" This," said I, returning with a manuscript I
had taken at the moment from the same reposi-
tory, " to be opened to such music, should be
a tale where London's face by night is darkly
seen, and where some deed of such a time as
this is dimly shadowed out. Which of us here
has seen the working of that great machine
whose voice has just now ceased?"

Mr. Pickwick had, of course, and so had Mr.
Miles. Jack and my deaf friend were in the

I had seen it but a few days before, and could
not help telling them of the fancy I had about it.

I paid my fee of twopence upon entering, to
one of the money-changers who sit within the
Temple ; and falling, after a few turns up and
down, into the quiet train of thought which such
a place awakens, paced the echoing stones like
some old monk whose present world lay all
within its walls. As I looked afar up into the
lofty dome, I could not help wondering what
were his reflections whose genius reared that
mighty pile, when, the last small wedge of timber
fixed, the last nail driven into its home for many
centuries, the clang of hammers and the hum of
busy voices gone, and the Great Silence whole
years of noise had helped to make, reigning un-
disturbed around, he mused, as I did now, upon
his work, and lost himself amid its vast extent.
I could not quite determine whether the con-
templation of it would impress him with a sense
of greatness or of insignificance ; but when I re-
membered how long a time it had taken to erect,
m how short a space it might be traversed even
to its remotest parts, for how brief a term he, or
any of those who cared to bear his name, would
live to see it, or know of its existence, I ima-
gined him far more melancholy than proud, and
looking with regret upon his labour done. With
these thoughts in my mind, I began to ascend,
almost unconsciously, the flight of steps leading
to the several wonders of the building, and found
myself before a barrier where another money-
taker sat, who demanded which among them I
would choose to see. There were the stone
gallery, he said, and the whispering gallery, the
geometrical staircase, the room of models, the

clock The clock being quite in my way,

I stopped him there, and chose that sight from
all the rest.

I groped my way into the Turret which it

occupies, and saw before me, in a kind of loft,
what seemed to be a great, old oaken press with
folding doors. These being thrown back by the
attendant (who was sleeping when I came upon
him, and looked a drowsy fellow, as though liis
close companionship with Time had made him
quite indifferent to it), disclosed a complicated
crowd of wheels and chains in iron and brass, —
great, sturdy, rattling engines, — suggestive of
breaking a finger put in here or there, and grind-
ing the bone to powder, — and these were the
Clock ! Its very pulse, if I may use the word,
was like no other clock. It did not mark the
flight of every moment with a gentle second
stroke, as though it would check old Time, and
have him stay his pace in pity, but measured it
with one sledge-hammer beat, as if its business
were to crush the seconds as they came trooping
on, and remorselessly to clear a path before the
Day of Judgment.

I sat down opposite to it, and hearing its re-
gular and never-changing voice, that one deep
constant note, uppermost amongst all the noise
and clatter in the streets below, — marking that,
let that tumult rise or fall, go on, or stop, — let it
be night or noon, to-morrow or to-day, this year
or next, — it still performed its functions with the
same dull constancy, and regulated the progress
of the life around, the fancy came upon me that
this was London's Heart, and that when it should
cease to beat, the City would be no more.

-It is night. Calm and unmoved amidst the
scenes that darkness favours, the great heart of
London throbs in its Giant breast. Wealth and
beggary, vice and virtue, guilt and innocence, re-
pletion and the direst hunger, all treading on
each other and crowding together, are gathered
round it. Draw but a little circle above the
clustering housetops, and you shall have within
its space everything, with its opposite extreme
and contradiction, close beside. Where yonder
feeble light is shining, a man is but this moment
dead. The taper at a {^\n yards' distance is
seen by eyes that have this instant opened on
the world. There are two houses separated
by but an inch or two of wall. In one, there
are quiet minds at rest ; in the other, a waking
conscience that one might think would trouble
the very air. In that close corner, where the
roofs shrink down and cower together as if to
hide their secrets from the handsome street
hard by, there are such dark crimes, such miseries
and horrors, as could be hardly told in whis-
pers. In the handsome street there are folks
asleep who have dwelt there all their lives, and
have no more knowledge of these things than if
they had never been, or were transacted at the



remotest limits of the world, — who, if they were
hinted at, would shake their heads, look wise,
and frown, and say they were impossible, and
out of Nature, — as if all great towns were not.
Does not this Heart of London, that nothing
moves, nor stops, nor quickens, — that goes on
the same let what will be done, — does it not
express the City's character well ?

The day begins to break, and soon there is
the hum and noise of life. Those who have spent
the night on door-steps and cold stones crawl
off to beg \ they who have slept in beds come
forth to their occupation, too, and business is
astir. The fog of sleep rolls slowly off, and
London shines awake. The streets are filled
with carriages, and people gaily clad. The gaols
are full, too, to the throat, nor have the work-
houses or hospitals much room to spare. The
courts of law are crowded. Taverns have their
regular frequenters by this time, and every mart
of traffic has its throng. Each of these places is
a world, and has its own inhabitants ; each is
distinct from, and almost unconscious of, the
existence of any other. There are some few
people well to do, who remember to have heard
it said that numbers of men and women —
thousands, they think it was — get up in London
every day, unknowing where to lay their heads
at night ; and that there are quarters of the town
where misery and famine always are. They
don't believe it quite, — there may be some truth
in it, but it is exaggerated, of course. So, each
of these thousand worlds goes on, intent upon
itself, until night comes again, — first with its
lights and pleasures, and its cheerful streets ;
then with its guilt and darkness.

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 58 of 103)