Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 59 of 103)
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Heart of London, there is a moral in thy every
stroke ! As I look on at thy indomitable work-
ing, which neither death, nor press of life, nor
grief, nor gladness out of doors will influence
one jot, I seem to hear a voice within thee which
sinks into my heart, bidding me, as I elbow my
way among the crowd, have some thought for
the meanest wretch that passes, and, being a
man, to turn away with scorn and pride from
none that bear the human shape.

I am by no means sure that I might not have
been tempted to enlarge upon the subject, had
not the papers that lay before me on the table
been a silent reproach for even this digression.
I took them up again when I had got thus far,
and seriously prepared to read.

The handwriting was strange to me, for the
manuscript had been fairly copied. As it is
against our rules, in such a case, to inquire into
the authorship until the reading is concluded, I



could only glance at the different faces round
me, in search of some expression which should
betray the writer. Whoever he might be, he
was [)repared for this, and gave no sign for my
enlightenment.

I had the papers in my hand, when my deaf
friend interposed with a suggestion.

"It has occurred to me," he said, " bearing in
mind your sequel to the tale we have finished,
that if such of us as have anything to relate of our
own lives could interweave it with our contribu-
tion to the Clock, it would be well to do so. This
need be no restraint upon us, either as to time,
or place, or incident, since any real passage of
this kind may be surrounded by fictitious cir-
cumstances, and represented by fictitious cha-
racters. What if we make this an article of
agreement among ourselves ?"

The proposition was cordially received, but
the difficulty appeared to be that here was a
long story written before we had thought of it.

" Unless," said I, " it should have happened
that the writer of this tale — which is not impos-
sible, for men are apt to do so when they write
— has actually mingled with it something of his
own endurance and experience."

Nobody spoke, but I thought I detected in
one quarter that this was really the case.

"If I have no assurance to the contrary,'" I
added, therefore, " I shall take it for granted
that he has done so, and that even these papers
come within our new agreement. Everybody
being mute, we hold that understanding, if you
please."

And here I was about to begin again, when
Jack informed us softly, that during the progress
of our last narrative, Mr. Wellefs Watch had
adjourned its sittings from the kitchen, and re-
gularly met outside our door, where he had no
doubt that august body would be found at the
present moment. As this was for the convenience
of listening to our stories, he submitted that
they might be suffered to come in, and hear
them more pleasantly.

To this we one and all yielded a ready assent,
and the party being discovered, as Jack had
supposed, and invited to walk in, entered (though
not without great confusion at having been de-
tected), and were accommodated with chairs at a
little distance.

Then, the lamp being trimmed, the fire well
stirred and burning brightly, the hearth clean
swept, the curtains closely drawn, the clock
wound up, we entered on our new story, —
Barnaby Rudge.



PLEASANT FANCTES.



303



[This is, as indicated, the final appearance of Master
Humphrey's Clock. It forms the conclusion of Biunaby
Rudge.]

It is again midnight. My fire burns cheer-
fully ; the room is filled with my old fi-iend's
sober voice ; and I am left to muse upon the
' story we have just now finished.

It makes me smile, at such a time as this, to
think if there were any one to see me sitting in
my easy-chair, my grey head hanging down, my
eyes bent thoughtfully upon the glowing embers,
and my crutch — emblem of my helplessness —
lying upon the hearth at my feet, how solitary I
should seem. Yet, though I am the sole tenant
of this chimney-corner, though I am childless
and old, I have no sense of loneliness at this
hour ; but am the centre of a silent group whose
company I love.

Thus, even age and weakness have their con-
solations. If I were a younger man, if I were
more active, more strongly bound and tied to
life, these visionary friends would shun me, or I
should desire to fly from them. Being what I
am, I can court their society, and delight in it ;
and pass whole hours in picturing to myself the
shadows that perchance flock every night into
this chamber, and in imagining with pleasure
what kind of interest they have in the frail,
feeble mortal who is its sole inhabitant.

All the friends I have ever lost I find again
among these visitors. I love to fancy their
spirits hovering about me, feeling still some
earthly kindness for their old companion, and
watching his decay. " He is weaker, he de-
clines apace, he draws nearer and nearer to us,
and will soon be conscious of our existence."
What is there to alarm me in this ? It is en-
couragement and hope.

