Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 86 of 103)
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else, until a hand upon his shoulder restored
him to a consciousness of Tackleton.

"I am sorry to disturb you — but a word
directly."

" I'm going to deal," returned the Carrier.
" It's a crisis."

" It is," said Tackleton. " Come here, man !"

There was that in his pale face which made
the other rise immediately, and ask him, in a
hurry, what the matter was.



102



THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH.



" Hush ! John Peerybingle," said Tackleton,

" I am sorry for this. I am indeed. I have been

afraid of it. I have suspected it from the first."

" What is it ? " asked the Carrier with a

frightened aspect.

" Hush ! I'll show you, if you'll come with
me." _ >

The Carrier accompanied him without another
word. They went across a yard, where the stars
were shining, and by a little side-door, into
Tackleton's own counting-house, where there
was a glass window, commanding the ware-room,
which was closed for the night. There was no
light in the counting-house itself, but there were
lamps in the long narrow ware-room; and con-
sequently the window was bright.

"A moment!" said Tackleton. "Can you

bear to look through that window, do you think?"

" Why not ? " returned the Carrier.

" A moment more," said Tackleton. *' Don't

commit any violence. It's of no use. It's

dangerous too. You're a strong-made man ;

and you might do murder before you know it."

The Carrier looked him in the face, and

recoiled a step as if he had been struck. In

one stride he was at the window, and he=saw

Oh, Shadow on the Hearth ! Oh, truthful
Cricket!' Oh, perfidious wife !

He saw her with the old man — old no longer,
but erect and gallant — bearing in his hand the
false white hair that had won his way into their
desolate and miserable home. He saw her
listening to him, as he bent his head to Avhisper
in her ear; and suffering him to clasp her round
the waist, as they moved slowly down the dim
wooden gallery towards the door by which they
had entered it. He saw them stop, and saw her
turn — to have the face, the face lie loved so, so
presented to his view ! — and saw her, with her
own hands, adjust the lie upon his head, laugh-
ing, as she did it, at his unsuspicious nature !

He clenched his strong right hand at first, as
if it would have beaten down a lion. But, open-
ing it immediately again, he spread it out before
the eyes of Tackleton (for he was tender of her
even then), and so, as they passed out, fell down
upon a desk, and was as weak as any infant.

He was wrapped up to the chin, and busy
with his horse and parcels, when she came into
the room, prepared for going home.

" Now, John dear ! Good night. May ! Good
night. Bertha ! "

Could she kiss them ? Could she be blithe
and cheerful in her parting ? Could she venture
to reveal her face to them without a blush?
Yes. Tackleton observed her closely, and she
did all tliis.



Tilly was hushing the baby, and she crossed
and rccrossed Tackleton a dozen times, repeat-
ing drowsily :

" Did the knowledge that it was to be its
wives, then, wring its hearts almost to breaking;
and did its fathers deceive it from its cradles
but to break its hearts at last ! "

" Now, Tilly, give me the Baby ! Good night,
Mr. Tackleton. Where's John, for goodness'
sake ? "

" He's going to walk beside tlie horse's head,"
said Tackleton ; who helped her to her seat.

" My dear John ! Walk ? To-night ? "

The muftled figure of her husband made a
hasty sign in the affirmative ; and, the false
stranger and the little nurse being in their
places, the old horse moved off. Boxer, the
unconscious Boxer, running on before, running
back, running round and round the cart, and
barking as triumphantly and merrily as ever.

When Tackleton had gone off likewise, escort-
ing May and her mother home, poor Caleb sat
down by the fire beside his daughter; anxious
and remorseful at the core ; and still saying, in
his wistful contemplation of her, "Have I de-
ceived her from her cradle, but to break her
heart at last ? "

The toys that had been set in motion for
the Baby had all stopped and run down long
ago. In the faint light and silence, the imper-
turbably calm dolls, the agitated rocking-horses
with distended eyes and nostrils, the old gentle-
men at the street-doors, standing half doubled
up upon their failing knees and ankles, the wry-
faced nut-crackers, the very Beasts upon their
Avay into the Ark, in twos, like a Boarding-
School out Avalking, might have been imagined
to be stricken motionless with fantastic wonder
at Dot being false, or Tackleton beloved, under
any combination of circumstances.



CHIRP THE THIRD.

