Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 83 of 103)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 83 of 103)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the whole Christmas or Midsummer Vacation.

What he was in toys, he was (as most men are)
in other things. You may easily suppose, there-
fore, that within the great green cape, which
reached down to the calves of his legs, there was
buttoned up to the chin an uncommonly plea-
sant fellow ; and that he was about as choice a
spirit, and as agreeable a companion, as ever
stood in a pair of bull-headed-looking boots with
mahogany-coloured tops.

Still, Tackleton, the toy merchant, was going
to be married. In spite of all this, he was going
to be married. And to a young wife too, a
beautiful young wife.

He didn't look much like a Bridegroom, as he
stood in the Carrier's kitchen, with a twist in his
dry face, and a screw in his body, and his hat
jerked over the bridge of his nose, and his hands
tucked down into the bottoms of his pockets,
and his whole sarcastic, ill-conditioned self peer-
ing out of one little corner of one little eye,
like the concentrated essence of any number of
ravens. But, a Bridegroom he designed to be.

" In three days' time. Next Thursday. The
last day of the first month in the year. That's
my wedding-day," said Tackleton.

Did I mention that he had always one eye
wide open, and one eye nearly shut ; and that
the one eye nearly shut was always the expres-
sive eye ? I don't think I did.

" That's my wedding-day ! " said Tackleton,
rattling his money.

" Why, it's our wedding-day too," exclaimed
trip C Tmpr

" Ha, ha ! " laughed Tackleton. " Odd !
You're just such another couple. Just !"

The indignation of Dot at this presumptuous
assertion is not to be described. What next ?
His imagination would compass the possibility
of just such another Baby, perhaps. The man
was mad.

" I say ! A word with you," murmured Tackle-



86



THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH.



ton, nudging the Carrier with his elbow, and
taking him a Httle apart. '• You'll come to
the wedding ? \Ve're in the same boat, you
know."

"How in the same boat?" inquired the
Carrier.

" A little disparity, you know," said Tackle-
ton with another nudge. " Come and spend
an evening with us beforehand."

" Why ? " demanded John, astonished at this
pressing hospitality.

" Why ? " returned the other. " That's a new
way of receiving an invitation. Why, for plea-
sure — sociability, you know, and all that."

" I thought you were never sociable," said
John in his plain way.

" Tchah ! It's of no use to be anything but
free Avith you, I see," said Tackleton. " Why,
then, the truth is, you have a — what tea-drink-
ing people call a sort of a comfortable appear-
ance together, you and your wife. We know
better, you know, but "

" No, we don't know better," interposed John,
" What are you talking about ? "

" Well ! We don't know better, then," said
Tackleton. " We'll agree that we don't. As
you like ; Avhat does it matter ? I was going to
say, as you have that sort of appearance, your
company will produce a favourable effect on
Mrs. Tackleton that will be. And, though I
don't think your good lady's very friendly to me
in this matter, still she can't help herself from
falling into my views, for there's a compactness
and cosiness of appearance about her that always
tells, even in an indifferent case. You'll say
you'll come ?"

" We have arranged to keep our Wedding-day
(as far as that goes) at home," said John. " We
have made the promise to ourselves these six
months. We think, you see, that home "

" Bah ! what's home?" cried Tackleton. "Four
walls and a ceiling ! (Why don't you kill that
Cricket ? / would ! I always do. I hate their
noise.) There are four walls and a ceiling at
my house. Come to me ! "

" You kill your Crickets, eh ? " said John.

" Scrunch 'em, sir," returned the other, setting
his heel heavily on the floor. " You'll say you'll
come? It's as much your interest as mine, you
know, that the women should persuade each
other that they're quiet and contented, and
couldn't be better off. I know their way. What-
ever one woman says, another woman is deter-
mined to clinch always. There's that spirit of
emulation among 'em, sir, that if your wife says
to my wife, ' I'm the happiest woman in the
world, and mine's the best husband in the world,



and I dote on him,' my wife will say the same
to yours, or more, and half believe it."

" Do you mean to say she don't, then ?" asked
the Carrier.

" Don't ! " cried Tackleton with a short, sharp
laugh. '-Don't what?"

The Carrier had some faint idea of adding,
" dote upon you." But, happening to meet the
half-closed eye, as it twinkled upon him over the
turned-up collar of the cape, which was within
an ace of poking it out, he felt it such an un-
likely part and parcel of anything to be doted on,
that he substituted, "that she don't believe it?"

" Ah, you dog ! You're joking," said Tackle-
ton.

But the Carrier, though slow to understand
the full drift of his meaning, eyed him in such a
serious manner, that he was obliged to be a little
more explanatory.

