Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 90 of 103)
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sued Mr. Snitchey, " having been already put a
thousand times in possession of my opinion in
the course of our discussions, that, in its having
gone to law, and in its legal system altogether,
I do observe a serious side — now, really, a some-
thing tangible, and with a purpose and intention
in it "

Clemency Newcome made an angular tumble
against the table, occasioning a sounding clatter
among the cups and saucers.

" Heyday ! what's the matter there ? " ex-
claimed the Doctor.

" It's this evil-inclined blue bag," said Cle-
mency, " always tripping up somebody ! "

•' With a purpose and intention in it, I was
saying," resumed Snitchey, " that commands re-
spect. Life a farce. Doctor Jeddler ! With law
in it ? "

The Doctor laughed, and looked at Alfred.

" Granted, if you please, that war is foolish,"
said Snitchey. " There we agree. For example.
Here's a smiling country," pointing it out with
his fork, " once overrun by soldiers — trespassers
every man of 'em — and laid waste by fire and
sword. He, he, he ! The idea of any man
exposing himself, voluntarily, to fire and sword !
Stupid, wasteful, positively ridiculous ; you laugh
at your fellow-creatures, you know, when you
think of it ! But take this smiling country as it
stands. Think of the laws appertaining to real
property ; to the bequest and devise of real pro-
perty ; to the mortgage and redemption of real
property ; to leasehold, freehold, and copyhold
estate ; think," said Mr. Snitchey with such great



emotion that he actually smacked his lips, " of
the complicated laws relating to title and proof
of title, with all the contradictory precedents
and numerous Acts of Parliament connected
with them ; tliink of the infinite number of in-
genious and interminable Chancery suits, to
which this pleasant prospect may give rise ;
and acknowledge. Doctor Jeddler, that there is a
green spot in the scheme about us ! I believe,"
said Mr. Snitchey, looking at his partner, " that
I speak for Self and Craggs ? "

Mr. Craggs having signified assent, Mr,
Snitchey, somewhat freshened by his recent
eloquence, observed that he would take a little
more beef and another cup of tea.

" I don't stand up for life in general," he
added, rubbing his hands and chuckling ; *' it's
full of folly ; full of something worse. Profes-
sions of trust, and confidence, and unselfishness,
and all that ! Bah, bah, bah ! We see what
they're worth. But you mustn't laugh at life ;
you've got a game to play ; a very serious game
indeed ! Everybody's playing against you, you
know, and you're playing against them. Oh !
it's a very interesting thing. There are deep
moves upon the board. You must only laugh,
Doctor Jeddler, when you win — and then not
much. He, he, he ! And then not much,"
repeated Snitchey, rolling his head and winking
his eye, as if he would have added, " You may
do this instead ! "

" Well, Alfred ! " cried the Doctor, " what do
you say now ? "

" I say, sir," replied Alfred, " that the greatest
favour you could do me, and yourself too, I am
inclined to think, would be to try sometimes to
forget this battle-field, and others like it, in that
broader battle-field of Life, on which the sun
looks every day."

" Really, I'm afraid that wouldn't soften his
opinions, Mr. Alfred," said Snitchey. " The
combatants are very eager and very bitter in
that same battle of Life. There's a great deal
of cutting and slashing, and firing into people's
heads from behind. There is terrible treading
down, and trampling on. It is rather a bad
business."

" I believe, Mr. Snitchey," said Alfred, " there
are quiet victories and struggles, great sacrifices
of self, and noble acts of heroism, in it — even in
many of its apparent lightnesses and contradic-
tions — not the less difficult to achieve, because
they have no earthly chronicle or audience — done
every day in nooks and corners, and in little house-
holds, and in men's and women's hearts — any
one of which might reconcile the sternest man
to such a world, and fill him with belief and



126



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



hope in it, though two-fourths of its people were
at war, and another fourth at law ; and that's a
bold word."

Both the sisters listened keenly.

'• Well, well ! " said the Doctor, " I am too
old to be converted, even by my friend Snitchey
liere, or my good spinster sister, Martha Jeddler ;
who had what she calls her domestic trials ages
ago, and has led a sympathising life with all
^orts of people ever since ; and who is so much
of your opinion (only she's less reasonable and
more obstinate, being a woman), that we can't
agree, and seldom meet. I was born upon this
battle-field. I began, as a boy, to have my
thoughts directed to the real history of a battle-
field. Sixty years have gone over my head, and
I have never seen the Christian world, including
Heaven knows how many loving mothers and
good enough girls like mine here, anything but
mad for a battle-field. The same contradictions
prevail in everything. One must either laugh or
cry at such stupendous inconsistencies ; and I
prefer to laugh."

