Charles Dickens.

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

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regarding him attentively. "And nothing can
shake it now."

Tackleton muttered a few general words of
assent about its being necessary to vindicate
something or other ; but he was overawed by
the manner of his companion. Plain and un-
polished as it was, it had a something dignified
and noble in it, which nothing but the soul of
generous honour dwelling in the man could
have imparted.

" I am a plain, rough man," pursued the
Carrier, " with very little to recommend me. I
am not a clever man, as you very well know.
I am not a young man. I loved my little Dot,
because I had seen her grow up, from a child, in



her father's house; because I knew how precious
she was ; because she had been my life for years
and years. There's many men I can't compare
with, who never could have loved my little Dot
like me, I think ! "

He paused, and softly beat the ground a short
time with his foot, before resuming :

" I often thought that though I wasn't good
enough for her, I should make her a kind hus-
band, and perhaps know her value better than
another : and in this way I reconciled it to my-
self, and came to think it might be possible that
we should be married. And, in the end, it came
about, and we were married ! "

" Hah ! " said Tackleton with a significant
shake of his head.

" I had studied myself; I had had experience
of myself; I knew how much I loved her, and
how happy I should be," pursued the Carrier.
" But I had not — I feel it now — sufficiently con-
sidered her."

" To be sure," said Tackleton. " Giddiness,
frivolity, fickleness, love of admiration ! Not
considered ! All left out of sight ! Hah ! "

"You had best not interrupt me," said the
Carrier with some sternness, " till you under-
stand me ; and you're wide of doing so. If,
yesterday, I'd have struck that man down at a
blow, who dared to breathe a. word against her,
to-day I'd set my foot upon his face, if he was
my brother ! "

The toy merchant gazed at him in astonish-
ment. He went on in a softer tone :

" Did I consider," said the Carrier, " that I
took her — at her age, and with her beaut)^ —
from her young companions, and the many
scenes of which she was the ornament ; in
which she was the brightest little star that ever
shone, to shut her up from day to day in my
dull house, and keep my tedious company ?
Did I consider how little suited I was to her
sprightly humour, and how wearisome a plod-
ding man like me must be to one of her quick
spirit? Did I consider that it was no merit in
me, or claim in me, that I loved her, when
everybody must who knew her? Never. 1
took advantage of her hopeful nature and her
cheerful disposition ; and I married her. I wish
I never had ! For her sake ; not for mine ! "

The toy merchant gazed at him without wink-
ing. Even the half-shut eye was open now.

" Heaven bless her ! " said the Carrier, " for
the cheerful constancy with which she has tried
to keep the knowledge of this from me ! And
Heaven help me, that, in my slow mind, I have
not found it out before ! Poor child ! Poor
Dot ! / not to find it out, who have seen her



io8



THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH.



eyes fill with tears when such a marriage as our
own was spoken of! I, who have seen the
secret trembling on her lips a hundred times,
and never suspected it, till last night ! Poor
girl ! That I could ever hope she would be
fond of me ! That I could ever believe she
was ! "

" She made a show of it," said Tackleton.
" She made such a show of it, that, to tell you
the truth, it was the origin of my misgivings."

And here he asserted the superiority of May
Fielding, who certainly made no sort of show of
being fond of //////.

" She has tried," said the poor Carrier with
greater emotion than he had exhibited yet ; " I
only now begin to know how hard she has tried,
to be my dutiful and zealous wife. How good
she has been ; how much she has done ; how
brave and strong a heart she has ; let the happi-
ness I have known under this roof bear witness !
It will be some help and comfrs^^ to me when I
am here alone."

" Here alone ?" said TackletOn. " Oh ! Then
you do mean to take some notice of this ? "

" I mean," returned the Carrier, " to do her
the greatest kindness, and make her the best
reparation, in my power. I cani release her from
the daily pain of an unequal marriage, and the
struggle to conceal it. She shall "be as free as I
can render her."

" Make her reparation ! " exclaimed Tackle-
ton, twisting and turning his great ears with his
hands. " There must be something wrong here.
You didn't say that, of course."

The Carrier set his grip upon the collar of
the toy merchant, and shook him like a reed.

" Listen to me ! " he said. " And take care
that you hear me right. Listen to me. Do I
speak plainly ? "

" Very plainly indeed," answered Tackleton.

" As if I meant it ? "

" Very much as if you meant it."

