Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 89 of 103)
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dren played at battles on the turf. The wounded
trees had long ago made Christmas logs, and
blazed and roared away. The deep green
patches were no greener now than the memory
of those who lay in dust below. The plough-
share still turned up, from time to time, some
rusty bits of metal, but it was hard to say what
use they had ever served, and those who found
them wondered and disputed. An old dinted
corselet, and a helmet, had been hanging in the
church so long, that the same weak, half-blind
old man, who tried in vain to make them out
above the whitewashed arch, had marvelled at
them as a baby. If the host slain upon the field
could have been for a moment reanimated in
the forms in which they fell, each upon the spot
that was the bed of his untimely death, gashed
and ghastly soldiers would have stared in, hun-
dreds deep, at household door and window ;
and would have risen on the hearths of quiet
homes ; and would have been the garnered store
of barns and granaries ; and would have started
up between the cradled infant and its nurse ;
and would have floated with the stream, and
whirled round on the mill, and crowded the
orchard, and burdened the meadow, and piled
the riek-yard high with dying men. So altered
was the battle-ground, where thousands upon
thousands had been killed in the great fight.

Nowhere more altered, perhaps, about a hun-
dred years ago, than in one little orchard at-
tached to an old stone house with a honeysuckle
porch ; where, on a bright autumn morning,
there were sounds of music and laughter, and
where two girls danced merrily together on the
grass, while some half-dozen peasant w-omen
stan'iing on ladders, gathering the apples from
the trees, stopped in their work to look down,
and share their enjoyment. It was a pleasant,
lively, natural scene ; a beautiful day, a retired
spot ; and the two girls, quite unconstrained and
careless, danced in the freedom and gaiety of
their hearts.

If there were no such thing as display in the
world, my private opinion is, and I hope you
agree with me, that we might get on a great deal
better than we do, and might be infinitely more



X20



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



agreeable company than we are. It was charm-
ing to see how these girls danced. They had
no spectators but the apple-pickers on the lad-
ders. They were very glad to please them, but
they danced to please themselves (or at least you
would have supposed so) ; and you could no
more help admiring than they could help danc-
ing. How they did dance !

Not like opera-dancers. Not at all. And
not like Madame Anybody's finished pupils.
Not the least. It was not quadrille dancing,
nor minuet dancing, nor even country-dance
dancing. It was neither in the old style, nor
the new style, nor the French style, nor the
English style : though it may have been, by acci-
dent, a trifle in the Spanish style, which is a free
and joyous one, I am told, deriving a delightful
air of off-hand inspiration from the chirping little
castanets. As they danced among the orchard-
trees, and down the groves of stems and back
again, and twirled each other lightly round and
round, the influence of their airy motion seemed
to spread and spread, in the sun-lighted scene,
like an expanding circle in the water. Their
streaming hair and fluttering skirts, the elastic
grass beneath their feet, the boughs that rustled
in the morning air — the flashing leaves, the
speckled shadows on the soft green ground — the
balmy wind that swept along the landscape, glad
to turn the distant windmill, cheerily — every-
thing between the two girls, and the man and
team at plough upon the ridge of land, where
they showed against the sky as if they were the
last things in the world — seemed dancing too.

At last, the younger of the dancing sisters, out
of breath, and laughing gaily, threw herself upon
a bench to rest. The other leaned against a
tree hard by. The music, a wandering harp and
fiddle, left off with a flourish, as if it boasted of
its freshness ; though, the truth is, it had gone
at such a pace, and worked itself to such a pitch
of competition with the dancing, that it never
could have held on half a minute longer. The
apple-pickers on the ladders raised a hum and
murmur of applause, and then, in keeping with
the sound, bestirred themselves to work again
like bees.

The more actively, perhaps, because an elderly
gentleman, who was no other than Doctor Jed-
dler himself — it was Doctor Jeddler's house and
orchard, you should know, and these were Doctor
Jeddler's daughters — came bustling out to see
what was the matter, and who the deuce played
music on his property before breakfast. For he
was a great philosopher. Doctor Jeddler, and
not very musical.

" Music and dancing to-day ! " said the Doctor,



stopping short, and speaking to himself. " 1
thought they dreaded to-day. But it's a world
of contradictions. Why, Grace ! why, Marion ! '*
he added aloud, " is the world more mad than
usual this morning?"

" Make some allowance for it, father, if it be,"'
replied his younger daughter, Marion, going
close to him, and looking into his face, " for it's-
somebody's birthday."

