Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 65 of 103)
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to live in. The grown-up people (that would be
in other countries) soon left oft" being allowed
any holidays after Mr. and Mrs. Orange tried
the experiment ; and the children (that would
be in other countries) kept them at school as
long as ever they lived, and made them do what-
ever they were told.




GEORGE SILVERMAN'S EXPLANATION.



1



FIRST CEI AFTER,
T happened in this wise-



But, sitting with my pen in my liand look-
ing at those words again without descrying any
hint in them of the words that should follow, it
comes into my mind that they have an abrupt
appearance. They may serve, however, if I let
them remain, to suggest how very difficult I
find it to begin to explain my explanation.



An uncouth phrase : and yet I do not see my
way to a better.

SECOND CHAPTER.



It happened in iliis wise

But, looking at those words, and comparing
them with my former opening, I find they are
the selfsame words repeated. This is the more



336



GEORGE SILVERMAN'S EXPLANATION.



surprising to me, because I employ them in quite
a new connection. For indeed I declare that
my intention was to discard the commencement
I first had in my thoughts, and to give the pre-
ference to another of an entirely different nature,
dating my explanation from an anterior jjeriod
of my life, I will make a third trial, without
erasing this second failure, protesting that it is
not my design to conceal any of my infirmities,
whether they be of head or heart.



THIRD CHAPTER.

Not as yet directly aiming at how it came to
pass, I will come upon it by degrees. The
natural manner, after all, for God knows that is
how it came upon me.

My parents were in a miserable condition of
life, and my infant home was a cellar in Preston.
I recollect the sound of father's Lancashire clogs
on the street pavement above, as being different
in my young hearing from the sound of all other
clogs ; and I recollect that, when mother came
down the cellar steps, I used tremblingly to spe-
culate on her feet having a good or an ill tem-
pered look, — on her knees, — on her waist, —
until finally her face came into view, and settled
the question. From this it will be seen that I
was timid, and that the cellar steps were steep,
and that the doorway was very low.

Mother had the gripe and clutch of poverty
upon her face, upon her figure, and not least
of all upon her voice. Her sharp and high-
pitched words were squeezed out of her, as by
the compression of bony fingers on a leathern
bag ; and she had a way of rolling her eyes
about and about the cellar, as she scolded, that
was gaunt and hungry. Father, with his shoulders
rounded, would sit quiet on a three-legged stool,
looking at the empty grate, until she would pluck
the stool from under him, and bid him go bring
some money home. Then he would dismally
ascend the steps ; and I, holding my ragged shirt
and trousers together with a hand (my only
braces), would feint and dodge from mother's
pursuing grasp at my hair.

A worldly little devil was mother's usual name
for me. Whether I cried for that I was in the
dark, or for that it was cold, or for that I was
hungry, or whether I squeezed myself into a
warm corner when there was a fire, or ate vora-
ciously when there was food, she would still say,
" Oh, }'ou worldly little devil ! " And the sting
of it was, that I quite well knew myself to be a
worldly little devil. Worldly as to wanting to
be housed and warmed, worldly as to wanting to



be fed, worldly as to the greed with which I
inwardly compared how much I got of those
good things with how much father and mother
got, when, rarely, those good things were going.

Sometimes they both went away seeking work ;
and then I would be locked up in the cellar for
a day or two at a time. I was at my worldliest
then. Left alone, I yielded myself up to a
worldly yearning for enough of anything (except
misery), and for the death of mother's father,
who was a machine-maker at Birmingham, and
on whose decease, I had heard mother say, she
would come into a whole courtful of houses " if
she had her rights." Worldly little devil, I would
stand about, musingly fitting my cold bare feet
into cracked bricks and crevices of the damp
cellar floor, — walking over my grandfather's
body, so to speak, into the courtful of houses,
and selling them for meat and drink, and clothes
to wear.

At last a change came down into our cellar.
The universal change came down even as low
as that, — so will it mount to any height on which
a human creature can perch, — and brought other
changes with it.

We had a heap of I don't know what foul
litter in the darkest corner, which we called " the
bed." For three days mother lay upon it with-
out getting up, and then began at times to laugh.
If I had ever heard her laugh before, it had been
so seldom that the strange sound frightened me.
It frightened father too ; and we took it by turns
to give her water. Then she began to move her
head from side to side, and sing. After that,
she getting no better, father fell a laughing and
a singing; and then there was only I to give
them both water, and they both died.