" I sat upon that hearth, last night, all night,"
exclaimed the Carrier. " On the spot where
she has often sat beside me, with her sweet face
looking into mine. I called up her whole life
day by day. I had her dear self, in its every
passage, in review before me. And, upon my
soul, she is innocent, if there is One to judge
the innocent and guilty ! "

Staunch Cricket on the Hearth ! Loyal
Household Fairies !

" Passion and distrust have left me ! " said
the Carrier ; " and nothing but my grief remains.
In an unhappy moment some old lover, better
suited to her tastes and years than I ; forsaken,
perhaps, for me, against her will ; returned. In



an unhappy moment, taken by surprise, and
wanting time to think of what she did, she made
herself a party to his treachery by concealing it.
Last night she saw him, in the interview we wit-
nessed. It was wrong. But, otherwise than this,
she is innocent, if there is truth on earth ! "

" If that is your opinion " Tackleton

began. ^

" So, let her go ! " pursued the Carrier. " Go,
wuh my blessing for the many happy hours she
has given me, and my forgiveness for any pang
she has caused me. Let her go, and have the
peace of mind I wish her ! She'll never hate
me. She'll learn to like me better wlien I'm not
a drag upon her, and she wears the cliain I have
riveted more lightly. This is the day on which
I took her, with so little thought for her enjoy-
ment, from her home. To-day she shall return
to it, and I will trouble her no more. Her
father and mother will be here to-day — we had
made a little plan for keeping it together — and
they shall take her home. I can trust her there,
or anywhere. She leaves me without blame,
and she will live so I am sure. If I should die
— I may perhaps while she is still young ; I have
lost some courage in a few hours — she'll find
that I remembered her, and loved her to the
last ! This is the end of what you showed me.
Now, it's over ! "

"Oh no, John, not over! Do not say it's
over yet ! Not quite yet. I have heard your
noble words. I could not steal away, pretend-
ing to be ignorant of what has affected me with
such deep gratitude. Do not say it's over till
the clock has struck again ! "

She had entered shortly after Tackleton, and
had remained there. She never looked at Tackle-
ton, but fixed her eyes upon her husband. But
she kept away from him, setting as wide a space
as possible between them; and, though she spoke
with most impassioned earnestness, she went no
nearer to him even then. How difterent in this
from her old self !

" No hand can make the clock which will
strike again for me the hours that are gone,"
replied the Carrier with a faint smile. " But let
it be so, if you will, my dear. It will strike
soon. It's of little matter what we say. I'd try
to please you in a harder case than that."

" Well ! " muttered Tackleton. " I must be
off, for, when the clock strikes again, it'll be
necessary for me to be upon my way to church.
Good morning, John Peerybingle. I'm sorry to
be deprived of the pleasure of your company.
Sorry for the loss, and the occasion of it too ! "

" I have spoken plainly ? " said the Carrier,
accompanying him to the door.



BEFORE THE CLOCK STRUCK.



109



" Oh, quite ! "

" And you'll remember what I have said ? "

" Why, if you compel me to make the obser-
vation," said Tackleton ; previously taking the
precaution of getting into his chaise ; " I must
say that it was so very unexpected, that I'm far
from being likely to forget it."

" The better for us both," returned the Carrier.
" Good-bye. I give you joy ! "

" I wish I could give it to you" said Tackle-
ton. " As I can't, thankee. Between ourselves,
(as I told you before, eh ?) I don't much think
I shall have the less joy in my married life be-
cause May hasn't been too officious about me,
and too demonstrative. Good-bye ! Take care
of yourself."

The Carrier stood looking after him until he
was smaller in the distance than his horse's
flowers and favours near at hand ; and then,
with a deep sigh, went strolling like a restless,
broken man, among some neighbouring elms ;
unwilling to return until the clock was on the
eve of striking.

His little wife, oeing left alone, sobbed pite-
ously; but often dried her eyes and checked
herself, to say how good he was, how excellent
he was ! and once or twice she laughed ; so
heartily, triumphantly, and incoherently (still
crying all the time), that Tilly was quite horrified.

" Ow, if you please, don't ! " said Tilly. '* It's
enough to dead and bury the Baby, so it is if
you please."