These thoughts have never crowded on me
half so fast as they have done to-night. Faces
I had long forgotten have become familiar to
me once again ; traits I had endeavoured to
recall for years have come before me in an
instant ; nothing is changed but me ; and even
I can be my former self at will.

Raising my eyes but now to the face of my
old clock, I remember, quite involuntarily, the
veneration, not unmixed with a sort of childish
awe, with which I used to sit and watch it as
it ticked, unheeded in a dark staircase corner.
I recollect looking more grave and steady when
I met its dusty face, as if, having that strange
kind of life within it, and being free from all
excess of vulgar appetite, and warning all the
house by night and day, it were a sage. How
often have I listened to it as it told the beads
of time, and wondered at its constancy ! How



often watched it slowly pointing round the dial,
and, while I panted for the eagerly-expected
hour to come, admired, despite myself, its
steadiness of purpose and lofty freedom from
all human strife, impatience, and desire !

I thought it cruel once. It was very hard of
heart, to my mind, I remember. It was an old
servant even then ; and I felt as though it ought
to show some sorrow; as though it wanted
sympathy with us in our distress, and were a
dull, heartless, mercenary creature. Ah ! how
soon I learnt to know that in its ceaseless going
on, and in its being checked or stayed by
nothing, lay its greatest kindness, and the only
balm for grief and wounded peace of mind !

To-night, to-night, when this tranquillity and
calm are on my spirits, and memory presents so
many shifting scenes before me, I take my quiet
stand at will by many a fire that has been long
extinguished, and mingle with the cheerful
group that cluster round it. If I could be sor-
rowful in such a mood, I should grow sad to
think what a poor blot I was upon their youth
and beauty once, and now how few remain to
put me to the blush ; I should grow sad to
think that such among them as I sometimes
meet with in my daily walks are scarcely less
infirm than I ; that time has brought us to a
level; and that all distinctions fade and vanish
as we take our trembling steps towards the
grave.

But memory was given us for better purposes
than this, and mine is not a torment, but a
source of pleasure. To muse upon the gaiety
and youth I have known suggests to me glad
scenes of harmless mirth that may be passing
now. From contemplating them apart, I soon
become an actor in these Httle dramas, and,
humouring my fancy, lose myself among the
beings it invokes.

When my fire is bright and high, and a warm
blush mantles in the walls and ceiling of this
ancient room ; when my clock makes cheerful
music, like one of those chirping insects who
delight in the warm hearth, and are sometimes,
by a good superstition, looked upon as the har-
bingers of fortune and plenty to that household
in whose mercies they put their humble trust;
when everything is in a ruddy genial glow, and
there are voices in the crackling flame, and
smiles in its flashing light, other smiles and
other voices congregate around me, invading,
with their pleasant harmony, the silence of the
time.

For then a knot of youthful creatures gather
round my fireside, and the room re-echoes to
their merry voices. My solitary chair no longer



304



MASTER HUMPHREY'S CLOCK.



holds its ample place before the fire, but is
wheeled into a smaller corner, to leave more
room for the broad circle formed about the
cheerful hearth. I have sons, and daughters,
and grandchildren, and we are assembled on
some occasion of rejoicing common to us all.
It is a birthday, perhaps, or perhaps it may be
Christmas-time _; but, be it what it may, there is
rare holiday among us ; we are full of glee.

In the chimney-corner, opposite myself, sits
one who has grown old beside me. She is
changed, of course ; much changed ; and yet I
recognise the girl even in that grey hair and
wrinkled brow. Glancing from the laughing
child who half hides in her ample skirts, and
half peeps out, — and from her to the little
matron of twelve years old, who sits so womanly
and so demure at no great distance from me, —
and from her, again, to a fair girl in the full
bloom of early womanhood, the centre of the
group, who has glanced more than once towards
the opening door, and by whom the children,
whispering and tittering among themselves, will
leave a vacant chair, although she bids them
not, — I see her image thrice repeated, and feel
how long it is before one form and set of fea-
tures wholly pass away, if ever, from among the
living. While I am dwelling upon this, and
tracing out the gradual change from infancy to
youth, from youth to perfect growth, from that
to age, and thinking, with an old man's pride,
that she is comely yet, I feel a slight thin hand
upon my arm, and, looking down, see seated at
my feet a crippled boy, — a gentle, patient child,
— whose aspect I know well. He rests upon a
little crutch, — I know it too, — and, leaning on
it as he climbs my footstool, whispers in my
ear, " I am hardly one of these, dear grand-
father, although I love them dearly. They are
very kind to me, but you will be kinder still, I
know."

