Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 62 of 103)
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ensued. Anxiously I awaited my signal ; but my
signal came not. So far from falling, the hated
Drowvey in spectacles appeared to me to have
mufiled the colonel's head in his outlawed ban-
ner, and to be pitching into him with a parasol.
The one in the lavender bonnet also performed
prodigies of valour with her fists on his back.
Seeing that all was for the moment lost, I fought



my desperate way hand to hand to the lane.
Through taking the back-road, I was so fortu-
nate as to meet nobody, and arrived there unin-
terrupted.

It seemed an age ere the colonel joined me.
He had been to the jobbing tailor's to be sewn
up in several places, and attributed our defeat
to the refusal of the detested Drowvey to fall.
Finding her so obstinate, he had said to her,
" Die, recreant ! " but had found her no more
open to reason on that point than the other.

My blooming bride appeared, accompanied
by the colonel's bride, at the dancing school
next day. What ! Was her face averted from
me ? Hah ! Even so. With a look of scorn,
she put into my hand a bit of paper, and took
another partner. On the paper was pencilled,
" Heavens ! Can I write the word ? Is my
husband a cow ? "

In the first bewilderment of my heated brain,
I tried to think what slanderer could have traced
my family to the ignoble animal mentioned above.
Vain were my endeavours. At the end of that
dance I whispered the colonel to come into the
cloak-room, and I showed him the note.

" There is a syllable wanting," said he with a
gloomy brow.

" Hah ! What syllable ? " was my inquir)'.
" She asks, can she write the word ? And
no ; you see she couldn't," said the colonel,
pointing out the passage.

" And the word was ? " said I.
"Cow — cow — coward," hissed the pirate-
colonel in my ear, and gave me back the note.

Feeling that I must for ever tread the earth a
branded boy, — person, I mean, — or that I must
clear up my honour, I demanded to be tried by
a court-martial. The colonel admitted my right
to be tried. Some difficulty was found in com-
posing the court, on account of the Emperor of
France's aunt refusing to let him come out. He
was to be the president. Ere yet we had ap-
pointed a substitute, he made his escape over
the back-wall, and stood among us, a free
monarch.

The court was held on the grass by the pond.
I recognised, in a certain admiral among my
judges, my deadliest foe. A cocoa-nut had
given rise to language that I could not brook ;
but confiding in my innocence, and also in the
knowledge that the President of the United
States (who sat next him) owed me a knife, I
braced myself for the ordeal.

It was a solemn spectacle, that court. Two
executioners with pinafores reversed led me in.
Under the shade of an umbrella I perceived my
bride, supported by the bride of the pirate-



320



HOLIDA V ROMANCE.



colonel. The president, having reproved a little
female ensign for tittering on a matter of life or
death, called upon me to plead, " Coward or no
coward, guilty or not guilty ? " I pleaded in a
firm tone, " No coward, and not guilty." (The
little female ensign being again rejiroved by the
president lor misconduct, mutinied, left the court,
and threw stones.)

My implacable enemy, the admiral, conducted
the case against me. The colonel's bride was
called to i)rove that I had remained behind the
corner lamp -post during the engagement. I
might have been spared the anguish of my own
bride's being also made a witness to the same
point, but the admiral knew where to wound
me. Be still, my soul, no matter. The colonel
was then brought forward with his evidence.

It was for this point that I had saved myself
up, as the turning-point of my case. Shaking
myself free of my guards, — who had no busi-
ness to hold me, the stupids, unless I was found
guilty, — I asked the colonel what he considered
the first duty of a soldier ? Ere he could reply,
the President of the United States rose and in-
formed the court that my foe, the admiral, had
suggested " Bravery," and that prompting a wit-
ness wasn't fair. The president of the court
immediately ordered the admiral's mouth to be
filled with leaves, and tied up with string. I had
the satisfaction of seeing the sentence carried
into effect before the proceedings went further.

I then took a paper from my trousers pocket,
and asked, " What do you consider, Col. Red-
forth, the first duty of a soldier? Is it obe-
dience?"

" It is," said the colonel.

" Is that paper — please to look at it — in
your hand ? "

" It is," said the colonel.

" Is it a military sketch ? "

" It is," said the colonel.

" Of an engagement ? "

" Quite so," said the colonel.

'* Of the late engagement ? "

'•' Of the late engagement."

" Please to describe it, and then hand it to
the president of the court."