Britain, who had been paying the profoundest
and most melancholy attention to each speaker
in his turn, seemed suddenly to decide in favour
of the same preference, if a deep sepulchral
sound that escaped him might be construed into
a demonstration of risibility. His face, how-
ever, was so perfectly unaffected by it, both
before and afterwards, that, although one or two
of the breakfast-party looked round as being
startled by ainysterious noise, nobody connected
the offender with it. ~^

Except his partner in attendance, Clemency
Newcome ; who, rousing him with one of those
favourite joints, her elbows, inquired, in a re-
proachful whisper, what he laughed at.

" Not you ! " said Britain.

" Who, then ? "

" Humanity," said Britain. " That's the joke ! "

" What between master and them lawyers,
he's getting more and more addle-headed every
day ! " cried Clemency, giving him a lunge with
the other elbow as a mental stimulant. " Do
you know where you are ? Do you want to get
warning ? ''

*' I don't know anything," said Britain with a
leaden eye and an immovable visage. " I don't
care for anything. I don't make out anything.
I don't believe anything. And I don't want
anything."

Although this forlorn summary of his general
condition may have been overcharged in an
access of despondency, Benjamin Britain — some-
times called Little Britain to distinguish him
from Great ; as we might say Young England, |



to express Old England with a decided differ-
ence — had defined his real state more accurately
than might be supposed. For, serving as a sort
of man Miles to the Doctor's Friar Bacon, and
listening day after day to innumerable orations
addressed by the Doctor to various people, all
tending to show that his very existence was at
best a mistake and an absurdity, this unfortunate
servitor had fallen, by degrees, into such an
abyss of confused and contradictory suggestions
from within and without, that Truth at the
bottom of her well was on the level surface as
compared with Britain in the depths of his
mystification. The only point he clearly com-
prehended was, that the new element usually
brought into these discussions by Snitchey and
Craggs never served to make them clearer,
and always seemed to give the Doctor a species
of advantage and confirmation. Therefore, he
looked upon the Firm as one of the proximate
causes of his state of mind, and held them in
abhorrence accordingly.

" But this is not our business, Alfred," said
the Doctor. " Ceasing to be my ward (as you
have said) to-day; and leaving us full to the
brim of such learning as the Grammar School
down here was able to give you, and your
studies in London could add to that, and such
practical knowledge as a dull old country Doctor
like myself could graft upon both ; you are
away, now, into the world. The first term of pro-
bation appointed by your poor father being over,
away you go now, your own master, to fulfil his
second desire. And long before your three
years' tour among the foreign schools of medi-
cine is finished you'll have forgotten us. Lord,
you'll forget us easily in six months ! "

" If I do But, you know better ; why

should I speak to you ? " said Alfred, laughing.

" I don't know anything of the sort," returned
the Doctor. " What do you say, INIarion ? "

Marion, trifling with her teacup, seemed to
say — but she didn't say it — that he was welcome
to forget them if he could. Grace pressed the
blooming face against her cheek and smiled.

" I haven't been, I hope, a very unjust stev/ara
in the execution of my trust," pursued the Doc-
tor; "but I am to be, at any rate, fomially dis-
charged, and released, and wliat not this morn-
ing ; and here are our good friends Snitchey and
Craggs, with a bag-full of papers, and accounts,
and documents, for the transfer of the balance
of the trust fund to you (I wish it was a more
difticult one to dispose of, Alfred, but you must
get to be a great man, and make it so), and
other drolleries of that sort, which are to be
signed, sealed, and delivered."



CLEMENCY GIVES A READING.



127



" And duly witnessed as by law required," said
Snitchey, pushing away his plate, and taking out
the papers, whicli his partner proceeded to spread
upon the table ; '' and Self and Craggs having
been co-trustees with you. Doctor, in so far as
the lund was concerned, we shall want your two
servants to attest the signatures. Can you read,
Mrs. Newconie ? "

"■ I an't married, mister," said Clemency.

"Oh! I beg your pardon. I should think
not," chuckled Snitchey, casting his eyes over
her extraordinary figure. " You can read ? "

" A little," answered Clemency.

" The marriage service, night and morning,
eh?" observed the lawyer jocosely.

" No," said Clemency. " Too hard. I only
reads a thimble."

" Read a thimble ! " echoed Snitchey. " What
arc you talking about, young woman ? "

Clemency nodded. " And a nutmeg-grater."

