Charles Dickens.

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

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Avas on principle suspicious of Mr. Snitchey.
" Your Snitcheys, indeed ! " the latter lacly
would observe, sometimes, to Mr. Craggs ; using
that imaginative plural as if in disparagement of
an objectionable pair of pantaloons, or other
articles not possessed of a singular number. " I
don't see what you want with your Snitcheys,
for my part. You trust a great deal too much
to your Snitcheys, / think, and I hope you may
never find my words come true." While Mrs.
Snitchey would observe to Mr. Snitchey, of
Craggs, " that if ever he was led away by man
he was led away by that man, and that, if ever
she read a double purpose in a mortal eye, she
read that purpose in Craggs's eye." Notwith-
standing this, how^ever, they were all very good
iriends \\\ general ; and Mrs. Snitchey and Mrs.
Craggs maintained a close bond of alliance
against " the office," which they both considered
the Blue Chamber, and common enemy, full of
dangerous (because unknown) machinations.

In this office, nevertheless, Snitchey and
Craggs made honey for their several hives.
Here, sometimes, they would linger of a fine
evening, at the window of their council-chamber
overlooking the old battle-ground, and wonder
(but that was generally at assize-time, when much
business had made them sentimental) at the
folly of mankind, who couldn't always be at
peace with one another, and go to law comfort-
ably. Here, days, and weeks, and months, and
years passed over them : their calendar, the
gradually diminishing number of brass nails in
the leathern chairs, and the increasing bulk of
papers on the tables. Here, nearly three years'
flight had thinned the one and swelled the other
since the breakfast in the orchard, when they
sat together in consultation at night.

Not alone ; but with a man of thirty, or about
that time of life, negligently dressed, and some-
what haggard in the face, but well made, well
attired, and well-looking ; who sat in the arm-
chair of state, with one hand in his breast, and
the other in his dishevelled hair, pondering
moodily. Messrs. Snitchey and Craggs sat op-



posite each other at a neighbouring desk. One
of the fire-proof boxes, unpadlocked and ojjened,
was upon it ; a part of its contents lay strewn
upon the table, and the rest was then in course
of passing through the hands of Mr. Snitchey ;
who brought it to the candle, document by
document ; looked at every paper singly as he
produced it; shook his head, and handed it to
Mr. Craggs ; who looked it over also, shook his
head, and laid it down. Sometimes they would
stop, and, shaking their heads in concert, look
towards the abstracted client. And the name
on the box being Michael Warden, Esquire, we
may conclude from these premises that the name
and the box were both his, and that the affairs
of Michael Warden, Esquire, were in a bad
way.

" That's all," said Mr. Snitchey, turning up the
last paper. " Really there's no other resource.
No other resource."

" All lost, spent, wasted, pawned, borrowed,
and sold, eh ? " said the client, looking up.

'• All," returned Mr. Snitchey.

" Nothing else to be done, you say?''

" Nothing at all."

The client bit his nails, and pondered again.
^ '' And I am not even personally safe in Eng-
land .? You hold to that, do you } "

'' In no part of the United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Ireland," replied Mr. Snitchey.

" A mere prodigal son, with no father to go
back to, no swine to keep, and no husks to
share with them ? Eh ? " pursued the client,
rocking one leg over the other, and searching
the ground with his eyes.

Mr. Snitchey coughed as if to deprecate the
being supposed to participate in any figurative
illustration of a legal position. Mr. Craggs, as
if to express that it was a partnership view of
the subject, also coughed.

" Ruined at thirty ! " said the client. " Humph i ''

"Not ruined, Mr. Warden," returned Snitchey.
" Not so bad as that. You have done a good
deal towards it, I must say, but you are not
ruined. A little nursing "

" A little Devil ! " said the client.

'' ]\Ir. Craggs," said Snitchey, " will you oblige
me with a pinch of snuff? Thank you, sir."

As the imperturbable lawyer applied it to his
nose with great apparent relish, and a perfect
absorption of his attention in the proceeding,
the client gradually broke into a smile, and,
looking up, said :

" You talk of nursing. How long nursing ? "

" How long nursing ? " repeated Snitchey,
dusting the snuff from his fingers, and making a
slow calculation in his mind. " For your in-



MR. WARDEN IS IN LOVE.



i3t



volved estate, sir? In good hands? S. and
C.'s, say ? Six or seven years."

" To starve for six or seven years ! " said the
dient widi a fretful laugh, and an impatient
change of his position.

" To starve for six or seven years, Mr. Warden,"
said Snitchey, "would be very uncommon indeed.
You might get another estate by showing yourself
the while. ]kit, we don't think you could do it —
speaking for Self and Craggs — and consequently
don't advise it."

