Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 81 of 103)
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desperation that had left all human check or
hold behind, swept by him like the wind.

He followed her. She paused a moment on
the brink, before the dreadful plunge. He fell
down on his knees, and in a shriek addressed
the figures in the Bells now hovering above
them.

" I have learnt it ! " cried the old man.
" From the creature dearest to my heart ! Oh,
save her, save her ! "

He could wind his fingers in her dress ; could
hold it ! As the words escaped his lips he i'elt
his sense of touch return, and knew that he
detained her.

The figures looked down steadfastly upon
him.

" I have learnt it !" cried the old man. " Oh,
have mercy on me in this hour, if, in my love
for her, so young and good, I slandered Nature
in the breasts of mothers rendered desperate !
Pity my presumption, wickedness, and ignorance,
and save her ! "

He felt his hold relaxing. They were silent
stih.

" Have mercy on her ! " he exclaimed, " as
one in whom this dreadful crime has sprung
from Love perverted ; from the strongest, deepest
Love we fallen creatures know ! Think what
her misery must have been, when such seed
bears such fruit. Heaven meant her to be good.
There is no loving mother on the earth who
might not come to this, if such a life had gone
before. Oh, have mercy on my child, who, even
at this pass, means mercy to her own, and dies
herself, and perils her immortal soul, to save
it!"

She was in his arms. He held her now. His
strength was like a giant's.

" 1 see the Spirit of the Chimes among you ! "
cried the old man, singling out the child, and
speaking in some inspiration, which their looks
conveyed to him. I know that our inheritance
is held in store for us by Time. I know there is
a sea of Time to rise one day, before v.'hich all
who wrong us or oppress us will be swept away
like leaves. I see it, on the flow ! I know that
we must trust and hope, and neither doubt our-
selves nor doubt the good in one another. I
have learnt it from the creature dearest to my



heart. I clasp her in my arms again. Oh,
Spirits, merciful and good, I take your lesson
to my breast along with her ! Oh, Spirits, merci-
ful and good, I am grateful ! "

He might have said more ; but, the Bells, the
old familiar Bells, his own dear, constant, steady
friends, the Chimes, began to ring tlie joy-peals
for a New Year : so lustily, so merrily, so hap-
pily, so gaily, that he leapt upon his feet, and
broke the spell that bound him.

"And whatever you do, father," said Meg,
" don't eat tripe again, without asking some
doctor whether it's likely to agree with you ; for
how you have been going on. Good gracious ! "

She was working with her needle at the little
table by the fire ; dressing her simple gown with
ribbons for her wedding. So quietly happy, so
blooming and youthful, so full of beautiful pro-
mise, that he uttered a great cry as if it were an
Angel in his house; then flew to clasp her in his
arms.

But, he caught his feet in the newspaper,
which had fallen on the hearth ; and somebody
came rushing in between them.

" No ! " cried the voice of this same some-
body ; a generous and jolly voice it was ! " Not
even you. Not even you. The first kiss of Meg
in the New Year is mine. Mine ! I have been
waiting outside the house, this hour, to hear the
Bells and claim it. Meg, my precious prize, a
happy year ! A life of hapi:)y years, my darling
wife ! "

And Richard smothered her with kisses.

You never in all your life saw anything like
Trotty after this. I don't care where you have
lived, or what you have seen ; you never in all
your life saw anything at all approaching him !
He sat down in his chair, and beat his knees
and cried ; he sat down in his chair, and beat
his knees and laughed ; he sat down in his
chair, and beat his knees and laughed and cried
together; he got out of his chair and hugged INIeg;
he got out of his chair and hugged Richard ; he
got out of his chair and hugged them both at
once ; he kept running up to Meg, and squeezing
her fresh face between his hands and kissing it,
going from her backwards not to lose sight of
it, and running up again like a figure in a magic
lantern ; and, whatever he did, he was constantly
sitting himself down in this chair, and never
stopping in it for one single moment ; being —
that's the truth — beside himself with joy.

" And to-morrow's your wedding-day, my
pet ! " cried Trotty. " Your real, happy wedding-
day ! " .

" To-day !" cried Richard, shaking hands with



TO BE MARRIED TO-MORROW.



75



him. " To-day. The Chimes are ringing in the
New Year. Hear them ! "

They were ringing ! Bless their sturdy hearts,
they WERE ringing ! Great Bells as they were ;
melodious, deep-mouthed, noble Bells; cast
in no common metal ; made by no common
founder ; when ^^A they ever chimed like that
before? ^ -

"But, to-day, my pet," said Trotty. "You
and Richard had some words to-day."

