Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 80 of 103)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 80 of 103)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

meant for muffins. Likewise crumpets. Also
Sally Lunns."

The former porter mentioned each successive
kind of eatable as if he were musingly summing
up his good actions. After which, he rubbed
his fat legs as before, and, jerking them at the
knees to get the fire upon the yet unroasted
parts, laughed as if somebody had tickled him.

" You're in spirits, Tugby, my dear," observed
his wife.

The firm was Tugby, late Chickenstalker.

" No," said Tugby. " No. Not particular.
I'm a little elewated. The muffins came so pat ! "

With that he chuckled until he was black in
the face; and had so much ado to become any
other colour, that his fat legs took the strangest
excursions into the air. Nor were they reduced
to anything like decorum until Mrs. Tugby had
thumped him violently on the back, and shaken
him as if he were a great bottle.

" Good gracious, goodness, lord-a-mercy bless
and save the man ! " cried Mrs. Tugby in great
terror. " What's he doing ? "

Mr. Tugby wiped his eyes, and faintly repeated
that he found himself a little elewated.

" Then don't be so again, that's a dear good
soul," said Mrs. Tugby, "if you don't want to
frighten me to death with your struggling and
fighting ! "

Mr. Tugby said he wouldn't ; but, his whole
existence was a fight, in which, if any judgment
might be founded on the constantly-increasing
shortness of his breath and the deepening purple
of his face, he was always getting the worst of it.

" So it's blowing, and sleeting, and threatening
snow ; and it's dark, and very cold, is it, my
dear ? " said Mr. Tugby, looking at the fire, and
reverting to the cream and marrow of his tem-
porary elevation.

" Hard weather indeed/' returned his wife,
shaking her head.

"Ay, ay! Years," said Mr. Tugby, "are
like Christians in that respect. Some of 'em die
hard ; some of 'em die easy. This one hasn't
many days to run, and is making a fight for it.
I like him all the better. There's a customer,
my love ! "

' Attentive to the rattling door, Mrs. Tugby had
already risen.

" Now then ! " said that lady, passing out into
the little shop. "What's wanted? Oh ! I beg your
pardon, sir, I'm sure. I didn't think it was you."

She made this apology to a gentleman in black,
who, with his wristbands tucked up, and his hat
cocked loungingly on one side, and his hands in
his pockets, sat down astride on the table-beer
barrel, and nodded in return.

" This is a bad business ujvstairs, Mrs. Tugby "
said the gentleman. " The man can't live."

" Not the back-attic can't ! " cried Tugby,
coming out into the shop to join the conference.

" The back-attic, Mr. Tugby," said the gentle-
man, " is coming down-stairs fast, and will be
below the basement very soon."

Looking by turns at Tugby and his wife, he
sounded the barrel with his knuckles for the
depth of beer, and, having found it, played a
tune upon the empty part.

"The back-attic, Mr. Tugby," said the gentle-
man : Tugby having stood in silent consternation
for some time : " is Going."

" Then," said Tugby, turning to his wife, " he
must Go, you know, before he's Gone."

" I don't think you can move him," said the
gentleman, shaking his head. " I wouldn't take
the responsibility of saying it could be done
myself. You had better leave him where he is.
He can't live long."

" It's the only subject," said Tugby, bringing
the butter scale down upon the counter with a
crash, by weighing his fist on it, " that we've ever
had a word upon ; she and me : and look what
it comes to ! He's going to die here, after all.
Going to die upon the premises. Going to die
in our house ! "

"And where should he have died, Tugby?"
cried his wife.

" In the workhouse," he returned. " What
are workhouses made for ? "

"Not for that," said Mrs. Tugby with great
energy. " Not for that ! Neither did I marry
you for that. Don't think it, Tugby. I won't
have it. I won't allow it. I'd be separated first,
and never see your face again. When my widow's
name stood over that door, as it did for many
many years : this house being known as Mrs.
Chickenstalker's far and wide, and never knownj
but to its honest credit and its good report :-
when my widow's name stood over that door.,
Tugby, I knew him as a handsome, steady,
manly, independent youth ; I knew her as the
sweetest-looking, sweetest-tempered girl eyes ever
saw ; I knew her father (poor old creetur, he fell
down from the steeple walking in his sleep, and


killed himself), for the simplest, hardest-work-
ing, childest-hearted man that ever drew the
breath of life ; and, when I turn them out of
house and home, may angels turn me out of
Heaven ! As they would ! And serve me right ! "

Her old face, which had been a plump and
dimpled one before the changes which had come
to pass, seemed to shine out of her as she said
these words ; and when she dried her eyes, and
shook her head and her handkerchief at Tugby,
with an expression of firmness which it was
quite clear was not to be easily resisted, Trotty
said, " Bless her. Bless her ! "

Then he listened, with a panting heart, for
what should follow. Knowing nothing yet, but
that they spoke of Meg.