From that triumphant moment my sufferings
and my dangers were at an end. The court
rose up and jumped, on discovering that I had
strictly obeyed orders. My foe, the admiral,
who, though muzzled, was malignant yet, con-
trived to suggest that I was dishonoured by
having quitted the field. But the colonel him-
self had done as much, and gave his opinion,
upon his word and honour as a pirate, that
when all was lost the field might be quitted



without disgrace. I was going to be found
" No coward, and not guilty," and my blooming
bride was going to be publicly restored to my
arms in a procession, when an unlooked-for
event disturbed the general rejoicing. This was
no other than the Emperor of France's aunt
catching hold of his hair. The proceedings
abruptly terminated, and the court tumultuously
dissolved.

It was when the shades of the next evening
but one were beginning to fall, ere yet the silver
beams of Luna touched the earth, that four
forms might have been descried slowly advanc-
ing towards the weeping willow on the borders
of the pond, the now deserted scene of the day
before yesterday's agonies and triumphs. On a
nearer approach, and by a practised eye, these
might have been identified as the forms of the
pirate-colonel with his bride, and of the day
before yesterday's gallant prisojier with his
bride.

On the beauteous faces of the Nymphs dejec-
tion sat enthroned. All four reclined under the
willow for some minutes without speaking, till
at length the bride of the colonel poutingly
observed, " It's of no use pretending any more,
and we had better give it up."

" Hah !" exclaimed the pirate. "Pretending?"

" Don't go on like that; you worry me," re-
turned his bride.

The lovely bride of Tinkling echoed the in-
credible declaration. The two warriors ex-
changed stony glances.

" If," said the bride of the pirate-colonel,
" grown-up people won't do what they ought to
do, and will put us out, what comes of our
pretending ? "

" We only get into scrapes," said the bride of
Tinkling.

" You know very well," pursued the colonel's
bride, " that Miss Drowvey wouldn't fall. You
complained of it yourself And you know how
disgracefully the court-martial ended. As to our
marriage, would my people acknowledge it at
home ? "

" Or would my people acknowledge ours ? "
said the bride of Tinkling.

Again the two waniors exchanged stony
glances.

" If you knocked at the door and claimed
me, after you were told to go away," said the
colonel's bride, " you would only have your
hair pulled, or your ears, or your nose."

" If you persisted in ringing at the bell and
claiming me," said the bride of Tinkling to that
gentleman, " you would have things dropped on
your head from the window over the handle.



DISSATISFACTION OF THE COLONEL.



321



or you -would be played upon by the garden
engine."

" And at }our own homes,'"' resumed the bride
of the colonel, " it would be just as bad. You
would be sent to bed, or something equally un-
dignified. Again, how would you support us?"

The pirate-colonel replied in a courageous
voice, " By rapine ! " But his bride retorted,
" Suppose the grown-up people wouldn't be
rapined?" "Then," said the colonel, "they
should pay the penalty in blood." — " But sup-
pose they should object," retorted his bride,
" and wouldn't pay the penalty in blood or
anything else ? "

A mournful silence ensued.

" Then do you no longer love me, Alice ? ''
asked the colonel.

" Redforth ! I am ever thine," returned his
bride.

"Then do you no longer love me, Nettie?"
asked the present writer.

" Tinkling ! I am ever thine,'' returned my
bride.

We all four embraced. Let me not be mis-
understood b}- the giddy. The colonel em-
braced his own bride, and I embraced mine.
But two times two make four.

'■' Nettie and I," said Alice mournfully, "have
been considering our position. The grown-up
people are too strong for us. They make us
ridiculous. Besides, they have changed the
times. William Tinkling's baby brother was
christened yesterday. What took place ? Was
any king present? Answer, William."

I said No, unless disguised as Great-uncle
Chopper.

" Any queen ? "

There had been no queen that I knew of at
our house. There might have been one in the
kitchen: but I didn't think so, or the servants
would have mentioned it.

" Any fairies? "

None that were visible.

" We had an idea among us, I think," said
Alice with a melancholy smile, " we four, that
Miss Grimmer would prove to be the wicked
fairy, and would come in at the christening with
her crutch-stick, and give the child a bad gift.
Was there anything of that sort ? Answer,
William."

I said that ma had said afterwards (and so
she had) that Great-uncle Chopper's gift was a
shabby one ; but she hadn't said a bad one.
She had called it shabby, electrotyped, second-
hand, and below his income.