" Because he's such a bad fellow, father," said
Meg. " An't you, Richard ? Such a head-
strong, violent man ! He'd have made no more
of speaking his mind to that great Alderman,
and putting him down I don't know where, than
he would of

" Kissing Meg," suggested Richard. Doing
it too !

"No. Not a bit more," said Meg. " But I
wouldn't let him, father. Where would have
been the use ? "

" Richard, my boy ! " cried Trotty. " You
was turned up Trumps originally ; and Trumps
you must be till you die ! But, you were crying
by the fire to-night, my pet, when I came home !
Why did you cry by the fire ? "

" I was thinking of the years we've passed
together, father. Only that. And thinking you
might miss me, and be lonely."

Trotty was laacking off to that extraordinary
chair again, when the child, who had been
awakened by the noise, came running in half
dressed.

" Why, here she is ! " cried Trotty, catching
her up. " Here's little Lilian ! Ha, ha, ha !
Here we are, and here we go ! Oh, here we
are, and here we go again ! And here we are,
and here we go ! And Uncle Will too ! " Stop-
ping in his trot to greet him heartily. " Oh,
Uncle Will, the vision that I've had to-night,
through lodging you ! Oh, Uncle Will, the ob-
ligations that you've laid me under by your
coming, my good friend ! "

Before Will Fern could make the least reply,
a band of music burst into the room, attended
by a flock of neighbours, screaming " A Happy
New Year, Meg ! " "A Happy Wedding ! "
" Many of 'em ! " and other fragmentary good
wishes of that sort. The Drum (who was a pri-
vate friend of Trotty's) then stepped forward,
and said :

" Trotty Veck, my boy ! It's got about that
your daughter is going to be married to-n:orrow.
There an't a soul that knows you that don't wish
you well, or that knows her and don't wish her
well. Or that knows you both, and don't wish
you both all the happiness the New Year can



bring. And here we are to play it in and dance
it in accordingly."

Which was received with a general shout.
The Drum was rather drunk, by-the-bye ; but,
never mind.

"What a happiness it is, I'm sure," said
Trotty, " to be so esteemed ! How kind and
neighbourly you are ! It's all along of my dear
daughter. She deserves it ! "

They were ready for a dance in half a second
(Meg and Richard at the top) ; and the Drum
was on the very brink of leathering away with
all his power ; when a combination of prodigious
sounds was heard outside, and a good-humouretl
comely woman of some fifty years of age, or
thereabouts, came running in, attended by a
man bearing a stone pitcher of terrific size, and
closely followed by the marrow-bones and
cleavers, and the bells ; not the Bells, but a port-
able collection, on a frame. ^ '

Trotty said, " It's Mrs. Chickenstalker ! "
And sat down and beat his knees again.

" Married, and not tell me, Meg ! " cried th'c
good woman. " Never ! I couldn't rest on the
last night of the Old Year without coming to
wish you joy. I couldn't have done it, Meg.
Not if I had been bedridden. So here I am ;
and, as it's New Year's Eve, and the Eve of
your wedding too, my dear, I had a little flip
made, and brought it with me."

Mrs. Chickenstalker's notion of a little flip did
honour to her character. The pitcher steamed
and smoked and reeked like a volcano ; and the
man who had carried it was faint.

" Mrs. Tugby ! " said Trotty, who had been
going round and round her in an ecstasy — " I
should ssiy, Chickenstalker — Bless your heart and
soul ! A happy New Year, and many of 'em !
Mrs. Tugby," said Trotty when he had saluted
her — " I should say, Chickenstalker — This is
William Fern and Lilian."

The worthy dame, to his surprise, turned
very pale and very red.

" Not Lilian Fern whose mother died in Dor-
setshire ! " said she.

Her uncle answered, "Yes," and meeting
hastily, they exchanged some hurried words
together ; of which the upshot was, that Mrs.
Chickenstalker shook him by both hands ;
saluted Trotty on his cheek again of her own
free-will ; and took the child to her capacious
breast.

" \W\\\ Fern ! " said Trotty, pulling on his
right-hand muffler. "Not the friend that you
was hoping to find ? "

" Ay ! " returned Will, putting a hand on each
of Trotty's shoulders. " And like to prove



76



THE CHIMES.



a'most as good a friend, if that can be, as one I
found."

" Oh ! " -said Trotty. " Please to play up
there. Will you have the goodness ? "

To the music of the band, the bells, the mar-
row-bones and cleavers, all at once ; and while
The Chimes were yet in lusty operation out of
doors ; Trotty making Meg and Richard second
couple, led off Mrs. Chickenstalker down the
dance, and danced it in a step unknown before
or since ; founded on his own peculiar trot.