FOURTH CHAPTER.

When I was lifted out of the cellar by two men,
of whom one came peeping" down alone first,
and ran away and brought the other, I could
hardly bear the light of the street. I was sitting
in the roadway, blinking at it, and at a ring of
people collected around me, but not close to
me, when, true to my character of worldly little
devil, I broke silence l)y saying, " I am hungry
and thirsty ! "

'■ Does he know they are dead ?" asked one of
another.

" Do you know your father and mother are
both dead of fever ? " asked a third of me se-
verely.

" I don't know what it is to be dead. I sup-
posed it meant that, when the cup rattled against



WORLDLINESS.



337



their teeth, and the water spilt over them. I am
hungry and thirsty." That was all I had to say
about it.

The ring of people widened outward from the
inner side as 1 looked around me ; and I smelt
vinegar, and what I know to be camphor, thrown
in towards where I sat. Presently some one put
a great vessel of smoking vinegar on the ground
near me ; and then they all looked at me in
silent horror as I ate and drank of what was
brought for me. I knew at the time they had a
horror of me, but I couldn't help it.

I was still eating and drinking, and a murmur
of discussion had begun to arise respecting what
was to be done with me next, when I heard a
cracked voice somewhere in the ring say, " My
name is Hawkyard, Mr. Verity Hawkyard, of
West Bromwich." Then the ring split in one
l)lace ; and a yellow-faced, peak-nosed gentle-
man, clad all in iron grey to his gaiters, pressed
forward with a policeman and another official of
some sort. He came forward close to the vessel
of smoking vinegar, from which he sprinkled
himself carefully, and me copiously.

" He had a grandfather at Birmingham, this
young boy, who is just dead too," said Mr.
Hawkyard.

I turned my eyes upon the speaker, and said
in a ravening manner, "Where's his houses?"

" Hah ! Horrible worldliness on the edge of
the grave," said Mr. Hawkyard, casting more of
the vinegar over me, as if to get my devil out
of rne. " I have undertaken a slight — a ve-ry
sh'ght — trust in behalf of this boy ] quite a volun-
tary trust ; a matter of mere honour, if not of
mere sentiment : still I have taken it upon my-
self, and It shall be (oh yes, it shall be !) dis-
charged."

The bystanders seemed to form an opinion of
this gentleman much more favourable than their
opinion of me.

" He shall be taught," said Mr. Hawkyard
" (oh yes, he shall be taught !) ; but what is to
be done with him for the present ? He may be
infected. He may disseminate infection." The
ring widened considerably. " What is to be
done with him ?"

He held some talk with the two officials. I
could distinguish no word save " Farmhouse."
There was another sound several times repeated,
which was wholly meaningless in my ears then,
but which I knew afterwards to be " Hoghton
Towers."

" Yes," said Mr. Hawkyard, " I think that
sounds promising ; I think that sounds hopeful.
And he can be put by himself in a ward for a
night or two, you say ? "
Edwin Drood, Etc., 22.



It seemed to be the police-officer who had
said so ; for it was he who replied, Yes. It was
he, too, who finally took me by the arm, and
walked me before him through the streets, into
a whitewashed room in a bare building, where I
had a chair to sit in, a table to sit at, an iron
bedstead and good mattress to lie upon, and a
rug and blanket to cover me. Where I had
enough to eat too, and was shown how to clean
the tin porringer in which it was conveyed to
me, until it was as good as a looking-glass.
Here, likewise, I was put in a bath, and had
new clothes brought to me ; and my old rags
were burnt, and I was camphored and vinegared
and disinfected in a variety of ways.

When all this was done, — I don't know in
how many days, or how few, but it matters not,
— Mr. Hawkyard stepped in at the door, re-
maining close to it, and said, " Go and stand
against the opposite wall, George Silverman.
As far off as you can. That'll do. How do
you feel ? "

I told him that I didn't feel cold, and didn't
feel hungry, and didn't feel thirsty. That was
the whole round of human feelings, as far as I
knew, except the pain of being beaten.

"Well," said he, "you are going, George, to
a healthy farmhouse to be purified. Keep in
the air there as much as you can. Live an out-
of-door life there until you are fetched away.
You had better not say much — in fact, you had
better be very careful not to say anything —
about what your parents died of, or they might
not like to take you in. Behave well, and I'll
put you to school. Oh yes ! I'll put you to
school, though I am not obligated to do it. I
am a servant of the Lord, George ; and I have
been a good servant to him. I have, these five-
and-thirty years. The Lord has had a good ser-
vant in me, and he knows it."