" Why, this is a lunatic ! a subject for the
Lord High Chancellor ! " said Snitchey, staring
at her.

" — If possessed of any property," stipulated
Craggs.

Grace, however, interposing, explained that
each of the articles in question bore an engraved
motto, and so formed the pocket library of
Clemency Newcome, who was not much given
to the study of books.

" Oh ! that's it, is it. Miss Grace ? " said
Snitchey.

" Yes, yes. Ha, ha, ha ! I thought our friend
was an idiot. She looks uncommonly like it,"
he muttered with a supercilious glance. "And
what does the thimble say, Mrs. Newcome ? "

" I an't married, mister," observed Clemency.

" Well, Newcome. Will that do?" said the law-
yer. '-What does the thimble say, Newcome?"

How Clemency, before replying to this ques-
tion, held one pocket open, and looked down
into its yawning depths for the thimble which
wasn't there, and how she then held an opposite
pocket open, and seeming to descry it, like a
pearl of great price, at the bottom, cleared away
such intervening obstacles as a handkerchief, an
end of wax candle, a flushed apple, an orange,
a lucky penny, a cramp-bone, a padlock, a pair
of scissors in a sheath more expressly describ-
able as promising young shears, a handful or so
of loose beads, several balls of cotton, a needle-
case, a cabinet collection of curl-papers, and a
biacuit, all of which articles she intrusted indi-
vidually and severally to Britain to hold, — is of
no consequence. Nor how, in her determina-
tion to grasp this pocket by the throat, and keep
it prisoner (for it had a tendency to swing, and



twist itself round the nearest corner), she as-
sumed, and calmly maintained, an attitude
apparently inconsistent with the human anatomy
and the laws of gravity. It is enough that at
last she triumphantly produced the thimble on
her finger, and rattled the nutmeg-grater : the
literature of both these trinkets being obviously
in course of wearing out and wasting away,
through excessive friction.

" That's the thimble, is it, young woman ? "
said Mr. Snitchey, diverting himself at her ex-
pense. " And what does the thimble say ? "

" It says," replied Clemency, reading slowly
round as if it were a tower, " ' For-get and for-
give.' "

Snitchey and Craggs laughed heartily. " So
new ! " said Snitchey. " So easy ! " said Craggs.
" Such a knowledge of human nature in it ! ''*
said Snitchey. " So applicable to the affairs of
life ! " said Craggs.

" And the nutmeg-grater ? " inquired the head
of the Firm.

" The grater says," returned Clemency, " * Do
as you — wold — be — done by.' "

" Do, or you'll be done brown, you mean,"
said Mr. Snitchey.

" I don't understand," retorted Clemency,
shaking her head vaguely. " I an't no lawyer."

" I am afraid that if she was, Doctor," said
Mr. Snitchey, turning to him suddenly, as if to-
anticipate any effect that might otherwise be
consequent on this retort, " she'd find it to be
the golden rule of half her clients. They are
serious enough in that — whimsical as your world
is — and lay the blame on us afterwards. We,
in our profession, are litde else than mirrors,
after all, Mr. Alfred ; but, we are generally con-
sulted by angry and quarrelsome people who
are not in their best looks, and it's rather hard
to quarrel with us if we reflect unpleasant
aspects. I think," said Mr. Snitchey, " that I
speak for Self and Craggs ? "

" Decidedly," said Craggs.

" And so, if Mr. Britain will oblige us with a
mouthful of ink," said Mr. Snitchey, returning to
the papers, " we'll sign, seal, and deliver as soon
as possible, or the coach will be coming past
before we know where we are."

If one might judge from his appearance,
there was every probability of the coach coming
past before Mr. Britain knew where Jic was ; for
he stood in a state of abstraction, mentally
balancing the Doctor against the lawyers, av.^l
the lawyers against the Doctor, and their cHents
against both, and engaged in feeble attempts to
make the thimble and nutmeg-grater (a new idea
to him) square with anybody's system of philo-



128



THE BATTLE OF LiFE.



sophy ; and, in short, bewildering himself as
much as ever his great namesake has done with
theories and schools. Eat Clemency, who was
his good Genius — though he had the meanest
possible opinion of her understanding, by reason
of her seldom troubling herself with abstract
speculations, and being always at hand to do
the right thing at the right time — having pro-
duced the ink in a twinkling, tendered him the
further service of recalling him to himself by the
application of her elbows ; with which gentle
flappers she so jogged his memory, in a more
literal construction of that phrase than usual,
that he soon became quite fresh and brisk.