"Somebody's birthday, Puss!" replied the
Doctor. " Don't you know it's always somebody's-
birthday ! Did you never hear how many new
performers enter on this — ha, ha, ha ! — its impos-
sible to speak gravely of it — on this preposterous
and ridiculous business called Life, every minute?'"
" No, father ! "

" No, not you, of course ; you're a woman —
almost," said the Doctor. " By-the-bye," and
he looked into the pretty face, still close to his^
" I suppose it's jour birthday."

" No ! Do you really, father ? " cried his pet
daughter, pursing up her red lips to be kissed.

" There ! Take my love with it," said the
Doctor, imprinting his upon them; "and many
happy returns of the — the idea ! — of the day.
The notion of wishing happy returns in such a
farce as this," said the Doctor to himself, " is
good ! Ha, ha, ha ! "

Doctor Jeddler was, as I have said, a great
philosopher, and the heart and mystery of his
philosophy was, to look upon the world as a
gigantic practical joke ; as something too absurd
to be considered seriously by any rational man.
His system of belief had been, in the beginning,
part and parcel of the battle-ground on which
he lived, as you shall presently understand.

" Well ! But how did you get the music ? "
asked the Doctor. " Poultry-stealers, of course !
Where did the minstrels come from ?"

" Alfred sent the music," said his daughter
Grace, adjusting a few simple flowers in her
sister's hair, with which, in her admiration of
that youthful beauty, she had herself adorned it
half an hour before, and which the dancing had
disarranged.

"Oh! Alfred sent the music, did he?" re-
tu;ned the Doctor.

" Yes. He met it coming out of the town as
he was entering early. The men are travelling
on foot, and rested there last night ; and, as it
was Marion's birthday, and he thought it would
please her, he sent them on, with a pencilled
note to me, saying that, if I thought so too, they
had come to serenade her."

" Ay, ay," said the Doctor carelessly, " he
always takes your opinion."

" And my opinion being favourable," said



DOCTOR JEDDLER AND HIS TWO DA UGHTERS.



i2r



Grace good-humouredly, and pausing for a
moment to admire the pretty head she decorated
with her own thrown back ; " and Marion being
in high spirits, and beginning to dance, I joined
her. And so we danced to AHred's music till
we were out of breath. And we thought the
music all the gayer for being sent by Alfred.
Didn't we, dear Marion ? "

" Oh, I don't know, Grace ! How you tease
me about Alfred ! "

*' Tease you by mentioning your lover ? " said
her sister.

" I am sure I don't much care to have him
mentioned," said the wilful beauty, stripping the
petals from some flowers she held, and scatter-
ing them on the ground. " I am almost tired of
hearing of him ; and as to his being my lover "

" Hush ! Don't speak lightly of a true heart,
which is all your own, Marion," cried her sister,
" even in jest. There is not a truer heart than
Alfred's in the world ! "

" No — no," said Marion, raising her eyebrows
with a pleasant air of careless consideration,
" perhaps not. But I don't know that there's
any great merit in that. I — I don't want him
to be so very true. I never asked him. If he

expects that I But, dear Grace, why need

we talk of him at all just now ? "

It was agreeable to see the graceful figures of
the blooming sisters, twined together, lingering
among the trees, conversing thus, with earnest-
ness opposed to lightness, yet with love respond-
ing tenderly to love. And it was very curious
indeed to see the younger sister's eyes suffused
with tears, and something fervently and deeply
felt, breaking through the wilfulness of what she
said, and striving with it painfully.

The difference between them, in respect of
age, could not exceed four years at most ; but
Grace, as often happens in such cases, when no
mother watches over both (the Doctor's wife was
dead), seemed, in her gentle care of her young
sister, and in the steadiness of her devotion to
her, older than she was ; and more removed, in
course of nature, from all competition with her,
or participation, otherwise than through her sym-
pathy and true affection, in her wayward fancies,
than their ages seemed to warrant. Great cha-
racter of mother, that, even in this shadow
and faint reflection of it, purifies the heart, and
raises the exalted nature nearer to the angejs !

The Doctor's reflections, as he looked after
them, and heard the purport of their discourse,
were limited at first to certain merry meditations
on the folly of all loves and likings, and the idle
imposition practised on themselves by young
people, who believed for a moment that there



could be anything serious in such bubbles, and
were always undeceived — always !