If Tugby had been a little elevated in the
parlour, he more than balanced that account by
being not a little depressed in the shop, where
he now stood staring at his wife, without attempt-
ing a reply ; secretly conveying, however — either
in a fit of abstraction or as a precautionary
measure — all the money from the till into his
own pockets as he looked at her.

The gentleman upon the table-beer cask, who
appeared to be some authorised medical attend-
ant upon the poor, was far too well accustomed,
evidently, to little differences of opinion between
man and wife to interpose any remark in this
instance. He sat softly whistling, and turning
little drops of beer out of the tap upon the
ground, until there was a perfect calm : when he
raised his head, and said to Mrs. Tugby, late
Chickenstalker :

" There's something interesting about the
woman, even now. How did she come to marry

" Why, that," said Mrs. Tugby, taking a seat
near him, "is not the least cruel part of her
story, sir. You see they kept company, she and
Richard, many years ago. When they were a young
and beautiful couple, everything was settled, and
they were to have been married on a New Year's
Day. But, somehow, Richard got it into his head,
through what the gentlemen told him, that he
might do better, and that he'd soon repent it,
and that she wasn't good enough for him, and
that a young man of spirit had no business to be
married. And the gentlemen frightened her, and
made her melancholy, and timid of his deserting
her, and of her children coming to the gallows,
and of its being wicked to be man and wife, and
a good deal more of it. And, in short, they
lingered and lingered, and their trust in one
another was broken, and so at last was the
match. But the fault was his. She would have
married him, sir, joyfully. I've seen her heart

swell, many times afterwards, when he passed
her in a proud and careless way ; and never did
a woman grieve more truly for a man than she
for Richard when he first went wrong."

" Oh ! he went wrong, did he ? " said the
gentleman, pulling out the vent peg of the table
beer, and trying to peep down into the barrel
through the hole.

" Well, sir, I don't know that he rightly under-
stood himself, you see. I think his mind was
troubled by their having broke with one another ;
and that but for being ashamed before the
gentlemen, and perhaps for being uncertain, too,
how she might take it, he'd have gone through
any suffering or trial to have had Meg's promise
and Meg's hand again. That's my belief ! He
never said so ; m ore's the pity ! He took to
drinking, idling, bad companions : all the fine
resources that were to be so much better for
him than the Home he might have had. He
lost his looks, his character, his health, his
strength, his friends, his work : everything ! "

" He didn't lose everything, Mrs. Tugby," re-
turned the gentleman, " because he gained a
wife ; and I want to know how he gained her."

" I'm coming to it, sir, in a moment. This
went on for years and years ; he sinking lower
and lower ; she enduring, poor thing, miseries
enough to wear her life away. At last he was
so cast down, and cast out, that no one would
employ or notice him ; and doors were shut upon
him, go where he would. Applying from place to
place, and door to door; and coming for the
hundredth time to one gentleman who had often
and often tried him (he was a good workman to
the very end) ; that gentleman, who knew his
history, said, ' I believe you are incorrigible ;
there is only one person in the world who has a
chance of reclaiming you ; ask me to trust you
no more until she tries to do it.' Something like
that, in his anger and vexation."

" Ah ! " said the gentleman. " Well ? "

^'Well, sir, he went to her, and kneeled to
her ; said it was so ; said it ever had been so ;
and made a prayer to her to save him."

" iVnd she ? — Don't distress yourself, Mrs.

" She came to me that night to ask me about
living here. ' What he was once to me,' she
said, ' is buried in a grave, side by side with
what I was to him. But I have thought of this ;
and I will make the trial. In the hope of saving
him ; for the love of the light-hearted girl (you
remember her) who was to have been married
on a New Year's Day ; and for the love of her
Richard.' And she said he had come to her
from Lilian, and Lilian had trusted to him, and



she never could forget that. So they were married ;
and when they came home here, and I saw tliem,
I hoped that such prophecies as parted them
when they were young may not often fulfil them-
selves as they did in this case, or I wouldn't be
the makers of them for a Mine of Gold."