" What do you advise ? "

" Nursing, I say," repeated Snitchey. " Some
few years of nursing by Self and Craggs would
bring it round. But, to enable us to make
terms, and hold terms, and you to keep terms,
you must go away ; 3-ou must live abroad. As to
starvation, we could insure you some hundreds
a year to starve upon, even in the beginning — I
dare say, Mr. Warden."

" Hundreds ! " said the client. " And I have
spent thousands ! "

" That," retorted i\Ir. Snitchey, putting the
papers slowly back into the cast-iron box, " there
is no doubt about. No doubt a — bout," he
repeated to himself, as he thoughtfully pursued
his occupation.

The lawyer very likely knew Jiis man ; at any
rate, his dry, shrewd, whimsical manner had a
favourable influence on the client's moody state,
and disposed him to be more free and unre-
served. Or, perhaps the client knew his man,
and had elicited such encouragement as he had
received, to render some purpose he was about
to disclose the more defensible in appearance.
Gradually raising his head, he sat looking at his
immovable adviser with a smile, which presently
broke into a laugh.

"After all," he said, "my iron -headed
friend "

Mr. Snitchey pointed out his partner. " Self
and — excuse me — Craggs."

" I beg Mr. Craggs's })ardon," said the client.
" After all, my iron-headed friends," he leaned
forward in his chair, and dropped his voice a
little, "you don't know half my ruin yet."

Mr. Snitchey stopped and stared at him. Mr.
Craggs also stared.

" 1 am not only deep in debt," said the client,
" but I am deep in "

" Not in love ! " cried Snitchey.

" Yes ! " said the client, falling back in his
chair, and surveying the Firm with his hands in
his pockets. " Deep in love ! "

"And not with an heiress, sir?" said Snitchey.

" Not with an heiress."

" Nor a rich lady ? "



., " Nor a rich lady that I know of— except in
beauty and merit."

"A single lady, I trust?" said Mr. Snitchey
with great expression.

" Certainly."

" It's not one of Doctor Jeddler's daughters ? "
said Snitchey, suddenly squaring his elbows on
his knees, and advancing his face at least a
yard.

" Yes ! " returned the client.

" Not his younger daughter ? " said Snitchey.

" Yes ! " returned the client.

"Mr. Craggs," said Snitchey, much relieved,
" will you oblige me with another pinch of
snuff? Thank you ! I am happy to say it
don't signify, Mr. Warden; she's engaged, ' sir,
she's bespoke. My partner can corroborate me.
We know the fact."

" We know the fact," repeated Craggs.

" Why, so do I, perhaps," returned the client
quietly. " What of that ? Are you men of the
world, and did you never hear of a woman
changing her mind ? "

" There certainlyJiave been actions for breach,"
said Mr. Snitchey, " brought against both spin-
sters and widows, but, in the majority of
cases "

" Cases ! " interposed the client impatiently.
" Don't talk to me of cases. The general pre-
cedent is in a much larger volume than any of
your law books. Besides, do you think I have
lived six weeks in the Doctor's house for no-
tliing ? "

" I thinlc, sir," observed Mr. Snitchey, gravely
addressing himself to his partner, " that of all
the scrapes Mr. Warden's horses have brought
him into at one time and another — and they
have been pretty numerous, and pretty expen-
sive, as none know better than himself, and you
and I — the worst scrape may turn out to be, if
he talks in this way, his having been ever left
by one of them at the Doctor's garden wall,
with three broken ribs, a snapped collar bone,
and the Lord knows how many bruises. We
didn't think so much of it, at the time when Ave
knew he was going on well under the Doctors
hands and roof: but it looks bad now, sir.
Bad ! It looks very bad. Doctor Jeddler, too
— our client, Mr. Craggs."

" Mr. Alfred Heathfield, too — a sort of client,
Mr. Snitchey," said Craggs.

" Mr. Michael Warden, too, a kind of client,"
said the careless visitor, " and no bad one either :
having played the fool for ten or twelve years.
However, Mr. Michael Warden has sown his
wild oats now — there's their crop, in that box;
and he means to repent and be wise. And, in



132



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



proof of it, Mr. Michael Warden means, if he can,
to marry Marion, the Doctor's lovely daughter,
and to carry her away with him."

" Really, Mr. Craggs " Snitchey began.