But the home-adorning, self-denying qualities
of Grace, and her sweet temper, so gentle ami
retiring, yet including so much constancy and
bravery of spirit, seemed all expressed to him in
the contrast between her quiet household figure
and that of his younger and more beautiful
child ; and he was sorry for her sake — sorry for
them both — that life should be such a very ridi-
culous business as it was.

The Doctor never dreamed of inquiring whe-
ther his cliildren, or either of them, helped in
any way to make the scheme a serious one. But
then he was a Philosopher.

A kind and generous man by nature, he had
stumbled, by chance, over that common Philo-
sopher's stone (much more easily discovered
than the object of the alchemist's researches),
which sometimes trips up kind and generous
men, and has the fatal property of turning gold to
dross, and every precious thing to poor account.

" Britain ! " cried the Doctor. " Britain !
Halloa ! "

A small man, with an uncommonly sour and
discontented face, emerged from the house, and
returned to this call the unceremonious acknow-
ledgment of " Now then ! "

" Where's the breakfast - table ? " said the
Doctor.

" In the house," returned Britain.

*' Are you going to spread it out here, as you
were told last night ?" said the Doctor. " Don't
you know that there are gentlemen coming?
That there's business to be done this morning,
before the coach comes by ? That this is a very
particular occasion ? "

" I couldn't do anything. Doctor Jeddler, till
the women had done getting in the apples, could
I ? " said Britain, his voice rising with his reason-
ing, so that it was very loud at last.

"Well, have they done now?" returned the
Doctor, looking at his watch, and clapping his
hands. " Come ! make haste ! Where's Cle-
mency ? "

" Here am I, mister," said a voice from one
of the ladders, which a pair of clumsy feet
descended briskly. " It's all done now. Clear
away, gals. Everything shall be ready for you
in half a minute, mister."

With that she began to bustle about most
vigorously ; presenting, as she did so, an appear-
ance sufficiently peculiar to justify a word of
introduction.

She was about thirty years old, and had a
sufficiently plump and cheerful face, though it
was twisted up into an odd expression of tight-



TJIE BATTLE OF LIFE.



ness that made it comical. But, the extraordi-
nary homehness of her gait and manner would
have superseded any face in the world. To say
iliat she had two left legs, and somebody else's
arms, and that all four limbs seemed to be out
of joint, and to start from perfectly wrong places
when they were set in motion, is to olifer the
mildest outHne of the reality. To say that she
was perfectly content and satisfied with these
arrangements, and regarded them as being no
business of hers, and that she took her arms and
legs as they came, and allowed them to dispose
of themselves just as it happened, is to render
faint justice to her equanimity. Her dress was
a prodigious pair of self-willed shoes, that never
wanted to go where her feet went ; blue stock-
ings ; a printed gown of many colours, and the
most hideous pattern procurable for money ;
and a white apron. She always wore short
sleeves, and always had, by some accident,
grazed elbows, in which she took so lively an
interest, that she was continually trying to turn
them round, and get impossible views of them.
In general, a little cap perched somewhere on
her head ; though it was rarely to be met with
in the place usually occupied in other subjects
by that article of dress ; but, from head to foot,
she was scrupulously clean, and maintained a
kind of dislocated tidiness. Indeed, her laud-
able anxiety to be tidy and compact in her O'.ni
conscience, as well as in the public eye, gave
rise to one of her most startling evolutions,
which was to grasp herself sometimes by a sort
of wooden handle (part of her clothing, and
familiarly called a busk), and wrestle as it were
with her garments, until they fell into a sym-
metrical arrangement.

Such, in outward form and garb, was Clemency
Newcome ; who was supposed to have uncon-
sciously originated a corruption of her own
Christian name, from Clementina (but nobody
knew, for the deaf old mother, a very pheno-
menon of age, whom she had supported almost
from a child, was dead, and she had no other
relation) ; who now busied herself in preparing
the table, and who stood, at intervals, with her
bare red arms crossed, rubbing her grazed elbows
with opposite hands, and staring at it very com-
posedly, until she suddenly remembered some-
thing else it wanted, and jogged off to fetch it.

" Here are them two lawyers a-coming, mis-
ter ! " said Clemency in a tone of no very great
good-will.