I have my hand upon his neck, and stoop
to kiss him, when my clock strikes, my chair is
in its old spot, and I am alone.

What if I be ? What if this fireside be tenant-
less, save for the presence of one weak old man ?
From my housetop I can look upon a hundred
homes, in every one of which these social com-
panions are matters of reality. In my daily
walks I pass a thousand men whose cares are all
forgotten, whose labours are made light, whose
dull routine of work from day to day is cheered
and brightened by their glimpses of domestic joy
at home. Amid the struggles of this struggling
town what cheerful sacrifices are made ; what
toil endured with readiness; what patience shown,
and fortitude displayed, for the mere sake of



home and its affections ! Let me thank Heaven
that I can people my fireside with shadows such
as these ; with shadows of bright objects that
exist in crowds about me ; and let me say, " I
am alone no more."

I never was less so — I write it with a grateful
heart— than I am to-night. Recollections of
the past and visions of the present come to bear
me company ; the meanest man to whom I have
ever given alms appears, to add his mite of peace
and comfort to my stock ; and whenever the fire
within me shall grow cold, to light my path upon
this earth no more, I pray that it may be at such
an hour as this, and when I love the world as
well as I do now.



THE DEAF GENTLEMAN FROM HIS OWN
APARTMENT.

Our dear friend laid down his pen at the end
of the foregoing paragraph, to take it uj) no more.
I little thought ever to employ mine upon so
sorrowful a task as that which he has left me,
and to which I now devote it.

As he did not appear among us at his usual
hour next morning, we knocked gently at his
door. No answer being given, it was softly
opened; and then, to our surprise, we saw
him seated before the ashes of his fire, with
a little table I was accustomed to set at his
elbow when I left him for the night at a short
distance from him, as though he had pushed it
away with the idea of rising and retiring to his
bed. His crutch and footstool lay at his feet as
usual, and he was dressed in his chamber-gown,
which he had put on before I left him. He was
reclining in his chair, in his accustomed posture,
with his face towards the fire, and seemed ab-
sorbed in meditation ; indeed, at first, we almost
hoped he was.

Going up to him, we found him dead. I have
often, very often, seen him sleeping, and always
peacefully, but I never saw him look so calm
and tranquil. His face wore a serene, benign
expression, which had impressed me very strongly
when we last shook hands ; not that he had ever
had any other look, God knows ; but there was
something in this so very spiritual, so strangely
and indefinably allied to youth, although hia
head was grey and venerable, that it was new
even in him. It came upon me all at once when
on some slight pretence he called me back upon
the previous night to take me by the hand again,
and once more say, " God bless you ! "

A bell-rope hung within his reach, but he had
not moved towards it ; nor had he stirred, we
all agreed, except, as I have said, to push away



THE WILL.



305



his table, which he could have done, and no
doubt did, with a very slight motion of his hand.
He had relapsed for a moment into his late train
of meditation, and, with a thoughtful smile upon
liis face, had died.

I had long known it to be his wish, that
whenever this event should come to pass, we
might be all assembled in the house. I therefore
lost no time in sending for Mr. Pickwick and
for Mr. Miles, both of whom arrived before the
messenger's return.

It is not my purpose to dilate upon the sorrow
and affectionate emotions of which I was at once
the witness and the sharer. But I may say, of
the humbler mourners, that his faithful house-
keeper was fairly heart-broken ; that the poor
barber would not be comforted ; and that I shall
respect the homely tmth and warmth of heart of
Mr. Weller and his son to the last moment of
my life.