HE Dutch clock in the corner struck
Ten when the Carrier sat down by
his fireside. So troubled and grief-
worn that he seemed to scare the
^ _ Cuckoo, who, having cut his ten

1^1^?) melodious announcements as short as
^^ possible, plunged back into the Moorish
'^P Palace again, and clapped his little door
behind him, as if the unwonted spectacle were
too much for his feelings.

If the little Hay-maker had been armed with




THE VOICE OF HEARTH AND HOME.



103



the sharpest of scythes, and had cut at every
stroke into the Carrier's heart, he never could
have gashctl and wounded it as Dot had done.

It was a heart so full of love for her; so
bound up and held together by innumerable
threads of winning remembrance, spun from the
daily working of her many qualities of endear-
ment ; it was a heart in wliich she had enshrined
herself so gently and so closely ; a heart so single
and so earnest in its Truth, so strong in right,
so weak in wrong ; that it could cherish neither
passion nor revenge at first, and had only room
to hold the broken image of its Idol.

But, slowly, slowly, as the Carrier sat brooding
on his hearth, now cold and dark, other and
fiercer thoughts began to rise within him, as an
angry wind comes rising in the night. The
Stranger was beneath his outraged roof. Three
steps would take him to his chamber door. One
blow would beat it in. " You might do murder
before you know it," Tackleton had said. How
could it be murder, if he gave the villain time
to grapple with him hand to hand ? He was the
younger man.

It was an ill-timed thought, bad for the dixk
mood of his mind. It was an angry thought,
goading him to some avenging act, that should
change the cheerful house into a haunted place
which lonely travellers would dread to pass by
night ; and where the timid would see shadows
struggling in the ruined windows when the moon
was dim, and hear wild noises in the stormy
weather.

He was the younger man ! Yes, yes ; some
lover who had won the heart that he had never
touched. Some lover of her early choice, of
Avhom she had thought and dreamed, for whom
she had pined and pined, when he had fancied
her so happy by his side. Oh, agony to think
of it !

She had been above-stairs with the Baby;
getting it to bed. As he sat brooding on the
hearth, she came close beside him, without his
knowledge — in the turning of the rack of his
great misery, he lost all other sounds — and put
her httle stool at his feet. He only knew it
when he felt her hand upon his own, and saw
her looking up into his face.

With wonder ? No. It was his first impres-
sion, and he was fain to look at her again, to set
it right. No, not with wonder. With an eager
and inquiring look ; but not with wonder. At
first it was alarmed and serious ; then, it changed
into a strange, wild, dreadful smile of recognition
of his thoughts ; then, there was nothing but her
clasped hands on her brow, and her bent head,
and falling hair.



Though the power of Omnipotence had been
his to wield at that moment, he had too much
of its diviner property of Mercy in his breast, ta
have turned one feather's weight of it against
her. But he could not bear to see her crouching
down upon the little seat wliere he had often
looked on her, with love and pride, so innocent
and gay ; and, when she rose and left him, sob-
bing as she went, he felt it a relief to have the
vacant place beside him rather than Iier so long-
cherished presence. This in itself was anguish
keener than all, reminding him how desolate he
was become, and how the great bond of his life
was rent asunder.

The more he felt this, and the more he knew
he could have better borne to see her lying pre-
maturely dead before him with her little child
upon her breast, the higher and the stronger
rose his wrath against his enemy. He looked
about him for a weapon.

There was a gun hanging on the wall. He
took it down, and moved a pace or two towards
the door of the perfidious Stranger's room. He
knew the gun was loaded. Some shadowy idea
that it was just to shoot this man like a wild
beast seized him, and dilated in his mind until
it grew into a monstrous demon in complete pos-
session of him, casting out all milder thoughts,
and setting up its undivided empire.

That phrase is wrong. Not> casting out his
milder thoughts, but artfully transforming them.
Changing them into scourges to drive him on.
Turning water into blood, love into hate, gentle-
ness into blind ferocity. Her image, sorrowing,
humbled, but still pleading to his tenderness
and mercy wdth resistless power, never left his
mind; but, staying there, it urged him to the
door ; raised the weapon to his shoulder ; fitted
and nerved his finger to the trigger ; and cried
"Kill him! In his bed!"

He reversed the gim to beat the stock upon
the door ; he already held it lifted in the air ;
some indistinct design was in his thoughts of
calling out to him to fly, for God's sake, by the
window

When, suddenly, the struggling fire illuminated
the whole chimney with a glow of light ; and the
Cricket on the Hearth began to Chirp !