" Aha ! " cried the Doctor, advancing to the
gate to meet them. " Good morning, good morn-
ing ! Grace, my dear ! Marion ! Here are
Messrs. Snitchey and Craggs. Where's Alfred ? "



" He'll be back directly, father, no doubt,"
said Grace. " He had so much to do this
morning, in his preparations for departure, that
he was up and out by daybreak. Good morn-
ing, gentlemen,"

" Ladies ! " said Mr. Snitchey, "for Self and
Craggs," who bowed, " good morning ! Miss,"
to Marion, " I kiss your hand." Which he did.
" And I wish you " — which he might or might
not, for he didn't look, at first sight, like a
gentleman troubled with many warm outpourings
of soul, in behalf of other people, " a hundred
happy returns of this auspicious day,"

" Ha, ha, ha ! " laughed the Doctor thought-
fully, with his hands in his pockets. " The great
farce in a hundred acts I "

" You wouldn't, I am sure," said Mr. Snitchey,
standing a small professional blue bag against
one leg of the table, " cut the great farce short
for this actress, at all events. Doctor Jeddler?"

" No," returned the Doctor. " God forbid !
May she live to laugh at it as long as she can
laugh, and then say, with the French wit, ' The
farce is ended • draw the curtain.' "

" The French wit," said Mr. Snitchey, peep-
ing sharply into his blue bag, " was wrong,
Doctor Jeddler, and your philosophy is alto-
gether wrong, depend upon it, as I have often
told you. Nothing serious in life ! What do
you call law ? "

" A joke," replied the Doctor.

" Did you ever go to law?" asked Mr. Snitchey,
looking out of the blue bag.

" Never," returned the Doctor.

" If you ever do," said j\Ir. Snitchey, " per-
haps you'll alter that opinion."

Craggs, who seemed to be represented by
Snitchey, and to be conscious of little or no
separate existence or personal individuality,
offered a remark of his own in this place. It
involved the only idea of which he did not
stand seised and possessed in equal moieties
with Snitchey ; but, he had some partners in it
among the wise men of the world.

" It's made a great deal too easy," said Mr.
Craggs.

" Law is ? " asked the Doctor.

" Yes," said Mr. Craggs, " everything is.
Everything appears to me to be made too easy,
nowadays. It's the vice of these times. If the
world is a joke (I am not prepared to say it
isn't), it ought to be made a very difficult joke
to crack. It ought to be as hard a struggle, sir,
as possible. That's the intention. But, it's being
made far too easy. We are oiling the gates of
life. They ought to be rusty. We shall have
them beginning to turn, soon, with a smooth



ALFRED HEATHFIELD.



123



sound. Whereas they ought to grate upon their
lunges, sir."

Mr. Craggs seemed positively to grate upon
his own hinges as he delivered this opinion ; to
which he communicated immense cftect — being
a cold, hard, dry man, dressed in grey and white,
like a Hint ; with small twinkles in his eyes, as if
something struck sparks out of them. The three
natural kingdoms, indeed, had each a fanciful
representative among this brotherhood of dis-
])utants : for Snitchey was like a magpie or raven
(only not so sleek), and the Doctor had a
streaked fiice like a winter pippin, with here and
there a dimple to express the peckings of the
birds, and a very little bit of pigtail behind that
stood for the stalk.

As the active figure of a hardsome young
man, dressed for a journey, and followed by a
porter bearing several packages and baskets,
entered the orchard at a brisk pace, and with
an air of gaiety and hope that accorded well with
the morning, these three drew together, like the
brothers of the sister Fates, or like the Graces
most effectually disguised, or like the three weird
prophets on the heath, and greeted him.

" Happy returns, Alf ! " said the Doctor
lightly.

" A hundred happy returns of this auspicious
day, Mr. Heathfield !" said Snitchey, bowing low.

" Returns ! " Craggs murmured in a deep
voice, all alone.

" Why, what a battery ! " exclaimed Alfred,
stopping short, " and one — two — -three — all fore-
boders of no good, in the great sea before me. I
am glad you are not the first I have met this
morning : I should have taken it for a bad
omen. But, Grace was the first — sweet, plea-
sant Grace — so I defy you all ! "

" If you please, mister, / was the first, you
know," said Clemency Newcome. '' She was
walking out here before sunrise, you remember.
I was in the house."

'■• That's true ! Clemency was the first," said
Alfred. " .So I defy you with Clemency."

" Ha, ha, ha ! — for Self and Craggs," said
Snitchey. " What a defiance ! "

'• Not so bad a one as it appears, maybe,"
said Alfred, shaking hands heartily with the
Doctor, and also with Snitchey and Craggs, and

then looking round. " Where are the Good

heavens ! "

With a start, productive for the moment of a
closer partnership between Jonathan Snitchey
and Thomas Craggs than the subsistmg articles
of agreement in that wise contemplated, he
hastily betook himself to where the sisters stood
together, and However, I needn't more



particularly explain his manner of saluting Marion
first, and Grace afterwards, than by hinting that
Mr. Craggs may possibly have considered it "too
easy."