The gentleman got off the cask, and stretched
himself, observing :

" I suppose he used her ill as soon as they
were married ? "

" I don't think he ever did that," said Mrs.
Tugby, shaking her head and wiping her eyes.
"He went on better for a short time; but his
habits were too old and strong to be got rid of;
he soon fell back a little ; and was falling fast
back, when his illness came so strong upon him.
I think he has always felt for her, I am sure
he has. I've seen him, in his crying fits and
tremblings, try to kiss her hand ; and I have
heard him call her ' Meg,' and say it was her
nineteenth birthday. There he has been lying,
now, these weeks and months. Between him
and her baby, she has not been able to do her
old work ; and, by not being able to be regular,
she has lost it, even if she could have done it.
How they have lived I hardly know ! "

" / know," muttered Mr. Tugby ; looking at
the till, and round the shop, and at his wife ;
and rolling his head with immense intelligence.
" Like Fighting Cocks ! "

He was interrupted by a cry — a sound of
lamentation — from the upper story of the house.
The gentleman moved hurriedly to the door.

" My friend," he said, looking back, " you
needn't discuss whether he shall be removed or
not. He has spared you that trouble, I believe."

Saying so, he ran up-stairs, followed by Mrs.
Tugby : while Mr. Tugby panted and grumbled
after them at leisure : being rendered more than
commonly short-winded by the weight of the
till, in which there had been an inconvenient
quantity of copper. Trotty, with the child be-
side him, floated up the staircase like mere air.

" Follow her ! Follow her ! Follow her ! "
He heard the ghostly voices in the Bells repeat
their words as he ascended. " Learn it frcn the
creature dearest to your heart ! "

It was over. It was over. And this was she,
her father's pride and joy ! This haggard,
wretched woman, weeping by the bed, if it de-
served that name, and pressing to her breast,
and hanging down her head upon, an infant !
Who can tell how spare, how sickly, and how
poor an infant ? Who can tell how dear ?

" Thank God ! " cried Trotty, holding up his
folded hands. " Oh, God be thanked ! She
loves her child i "

* The gentleman, not otherwise hard-hearted or
indifferent to such scenes than that he saw them
every day, and knew that they were figures of
no moment in the Filer sums — mere scratches
in the working of those calculations — laid his
hand upon the heart that beat no more, and
listened for the breath, and said, " His pain is
over. It's better as it is ! " Mrs. Tugby tried
to comfort her with kindness. Mr. Tugby tried

" Come, come ! " he said, with his hands in
his pockets, " you mustn't give way, you know.
That won't do. You must fight up. What
would have become of me if / had given way
when I was porter, and we had as many as six
runaway carriage-doubles at our door in one
night ? But, I fell back upon my strength of
mind, and didn't ! "

Again Trotty heard the voices, saying, " Fol-
low her ! " He turned towards his guide, and
saw it rising from him, passing through the air.
" Follow her ! "it said. And vanished.

He hovered round her ; sat down at her feet ;
looked up into her face for one trace of her old
self; listened for one note of her old pleasant
voice. He flitted round the child : so wan, so
prematurely old, so dreadful in its gravity, so
plaintive in its feeble, mournful, miserable wail.
He almost worshipped it. He clung to it as her
only safeguard, as the last unbroken link that
bound her to endurance. He set his father's
hope and trust on the frail baby ; watched her
every look upon it as she held it in her arms ;
and cried a thousand times, " She loves it ! God
be thanked, she loves it ! "

He saw the woman tend her in the night;
return to her when her grudging husband was
asleep, and all w^as still; encourage her, shed
tears with her, set nourishment before her. He
saw the day come, and the night again ; the day,
the night ; the time go by ; the house of death
relieved of death ; the room left to herself and
to the child ; he heard it moan and cry ; he saw
it harass her, and tire her out, and, when she
slumbered in exhaustion, drag her back to con-
sciousness, and hold her with its little hands
upon the rack; but she was constant to it,
gentle with it, patient with it. Patient ! was its
loving mother in her inmost heart and soul, and
had its Being knitted ,up with hers as when she
carried it unborn.