" It must be the grown-up people who have
changed all this," said Alice. " Wc couldn't
Edwin Drood, Etc., 21.



have changed it, if we had been so inclined,
and we never should have been. Or perhaps
Miss Grimmer is a wicked fairy after all, and
won't act up to it because the grown-up people
have persuaded her not to. Either way, they
would make us ridiculous if we told them what
we expected."

" Tyrants ! " muttered the pirate-colonel.

"Nay, my Redforth," said Alice, "say not
so. Call not names, my Redfortli, or they will
apply to pa."

" Let 'em," said the colonel. " I don't care.
Who's he ? "

Tinkling here undertook the perilous task of
remonstrating with his lawless friend, who con-
sented to withdraw the moody expressions above
quoted.

" What remains for us to do ? " Alice went on
in her mild, wise way. " We must educate, wc
must pretend in a new manner, we must wait."

The colonel clenched his teeth, — four out in
front, and a piece of another, and he had been
twice dragged to the door of a dentist-despot,
but had escaped from his guards. " How edu-
cate ? How pretend in a new manner ? How
wait ? "

" Educate the grown-up people," replied
Alice. " We part to-night. Yes, Redforth,"
■ — for the colonel tucked up his cuffs, — "part
to-night ! Let us in these next holidays, now
going to begin, throw our thoughts into some-
thing educational for the grown-up people, hint-
ing to them how things ought to be. Let us
veil our meaning under a mask of romance ; you,
I, and Nettie. William Tinkling, being the
plainest and quickest writer, shall copy out. Is
it agreed ? "

The colonel answered sulkily, " I don't mind."
He then asked, "How about pretending?"

" We will pretend," said Alice, " that we are
children ; not that we are those grown-up people
who won't help us out as they ought, and who
understand us so badly."

The colonel, still much dissatisfied, growled,
" How about waiting ? "

" We will wait," answered little Alice, taking
Nettie's hand in hers, and looking up to the
sky, " we will wait — ever constant and true —
till the times have got so changed as that every-
thing helps us out, and nothing makes us ridi-
culous, and the fairies have come back. We
will wait — ever constant and true — till we are
eighty, ninety, or one hundred. And then the
fairies will send ics children, and* we will help
them out, poor pretty little creatures, if they
pretend ever so much."

" So we will, dear," said Nettie Ashford, tak-



322



HO LID A Y ROMANCE.



ing her round the waist with both arms, and
kissing her. " And now, if my husband will go
and buy some clierrics for us, I have got some
money."

In the friendliest manner I invited the colonel
to go with me; but he so far forgot himself as
to acknowledge the invitation by kicking out
behind, and then lying down on his stomach
on the grass, pulling it up and chewing it.
When I came back, however, Alice had nearly
brought him out of his vexation, and was sooth-
ing him by telling him how soon we shoukl all
be ninety.

As we sat under the willow-tree and ate the
cherries (fair, for Alice shared them out), we
played at being ninety. Nettie complained
that she had a bone in her old back, and it
made her hobble ; and Alice sang a song in an
old woman's way, but it was very prett\-, and we
were all merry. At least, I don't know about
merry exactly, but all comfortable.

There was a most tremendous lot of cherries ;
and Alice always had with her some neat little
bag, or box, or case, to hold things. In it that
night was a tiny wine-glass. So Alice and
Nettie said they would maTce some cherry wine
to drink our love at parting.

Each of us had a glassful, and it was delicious ;
and each of us drank the toast, " Our love at
parting." The colonel drank his wine last ; and
it got into my head directly that it got into his
directly. Anyhow, his eyes rolled immediately
after he had turned the glass upside down ; and
he took me on one side, and proposed, in a
hoarse whisper, that we should " Cut 'em out
still."

" How (lid he mean ? " I asked my lawless
friend.

" Cut our brides out," said the colonel, " and
then cut our way, Avithout going down a single
turning, bang to the Spanish main ! "

We might have tried it, though I didn't think
it would answer ; only we looked round, and
saw that diere was nothing but moonlight under
the willow-tree, and that our pretty, pretty wives
were gone. We burst out crying. The colonel
gave in second, and came to first; but he gave
in strong.

We were ashamed of our red eyes, and hung
about for half an hour to whiten them. Like-
'wise a piece of chalk round the rims, I doing
the colonel's, and he mine, but afterwards found
in the bedroom looking-glass not natural, be-
sides inflammation. Our conversation turned
on being ninety. The colonel told me he had
■a pair of boots that wanted soling and heeling ;
but he thought it hardly worth while to mention



it to his father, as he himself should so soon be
ninety, when he thought shoes would be more
convenient. The colonel also told me, with his
hand upon his hip, that he felt himself already
getting on in life, and turning rheumatic. And
I told him the same. And when they said at
our house at supper (they are always bothering
about something) that I stooped, I felt so glad !
This is the end of the beginning-part that you
were to believe most.