What I then supposed him to mean by this, I
cannot imagine. As little do I know when I
began to comprehend that he was a prominent
member of some obscure denomination or con-
gregation, every member of which held forth to
the rest when so inclined, and among whom he
was called Brother Hawkyard. It was enough
for me to know, on that day in the ward, that
the farmer's car ti was waiting for me at the street
corner. I was not slow to get into it ; for it was
the first ride I ever had in my life.

It made me sleepy, and I slept. First, J
stared at Preston streets as long as they lasted ;
and, meanwhile, I may have had some small
dumb wondering within me whereabouts our
cellar was; but I doubt it. Such a worldly
little devil was I, that I took no thought who



338



GEORGE SILVERMAN'S EXPLANATION.



would bury father and mother, or where they
would be buried, or when. The question whe-
ther the eating and drinking by day, and the
covering by night, would be as good at the
farmhouse as at the ward superseded those
questions.

The jolting of the cart on a loose stony road
awoke me ; and I found that we were mounting
a steep hill, where the road was a rutty by-road
through a field. And so, by fragments of an
ancient terrace, and by some rugged out-build-
ings that had once been fortified, and passing
under a ruined gateway, we came to the old
farmhouse in the thick stone wall outside the
old quadrangle of Hoghton Towers : which I
looked at like a stupid savage, seeing no spe-
cialty in, seeing no antiquity in ; assuming all
farmhouses to resemble it ; assigning the decay I
noticed to the one potent cause of all ruin that I
knew, — poverty ; eyeing the pigeons in their
flights, the cattle in their stalls, the ducks in the
pond, and the fowls pecking about the yard with
a hungry hope that plenty of them might be
killed for dinner while I stayed there ; wonder-
ing whether the scrubbed dairy vessels, drying
in the sun-light, could be goodly porringers out
of which the master ate his belly-filling food, and
which he polished when he had done, according
to my ward experience ; shrinkingly doubtful
whether the shadows, passing over that airy
height on the bright spring day, were not some-
thing in the nature of frowns, — sordid, afraid,
unadmiring, — a small brute to shudder at.

To that time I had never had the faintest im-
pression of duty. I had had no knowledge
whatever that there was anything lovely in this
life. When I had occasionally slunk up the
cellar steps into the street, and glared in at shop-
windows, I had done so with no higher feelings
than we may suppose to animate a mangy young
dog or wolf-cub. It is equally the fact that I had
never been alone, in the sense of holding un-
selfish converse with myself. I had been solitary
often enough, but nothing better.

Such was my condition when 1 sat down to
my dinner that day, in the kitchen of the old
farmhouse. Such was my condition when I lay
on my bed in the old farmhouse that night,
stretched out opposite the narrow muUioned
window, in the cold light of the moon, like a
young vampire.

FIFTH CHAPTER.

What do I know now of Hoghton Towers ?
Very little 3 for I have been gratefully unwilling
to disturb my first impressions. A house, cen-



turies old, on high ground a mile or so removed
from the road between Preston and Blackburn,
where the first James of England, in his hurry-
to make money by making baronets, perhaps
made some of those remunerative dignitaries.
A house, centuries old, deserted and falling to
pieces, its woods and gardens long since grass-
land or ploughed up, the rivers Ribble and
Darwen glancing below it, and a vague haze of
smoke, against which not even the supernatural
prescience of the first Stuart could foresee a
counterblast, hinting at steam power, powerful
in two distances.

What did I know then of Hoghton Towers ?
When I first peeped in at the gate of the lifeless
quadrangle, and started from the mouldering
statue becoming visible to me like its guardian
ghost ; when I stole round by the back of the
farmhouse, and got in among the ancient rooms,
many of them with their floors and ceilings fall-
ing, the beams and rafters hanging dangerously
down, the plaster dropping as I trod, the oaken
panels stripped away, the windows half walled
up, half broken ; when I discovered a gallery
commanding the old kitchen, and looked down
between balustrades upon a massive old table
and benches, fearing to see I know not what
dead-alive creatures come in and seat them-
selves, and look up with I know not what dread-
ful eyes, or lack of eyes, at me ; when all over
the house I was awed by gaps and chinks where
the sky stared sorrowfully at me, where the
birds passed, and the ivy rustled, and the stains
of winter weather blotched the rotten floors;
when down at the bottom of dark pits of stair-
case, into which the stairs had sunk, green leaves
trembled, butterflies fluttered, and bees hummed
in and out through the broken doorways ; Avhen
encircling the whole ruin were sweet scents, and
sights of fresh green growth, and ever-renewing
life, that I had never dreamed of, — I say, when
I passed into such clouded perception of these
things as my dark soul could compass, what did
I know then of Hoghton Towers ?