" I have the humour," said Tackleton : hold-
ing up the fingers of his left hand, and tapping
the forefinger, to imply, " There I am, Tackleton
to wit : " "I have the humour, sir, to marry a
young wife, and a pretty wife : " here he rapped
his little finger, to express the Bride \ not
sparingly, but sharply; with a sense of power.
" I'm able to gratify that humour, and I do. It's
my whim. But — now look there !"

He pointed to where Dot was sitting, thought-
fully before the fire : leaning her dimpled chin
upon her hand, and watching the bright blaze.
The Carrier looked at her, and then at him, and
then at her, and then at him again.

" She honours and obeys, no doubt, you know,"
said Tackleton ; " and that, as I am not a man
of sentiment, is quite enough for i7ie. But do
you think there's anything more in it ? "

" I think," observed the Carrier, " that I
should chuck any man out of window who said
there wasn't."

" Exactly so," returned the other with an un-
usual alacrity of assent. " To be sure ! Doubt-
less you would. Of course. I'm certain of it.
Good night. Pleasant dreams ! "

The Carrier was puzzled, and made uncom-
fortable and uncertain, in spite of himself. He
couldn't help showing it in his manner.

" Good night, my dear friend ! " said Tackle-
ton compassionately. " I'm oft". We're exactly
alike in reality, I see. You won't give us to-
morrow evening ? Well ! Next day you go out
visiting, I know. I'll meet you there, and bring
my wife that is to be. It'll do her good. You're
agreeable ? Thankee. What's that ? "

It was a loud cry from the Carrier's wife : a
loud, sharp, sudden cry, that made the room
rine; like a glass vessel. She had risen from her



DOT ASTONISHES THE CARRIER.



87



seat, and stood like one transfixed by terror and
surprise. The Stranger had advanced towards
the fire to warm liimself, and stood within a
short stride of her chair. But quite still.

" Dot ! " cried the Carrier, '" Mary ! Dar-
ling ! What's the matter ? "

They were all about her in a moment. Caleb,
who had been dozing on the cake-box, in the
first imperfect recovery of his suspended presence
of mind, seized Miss Slowboy by the hair of her
head, but immediately apologised.

'"Mary!" exclaimed the Carrier, supporting
her in his arms. '"Are you ill? What is it?
Tell me, dear ! "

She only answered by beating her hands to-
gether, and falling into a wild fit of laughter.
Then, sinking from his grasp upon the ground,
she covered her face with her apron, and wept
bitterly. And then, she laughed again, and then
she cried again, and then she said how cold she
was, and suffered him to lead her to the fire,
where she sat down as before. The old man
standing, as before, quite still.

" I'm better, John," she said. " I'm quite
well now — I "

'' John ! " But John was on the other side of
her. "Why turn her face towards the strange old
gentleman, as if addressing him. Was her brain
wandering ? '

" Onl)- a fancy, John dear — a kind of shock
— a something coming suddenly before my eyes
— I don't know what it was. It's quite gone,
quite gone."

" I'm glad it's gone," muttered Tackleton,
turning the expressive eye all round the room.
" I wonder where it's gone, and what it was.
Humph ! Caleb, come here ! Who's that with
the grey hair ? "

" I don't know, sir," returned Caleb in a
whisper. " Never see him before in all my
life. A beautiful figure for a nutcracker \ quite
a new- model. With a screw-jaw opening down
into his waistcoat, he'd be lovely."

'• Not ugly enough," said Tackleton.

" Or for a fire-box, either," observed Caleb in
deep contemplation, "what a model ! Unscrew
his head to put the matches in ; turn him heels
up'ards for the light ; and what a fire-box for a
gentleman's mantel-shelf, just as he stands !"

" Not half ugly enough," said Tackleton.
" Nothing in him at all. Come ! Bring that
box ! All right now, I hope ?"

" Oh, quite gone ! Quite gone ! " said the
little woman, waving him hurriedly away.
"Good night !"

_ " Good night ! " said Tackleton. " Good
night, J ohn Peerybingle ! Take care how you



carry that box, Caleb. Let it fall, and I'll
murder you ! Dark as pitch, and weather worse
than ever, eh ? Good night !"

So, with another sharp look round the room,
he went out at the door ; followed by Caleb with
the wedding-cake on his head.

The Carrier had been so much astounded by
his little wife, and so busily engaged in sooth-
ing and tending her, that he had scarcely been
conscious of the Stranger's presence until now,
when he again stood there, their only guest.

" He don't belong to them, you see," said
John. " I must give him a hint to go."