PART II.



ROMANCE.



FROM THE PEN OF MISS ALICE
RAINBIRD.*




1 he



HERE was once a king, and he had
a queen ; and he was the manliest
of his sex, and she was the loveliest
of hers. The king was, in his pri-
vate profession, under government,
queen's father had been a medical
ninn out of town.
^ They had nineteen children, and were

always having more. Seventeen of these chil-
dren took care of the baby ; and Alicia, the
eldest, took care of them all. Their ages varied
from seven years to seven months.
Let us now resume our story.
One day the king was going to the oflice,
when he stopped at the fishmonger's to buy a
pound and a half of salmon not too near the
tail, which the queen (who A\as a careful house-
keeper) had requested him to send home. Mr,
Pickles, the fishmonger, said, " Certainly, sir;
is tliere any other article? Good morning."

The king went on towards the office in a
melancholy mood ; for quarter-day was such a
long way off, and several of the dear children
were growing out of their clothes. He had not
proceeded far, when Mr. Pickles's errand-boy
came running after him, and said, "Sir, you
didn't notice the old lady in our shop."

"What old lady?" inquired the king. "I
saw none."

Now the king had not seen any old lady, be-
cause this old lady had been invisible to him,
though visible to Mr. Pickles's boy. Probabh
because he messed and splashed the water about
to that degree, and flopped the pairs of soles
down in that violent manner, that, if she had
not been visible to him, he would have spoilt
her clothes.

Just then the old lady came trotting up. She
was dressed in shot-silk of the richest quality,
smelling of dried lavender.

* Aged seven.



THE GOOD FAIRY GRANDMARINA.



323



" King Watkins the First, I believe," said the
old lady.

" Watkins," replied the king, " is my name."

" Papa, if I am not mistaken, of the beautiful
Princess Alicia?" said the old lady.

" And of eighteen other darlings," replied the
king.

" Listen. You are going to the office," said
the old lady.

It instantly flashed upon the king that she
must be a fairy, or how could she know that ?

" You are right," said the old lady, answering
his thoughts. " I am the good Fairy Grand-
marina. Attend ! When you return home to
dinner, politely invite the Princess Alicia to
have some of the salmon you bought just
now."

" It may disagree with her," said the king.

The old lady became so very angry at this
absurd idea, that the king was quite alarmed,
and humbly begged her pardon.

" We hear a great deal too much about this
thing disagreeing, and that thing disagreeing,"
saitl the old lady, with the greatest contempt it
was possible to express. " Don't be greedy. I
think you want it all yourself."

The king hung his head under this reproof,
and said he wouldn't talk about things disagree-
ing any more.

" Be good, then," said the Fairy Grand-
marina, " and don't. When the beautiful Prin-
cess Alicia consents to partake of the salmon, —
as I think she will, — you will find she will leave
a fish bone on her plate. Tell her to dry it,
and to rub it, and to polish it till it shines like
mother-of-pearl, and to take care of it as a pre-
sent from me."

" Is that all ? " asked the king.

" Don't be impatient, sir," returned the Fairy
Grandmarina, scolding him severely. " Don't
catch people short, before they have done
speaking. Just the way with you grown-up
persons. You are always doing it."

The king again hung his head, and said he
wouldn't do so any more.

" Be good, then," said the Fairy Grandmarina,
"and don't ! Tell the Princess Alicia, with my
love, that the fish bone is a magic present which
can only be used once ; but that it will bring
her, that once, whatever she wishes for, pro-
vided SHE WISHES FOR IT AT THE RIGHT

i'lME. That is the message. Take care of
it."

The king was beginning, " Might I ask the
reason ? " when the fairy became absolutely
furious.

" Will you be good, sir?" she exclaimed,



stamping her foot on the ground. " The reason
for this, and the reason for that, indeed ! You
are always wanting the reason. No reason.
There ! Hoity-toity me ! I am sick of your
grown-up reasons."

The king was extremely frightened by the old
lady's Hying into such a passion, and said he
was very sorry to have offended her, and he
wouldn't ask for reasons any more.

" Be good, then," said the old lady, " and
don't."