No sound he could have heard, no human
voice, not even hers, could so have moved and
softened him. The artless words in which she
had told him of her love for this same Cricket
were once more freshly spoken ; her trembling,
earnest manner at the moment was again before
him ; her pleasant voice — oh, what a voice it
was for making household music at the fireside
of an honest man ! — thrilled through and through



I04



THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH.



his better nature, and awoke it into life and
action.

He recoiled from the door, like a man walking
in his sleep, awakened from a frightful dream ;
and put the gun aside. Clasping his hands
before his face, he then sat down again beside
the fire, and found relief in tears.

The Cricket on the Hearth came out into the
room, and stood in Fairy shape before him.

" ' I love it,' " said the Fairy Voice, repeating
what he well remembered, " ' for the nianv times



I have heard it, and the many thoughts its
harmless music has given me.' "

" She said so ! " cried the Carrier. " True ! "

" ' This has been a happy home, John ! and
I love the Cricket for its sake ! ' "

" It has been, Heaven knows," returned the
Carrier. "She made it happy, always, — until now."

" So gracefully sweet-tempered ; so domestic,
joyful, busy, and light-hearted ! " said the Voice.

" Otherwise I never could have loved her as I
did," returned the Carrier.




SUFI'ERIXG liiil TU CLAi>r HER KuUND



GALLERY.



IHEV MOVED SLOWLY DOWN THE DIM WOODEN



The Voice, correcting him, said " do."

The Carrier repeated " as I did." But not
firmly. His faltering tongue resisted his control,
and would speak in its own way for itself and him.

The Figure, in an attitude of invocation, raised
its hand and said :

" Upon your own hearth "

" The hearth she has blighted," interposed
the Carrier.

" The hearth s,je has — how often ! — blessed
and brightened," said the Cricket ; " the hearth
which, but for her, were only a few stones and
bricks and rusty bars, but which has been,



through her, the Altar of your Home ; on which
you have nightly sacrificed some petty passion,
selfishness, or care, and offered up the homage
of a trancpil mind, a trusting nature, and an
overflowing heart ; so that the smoke from this
poor chimney has gone upward with a better
fragrance than the richest incense that is burnt
before the richest shrines in all the gaudy temples
of this world ! — Upon your own hearth ; in its
quiet sanctuary ; surrounded by its gentle in-
fluences and associations ; hear her ! Hear me !
Hear everything that speaks the language of
your hearth and home ! "



THE HOUSEHOLD SPIRITS.



lo?



" And pleads for her ? " inquired the Carrier.

•' All things that speak the language of your
learth an-l home must plead for her ! " returned
the Cricket. " For they speak the truth."

And while the Carrier, with his head upon his
hands, continued to sit meditating in his chair,
the Presence stood beside him, suggesting his
reflections by its power, and presenting them
before him, as in a glass or picture. It was not
a solitary Presence. From the hearth-stone,
from the chimney, from the clock, the pipe, the
kettle, and the cradle ; from the floor, the walls,
the ceiling, and the stairs ; from the cart with-
out, and the cupboard within, and the house-
hold implements ; from everything and every
place with which she had ever been fLuniliar, and
with which she had ever entwined one recollec-
tion of herself in her unhappy husband's mind ;
Fairies came trooping forth. Not to stand be-
side him as the Cricket did, but to busy and
bestir themselves. To do all honour to her
image. To pull him by the skirts, and point to
it when it appeared. To cluster round it, and
embrace it, and strew flowers for it to tread on.
To try to crown its fair head with their tiny
hands. To show that they were fond of it, and
loved it ; and that there was not one ugly,
wicked, or accusatory creature to claim know-
ledge of it — none but their playful and approv-
ing selves.

His thoughts were constant to her image. It
was always there.

She sat plying her needle, before the fire, and
singing to herself. Such a blithe, thriving, steady
little Dot ! The Fairy figures turned upon him
all at once, by one consent, with one prodigious
concentrated stare, and seemed to say, " Is this
the light wife you are mourning for ? "

There were sounds of gaiety outside, musical
instruments, and noisy tongues, and laughter.
A crowd of young merry-makers came pouring
in, among whom were May Fielding and a score
of pretty girls. Dot was the fairest of them all ;
as young as any of them too. They came to
summon her to join their party. It was a dance.
If ever little foot were made for dancing, hers
was, surely. But she laughed, and shook her
head, and pointed to her cookery on the fire,
and her table ready spread ; with an exulting
defiance that rendered her more charming than
she was before. And so she merrily dismissed
them, nodding to her would-be partners, one by
one, as they passed out, with a comical indiffer-
ence, enough to make them go and drown them-
selves immediately if they were her admirers —
and they must have been so, more or less ; they
couldn't help it. And yet indifterence was not



her character. Oh no I For presently there
came a certain Carrier to the door ; and, bless
her, what a welcome she bestowed upon him !