" Really, Mr. Snitchey, and Mr. Craggs, part-
ners both," said the client, interrupting him ;
" you know your duty to your clients, and you
know well enough, I am sure, that it is no part
of it to interfere in a mere love affair, which I
am obliged to confide to you. I am not going
to carry the young lady off without her own
consent. There's nothing illegal in it. I never
was Mr. Heathfield's bosom friend. I violate
no confidence of his. I love where he loves,
and I mean to win where he would win, if I
can.''

" He can't, Mr. Craggs," said Snitchey, evi-
dently anxious and disc mfited. " He can't do
it, sir. She dotes on Mr. Alfred."

" Does she ?" returned the client.

" Mr. Craggs, she dotes on him, sir," persisted
Snitchey.

" I didn't live six weeks, some few months
ago, in the Doctor's house for nothing ; and I
doubted that soon," observed the client. " She
would have doted on him, if her sister could
have brought it about ; but I watched them,
Marion avoided his name, avoided the subject :
shrunk from the least allusion to it, with evident
distress."

" Why should she, Mr, Craggs, you know ?
Why should she, sir ? " inquired Snitchey.

" I don't know why she should, though there
are many likely reasons," said the client, smiling
at the attention and perplexity expressed in Mr.
Snitchey's shining eye, and at his cautious way
of carrying on the conversation, and making
himself informed upon the subject; "but I know
she does. She was very young when she made
the engagement — if it may be called one, I am
not even sure of that — and has repented of it,
perhaps. Perhaps — it seems a foppish thing to
say, but, upon my soul, I don't mean it in that
light — she may have faller> in love with me, as I
have fallen in love with her."

" He, he ! Mr. Alfred, her old playfellow
too, you remember, Mr. Craggs," said Snitchey
with a disconcerted laugh ; " knew her almost
from a baby ! "

" Which makes it the more probable that she
may be tired of his idea," calmly pursued the
client, "and not indisposed to exchange it for
the newer one of another lover, who presents
himself (or is presented by his horse) under
romantic circumstances ; has the not unfavour-
able reputation — with a country girl — of having
lived thoughtlessly and gaily, without doing



much harm to anybody ; and who, for his youth
and figure, and so forth — this may seem foppish
again, but, upon my soul, I don't mean it in
that light — might perhaps pass muster in a
crowd with Mr. Alfred himself."

There was no gainsaying the last clause,
certainly; and Mr. Snitchey, glancing at him,
thought so. There was something naturally
graceful and pleasant in the very carelessness of
his air. It seemed to suggest, of his comely
face and well-knit figure, that they might be
greatly better if he chose : and that, once roused
and made earnest (but he never had been earnest
yet), he could be full of fire and purpose. " A
dangerous sort of libertine," thought the shrewd
lawyer, " to seem to catch the spark he wants
from a young lady's eyes."

" Now, observe, Snitchey," he continued, rising
and taking him by the button, " and Craggs,"
taking him by the button also, and placing one
partner on either side of him, so that neither
might evade him. "I don't ask you for any
advice. You are right to keep quite aloof from
all parties in such a matter, v/hich is not one in
which grave men like you could interfere on any
side. I am briefly going to review, in half-a-
dozen words, my position and intention, and then
I shall leave it to you to do the best for me, in
money matters, that you can : seeing that, if I
run away with the Doctor's beautiful daughter
(as I hope to do, and to become another man
under her bright influence), it will be, for the
moment, more chargeable than running away
alone. But I shall soon make all that up in an
altered life."

" I think it will be better not to hear this, Mr.
Craggs?" said Snitchey, looking at him across
the client.

" / think not," said Craggs. — Both listening
attentively.

" Well ! You needn't hear it," replied their
client. " I'll mention it, however. I don't
mean to ask the Doctors consent, because he
wouldn't give it me. But I mean to do the
Doctor no wrong or harm, because (besides
there being nothing serious in such trifles, as he
says) I hope to rescue his child, my Marion,
from what I see — I knoiv — she dreads, and con-
templates with misery : that is, the return of this
old lover. If anything in the world is true, it is
true that she dreads his return. Nobody is
injured so far. I am so harried and worried
here, just now, that I lead the life of a flying-
fish. I skulk about in the dark, I am shut out
of my own house and warned oft" my own
grounds ; but, that house, and those grounds,
and many an acre besides, will come back to me



THIS DAY MONTH.



"^IZ



one day, as you know and say ; and Marion will
probably be richer — on your showing, who are
never sanguine — ten years hence, as my wife,
than as the wife of Alfred Heathfield, whose
leturn she dreadr (remember that), and in whom,



or in any man, my passion is not surpassed.
Who is injured yet? It is a fair case through-
out. My right is as good as his, if she decide
in my favour ; and I will try my right by her
alone. You will like to know no more after




I THINK IT WILL BE BETTER NOT TO HEAR THIS, MR. CRAGGS ? " SAID SNITCHEY, LOOKING AT HIM
ACROSS THE CLIENT. — " I THINK NOT," SAID CRAGGS. — BOTH LISTENING ATTENTIVELY.



this, and I will tell you no more. Now you

know my purpose and wants. When must I

leave here ? "

" In a week," said Snitchey. " Mr. Craggs ?"
" In something less, I should say," responded

Craggs.