How he laboured under an apprehension not
uncommon to persons in his degree, to whom
the use of pen and ink is an event, that he
couldn't append his name to a document, not of
his own writing, without committing himself in
some shadowy manner, or somehow signing
away vague and enormous sums of money ; and
how he approached the deeds under protest,
and by dint of the Doctor's coercion, and insisted
on pausing to look at them before writing (the
cramped hand, to say nothing of the phraseo-
logy, being so much Chinese to him), and also
on turning them round to see whether there
was anything fradulent underneath ; and how,
having signed his name, he became desolate as
■one who had parted with his property and rights ;
I want the time to tell. Also, how the blue bag
containing his signature afterwards had a mys-
terious interest for him, and he couldn't leave
it ; also, how Clemency Newcome, in an ecstasy
of laughter at the idea of her own importance
and dignity, brooded over the whole table with
her two elbows, like a spread eagle, and reposed
her head upon her left arm as a preliminary to
the formation of certain cabalistic characters,
which required a deal of ink, and imaginary
counterparts whereof she executed at the same
time with her tongue. Also, how, having once
tasted ink, she became thirsty in that regard, as
tame tigers are said to be after tasting another
sort of fluid, and wanted to sign everything, and
put her name in all kinds of places. In brief,
the Doctor was discharged of his trust and all
its responsibilities ; and Alfred, taking it on
himself, was fairly started on the journey of life.

" Britain ! " said the Doctor. " Run to the
gate, and r^tch for the coach. Time flies,
Alfred 1 "

" Yes, sir, yes," returned the young man hur-
riedly. " Dear Grace ! a moment ! Marion —
so young and beautiful, so winning and so much
.'.^niired, dear to my heart as nothing else in life
ii — remember ! I len.ve Marion to you ! "



" She has always been a sacred charge to me,
Alfred. She is doubly so now. I will be faith-
ful to my trust, believe me."

" I do believe it, Grace. I know it well.
Who could look upon your face, and hear your
voice, and not know it ? Ah, Grace ! If I
had your well - governed heart and tranquil
mind, how bravely I would leave this place to-
day!"

"Would you?" she answered with a quiet
smile.

" And yet, Grace Sister seems the natu-
ral word."

" Use it I " she said quickly. " I am glad to
hear it. Call me nothing else."

"■ — And yet sister, then," said Alfred, " Marion
and I had better have your true and steadfast
qualities serving us here, and making us both
happier and better. I wouldn't carry them
away to sustain myself, if I could ! "

" Coach upon the hill-top ! " exclaimed Bri-
tain.

" Time flies, Alfred," said the Doctor.

Marion had stood apart, with her eyes fixed
upon the ground ; but, this warning being given,
her young lover brought her tenderly to where
her sister stood, and gave her into her embrace.

" I have been telling Grace, dear Marion," he
said, " that you are her charge ; my precious
trust at parting. And when I come back and
reclaim you, dearest, and the bright prospect of
our married life lies stretched before us, it shall
be one of our chief pleasures to consult how we
can make Grace happy ; how we can anticipate
her wishes ; how we can show our gratitude and
love to her ; how we can return her something
of the debt she will have heaped upon us."

The younger sister had one hand in his hand ;
the other rested on her sister's neck. She looked
into that sister's eyes, so calm, serene, and
cheerful, with a gaze in which affection, admira-
tion, sorrow, wonder, almost veneration, were
blended. She looked into that sister's face as if
it were the face of some bright angel. Calm,
serene, and cheerful, the face looked back on
her and on her lover.

" And when the time comes, as it must one
day," said Alfred, — " I wonder it has never come
yet, but Grace knows best, for Grace is always
right, — when she will want a friend to open her
whole heart to, and to be to her something of
what she has been to us, — then, Marion, how
faithful we will prove, and what delight to us to
know that she, our dear good sister, loves and is
loved again, as we would have her ! "

Still the younger sister looked into her eyes,
and turned not — even towards him. And still



SNITCHEY AND CRAGGS.



129



those honest eyes looked back, so calm, serene,
and cheerful, on herself and on her lover.