I have written that the sky stared sorrowfully
at me. Therein have I anticipated the answer.
I knew that all these things looked sorrowfully
at me ; that they seemed to sigh or whisper, not
without pity for me, " Alas, poor worldly little
devil ! "

There were two or three rats at the bottom of
one of the smaller pits of broken staircase when
I craned over and looked in. They were
scuffling for some prey that was there; and,
when they started and hid themselves close
together in the dark, I thought of the old life
(it had grown old already) in the cellar.



HOGHTON TO WERS.



339



How not to be this worldly little devil ? how
not to have a repugnance towards myself as I
liad towards the rats? I hid in a corner of one
of the smaller chambers, frightened at myself,
and crying (it was the first time I had ever cried
for any cause not purely physical), and I tried to
think about it. One of the flirm ploughs came
into my range of view just then ; and it seemed
to help me as it went on with its two horses up
and down the field so peacefully and quietly.

There was a girl of about my own age in the
farmhouse family, and she sat opposite to me at
the narrow table at meal-times. It had come
into my mind, at our first dinner, that she might
take the fever from me. The thought had not
disquieted me then. I had only speculated how
she would look under the altered circumstances,
and whether she would die. But it came into
my mind, now, that I might try to prevent her
taking the fever by keeping away from her. I
knew I should have but scrambling board if I
did ; so much the less worldly and less devilish
the deed would be, I thought.

From that hour I withdrew myself at early
morning into secret corners of the ruined house,
and remained hidden there until she went to
bed. At first, when meals were ready, I used
to hear them calling me ; and then my resolution
weakened. But I strengthened it again by
going farther oft" into the ruin, and getting out
of hearing, I often watched for her at the dim
windows ; and, when I saw that she was fresh
and rosy, felt much happier.

Out of this holding her in my thoughts, to
the humanising of myself, I suppose some
childish love arose within me. I felt, in some
sort, dignified by the pride of protecting her, —
by the pride of making the sacrifice for her. As
my heart swelled with that new feeling, it in-
sensibly softened about mother and father. It
seemed to have been frozen before, and now to
be thawed. The old ruin, and all the lovely
things that haunted it, were not sorrowful for
me only, but sorrowful for mother and father as
well. Therefore did I cry again, and often
too.

The farmhouse family conceived me to be of
a morose temper, and were very short with me ;
though they never stinted me in such broken
fare as was to be got out of regular hours. One
night, when I lifted the kitchen latch at my
usual time, Sylvia (that was her pretty name)
had but just gone out of the room. Seeing her
ascending the opposite stairs, I stood still at the
door. She had heard the click of the latch, and
looked round.

" George," she called to me in a pleased voice.



" to-morrow is my birthday ; and we are to have
a fiddler, and there's a party of boys and girls
coming in a cart, and we shall dance. I invite
you. Be sociable for once, George."

" I am very sorry, miss," I answered ; " but I
— but no ; I can't come."

" You are a disagreeable, ill-humoured lad,"
she returned disdainfully ; " and I ought not to
have asked you. I shall never speak to you
again."

As I stood with my eyes fixed on the fire
after she was gone, I felt that the farmer bent
his brows upon me.

" Eh, lad ! " said he ; " Sylvy's right. You're
as moody and broody a lad as never I set eyes
on yet."

I tried to assure him that I meant no harm ;
but he only said coldly, " Maybe not, maybe
not! There, get thy supper, get thy supper;
and then thou can sulk to thy heart's content
again."

Ah ! if they could have seen me next day, in
the ruin, watching for the arrival of the cartful
of merry young guests ; if they could have seen
me at night, gliding out from behind the ghostly
statue, listening to the music and the fall of
dancing feet, and watching the lighted farm-
house windows from the quadrangle when all
the ruin was dark ; if they could have read my
heart, as I crept up to bed by the back-way,
comforting myself with the reflection, " They
will take no hurt from me," — they would not
have thought mine a morose or an unsocial
nature.