" I beg your jxirdon, friend," said the old
gentleman, advancing to him; "the more so as
I fear your wife has not been well \ but the
Attendant whom my infirmity," he touched his
ears, and shook his head, " renders almost in-
dispensable, not having arrived, I fear there
must be some mistake. The bad night which
made the shelter of your comfortable cart (may
I never have a worse !) so acceptable, is still as
bad as ever. AVould you, in your kindness,
suffer me to rent a bed here ? "

" Yes, yes," cried Dot. " Yes ! Certainly !"

" Oh ! " said the Carrier, surprised by the
rapidity of this consent. " Well ! I don't
object ; but, still I'm not quite sure that "

" Hush ! " she interrupted. " Dear John ! "

" Why, he's stone deaf," urged John.

" I know he is, but Yes, sir, certainly.

Yes, certainly ! I'll make him up a bed directly,
John."

As she hurried off to do it, the flutter of her
spirits, and the agitation of her manner, were so
strange, that the Carrier stood looking after her,
quite confounded.

" Did its mothers make it up a Beds, then ! "
cried Miss Slowboy to the Baby ; " and did its
hair grow brown and curly when its caps was
lifted oft", and frighten it, a precious Pets, a sit-
ting by the fires ! "

With that unaccountable attraction of the
mind to trifles, which is often incidental to a
state of doubt and confusion, the Carrier, as he
walked slowly to and fro, found himself mentally
repeating even these absurd words, many times.
So many times, that he got them by heart, and was
still conning them over and over, like a lesson,
v/hen Tilly, after administering as much friction
to the little bald head with her hand as she
thought wholesome (according to the practice of
nurses), had once more tied the Baby's cap on.

" And frighten it, a precious Pets, a sitting by
the fires. What frightened Dot, I wonder?"
mused the Carrier, pacing to and fro.

He scoutedj from his heart, the insinuations^



88



THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH.



of the toy merchant, and yet they filled him
with a vague, indefinite uneasiness. For,
Tackleton was (juick and sly ; and he had that
painful sense, himself, of being a man of slow
perception, that a broken hint was always wor-
rying to him. He certainly had no intention in



his mind of linking anything that Tackleton had
said with the unusual conduct of his wife, but
the two subjects of reflection came into his
mind together, and he could not keep them
asunder.

The bed was soon made '"eady ; and the




"DID ITS MOTHF.RS MAKE IT UP A BKDS, THEN ! " CRIED MISS SLOWBOV TO THE BABY; "AND DID ITS HAIR
GROW BROWN AND CURLY WHEN ITS CAPS WAS LIFTED OFF, AND FRIGHTEN IT, A PRECIOUS PETS, A
SITTING BY THE FIRES ! "



visitor, declining all refreshment but a cup of
tea, retired. Then, Dot — quite well again, she
said, quite well again — arranged the great chair
in the chimney-corner for her husband ; filled
his pipe and gave it him ; and took her usual
little stool beside him on tlie hearth.



She always 7c>ouId sit on that little stool. I
think she must liave had a kind of notion that it
was a coaxing, wheedling little stool.

She was, out and out, the very best filler of a
pipe, I should say, in the four quarters of the
globe. To see her put that chubby little finger



CALEB FLUMMER AND HIS BLIND DAUGHTER.



89



in the bowl, and then blow down the pipe to
clear the tube, and, wlien she had done so,
affect to think that there was really something
in the tube, and blow a dozen times, and hold
it to her eye like a telescope, with a most pro-
voking twist in her capital little flice, as she
looked down it, was quite a brilliant thing. As
to the tobacco, she was perfect mistress of the
subject ; and her lighting of the pipe, with a
wisp of paper, when the Carrier had it in his
mouth — going so very near his nose, and yet
not scorching it — was Art, high Art.

And the Cricket and the Kettle, tuning up
again, acknowledged it ! The bright fire, blaz-
ing up again, acknowledged it ! The little
Mower on the clock, in his unheeded work,
acknowledged it ! The Carrier, in his smooth-
ing forehead and expanding face, acknowledged
it, the readiest of all.