" Will you bring him sometimes to see his
father, Tilly," inquired her mistress, drying her
eyes; "when I can't live here, and hsve gone to
my old home ? "

" Ow, if you please, don't ! " cried 'Jilly, throw-
ing back her head, and bursting out into a howl
— she looked at the moment uncommonly like
Boxer. "Ow, if you please, don't ! Ow, what
has everybody gone and been and done with
everybody, making everybody else so wretched ?
Ow-w-w-w ! "

The soft-hearted Slowboy tailed off at this
juncture into such a deplorable howl, the more
tremendous from its long suppression, that she
must infallibly have awakened the Baby, and
frightened him into something serious (probably
convulsions), if her eyes had not encountered
Caleb Plummer leading in his daughter. This
spectacle restoring her to a sense of the pro-
prieties, she stood for some few moments silent,
with her mouth wide open ; and then, posting
off to the bed on which the Baby lay asleep,
danced in a weird, St. Vitus manner on the
floor, and at the same time rummaged with her
face and head among the bedclothes, apparently



deriving much relief from those extraordinary
operations.

" jMary ! " said Bertha. " Not at the mar-
riage ! "

" I told her you would not be there, mum,"
whispered Caleb. " I heard as much last night.
But bless you," said the little man, taking her
tenderly by both hands, " /don't care for what
they say. / don't believe them. There an't
much of me, but that little should be torn to
pieces sooner than I'd trust a word against
you ! "

He put his arms about her neck and hugged
her, as a child might have hugged one of his
own dolls.

" Bertha couldn't stay at home this morning,"
said Caleb. " She was afraid, I know, to hear
the bells ring, and couldn't trust herself to be
so near them on their wedding-day. So we
started in good time, and came here. I have
been thinking of what I have done," said Caleb
after a moment's pause ; " I have been blaming
myself till I hardly knew what to do, or where
to turn, for the distress of mind I have caused
her ; and I've come to the conclusion that I'd
better, if you'll stay with me, mum, the while, tell
her the truth. You'll stay with me the while ? "
he inquired, trembling from head to foot. " I
don't know what eft'ect it may have upon her ;
I don't know what she'll think of me ; I don't
know that she'll ever care for her poor father
aftenvards. But it's best for her that she should
be undeceived, and I must bear the conse-
quences as I deserve ! "

" Mary," said Bertha, " where is your hand ?
Ah ! Here it is ; here it is ! " pressing it to her
lips with a smile, and drawing it through her
arm. " I heard them speaking softly among
themselves last night of some blame against you.
They were wrong."

The Carrier's v»'ife was silent. Caleb answered
for her.

" They were wrong," he said.

" I knew it ! " cried Bertha proudly. " I told
them so. I scorned to hear a word ! Blame her
with justice ! " she pressed the hand between
her own, and the soft cheek against her face.
" No, I am not so blind as that."

Her father went on one side of her, while
Dot remained upon the other : holding her hand.

" I know you all," said Bertha, " better than
you think. But none so well as her. Not even
you, father. There is nothing half so real and
so true about me as she is. If I could be re-
stored to sight this instant, and not a word were
spoken, I could choose her from a crowd ! My
sister ! "



THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH.



*' Bertha, my dear ! " said Caleb. " I have
something on my mind I want to tell you while
we three are alone. Hear me kindly ! I have
a confession to make to you, my darling ! "

" A confession, father ? "

"I have wandered from the truth, and lost
myself, my child," said Caleb with a pitiable
expression in his bewildered face. " I have
wandered from the truth, intending to be kind
to you ; and have been cruel."

She turned her wonder-stricken face towards
him, and repeated " Cruel ! "

" He accuses himself too strongly. Bertha,"
said Dot. " You'll say so presently. You'll be
the first to tell him so."

" He cruel to me ! " cried Bertha with a smile
of incredulity.

" Not meaning it, my child," said Caleb.
" But I have been : though I never suspected it
till yesterday. My dear blind daughter, hear
me and forgive me. The world you live in,
heart of mine, doesn't exist as I have represented
it. The eyes you have trusted in have been
false to you."

She turned her wonder-stricken face towards
him still ; but drew back, and clung closer to her
friend.

" Your road in life was rough, my poor one,"
sa d Caleb, " and I meant to smooth it for
you. I have altered objects, changed the cha-
racters of people, invented many things that
never have been, to make you happier. I have
had concealments from you, put deceptions on
you, God forgive me ! and surrounded you with
fancies."

" But living people are not fancies ? " she
said hurriedly, and turning very pale, and still
retiring from him. "You can't change them."

" I have done so, Bertha," pleaded Caleb.
"There is one person that you know, my
dove "

" Oh, father ! why do you say, I know ? " she
answered in a term of keen reproach. " What
and whom do / know ? I who have no leader !
I so miserably blind ! "

In the anguish of her heart, she stretched out
her hands, as if she were groping her way ; then
spread them, in a manner most forlorn and sad,
upon her face.