Had Trotty dreamed ? Or, are his joys and
sorrows, and the actors in them, but a dream ;



himself a dream ; the teller of this tale a
dreamer, waking but now ? If it be so, O listener,
dear to him in all his visions, try to bear in
mind the stern realities from which these sha-
dows come ; and in your sphere — none is too
wide and none too limited for such an end —
endeavour to correct, improve, and soften them.
So may the New Year be a happy one to you,
happy to many more whose happiness depends
on you ! So may each year be happier than
the last, and not the meanest of our brethren or
sisterhood debarred their rightful share in what
our Great Creator formed them to enjoy.



END OF "THE CHIMES.





THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH

A FAIRY TALE OF HOME.



CHlkP THE FIRST. 1 to know, I hope ? The kettle began it, full

Tfive minutes by the little waxy-faced Dutch clock

HE kettle began it ! Don't tell me what ' in the corner, before the Cricket uttered a chirp.

Mrs. Peerybingle said. I know better, i As if the clock hadn't finished striking, and

Mrs. Peerybmgle may leave it on record to the i the convulsive little Hay-maker at the top of it,

end of tmie that she couldn't say which of them I jerking away right and left with a scythe in front

began it ; but, I say the kettle did. I ought > of a Moorish Palace, hadn't mowed down half



78



THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH.



an acre of imaginary grass before the Cricket
joined in at all !

Why, I am not naturally j^ositive. Every one
knows that I wouldn't set my own opinion
against the opinion of Mrs. Peerybingle, unless
I were quite sure, on any account whatever.
Nothing should induce me. But, this is a ques-
tion of fact. And the fact is, that the kettle
began it at least five minutes before the Cricket
gave any sign of being in existence. Contradict
me, and I'll say ten.

Let me narrate exactly how it happened. I
should have proceeded to do so, in my very first
Avord, but for this plain consideration — if I am
to tell a story I must begin at the beginning ;
and how is it possible to begin at the beginning
without beginning at the kettle ?

It appeared as if there were a sort of match,
or trial of skill, you must understand, between
the kettle and the Cricket. And this is what
led to it, and how it came about.

Mrs. Peerybingle, going out into the raw twi-
light, and clicking over the wet stones in a pair
of pattens that worked innumerable rough im-
pressions of the first proposition in Euclid all
about the yard — Mrs. Peerybingle filled the
kettle at the water-butt. Presently returning,
less the pattens (and a good deal less, for they
were tall, and Mrs. Peerybingle was but short),
she set the kettle on the fire. In doing which
she lost her temper, or mislaid it for an instant ;
for, the water being uncomfortably cold, and in
that slippy, slushy, sleety sort of state wherein
it seems to penetrate through every kind of sub-
stance, patten rings included — had laid hold of
Mrs. Peerybingle's toes, and even splashed her
legs. And when we rather plume ourselves
(with reason too) upon our legs, and keep our-
selves particularly neat in point of stockings, we
find this, for the moment, hard to bear.

Besides, the kettle was aggravating and obsti-
nate. It wouldn't allow itself to be adjusted on
the top bar ; it wouldn't hear of accommodating
itself kindly to the knobs of coal ; it would lean
forward with a drunken air, and dribble, a very
Idiot of a kettle, on the hearth. It was quarrel-
some, and hissed and spluttered morosely at the
fire. To sum up all, the lid, resisting Mrs.
Peerybingle's fingers, first of all turned topsy-
turvy, and then, with an ingenious pertinacity
deserving of a better cause, dived sideways in —
down to the very bottom of the kettle.*- And the
hull of the Royal George has never made half
the monstrous resistance to coming out of the
water which the lid of that kettle employed
against Mrs. Peerybingle before she got it up
again.



It looked sullen and pig-headed enough, even
then ; carrying its handle with an air of defiance,
and cocking its spout pertly and mockingly at
Mrs. Peerybingle, as if it said, " I won't boil.
Nothing shall induce me ! "

But, Mrs. Peerybingle, with restored good-
humour, dusted her chubby little hands against
each other, and sat down before the kettle
laughing. Meantime, the jolly blaze uprose and
fell, flashing and gleaming on the little Hay-
maker at the top of the Dutch clock, until one
might have thought he stood stock-still before
the Moorish Palace, and nothing was in motion
but the flame.

He was on the move, however ; and had his
spasms, two to the second, all right and regular.
But, his sufferings when the clock was going to
strike were frightful to behold; and when a
Cuckoo looked out of a trap-door in the Palace,
and gave note six times, it shook him, each
time, like a spectral voice — or like a something
wiry plucking at his legs.