And as he soberly and thoughtfully puffed at
his old pipe, and as the Dutch clock ticked, and
as the red fire gleamed, and as the Cricket
chirped ; that Genius of his Hearth and Home
(for such the Cricket was) came out, in fairy
shape, into the room, and summoned many
forms of Home about him. Dots of all ages
and all sizes filled the chamber. Dots who were
merry children, running on before him, gather-
ing flowers in the fields ; coy Dots, half shrink-
ing from, half yielding to, the pleading of his
own rough image ; newly-married Dots, alight-
ing at the door, and taking wondering posses-
sion of the household keys ; motherly little
Dots, attended by fictitious Slowboys, bearing
babies to be christened ; matronly Dots, still
young and blooming, watching Dots of daughters,
as they danced at rustic balls ; fat Dots, en-
circled and beset by troops of rosy grand-
children ; withered Dots, who leaned on sticks,
and tottered as they crept along. Old Carriers,
too, api)eared with blind old Boxers lying at
their feet ; and newer carts with younger
drivers {" Peerybingle Brothers " on the tilt) ;
and sick old Carriers, tended by the gentlest
hands ; and graves of dead and gone old
Carriers, green in the churchyard. And as the
Cricket showed him all these things — he saw
them plainly, though his eyes were fixed upon
the fire — the Carrier's heart grew light and
happy, and he thanked his Household Gods
with all his might, and cared no more for Gruff"
and Tackleton than you do.

But what was that young figure of a man,
which the same Fairy Cricket set so near Her
stool, and which remained there, singly and
alone ? Why did it linger still, so near her,



with its arm upon the chimney-piece, ever
repeating " Married ! and not to me ! "

Oh, Dot ! Oh, failing Dot ! There is no
place for it in all your husband's visions. Why
has its shadow fi.illen on his hearth .^




CHIRP THE SECOND.

ALEE PLUMMER and his Blind
Daughter lived all alone by them-
selves, as the Story Books say — and
my blessing, with yours to back it I
hope, on the Story Books, for saying
anything in this work-a-day world \
— Caleb Plummer and his Blind Daugh-
ter lived all alone by themselves, in a
litde cracked nutshell of a wooden house, which
was, in truth, no better than a pimple on the
prominent red-brick nose of Gruff and Tackleton.
The premises of Gruff and Tackleton were the
great feature of the street ; but you might have
knocked down Caleb Plummer's dwelling with
a hammer or two, and carried off the pieces in
a cart.

If any one had done the dwelling-house of
Caleb Plummer the honour to miss it after such
an inroad, it would have been, no doubt, to
commend its demolition as a vast improvement.
It stuck to the premises of Gruff and Tackleton,
like a barnacle to a ship's keel, or a snail to a
door, or a little bunch of toadstools to the stem
of a tree. But, it was the germ from which the
full-grown trunk of Gruff and Tackleton had
sprung ; and, under its crazy roof, the Gruff be-
fore last had, in a small way, made toys for a
generation of old boys and girls, who had played
with them, and found them out, and broken
them, and gone to sleep.

I have said that Caleb and his poor blind
daughter lived here. I should have said that
Caleb lived here, and his poor Blind Daughter
somewhere else — in an enchanted home of
Caleb's furnishing, where scarcity and shabbi-
ness were not, and trouble never entered. Caleb
was no sorcerer ; but in the only magic art that
still remains to us, the magic of devoted, death-
less love, Nature had been the mistress of his
study ; and, from her teaching, all the wonder
came.

The Blind Girl never knew that ceilings were
discoloured, walls blotched and bare of plaster
here and there, high crevices unstopped and'
widening every day, beams mouldering and
tending downward. The Blind Girl never



90



THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH.^



knew that iron was rusting, wood rotting, paper
peeling off; the size, and shape, and true pro-
portion of the dwelHng, withering away. The
BHnd Girl never knew that ugly shapes of delf
and earthenware were on the board ; that sor-
row and faint-heartedness were in the house;
that Caleb's scanty hairs were turning greyer and
more grey before her sightless face. The Blind
Girl never knew they had a master, cold, exact-
ing, and uninterested — never knew that Tackle-
ton was Tackleton, in short ; but lived in the
belief of an eccentric humorist, who loved to have
his jest with them, and who, while he was the
Guardian Angel of their lives, disdained to hear
one word of thankfulness.

And all was Caleb's doing ; all the doing of
her simple father ! But he, too, had a Cricket
on his Hearth ; and listening sadly to its music
when the motherless Blind Child was very young,
that Spirit had inspired him with the thought
that even her great deprivation might be almost
changed into a blessing, and the girl made
happy by these little means. For all the
Cricket tribe are potent Spirits, even though the
people who hold converse with them do not
know it (which is frequently the case), and there
are not in the unseen world voices more gentle
and more true, that may be so implicitly relied
on, or that are so certain to give none but ten-
derest counsel, as the Voices in which the
Spirits of the Fireside and the Hearth address
themselves to humankind.