Again the staring figures turned upon him all
at once, and seemed to say, " Is this the wife
who has forsaken you ? "

A shadow fell upon the mirror or the picture :
call it what you will. A great shadow of the
Stranger, as he first stood underneath their roof ;
covering its surface, and blotting out all other
objects. But, the nimble Fairies worked like
bees to clear it off again. And Dot again was
there. Still bright and beautiful.

Rocking her little Baby in its cradle, singing
to it softly, and resting her head upon a shoulder
which had its counterpart in the musing figure
by which the Fairy Cricket stood.

The night — I mean the real night : not going
by Fairy clocks — was wearing now ; and, in this
stage of the Carrier's thoughts, the moon burst
out, and shone brightly in the sky. Perhaps
some calm and quiet light had risen also in his
mind \ and he could think more soberly of what
had happened.

Although the shadow of the Stranger fell at
intervals upon the glass — always distinct, and
big, and thoroughly defined — it never fell so
darkly as at first. Whenever it appeared, the
Fairies uttered a general cry of consternation,
and plied their little arms and legs with incon-
ceivable activity to rub it out. And whenever
they got at Dot again, and showed her to him
once more, bright and beautiful, they cheered in
the most inspiring manner.

They never showed her otherwise than beauti-
ful and bright, for they were Household Spirits
to whom falsehood is an annihilation ; and being
so, what Dot was there for them, but the one
active, beaming, pleasant little creature who had
been the light and sun of the Carrier's Home ?

The Fairies were prodigiously excited when
they showed her, with the Baby, gossiping
among a knot of sage old matrons, and affect-
ing to be wondrous old and matronly herself,
and leaning in a staid demure old way upon her
husband's arm, attempting — she ! such a bud of
a little woman — to convey the idea of having
abjured the vanities of t,he world in general, and
of being the sort of person to whom it was no
novelty at all to be a mother ; yet, in the same
breath, they showed her laughing at the Carrier
for being awkward, and pulling up his shirt
collar to make him smart, and mincing merrily
about that very room to teach him how to dance 1

They turned, and stared immensely at him
when they showed her with the Blind Girl ; for,
though she carried cheerfulness and animation



io6



THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTIL



with her wheresoever she went, she bore those
influences into Caleb Plummer's home, heaped
up and running over. The BHnd Girl's love for
her, and trust in her, and gratitude to her, her
own good busy way of setting Bertha's thanks
aside ; her dexterous little arts for filling up each
moment of the visit in doing something useful to
the house, and really working hard while feign-
ing to make holiday ; her bountiful provision of
those standing delicacies, the Veal and Ham Pie
and the bottles of Beer ; her radiant little face
arriving at the door, and taking leave ; the won-
derful expression in her whole self, from her neat
foot to the crown of her head, of being a part of
the establishment — a something necessary to it,
which it couldn't be without ; all this the Fairies
revelled in, and loved her for. And once again
they looked upon him all at once^ appealingly,
and seemed to say, while some among them
nestled in her dress and fondled her, " Is this
the wife who has betrayed your confidence ? "

More than once, or twice, or thrice, in the
long thoughtful night, they showed her to him
sitting on her favourite seat, with her bent head,
her hands clasped on her brow, her failing hair.
As he had seen her last. And when they found
her thus, they neither turned nor looked upon
him, but gathered close round her, and com-
forted and kissed her, and pressed on one another,
to show sympathy and kindne?': lo her, and for-
got him altogether.

Thus the night passed. The moon went
down ; the stars grew pale ; the cold day broke ;
the sun rose. The Carrier still sat, musing, in
the chimney-corner. He had sat there, with his
head upon his hands, all night. All night the
faithful Cricket had been Chirp, Chirp, Chirping
on the Hearth. All night he had listened to its
voice. All night the Household Fairies had
been busy with him. All night she had been
amiable and blameless in the glass, except when
that one shadow fell upon it.