It was not until a violent commotion and a
whirring noise among the weights and ropes
below him had quite subsided that this terrified
Hay-maker became himself again. Nor was he
startled without reason ; for, these rattling, bony
skeletons of clocks are very disconcerting in
their operation, and I wonder very much how
any set of men, but most of all how Dutchmen,
can have had a liking to invent them. There is
a popular belief that Dutchmen love broad cases
and much clothing for their own lower selves ;
and they might know better than to leave their
clocks so very lank and unprotected, surely.

Now it was, you observe, that the kettle began
to spend the evening. Now it was that the
kettle, growing mellow and musical, began to
have irrepressible gurghngs in its throat, and to
indulge in short vocal snorts, which it checked
in the bud, as if it hadn't quite made up its
mind yet to be good company. Now it was that,
after two or three such vain attempts to stifle
its convivial sentiments, it threw off all morose-
ness, all reserve, and burst into a stream of song
so cosy and hilarious as never maudlin nightin-
gale yet formed the least idea of.

So plain, too ! Bless you, you might have
understood it like a book— better than some
books you and I could name, perhaps. With
its warm breath gushing forth in a light cloud
which merrily and gracefully ascended a few feet,
then hung about the chimney-corner as its own
domestic Heaven, it trolled its song with that
strong energy of cheerfulness, that its iron body
hummed and stirred upon the fire ; and the lid
itself, the recently rebellious lid — such is the



WELCOME FROM THE CRICKET AND THE KETTLE.



79



influence of a bright example — performed a sort

of jig, and clattered like a deaf and dumb young
cymbal that had never known the use of its twin
brother.

That this song of the kettle's was a song of
invitation and welcome to somebody out of
doors : to somebody at that moment coming on
towards the snug small home and the crisp fire :
there is no doubt whatever. Mrs. Peerybingle
knew it perfectly, as she sat musing before the
hearth. It's a dark night, sang the kettle, and
the rotten leaves are lying by the way ; and,
above, all is mist and darkness, and, below, all is
mire and clay ; .".nd there's only one relief in all
the sad and murky air ; and I don't know that
it is one, for it's nothing but a glare ; of deep
and angry crimson, where the sun and wind to-
gether ; set a brand upon the clouds for being
guilty of such Aveather ; and the widest open
country is a long dull streak of black ; and there's
hoar frost on the finger-post, and thaw upon the
track ; and the ice it isn't water, and the water
isn't free ; and you couldn't say that anything is
what it ought to be ; but he's coming, coming,
coming !

And here, if you like, the Cricket did chime
in ! with a Chirrup, Chirrup, Chirrup of such
magnitude, by way of chorus ; with a voice so
astoundingly disproportionate to its size, as com-
pared with the kettle ; (size ! you couldn't see
it !) that, if it had then and there burst itself like
an overcharged gun, if it had fallen a victim on
the spot, and chirruped its little body into fifty
pieces, it would have seemed a natural and in-
evitable consequence, for which it had expressly
laboured.

The kettle had had the last of its solo per-
formance. It persevered with undiminished
ardour; but the Cricket took first fiddle, and
kept it. Good Heaven, how it chirped ! Its
shrill, sharp, piercing voice resounded through
the house, and seemed to twinkle in the outer
darkness like a star. There was an indescrib-
able little trill and tremble in it at its loudest,
which suggested its being carried off its legs, and
made to leap again, by its own intense enthu-
siasm. Yet they went very well together, the
Cricket and the kettle. The burden of the song
was still the same ; and louder, louder, louder
still, they sang it in their emulation.

The fair little listener — for fair she was, and
young; though something of what is called the
dumpling shape ; but I don't myself object to that
— lighted a candle, glanced at the Hay-maker on
the top of the clock, who was getting in a pretty
average crop of minutes ; and looked out of the
window, where she saw nothing, owing to the



darkness, but her own face imaged in the glass.
And my opinion is (and so would yours have
been) that she might have looJced a long way
and seen nothing half so agreeable. ^Vhcn she
came back, and sat down in her former seat, the
Cricket and the kettle were still keeping it up,
with a perfect fury of competition. The kettle's
weak side clearly being that he didn't know
when he was beat.