Caleb and his daughter were at work together
in their usual working-room, which served them
for their ordinary living-room as well ; and a
strange place it was. There were houses in it,
finished and unfinished, for Dolls of all stations
in life. Suburban tenements for Dolls of mode-
rate means ; kitchens and single apartments for
Dolls of the lower classes; capital town resi-
dences for Dolls of high estate. Some of these
establishments were already furnished according
to estimate, with a view to the convenience of
Dolls of limited income ; others could be fitted
on the most expensive scale, at a moment's
notice, from whole shelves of chairs and tables,
sofas, bedsteads, and upholstery. The nobihty
and gentry and public in general, for whose
accommodation these tenements were designed,
lay here and there, in baskets, staring straight
up at the ceiling ; but in denoting their degrees
in society, and confining them to their respec-
tive stations (which experience shows to be
lamentably difficult in real life), the makers of
these Dolls had far improved on Nature, who is
often froward and perverse ; for, they, not rest-
ing on such arbitrary marks as satin, cotton



print, and bits of rag, had superadded striking
personal differences which allowed of no mis-
take. Thus, the Doll-lady of distinction had
wax limbs of perfect symmetry ; but, only she
and her compeers. The next grade in the social
scale being made of leather, and the next of
coarse linen stuff". As to the common people,
they had just so many matches out of tinder-
boxes for their arms and legs, and there they
were — established in their sphere at once, be-
yond the possibility of getting out of it.

There were various other samples of his
handicraft besides Dolls in Caleb Plummer's
room. There were Noah's arks, in which the
Birds and Beasts were an uncommonly tight fit,
I assure you ; though they could be crammed
in, anyhow, at the roof, and rattled and shaken
into the smallest compass. By a bold poetical
licence, most of these Noah's arks had knockers
on the doors ; inconsistent appendages, perhaps,
as suggestive of morning callers and a Postman,
yet a pleasant finish to the outside of the build-
ing. There were scores of melancholy little
carts, which, when the wheels Avent round, per-
formed most doleful music. Many small fiddles,
drums, and other instruments of torture ; no end
of cannon, shields, swords, spears, and guns.
There were little tumblers in red breeches, in-
cessantly sAvarming up high obstacles of red
tape, and coming down, head first, on the other
side ; and there were innumerable old gentle-
men of respectable, not to say venerable appear-
ance, insanely flying over horizontal pegs, in-
serted, for the purpose, in their own street-doors.
There were beasts of all sorts ; horses, in par-
ticular, of every breed, from the spotted barrel
on four pegs with a small tippet for a mane, to
the thorough-bred rocker on his highest mettle.
As it would have been hard to count the dozens
upon dozens of grotesque figures that were ever
ready to commit all sorts of absurdities on the
turning of a handle, so it would have been no
easy task to mention any human folly, vice, or
weakness that had not its type, immediate or re-
mote, in Caleb Plummer's room. And not in
an exaggerated form, for very little handles will
move men and women to as strange perform-
ances as any Toy was ever made to untler-
takc.

In the Hiidst of all these objects, Caleb and
his daughter sat at work. The Blind Girl busy
as a Doll's dressmaker; Caleb painting and
glazing the four-pair front of a desirable family
mansion.

The care imprinted in the lines of Caleb's
face, and his absorbed and dreamy manner,
which would have sat well on some alchemist



CALEB'S INNOCENT DECEPTION.



91



or abstruse student, were at first sight an odd
contrast to his occupation and the triviaUties
about him. But trivial things, invented and
I)ursued for bread, become vcr}' serious matters
of fact : and, apart from this consideration, I
am not at all prepared to say, myself, that if
Caleb had been a Lord Chamberlain, or a
Member of Parliament, or a lawyer, or even a
great speculator, he would have dealt in toys
one whit less whimsical, while I have a very
great doubt whether they would have been as
harmless.

"So you were out in the rain last night,
father, in your beautiful new great-coat," said
Caleb's daughter.

" In my beautiful new great-coat," answered
Caleb, glancing towards a clothesdine in the
room, on which the sackcloth garment previously
described was carefully hung up to dry.

" How glad I am you bought it, father ! "

"And of such a tailor too," said Caleb.
" Quite a fashionable tailor. It's too good
for me."

The Blind Girl rested from her work, and
laughed with delight. " Too good, father ! What
can be too good for you ? "

" I'm half ashamed to wear it, though," said
Caleb, watching the effect of what he said upon
her brightening face, " upon my word ! When
I hear the boys and people say behind me,
' Hal-loa ! Here's a swell !' I don't know which
way to look. And when the beggar wouldn't go
away last night ; and, when I said I was a very
common man, said, ' No, your Honour ! Bless
your Honour, don't say that ! ' I was quite
ashamed. I really felt as if I hadn't a right to



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 83 of 103)