"And the sweet old creetur, sir," said the
elder Mr. Weller to me in the afternoon, " has
bolted. Him as had no wice, and was so free
from temper that a infant might ha' drove him,
has been took at last with that 'ere unawoidable
fit o' staggers as we all must come to, and gone
off" his feed for ever ! I see him," said the old
gentleman, with a moisture in his eye which
could not be mistaken, — " I see him gettin',
every journey, more and more groggy ; I says to
Samivel, ' My boy ! the Grey's a-goin' at the
knees;' and now my predilictions is fatally
werified, and him as I could never do enough to
serve, or show my likin' for, is up the great uni-
wersal spout o' natur'."

I was not the less sensible of the old man's
attachment because he expressed it in his pecu-
liar manner. Indeed, I can truly assert, of both
him and his son, that notwithstanding the ex-
traordinary dialogues they held together, and
the strange commentaries and corrections with
which each of them illustrated the other's speech,
I do not think it possible to exceed the sincerity
of their regret ; and that I am sure their tliought-
fulness and anxiety in anticipating the discharge
of many little offices of sympathy would have
done honour to the most delicate-minded per-
sons.

Our friend had frequently told us that his will
would be found in a box in the Clock-case, the
key of which was in his writing-desk. As he
had told us also that he desired it to be opened
immediately after his death, whenever that
should happen, we met together that night for
the fulfilment of his request.

We found it where he had told us, wrapped
in a sealed paper, and with it a codicil of recent
Edwin Drood, Etc, 20.



date, in which he named Mr. Miles and Mr.
Pickwick his executors, — as having no need of
any greater benefit from his estate than a generous
token (which he bequeathed to them) of his
friendship and remembrance.

After pointing out the spot in which he wished
his ashes to repose, he gave to " his dear old
friends," Jack Redburn and myself, his house,
his books, his furniture, — in short, all that his
house contained ; and with this legacy more
ample means of maintaining it in its present state
tlian we, with our habits and at our terms of life,
can ever exhaust. Besides these gifts, he left to
us, in trust, an annual sum of no insignificant
amount, to be distributed in charity among his
accustomed pensioners — they are a long list —
and such other claimants on his bounty as might,
from time to time, present themselves. And, as
true charity not only covers a multitude of sins,
but includes a multitude of virtues, such as for-
giveness, liberal construction, gentleness and
mercy to the faults of others, and the remem-
brance of our own imperfections and advantages,
he bade us not inquire too closely into the venial
errors of the poor, but, finding that they were
\ioox, first to relieve, and then endeavour — at an
advantage — to reclaim them.

To the housekeeper he left an annuity, suffi-
cient for her comfortable maintenance and sup-
port througli life. For the barber, who had
attended him many years, he made a similar pro-
vision. And I may make two remarks in this
place : first, that I think this pair are very likely
to club their means together, and make a match
of it ; and secondly, that I think my friend had
this result in his mind, for I have heard him say,
more than once, that he could not concur with
the generality of mankind in censuring equal
marriages made in later life, since there were
man}' cases in which such unions could not fail
to be a wise and rational source of happiness to
both parties.

The elder Mr. Weller is so far from viewing
this prospect with any feelings of jealousy, that
he appears to be very much relieved by its con-
templation ; and his son, if I am not mistaken,
participates in this feeling. We are all of opinion,
however, that the old gentleman's danger, even
at its crisis, was very slight, and that he merely
laboured under one of those transitory weak-
nesses to wliich persons of his temperament are
now and then liable, and wliich become less
and less alarming at every return, until they
wholly subside. I have no doubt he will remain
a jolly old widower for the rest of his life, as he
has already infjuired of me, with much gravity,
whether a writ of habeas corpus would enable



3o6



MASTER HUMPHREY'S CLOCK.



him to settle his property upon Tony beyond
the possibihty of recall ; and has, in my pre-
sence, conjured his son, with tears in his eyes,
that in the event of his ever becoming amorous
again, he will put him in a strait waistcoat until
the fit is past, and distinctly inform the lady
that his property is " made over."

Although I have very little doubt that Sam
would dutifully comply with these injunctions in
a case of extreme necessity, and that he would
do so with perfect composure and coolness, I
do not apprehend things will ever come to that
pass, as the old gentleman seems perfectly happy
in the society of his son, his pretty daughter-in-
law, and his grandchildren, and has solemnly
announced his determination to "take arter the
old 'un in all respects ; " from which I infer that
it is his intention to regulate his conduct by the
model of Mr. Pickwick, who will certainly set
him the example of a single life.