" In a month," said tlie client after attentively



watching the two faces. " This day month.
To-day is Thursday. Succeed or fail, on this
day month I go."

" It's too long a delay," said Snitchey ; " much
too long. But let it be so. I thought he'd have
stipulated for three," he murmured to himself.
" Are you going ? Good night, sir 1 "



134



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



"Good night !" returned the client, shaking
hands with the Firm. " You'll live to see me
making a good use of riches yet. Henceforth
the star of my destiny is, Marion ! "

" Take care of the stairs, sir," rei)lied Snitchey ;
" for she don't shine there. Good night ! "

" Good night ! "

So they both stood at the stair- head with a
pair of office candles, watching him down.
A\' hen he had gone away, they stood looking at
each other.

" What do you think of all this, Mr. Craggs ?"
said Snitchey.

Mr. Craggs shook his head.

" It was our opinion, on the day when that
release was executed, that there was something
curious in the parting of that pair, I recollect,"
said Snitchey.

" It was," said Mr. Craggs.

" Perhaps he deceives himself altogether,"
pursued Mr. Snitchey, locking up the fire-proof
box, and putting it away ; " or, if he don't, a
litde bit of fickleness and perfidy is not a miracle,
Mr. Craggs. And yet I thought that pretty face
was very true. I thought," said Mr. Snitchey,
putting on his great-coat (for the weather was
very cold), drawing on his gloves, and snuffing
out one candle, " that I had even seen her cha-
racter becoming stronger and mote resolved of
late. More like her sister's."

" Mrs. Craggs was of the same opinion," re-
turned Craggs.

" I'd really give a trifle to-night," observed
Mr. Snitchey, who was a good-natured man, " if
I could believe that Mr. Warden was reckoning
without his host ; but, light-headed, capricious,
and unballasted as he is, he knows something of
the world and its jjeople (he ought to, for he has
bought what he does know dear enough) ; and
I can't quite think that. We had better not
interfere : we can do nothing, Mr. Craggs, but
keep quiet."

" Nothing," returned Craggs.

" Our friend the Doctor makes light of such
things," said Mr. Snitchey, shaking his head,
" I hope he mayn't stand in need of his philo-
sophy. Our friend Alfred talks of the battle of
life;" he shook his head again; "I hope he
mayn't be cut down early in the day. Have
you got your hat, Mr. Craggs ? I am going to
put the other candle out."

Mr. Craggs replying in the affirmative, ]\Ir.
Snitchey suited the action to the word, and they
groped their way out of the council-chamber,
now as dark as the subject, or the law in general.

My story passes to a quiet little study, where,



on that same night, the sisters and the hale old
Doctor sat by a cheerful fireside. Grace was
Avorking at her needle. Marion read aloud from
a book before her. The Doctor, in his dressing-
gown and slippers, with his feet spread out upon
the warm rug, leaned back in his easy-chair,
and listened to the book, and looked upon his
daughters.

They were very beautiful to look upon. Two
better faces for a fireside never made a fireside
bright and sacred. Something of the difference
between them had been softened down in three
years' time ; and enthroned upon the clear brow
of the younger sister, looking through her eyes,
and thrilling in her voice, was the same ear-
nest nature that her own motherless youth had
rii^ened in the elder sister long ago. But she still
appeared at once the lovelier and weaker of the
two; still seemed to rest her head upon her
sister's breast, and put her trust in her, and look
into her eyes for counsel and reliance. Those
loving eyes, so calm, serene, and cheerful, as of
old.

" ' And being in her own home,' " read ]Marion
from the book ; " ' her home made exquisitely
dear by these remembrances, she now began to
know that the great trial of her heart must soon
come on, and could not be delayed. Oh,
Home, our comforter and friend when others
fall away, to part with whom, at any step be-
tween the cradle and the grave ' "

" Marion, my love !" said Grace.

"Why, Puss!" exclaimed her father, "what's
the matter?"

She put her hand upon the hand her sister
stretched towards her, and read on ; her voice
still faltering and trembling, though she made an
eftbrt to command it when thus interrupted.