With these words, Grandmarina vanished,
and the king went on and on and on, till he
came to the office. There he wrote and wrote
and wrote, till it was time to go home again.
Then he politely invited the Princess Alicia, as
the fairy had directed him, to partake of the
salmon. And when she had enjoyed it very
much, he saw the fish bone on her plate, as the
fairy had told him he would, and he delivered
the fairy's message, and the Princess Alicia took
care to dry the bone, and to rub it, and to
polish it, till it shone like mother-of-pearl.

And so, when the queen was going to get up
in the morning, she said, " Oh, dear me, dear
me ; my head, my head ! " and then she fainted
away.

The Princess Alicia, who happened to be
looking in at the chamber door, asking about
breakfast, was very much alarmed when she
saw her royal mamma in this state, and she
rang the bell for Peggy, which was the name of
the lord chamberlain. But remembering where
the Smelling-bottle was, she climbed on a chair
and got it ; and after that she climbed on
another chair by the bedside, and held the
smelling-bottle to the queen's nose ; and after
that she jumped down, and got some water ;
and after that she jumped up again, and wetted
the queen's forehead ; and, in short, when the
lord chamberlain came in, that dear old woman
said to the litde ]:)rincess, " What a trot you
are ! I couldn't have done it better my-
self!"

But that was not the worst of the good
queen's illness. Oh no ! She was very ill in-
deed for a long time. The Princess Alicia kept
the seventeen young princes and princesses
quiet, and dressed and undressed and danced
the baby, and made the kettle boil, and heated
the soup, and swept the hearth, and ])oured out
the medicine, and nursed the queen, and did all
that ever she could, and was as busy, busy, busy
as busy could be ; for there were not many ser-
vants at that palace, for three reasons : because
the king was short of money, because a rise in
his office never seemed to come, and because



324



HO LI DA Y ROMANCE.



quarter-day was so far off that it looked almost
as far oft" and as little as one of the stars.

But, on the morning when the queen fainted
away, where was the magic fish bone ? Why,
there it was in Princess Alicia's pocket ! She
had almost taken it out to bring the queen to
life again, when she put it back, and looked for
the smelling-bottle.

After the queen had come out of her swoon
that morning, and was dozing, the Princess
Alicia hurried up-stairs to tell a most particular
secret to a most particularly confidential friend
of hers, who was a duchess. People did sup-
pose her to be a doll; but she was really a
duchess, though nobody knew it except the
princess.

This most particular secret was the secret
about the magic fish bone, the history of which
was well known to the duchess, because the
princess told her everything. The princess
kneeled down by the bed on which the duchess
was lying, full-dressed and wide awake, and
whispered the secret to her. The duchess
smiled and nodded. People might have sup-
posed that she never smiled and nodded ; but
she often did, though nobody knew it except
the princess.

Then the Princess Alicia hurried down-stairs
again, to keep watch in the queen's room. She
often kept watch by herself in the queen's
room ; but every evening, while the illness
lasted, she sat there watching with the king.
And every evening the king sat looking at her
with a cross look, wondering why she never
brought out the magic fish bone. As often as
she noticed this, she ran up-stairs, whispered the
secret to the duchess over again, and said to the
duchess besides, " They think we children never
have a reason or a meaning ! " And the duchess,
though the most fashionable duchess that ever
was heard of, winked her eye.

" Alicia," said the king, one evening, when
she wished him good night.

" Yes, papa."

" What is become of the magic fish bone ? "

'* In my pocket, papa."

" I thought you had lost it? "

" Oh no, papa ! "

" Or forgotten it ? "

" No, indeed, papa."

And so another time the dreadful little si^ap-
ping pug-dog, next door, made a rush at one of
the young princes as he stood on the steps com-
ing home from school, and terrified him out of
his wits ; and he put his hand tlirough a pane
of glass, and bled, bled, bled. When the seven-
teen other young princes and princesses saw



him bleed, bleed, bleed, they were terrified out
of their wits too, and screamed themselves black
in their seventeen faces all at once. But the
Princess Alicia put her hands over all their
seventeen mouths, one after another, and per-
suaded them to be quiet because of the sick
(lueen. And then she put the wounded prince's
hand in a basin of fresh cold water, while they
stared with their twice seventeen are thirty-
four, put down four and carry three, eyes, and
then she looked in the hand for bits of glass,
and there were fortunately no bits of glass there.
And then she said to two chubby-legged princes,



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 62 of 103)