All this time she was in want : languishing
away in dire and pining wane. With the baby
in her arms, she wandered here and there in
quest of occupation ; and with its thin face lying
in her lap, and looking up in hers, did any work
for any wretched sum : a day and night of labour



for as many farthings as there were figures on
the dial. If she liad quarrelled with it ; if she
had neglected it ; if she had looked upon it with
a moment's hate ; if, in the frenzy of an instant,
she had struck it ! No. His comfort was, She
loved it always.

She told no one of her extremity, and wan-
dered abroad in the day, lest she should be
questioned by her only friend : for any helj) she
received from her hands occasioned fresh dis-
putes between the good woman and her hus-
band ; and it was new bitterness to be the daily
cause of strife and discord, where she owed so

She loved it still. She loved it more and
more. But a change fell on the aspect of her
love. One night.

She was singing faintly to it in its sleep, and
walking to and fro to hush it, when her door was
softly opened, and a man looked in.

" For the last time," he said.

" William Fern ! "

" For the last time."

He listened like a man pursued : and spoke
in whispers.

" Margaret, my race is nearly run. I couldn't
finish it without a parting word with you. With-
out one grateful word."

" What have you done ? " she asked : regard-
ing him with terror.

He looked at her, but gave no answer.

After a short silence, he made a gesture with
his hand, as if he set her question by ; as if he
brushed it aside ; and said :

" It's long ago, Margaret, now ; but that night
is as fresh in my memory as ever 'twas. We
little thought then," he added, looking round,
" that we should ever meet like this. Your
child, Margaret ? Let me have it in my arms.
Let me hold your child."

He put his hat upon the floor, and took it.
And he trembled, as he took it, Irom head to

" Is it a girl?"

" Yes."

He put his hand before its little face.

" See how weak I'm grown, ^Margaret, when
I want the courage to look at it ! Let her be
a moment. I won't hurt her. It's long ago,
but What's her name ? "

" Margaret," sne answered quickly.

" I'm glad of that," he said. " I'm glad of
that ! "

He seemed to breathe more freely ; and, after
pausing for an instant, took away his hand, and
looked upon the infant's face. But covered it
again immediately.

" Margaret !" he said ; and gave her back the
child. '' It's Lilian's."

" Lilian's !" \

" I held the same face in my arms when ,
Lilian's mother died and left her."

" When Lilian's mother died and left her!"
she repeated wildly.

'' How shrill you speak ! Why do you fix
your eyes upon me so ? Margaret ! "

She sunk down in a chair, and pressed the
infant to her breast, and wept over it. Some-
times she released it from her embrace, to look
anxiously in its face : then strained it to her
bosom again. At those times, when she gazed
upon it, then it was that something fierce and
terrible began to mingle with her love. Then it
was that her old father quailed.

" Follow her ! " was sounded through tlie
house. " Learn it from the creature dearest to-
your heart !"

" Margaret," said Fern, bending over her, and
kissing her upon the brow : " I thank you for
the last time. Good night. Good-bye ! Put youi
hand in mine, and tell me you'll forget me from
this hour, and try to think the end of me was.

" What have you done ? " she asked again.

" There'll be a Fire to-night," he said, re-
moving from her. " There'll be Fires this
winter-time, to light the dark nights, East, West,
North, and South. When you see the distant
sky red, they'll be blazing. When you see the
distant sky red, think of me no more ; or, if yoa
do, remember what a Hell was lighted up inside
of me, and think you see its flames reflected iB
the clouds. Good night. Good-bye ! "'

She called to him ; but he was gone. She
sat down stupefied, until her infant roused her
to a sense of hunger, cold, and darkness. She
paced the room with it the livelong night, hush-
ing it and soothing it. She said at intervals,
" Like Lilian when her mother died and left
her ! " Why was her step so quick, her eyes so-
wild, her love so fierce and terrible, whenever
she repeated those words ?

" But, it is Love," said Trotty. *' It is Love.
She'll never cease to love it. My poor Meg !"

She dressed the child next morning with un-
usual care — ah, vain expenditure of care upon
such squalid robes ! — and once more tried ta
find some means of life. It was the last day oi
the Old Year. She tried till night, and never
broke her fast. She tried in vain.

She mingled with an abject crowd, who tarried
in the snow, until it pleased some ofticer ap-
pointed to dispense the public charity (the law-
ful charity ; not that once preached upon a



Mount), to call them in, and question them, and
say to this one, " Go to such a place," to that
one, "Come next week;" to make a foot-ball
of another wretch, and pass him here and there,
from hand to hand, from house to house, until
he wearied and lay down to die ; or started up
and robbed, and so became a higher sort of
criminal, whose claims allowed of no delay.
Here, too, she failed.