It was in these ways that I began to form a
shy disposition ; to be of a timidly silent cha-
racter under misconstruction ; to have an inex-
pressible, perhaps a morbid, dread of ever being
sordid or worldly. It was in these ways that my
nature came to shape itself to such a mould,
even before it was affected by the influences of
the studious and retired life of a poor scholar.



SIXTH CHAPTER.

Brother Hawk^ard (as he insisted on my
calling him) put me to school, and told me to
work my way. " You are all right, George," he
said. " I have been the best servant the Lord
has had in his service for this five-and-thirty
year (oh, I have !) ; and he knows the value of
such a servant as I have been to him (oh yes,
he does I) ; and he'll prosper your schooling as
a part of my reward. That's what /;^'ll do,
George. He'll do it for me."

From the first I could not like this familiar



340



GEORGE SILVERMAN'S EXPLANATION.



knowledge of the ways of the sublime, inscru-
table Almighty on Brother Hawkyard's part. As
I grew a little wiser, and still a little wiser, I
liked it less and less. His manner, too, of con-
firming himself in a parenthesis, — as if, knowing
himself, he doubted his own word, — I found
distasteful. I cannot tell how much these dis-
likes cost me ; lor I had a dread that they were
worldly.

As time went on, I became a Foundation-boy
on a good foundation, and I cost Brother Hawk-
yard nothing. When I had worked my way so
far, I worked yet harder, in the hope of ulti-
mately getting a presentation to college and a
fellowship. My health has never been strong
(some vapour from the Preston cellar cleaves to
me, I think) ; and what with much work and
some weakness, I came again to be regarded —
that is, by my fellow-students — as unsocial.

All through my time as a foundation-boy, I
was within a few miles of Brother Hawkyard's
congregation ; and^ whenever I was what we
called a leave-boy on a Sunday, I went over
there at his desire. Before the knowledge be-
came forced upon me that outside their place of
meeting these brothers and sisters were no
better than the rest of the human family, but on
the whole were, to put the case mildly, as bad
as most, in respect of giving short weight m
their shops, and not speaking the truth, — I say,
before this knowledge became forced upon me,
their prolix addresses, their inordinate conceit,
their daring ignorance, their investment of the
Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth with their
own miserable meannesses and littlenesses,
greatly shocked me. Still, as their term for the
frame of mind that could not perceive them
to be in an exalted state of grace was the
" worldly " state, I did for a time suffer tortures
under my inquiries of myself whether that young
worldly-devilish spirit of mine could secretly
be lingering at the bottom of my non-appreciation.

Brother Hawkyard was the popular expounder
in this assembly, and generally occupied the
platform (there was a little platform with a table
on it, in lieu of a pulpit) first on a Sunday after-
noon. He was by trade a drysalter. Brother
Gimblet, an elderly man with a crabbed face, a
large do^'s-eared shirt-collar, and a spotted blue-
neckerchief reaching up behind to the crown of
his head, was also a drysalter and an expounder.
Brother Gimblet professed the greatest admira-
tion for Brother Hawkyard, but (I had thought
more than once) bore him a jealous grudge.

Let whosoever may peruse these lines kindly
take the pains here to read twice my solemn
pledge, that what I write of the language and



customs of the congregation in question I write
scrupulously, literally, exactly, from the life and
the truth.

On the first Sunday after I had won what I
had so long tried for, and when it was certain
that I was going up to college, Brother Hawk-
yard concluded a long exhortation thus :

" Well, my friends and fellow-sinners, now I
told you, when I began, that 1 didn't know a
word of what I was going to say to you (and no,
I did not !), but that it was all one to me, be-
cause I knew the Lord would put into my
mouth the words I wanted."

(" That's it ! " from Brother Gimblet.)

" And he did put into my mouth the words I
wanted."

(" So he did ! " from Brother Gimblet.)

" And why ? "

(" Ah, let's have that ! " from Brother Gim-
blet.)

" Because I have been his faithful servant for
five-and-thirty years, and because he knows it.
For five-and-thirty years ! And he knows it,
mind you ! I got those words that I wanted
on account of my wages. I got 'em from the
Lord, my fellow-sinners. Down ! I said,
' Here's a heap of wages due ; let us have some-
thing down, on account.' And I got it down,



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 65 of 103)