There was all the excitement of a race about
it. Chirp, chirp, chirp ! Cricket a mile ahead.
Hum, hum, hum — m — m ! Kettle making i)]ay
in the distance, like a great top. Chirp, chirp,
chirp ! Cricket round the corner. Hum, hum,
hum — m — m ! Kettle sticking to him in his
own way ; no idea of giving in. Chirp, chirp,
chirp ! Cricket fresher than ever. Hum, hum,
hum — m — m ! Kettle slow and steady. Chirp,
chirp, chirp ! Cricket going in to finish him.
Hum, hum, hum — m — m ! Kettle not to be
finished. Until at last they got so jumbled
together, in the hurry-skurry, helter-skelter, of
the match, that whether the kettle chirped and
the Cricket hummed, or the Cricket chirped and
the kettle hummed, or they both chirped and
both hummed, it Avould have taken a clearer
head than yours or mine to have decided with
anything like certainty. But of this there is no
doubt : that, the kettle and the Cricket, at one
and the same moment, and by some power of
amalgamation best known to themselves, sent,
each, his fireside song of comfort streaming into
a ray of the candle that shone out through the
window, and a long way down the lane. And
this light, bursting on a certain person who, on
the instant, approached towards it through the
gloom, expressed the whole thing to him, lite-
rally in a twinkling, and cried, " Welcome home,
old fellow ! Welcome home, my boy ! "

This end attained, the kettle, being dead beat,
boiled over, and was taken ofi" the fire. Mrs.
Peerybingle then w^ent running to the door,
where, what with the wheels of a cart, the tramp
of a horse, the voice of a man, the tearing in and
out of an excited dog, and the surprising and
mysterious appearance of a baby, there was soon
the very What's-his-name to pay.

Where the baby came from, or how Mrs.
Peerybingle got hold of it in that flash of time,
/ don't know. But a live baby there was in
Mrs. Peerybingle's arms ; and a pretty tolerable
amount of pride she seemed to have in it, when
she was drawn gently to the fire, by a sturdy
figure of a man, much taller and much older
than herself, who had to stoop a long way down
to kiss her. But she was worth the trouble. Six
foot six, with the lumbago, might have done it. |



io



THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH.



" Oh goodness, John ! " said Mrs. P. " What
a state you're in with the Aveather ! "

He was something the worse for it undeniably.
The thick mist hung in clots upon his eyelashes
like candied thaw; and, between the fog and
tire together, there were rainbows in his very
whiskers.

"Why, you see, Dot," John made answer
slowly, as he unrolled a shawl from about his
throat, and warmed his hands ; " it — it an't
exactly summer weather. So no wonder."

" I wish you wouldn't call me Dot, John. I
don't like it," said Mrs. Peerybingle : pouting
in a way that clearly showed she did like it very
much.

"Why what else are you ?" returned John,
looking down upon her with a smile, and giving
her waist as light a squeeze as his huge hand
and arm could give. " A dot and " — here he
glanced at the baby — " a dot and carry — I won't
say it, for fear I should spoil it ; but I was very
near a joke. I don't know as ever I was
nearer."

He was often near to something or other very
clever, by his own account : this lumbering,
slow, honest John ; this John so heavy, but so
light of spirit ; so rough upon the surface, but
so gentle at the core ; so dull Avithout, so quick
within ; so stolid, but so good ! Oh, Mother
Nature, give thy children the true poetry of
heart that hid itself in this poor Carrier's breast
— he was but a Carrier, by the way — and we
can bear to have them talking prose, and leading
lives of prose ; and bear to bless thee for their
company !

It was pleasant to see Dot, with her little
figure and her baby in her arms : a very doll of a
baby : glancing with a coquettish thoughtfulness
at the fire, and inclining her delicate little head
just enough on one side to let it rest in an odd,
half-natural, half-affected, wholly nestling and
agreeable manner, on the great rugged figure of
the Carrier. It was pleasant to see him, with
his tender awkwardness, endeavouring to adapt
his rude support to her slight need, and make
his burly middle age a leaning-staff not inappro-
priate to her blooming youth. It was pleasant
to observe how Tilly Slowboy, waiting in the
background for the baby, took special cogni-
zance (though in her earliest teens) of this
grouping ; and stood with her mouth and eyes
wide open, and her head thrust forward, taking
it in as if it were air. Nor was it less agreeable
to observe how John the Carrier, reference being
made by Dot to the aforesaid baby, checked his
hand when on the point of touching the infant,
as if he thought he might crack it ; and, bend-



ing down, surveyed it from a safe distance, with
a kind of puzzled pride, such as an amiable
mastiff might be supposed to show if he founil
himself, one day, the father of a young canary.

" An't he beautiful, John ? Don't he look
precious in his sleej)?"

" Very precious," said John. " Very rr.uch
so. He generally is asleep, an't he ? "

" Lor, John ! Good gracious no ! "

" Oh ! " said John, pondering. " I thought



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 81 of 103)