" The marriage that takes place to-day," said
Caleb, " is with a stern, sordid, grinding man.
A hard master to you and me, my dear, for many
years. Ugly in his looks, and in his nature.
Cold and callous always. Unlike what I have
painted him to you in everything, my child. In
everything."

" Oh, wh}^," cried the Blind Gid, tortured, as



it seemed, almost beyond endurance, " why did
you ever do this ? Why did you ever fill my
heart so full, and then come in like Death, and
tear away the objects of my love ? O Heaven,
how blind I am ! How helpless and alone ! "

Her afflicted father hung his head, and offered
no reply but in his penitence and sorrow.

She had been but a short time in this passion
of regret when the Cricket on the Hearth, un-
heard by all but her, began to chirp. Not mer-
rily, but in a low, faint, sorrowing way. It was
so mournful, that her tears began to flow ; and,
when the Presence which had been beside the
Carrier all night, appeared behind her, pointing
to her father, they fell down like rain.

She heard the Cricket-voice more plainly soon,,
and was conscious, through her blindness, of the
Presence hovering about her father.

" Mary," said the Blind Giri, " tell me what
my home is. What it truly is."

" It is a poor place. Bertha ; very poor and
bare indeed. The house will scarcely keep out
wind and rain another winter. It is as roughly
shielded from the weather. Bertha," Dot con-
tinued in a low, clear voice, "as your poor father
in his sackcloth coat."

The Blind Girl, greatly agitated, rose, and led
the Carrier's little wife aside.

" Those presents that I took such care of ;
that came almost at my wish, and were so dearly
welcome to me," she said, trembling ; " where
did they come from ? Did you send them ? "

" No."

" Who, then ? "

Dot saw she knew already, and was silent.
The Blind Gii I spread her hands before her face
again. But in quite another manner now.

" Dear Mary, a moment. One moment.
More this way. Speak softly to me. You are
true I know. You'd not deceive me now ; would
you ? "

" No, Bertha, indeed ! "

" No, I am sure you would not. You have
too much pity for me. Mary, look across the
room to where we were just now — to where my
father is — my father, so compassionate and loving
to me — and tell me what you see."

" I see," said Dot, who understood her well,
'•' an old man sitting in a chair, and leaning sor-
rowfully on the back, with his face resting on
his hand. As if his child should comfort him,
Bertha."

" Yes, yes. She will. Go on."

" Pie is an old man, worn with care and work.
He is a spare, dejected, thoughtful, grey-haired
man. I see him now, despondent and bowed
down, and striving against nothing. But, Bertha,



WHOSE STEP WAS IT?



Ill



I have seen him many times before, and striv-
ing hard in many ways, for one great sacred
object. And I honour his grey head, and bless
him ! "

The BHnd Girl broke away from her ; and,
throwing herself upon her knees before him, took
the grey head to her breast.

" It is my sight restored. It is my sight ! "
she cried. '' I have been blind, and now my
eyes are open. I never knew him ! To think
I might have died, and never truly seen the
father who has been so loving to me ! "

There were no words for Caleb's emotion.

" There is not a gallant figure on this earth,"
exclaimed the Blind Girl, holding him in her
embrace, " that I would love so dearly, and
would cherish so devotedly, as this ! The greyer,
and more worn, the dearer, fother ! Never let
them say I am blind again. There's not a fur-
row in his face, there's not a hair upon his head,
that shall be forgotten in my prayers and thanks
to Heaven ! "

Caleb managed to articulate, " My Bertha ! "

" And in my blindness I believed him," said
the girl, caressing him with tears of exquisite
affection, " to be so different. And having him
beside me day by day, so mindful of me always,
never dreamed of this ! "

" The fresh smart father in the blue coat,
Bertha," said poor Caleb. " He's gone ! "

" Nothing is gone," she answered. " Dearest
father, no ! Everything is here— in you. The
father that I loved so well ; the father that I
never loved enough, and never knew; the bene-
factor whom I first began to reverence and love,
because he had such sympathy for me ; All are
here in you. Nothing is dead to me. The soul
of all that was most dear to me is here — here,
with the worn face, and the grey head. And I
am NOT blind, father, any longer ! "

Dot's whole attention had been concentrated,
during this discourse, upon the father and
daughter ; but looking, now, towards the little
Hay-maker in the Moorish meadow, she saw
that the clock was within a few minutes of strik-
ing, and fell, immediately, into a nervous and
excited state.