I have diverged for a moment from the sub-
ject with which I set out, for I know that my
friend was interested in these little matters, and
1 have a natural tendency to linger upon any
topic that occupied his thoughts, or gave him
pleasure and amusement. His remaining wishes
are very briefly told. He desired that we would
make him the frequent subject of our conversa-
tion ; at the same time, that we would never
speak of him with an air of gloom or restraint,
but frankly, and as one whom we still loved
and hoped to meet again. He trusted that the
old house would wear no aspect of mourning,
but that it would be lively and cheerful ; and
that we would not remove or cover up his pic-
ture, which hangs in our dining-room, but make
it our companion as he had been. His own
room, our place of meeting, remains, at his de-
sire, in its accustomed state ; our seats are
placed about the table as of old ; his easy-chair,
his desk, his crutch, his footstool, hold their
accustomed places ; and the clock stands in its
familiar corner. We go into the chamber at
stated times to see that all is as it should be,
and to take care that the light and air are not



shut out, for on that point he expressed a strong
solicitude. But it was his fancy that the apart-
ment should not be inhabited ; that it should be
religiously preserved in this condition, and that
the voice of his old companion should be heard
no more.

My own history may be summed up in very
few words ; and even those I should have spared
the reader but for my friend's allusion to me
some time since. I have no deeper sorrow than
the loss of a child, — an only daughter, who is
living, and who fled from her father's house but
a few weeks before our friend and I first met. I
had never spoken of this even to him, because
I have always loved her, and I could not bear
to tell him of her error until I could tell him
also of her sorrow and regret. Happily I was
enabled to do so some time ago. And it will
not be long, with Heaven's leave, before she is
restored to me ; before I find in her and her
husband the support of my declining years.

For my pipe, it is an old relic of home, a
thing of no great worth, a poor trifle, but sacred
to me for her sake.

Thus, since the death of our venerable friend,
Jack Redburn and I have been the sole tenants
of the old house ; and, day by day, have lounged
together in his favourite walks. ^lindful of his
injunctions, we have long been able to speak of
him with ease and cheerfulness, and to remem-
ber him as he would be remembered. From
certain allusions which Jack has dropped to his
having been deserted and cast oft' in early life,
I am inclined to believe that some passages of
his youth may possibly be shadowed out in the
history of Mr. Chester and his son ; but, seeing
that he avoids the subject, I have not pur-
sued it.

My task is done. The chamber in which we
have whiled away so many hours — not, I hope,
without some pleasure and some profit' — is de-
serted ; our happy hour of meeting strikes no
more ; the chimney-corner has grown old ; and
Master Humphrey's Clock, has stopped for
ever.



THE END OF MASTER HUMPHREY'S CLOCK.




HUNTED DOWN.

[i860.]




'OST of us see some romances in life.
In my capacity as Chief Manager of
a Life Assurance Ofifice, I think I
have within the last thirty years seen
more romances than the generality
of men, however unpromising the
opportunity may, at first sight, seem.
As I have retired, and live at my ease,
I possess the means that I used to want, of con-
sidering what I have seen, at leisure. My ex-
periences have a more remarkable aspect, so
reviewed, than they had when they were in pro-
gress. I have come home from the Play now,
and can recall the scenes of the Drama upon
which the curtain has fallen, free from the glare,
bewilderment, and bustle of the Theatre.



Let me recall one of these Romances of the
real world.

There is nothing truer than physiognomy,
taken in connection with manner. The art of
reading that book of which Eternal Wisdom
obliges every human creature to present his or
her own page with the individual character
written on it, is a difficult one, perhaps, and is
little studied. It may require some natural
aptitude, and it must require (for everything
does) some patience and some pains. That
these are not usually given to it,— that numbers
of people accept a few stock commonplace ex-
pressions of the face as the whole list of charac-
teristics, and neither seek nor know the refine-
ments that are truest, — that You, for instance,
give a great deal of time and attention to the
reading of music, Greek, Latin, French, Italian,



3o8



HUNTED DOWN.



Hebrew, if you please, and do not qualify your-
self to read the face of the master or mistress
looking over your shoulder teaching it to you, —
I assume to be five hundred times more probable



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 59 of 103)