" And when all that is past, and we are old,
and living (as we must !) together — close to-
gether — talking often of old times," said Alfred —
'• these shall be our favourite times among them
— this day most of all ; and telling each other
what we thought and felt, and lioped and feared,
at parting ; and how we couldn't bear to say
good-bye ''

" Coach coming through the wood ! " cried
Britain,

" Yes ! I am ready. — And how we met
again so happily in spite of all ; we'll make this
day the happiest in all the year, and keep it as
a treble birthday. Shall we, dear ? "

" Yes ! " interposed the elder sister eagerly,
and with a radiant smile. *' Yes ! Alfred, don't
linger. There's no time. Say good-bye to Marion.
And Heaven be with you ! "

He pressed the younger sister to his heart.
Released from his embrace, she again clung to
her sister ; and her eyes, with the same blended
look, again sought those so calm, serene, and
cheerful.

" Farewell, my boy !" said the Doctor. " To
talk about any serious correspondence or serious
affections, and engagements and so forth, in such
a — ha, ha, ha ! — you know what I mean — why,
that, of course, would be sheer nonsense. All I
can say is, that, if you and Marion should con-
tinue in the same foolish minds, I shall not
object to have you for a son-in-law one of these
days."

" Over the bridge ! " cried Britain,

" Let it come ! " said Alfred, wringing the
Doctor's hand stoutly. " Think of me some-
times, my old friend and guardian, as seriously
as you can ! Adieu, Mr. Snitchey ! Farewell,
Mr. Craggs ! "

" Coming down the road ! " cried Britain.

" A kiss of Clemency Newcome, for long
acquaintance' sake ! Shake hands, Britain !
Marion, dearest heart, good-bye ! Sister Grace !
remember ! "

The quiet household figure, and the face so
beautiful in its serenity, were turned towards
him in reply ; but, Marion's look and attitude
remained unchanged.

The coach was at the gate. There was a
bustle with the luggage. The coach drove away.
Marion never moved.

" He waves his hat to you, my love," said
Grace. "Your chosen husband, darling.
Look ! "

The younger sister raised her head, and, for a
moment, turned it. Then, turning back again,
Christmas Books, q.



and fully meeting, for the first time, those calm
eyes, fell sobbing on her neck.

'* Oh, Grace ! God bless you ! But I cannoi"
bear to see it, Grace ! It breaks my heart."



PART THE SECOND.

NITCHEY AND CRAGGS had a snug
^ little office on the old battle-ground,
where they drove a snug little busi-
__, , ness, and fought a great many small
^^^5 pitched battles for a great many con-
"p^^ tending parties. Though it could hardly
\^P be said of these conflicts that they were
^^ running fights — for in truth they generally
proceeded at a snail's pace — the part the Firm
had in them came so far within the general
denomination, that now they took a shot at this
Plaintift", and now aimed a chop at that De-
fendant, now made a heavy charge at an estate
in Chancery, and now had some light skirmish-
ing among an irregular body of small debtors,
just as the occasion served, and the enemy hap-
pened to present himself. The Gazette was an
important and profitable feature in some of their
fields, as in fields of greater renown ; and, in
most of the Actions wherein they showed their
generalship, it was afterwards observed by the
combatants that they had had great difficulty in
making each other out, or in knowing with any
degree of distinctness what they were about, in
consequence of the vast amount of smoke by
which they were surrounded.

The offices of Messrs. Snitchey and Craggs
stood convenient, with an open door down two
smooth steps, in the market-place ; so that any
angry farmer inclining towards hot water might
tumble into it at once. Their special council-
chamber and hall of conference was an old back-
room up-stairs, with a low dark ceiling, which
seemed to be knitting its brows gloomily in the
consideration of tangled points of law. It was
furnished with some high-backed leathern chairs,
garnished with great goggle-eyed brass nails, of
which, every here and there, two or three had
fallen out — or had been picked out, perhaps, by
the wandering thumbs and forefingers of be-
wildered clients. There was a framed print of a
great judge in it, every curl in whose dreadful
wig had made a man's hair stand on end. Bales
of papers filled the dusty closets, shelves, and
tables ; and round the wainscot there were tiers
of boxes, padlocked and fire-proof, with people's
names painted outside, which anxious visitors



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



felt themselves, by a cruel enchantment, obliged
to spell backwartls and forwards, and to make
anagrams of, while they sat, seeming to listen to
Snitchey and Craggs, without comprehending
one word of what they said. '•

Snitchey and Craggs had each, in private life
as in professional existence, a partner of his
own. Snitchey and Craggs were the best friends
in the world, and had a real confidence in one
another; but Mrs. Snitchey, by a dispensation
not uncommon in the affairs of life, was on prin-
ciple suspicious of ]\Ir. Craggs ; and Mrs. Craggs



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 90 of 103)