" Father ! " said Bertha, hesitating. " Mary ! "

" Yes, my dear," returned Caleb. " Here
she is."

" There is no change in her. You never told
me anything of her that was not true ? "

" I should have done it, my dear, I'm afraid,"
returned Caleb, " if I could have made her better
than she was. But I must have changed her for
the worse, if I had changed her at all. Nothing
could improve her, Bertha."



.Confident as the Blind Girl had been when
she asked the question, her delight and pride in
the reply, and her renewed embrace of Dot, were
charming to behold.

" More changes than you think for may hap-
pen, though, my dear," said Dot. *' Changes for
the better, I mean ; changes for great joy to
some of us. You mustn't let them startle you too
much, if any such should ever happen, and affect
you. Are those wheels upon the road ? You've
a quick ear, Bertha. Are they wheels ? "

" Yes. Coming very fast."

" I — I — I know you have a quick ear," said
Dot, placing her hand upon her heart, and evi-
dently talking on as fast as she could, to hide its
palpitating state, '• because I have noticed it
often, and because you were so quick to find
out that strange step last night. Though why
you should have said, as I very well recollect
you did say. Bertha, ' Whose step is that ? ' and
why you should have taken any greater observa-
tion of it than of any other step, I don't know.
Though, as I said just now, there are great
changes in the world : great changes : and we
can't do better than prepare ourselves to be sur-
prised at hardly anything."

Caleb wondered what this meant ; perceiving
that she spoke to him, no less than to his
daughter. He saw her, with astonishment, so
fluttered and distressed that she could scarcely
breathe ; and holding to a chair, to save herself
from falling.

" They are wheels indeed ! " she panted.
" Coming nearer ! Nearer ! Very close ! And
now you hear them stopping at the garden-gate !
And now you hear a step outside the door — the
same step. Bertha, is it not ? — and now — — ! "

She uttered a wild cry of uncontrollable de-
light ; and running up to Caleb, put her hands
upon his eyes, as a young man rushed into the
room, and, flinging away his hat into the air,
came sweeping down upon them.

" Is it over ? " cried Dot.

" Yes ! "

" Happily over ? "

" Yes ! "

" Do you recollect the voice, dear Caleb ?
Did you cer hear the like of it before ? " cried
Dot.

" If my boy. in the Golden South Americas
was alive ! " said Caleb, trembling.

" He is alive ! " shrieked Dot, removing her
hands from his eyes, and clapping them in
ecstasy. " Look at him ! See where he stands
before you, healthy and strong ! Your own
clear son. Your own dear living, loving brother,
Bertha ! "



112



THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH.



All honour to the little creature for her trans-
ports ! All honour to her tears and laughter,
when the three were locked in one another's
arms ! All honour to the heartiness with which
she met the sunburnt sailor-fellow, with his dark
streaming hair, half-way, and never turned her
rosy little mouth aside, but suftered him to
kiss it freely, and to press her to his bounding
heart !

And honour to tlie Cuckoo too — why not ?—
for bursting out of the trap-door in the Moorish
Palace like a housebreaker, and hiccougliing
twelve times on the assembled company, as if
he had got drunk for joy !

The Carrier, entering, started back. And well
he might, to find himself in such good company.

" Look, John ! " said Caleb exultingly, " look
here ! My own boy from the Golden South
Americas ! My own son ! Him that you fitted
out, and sent away yourself! Him that you
were always such a friend to !"

The Carrier advanced to seize him by the
hand ; but, recoiling, as some feature in his face
awakened a remembrance of the Deaf Man in
the Cart, said :

" Edward ! Was it you ? "

" Now tell him all ! " cried Dot. " Tell him
all, Edward ; and don't spare me, for nothing
shall make me spare myself in his eyes, ever
again."

" I was the man," said Edward.

" And could you steal, disguised, into the
house of your old friend ? " rejoined the Carrier.
" There was a frank boy once — how many years
is it, Caleb, since we heard that he was dead,
and had it proved, we thought ? — who never
would have done that."

" There was a generous friend of mine once ;
more a father to me than a friend," said Edward ;
'• who never would have judged me, or any other
man, unheard. You were he. So I am certain
you will hear me now."

The Carrier, with a troubled glance at Dot,
who still kept far away from him, replied,
" Well ! that's but fair. I will."

" You must know that when I left here a boy,"
said Edward, " I was in love, and my love was
returned. She was a very young girl, who per-
haps (you may tell me) didn't know her own



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 87 of 103)