" ' — To part with whom, at any step betw-een
the cradle and the grave, is always sorrowful.
Oh, Home, so true to us, so often slighted in
return, be lenient to them that turn away from
thee, and do not haunt their erring footsteps too
reproachfully ! Let no kind looks, no well-
remembered smiles, be seen upon thy phantom
face. Let no ray of affection, welcome, gentle-
ness, forbearance, cordiality, shine from th}-
white head. Let no old loving word, or tone,
rise up in judgment against thy deserter; but,
if thou canst look harshly and severely, do, in
mercy to the Penitent ! ' "

" Dear Marion, read no more to-night," said
Grace — for she was weeping.

" I cannot," she replied, and closed the book.
" The words seem all on fire ! "

The Doctor was amused at this ; and laughed
as he patted her on the head.



ALFRED COMING HOME.



135



"What! overcome by a story book!" said
Doctor Jeddler. " Print and paper ! Well,
well, it's all one. It's as rational to make a
serious matter of print and paper as of anything
else. But, dry your eyes, love, dry your eyes.
I dare say the heroine has got home again long
ago, and made it up all round — and if she
hasn't, a real home is only four walls ; and a
fictitious one, mere rags and ink. What's the
matter now ? "'

" It's only me, mister," said Clemency, putting
in her head at the door.

"And what's the matter \\\\\\youV' said the
Doctor.

" Oh, bless you, nothing ain't the matter with
me!" returned Clemency — and truly too, to
judge from her well-soaped face, in which there
gleamed, as usual, the very soul of good-humour,
which, ungainly as she was, made her quite
engaging. Abrasions on the elbows are not
generally understood, it is true, to range within
that class of personal charms called beauty spots.
But, it is better, going through the v/orld, to have
the arms chafed in that narrow passage than the
temper : and Clemency's was sound, and whole
as any beauty's in the land.

" Nothing ain't the matter with me," said
Clemency, entering, " but — come a little closer,
mister."

The Doctor, in some astonishment, complied
with this invitation.

" You said I wasn't to give you one before
them, you know," said Clemency.

A novice in the family might have supposed,
from her extraordinary ogling as she said it, as
well as from a singular rapture or ecstasy which
pervaded her elbows, as if she were embracing
herself, that " one," in its most favourable inter-
pretation, meant a chaste salute. Indeed, the
Doctor himself seemed alarmed for the moment ;
but quickly regained his composure, as Cle-
mency, having had recourse to both her pockets
— beginning with the right one, going away to
the wrong one, and afterwards coming back to
tlie right one again — produced 'c ^3tter from the
post-office.

" Britain was riding by on an errand," she
chuckled, handing it to the Doctor, "and see
the mail come in, and waited for it. There's
A. H. in the corner. Mr. Alfred's on his journey
home, I bet. We shall have a wedding in the
house — there was two spoons in' my saucer this
morning. Oh, Luck, how slow he opens it !"

All this she delivered, by way of soliloquy,
gradually rising higher and higher on tiptoe, in
lier impatience to hear the news, and making a
cork-screw of her apron, and a bottle of her



mouth. At last, arriving at a climax of sus-
pense, and seeing the Doctor still engaged in
the i)erusal of the letter, she came down flat
upon the soles of her feet again, and cast her
apron as a veil over her head, in a mute despair,
and inability to bear it any longer.

" Here ! Girls !" cried the Doctor. " I can't
help it : I never could keep a secret in my life.
There are not many secrets, indeed, worth being

kept in such a Well ! never mind that.

Alfred's coming home, my dears, directly."

" Directly J " exclaimed Marion.

" What ! The story book is soon forgotten !"
said the Doctor, pinching her cheek. " I thought
the news would dry those tears. Yes. ' Let it
be a surprise,' he says here. But I can't let it
be a surprise. He must have a welcome."

" Directly !" repeated Marion.

" Why, perhaps, not what your impatience
calls ' directly,' " returned the Doctor ; " but
pretty soon too. Let us see. Let us see. To-
day is Thursday, is it not ? Then he promises
to be here this day month."

" This day month ! " repeated INIarion softly.

."A gay day and a holiday for us," said the
cheerful voice of her sister Grace, kissing her in
congratulation. " Long looked forward to,
dearest, and come at last."

She answered with a smile ; a mournful smile,
but full of sisterly affection. As she looked in
her sister's face, and listened to the quiet music
of her voice, picturing the happiness of this re-
turn, her own face glowed with hope and joy.

And with a something else ; a something
shining more and more through all the rest of
its expression ; for which I have no name. It
was not exultation, triumph, proud enthusiasm.
They are not so calmly shown. It was not love
and gratitude alone, though love and gratitude



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 91 of 103)