He rose up when it was broad day, and washed
and dressed himself. He couldn't go about his
customary cheerful avocations — he wanted spirit
for them — but it mattered the less that it was
Tackleton's wedding-day, and he had arranged
to make his rounds by proxy. He had thought
to have gone merrily to church with Dot. But
such plans were at an end. It was their own
wedding-day too. Ah ! how little he had looked
for such a close to such a year !

The Carrier expected that Tackleton would
pay him an early visit ; and he was right. He
had not walked to and fro before his own
door many minutes, when he saw the toy mer-
chant coming in his chaise along the road. As



the chaise drew nearer, he perceived that Tackie-
ton was dressed out sprucely for his marriage,
and that he had decorated his norse's head with
flowers and favours.

The horse looked much more like a bride-
groom than Tackleton, whose half-closed eye
was more disagreeably expressive than ever.
But the Carrier took little heed of this. His
thoughts had other occupation.

" John Peerybingle !" said Tackleton with an
air of condolence. " My good fellow, how do
you find yourself this morning ? ''

" I have had but a poor night, Master Tackle-
ton," returned the Carrier, shaking his head :
" for I have been a good deal disturbed in my
mind. But it's over now ! Can you spare me
half an hour or so, for some private talk ? "

" I came on purpose," returned Tackleton,
alighting. " Never mind the horse. He'll stand
quiet enough, with the reins over this post, if
you'll give him a mouthful of hay."

The Carrier having brought it from his stable
and set it before him, they turned into the house.

" You are not married before noon," he said,
"I think?"

" No," answered Tackleton. *' Plenty of time.
Plenty of time."

When they entered the kitchen, Tilly Slowboy
was rapping at the Stranger's door ; which was
only removed from it by a few steps. One of
her very red eyes (for Tilly had been crying all
night long, because her mistress cried) was at
the keyhole ; and she was knocking very loud,
and seemed frightened.

" If you please I can't make nobody hear,"
said Tilly, looking round. " I hope nobody an't
gone and been and died if you please ! "

This philanthropic wish Miss Slowboy em-
phasized with various ne\v raps and kicks at the
door, which led to no result whatever.

" Shall I go ? " said Tackleton. " It's curi-
ous."

The Carrier, who had turned his face from the
door, signed him to go if he would.

So Tackleton went to Tilly Slowboy's relief;
and he too kicked and knocked ; and he too
failed to get the least reply. But he thought of
trying the handle of the door ; and, as it opened
easily, he peeped in, looked in, went in,; and
soon came running out again.

"John Peerybingle," said Tackleton in his
ear, " I hope there has been nothing — nothing
rash in the night ? "

The Carrier turned upon him quickly.

" Because he's gone ! " said Tackleton ; " and
the window's open. I don't see any marks — to
be sure, it's almost on a level with the garden ;



THE CARRIER'S RESOLVE.



107



but I was afraid there might have been some —
some scuflle. Eh ? "

He nearly shut up the expressive eye alto-
gether ; he looked at him so hard. And he gave
his eye, and his face, and his whole person, a
sharp twist. As if he would have screwed the
truth out of him.

" Make yourself easy," said the Carrier. " He
went into that room last night, without harm in
word or deed from me, and no one has entered
it since. He is away of his own free-will. I'd
go out gladly at that door, and beg my bread
from house to house, for life, if I could so
change the past that he had never come. But
he has come and gone. And I have done with
him ! "

" Oh !— Well, I think he has got off pretty
easy," said Tackleton, taking a chair.

The sneer was lost upon the Carrier, who sat
down too, and shaded his face with his hand,
for some little time, before proceeding.

'• You showed me last night," he said at length,
" my wife ; my wife that I love ; secretly "

" And tenderly," insinuated Tackleton.

" — Conniving at that man's disguise, arid
giving him opportunities of meeting her alone.
I think there's no sight I wouldn't have rather
seen than that. I think there's no man in the
world I wouldn't have rather had to show it me."

" I confess to having had my suspicions
always," said Tackleton. " And that has made
me objectionable here, I know."

" But, as you did show it me," pursued the
Carrier, not minding him; "and as you saw
her, my wife, my wife that I love " — his voice,
and eye, and hand grew steadier and firmer as
he repeated these words : evidently in pursuance
of a steadfast purpose — "as you saw her at
this disadvantage, it is right and just that you
should also see with my eyes, and look into my
breast, and know what my mind is upon the
subject. For it's settled," said the Carrier,



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 86 of 103)