Perhaps to change the subject, Doctor J cddler
made a hasty move towards the breakfast, and
they all sat down at table. Grace presided ;
but so discreetly stationed herself as to cut oft*
her sister and Alfred from the rest of the com-
pany. Snitchey and Craggs sat at opposite
corners, with the blue bag between them for
safety ; the Doctor took his usual position, oppo-
site to Grace. Clemency hovered galvanically
about the table as waitress ; and the melancholy
Britain, at another and a smaller board, acted
as Grand Carver of a round of beef and a ham.

"Meat?" said Britain, approaching Mr.
Snitchey, with the carving knife and fork in his .
hands, and throwing the question at him like a
missile.

" Certainly," returned the lawyer.

" Do you want any ? " to Craggs.

" Lean and well done," replied that gentleman.

Having executed these orders, and moderately
supplied the Doctor (he seemed to know that
nobody else wanted anything to eat), he lin-
gered as near the Firm as he decently could,
watching with an austere eye their disposition
of the viands, and but once relaxing the severe
expression of his face. This was on the occasion
of Mr. Craggs, whose teeth were not of the best,
partially choking, when he cried out with great
animation, " I thought he was gone ! "

" Now, Alfred," said the Doctor, " for a word
or two of business, while we are yet at breakfast."

" While we are yet at breakfast," said Snitchey
and Craggs, who seemed to have no present idea
of leaving off.

Although Alfred had not been breakfasting,
and seemed to have quite enough business on
his hands as it was, he respectfully answered :

" If you please, sir."

" If anything could be serious," the Doctor
began, " in such a ''

" Farce as this, sir," hinted Alfred.

" — In such a farce as this," observed the
Doctor, "it might be this recurrence, on the
eve of separation, of a double birthday, which is
connected with many associations pleasant to
us four, and with the recollection of a long and
amiable intercourse. TThat's not to the purpose."

" Ah ! yes, yes. Doctor Jeddler," said the
young man. " It is to the purpose. Much to
the purpose, as my heart bears witness this
morning ; and as ycoirs does too, I know, if you
would let it speak. I leave your house to-day ;
I cease to be your ward to-day; we part with



124



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



tender relations stretching far behind us, that
never can be exactly renewed, and with others
dawning yet before us," he looked down at
Marion beside him, "fraught with such con-
siderations as I must not trust myself to speak
of now. Come, come ! " he added, rallying his



spirits and the Doctor at once, " there's a serious
grain in this large foolish dust-heap, Doctor, Let
us allow to-day that there is One."

" To-day ! " cried the Doctor. " Hear him I
Ha, ha, ha ! Of all days in the foolish year !
Why, on this day, the great battle was fought on




' BY-THE-BYE," AND HE LOOKED INTO THE PRETTY FACE, STILL CLOSE TO HIS, *' I SUPPOSE IT'S YOUR

BIRTHDAY."



this ground ! On this ground where we now
sit, where I saw my two girls dance this morn-
ing, where the fruit has just been gathered for
our eating from these trees, the roots of which
are struck in Men, not earth, — so many lives
were lost, that, within my recollection, genera-



tions afterwards, a churchyard full of bones, and
dust of bones, and chips of cloven skulls, has
been dug up from underneath our feet here.
Yet not a hundred people in that battle knew
for what they fought, or why ; not a hundred of
the inconsiderate rejoicers in the victory, why



INFIDELITY AND FAITH.



"5



they rejoiced. Not half a hundred people were
the better for the gain or loss. Not half-a-dozen
men agree to this hour on the cause or merits ;
and nobody, in short, ever knew anything dis-
tinct about it, but the mourners of the slain.
Serious, too !" said the Doctor, laughing. " Such
a system ! "

" But, all this seems to me," said Alfred, " to
be very serious."

" Serious !" cried the Doctor. " If you allowed
such things to be serious, you must go mad, or
die, or climb up to the top of a mountain, and
turn hermit."

*' Besides — so long ago," said Alfred.

" Long ago ! " returned the Doctor. " Do
you know what the world has been doing ever
since ? Do you know what else it has been
doing? /don't!"

" It has gone to law a little," observed Mr.
Snitchey, stirring his tea.

" Although the way out has been always made
too easy," said his partner.

" And you'll excuse my saying. Doctor," pur-



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 89 of 103)