She loved her child, and wished to have it
lying on her breast. And that was quite enough.

It was night : a bleak, dark, cutting night :
when, pressing the child close to her for warmth,
she arrived outside the house she called her
home. She was so faint and giddy, that she
saw no one standing in the doorway until she
was close upon it, and about to enter. Then,
she recognised the master of the house, who had
so disposed himself — with his person it was not
difficult — as to till up the whole entry.

"Oh!" he said softly. "You have come

She looked at the child, and shook her head.

" Don't you think you have lived here long
enough without paying any rent? Don't you
think that, without any money, you've been a
pretty constant customer at this shop, now?"
said Mr. Tugby.

She repeated the same mute appeal.

" Suppose you try and deal somewhere else,"
he said. " And suppose you provide yourself
with another lodging. Come ! Don't you think
you could manage it ? "

She said, in a low voice, that it was very late.

" Now, I see what you want," said Tugby ;
" and what you mean. You know there are two
parties in this house about you, and you delight
in setting 'em by the ears. I don't want any
quarrels ; I'm speaking softly to avoid a quarrel ;
but, if you don't go away, I'll speak out loud,
and you shall cause words high enough to please
you. But you shan't come in. That I am de-

She put her hair back with her hand, and
looked in a sudden manner at the sky, and the
dark lowering distance.

" This is the last night of an Old Year, and I
won't carry ill-blood and quarrellings and dis-
turbances into a New One, to please you nor
anybody else," said Tugby, who was quite a
retail P'riend and Father. " I Avonder you an't
ashamed of yourself, to carry such practices into
a New Year. If you haven't any business in the
world, but to be always giving way, and always
making disturbances between man and wife,
you'd be better out of it. Go along with you I"

" Follow her ! To desperation ! "

Again the old man heard the voices. Looking
up, he saw the figures hovering in the air, and
pointing where she went down the dark street.

"She loves it!" he exclaimed in agonised
entreaty for her. " Chimes ! She loves it still ! "

" Follow her ! " The shadows swept upon the
track she had taken like a cloud.

He joined in the pursuit \ he kept close to
her; he looked into her face. He saw the same
fierce and terrible expression mingling with her
love, and kindling in her eyes. He heard her
say, " Like Lilian ! To be changed like Lilian ! "
and her speed redoubled.

Oh, for something to awaken her ! For any
sight, or sound, or scent, to call up tender recol-
lections in a brain on fire ! For any gentle
image of the Past to rise before her !

" I was her father ! I was her father ! " cried
the old man, stretching out his hands to the
dark shadows flying on above. " Have mercy
on her, and on me ! Where does she go ? Turn
her back ! I was her father ! "

But, they only pointed to her as she hurried
on ; and said, " To desperation ! Learn it from
the creature dearest to your heart ! "

A hundred voices echoed it. The air was
made of breath expended in those words. He
seemed to take them in at every gasp he drew.
They were everywhere, and not to be escaped.
And still she hurried on ; the same light in her
eyes, the same words in her mouth : " Like
Lilian ! To be changed like Lilian ! "

All at once she stopped.

" Now, turn her back ! " exclaimed the old
man, tearing his white hair. " My child ! Meg 1
Turn her back ! Great Father, turn her
back ! "

In her own scanty shawl she wrapped the baby
warm. With her fevered hands, she smoothed
its limbs, composed its face, arranged its mean
attire. In her wasted arms she folded it, as
though she never would resign it more. And
with her dry lips kissed it in a final pang, and
last long agony of Love.

Putting its tiny hand up to her neck, and
holding it there, within her dress, next to her
distracted heart, she set its sleeping face against
her : closely, steadily against her : and sped
onward to the river.

To the rolling River, swift and dim, where
Winter Night sat brooding like the last dark
thoughts of many who had sought a refuge there
before her. Where scattered lights upon the
banks gleamed sullen, red and dull, as torches
that were burning there, to show the way to
Death. Where no abode of living people cast



its shadow on the deep, impenetrable, melan-
choly shade.

To the River ! To that portal of Eternity
her desperate footsteps tended with the swift-
ness of its rapid waters running to the sea. He
tried to touch her as she passed him, going
down to its dark level ; but, the wild distem-
pered form, the fierce and terrible love, the

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 80 of 103)