Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 92 of 103)
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were part of it. It emanated from no sordid
thought, for sordid thoughts do not light up the
brow, and hover on the lips, and move the spirit
like a fluttered light, until the sympathetic figure
trembles.

Doctor Jeddler, in spite of his system of phi-
losophy — which he was continually contradict-
ing and denying in practice, but more famous
philosophers have done that — could not help
having as much interest in the return of his old
ward and pupil as if it had been a serious event.
So, he sat himself down in his easy-chair again,
stretched out his slippered feet once more upon
the rug, read the letter over and over a great
many times, and talked it over more times still.

"Ah ! The day was," said the Doctor, look-
ing at the fire, " when you and he, Grace, usetl
to trot about arm-in-arm, in his holiday-time,



Tt3^



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



like a couple of walking dolls. You re-
member ? "

" I remember," she answered with her plea-
sant laugh, and plying her needle busily.

" This day month, indeed ! " mused the Doc-
tor. " That hardly seems a twelvemonth ago.
And where was my little Marion then ? "

" Never far from her sister," said Marion
cheerily, " however little. Grace was every-
thing to me, even when she was a young child
herself."

" True, Puss, true," returned the Doctor.
" She was a staid little woman, was Grace, and
a wise housekeeper, and a busy, quiet, pleasant
body ; bearing with our humours, and antici-
pating our wishes, and always ready to forget
her own, even in those times. I never knew
you positive or obstinate, Grace, my darling,
even then, on any subject but one."

" I am afraid I have changed sadly for the
worse since," laughed Grace, still busy at her
work. " What was that one, father ? "

"Alfred, of course," said the Doctor. "No-
thing would serve you but you must be called
Alfred's wife ; so we called you Alfred's wife ;
and you liked it better, I believe (odd as it
seems now), than being called a Duchess, if we
could have made you one."

" Indeed ? " said Grace placidly.

" Why, don't you remember "> " inquired the
Doctor.

" I think I remember something of it," she
returned, " but not much. It's so long ago."
And, as she sat at work, she hummed the bur-
den of an old song which the Doctor liked.

" Alfred will find a real wife soon," she said,
breaking off; " and that will be a happy time
indeed for all of us. My three years' trust is
nearly at an end, Marion. It has been a very
easy one. I shall tell Alfred, when I give you
back to him, that you have loved him dearly all
the time, and that he has never once needed my
good services. May I tell him so, love ? "

"Tell him, dear Grace," replied Marion,
" that there never was a trust so generously,
nobly, steadfastly discharged ; and that I have
loved you, all the time, dearer and dearer every
day ; and oh ! how dearly now ! "

" Nay," said her cheerful sister, returning her
embrace, " I can scarcely tell him that ; we will
leave my deserts to Alfred's imagination. It
will be liberal enough, dear Marion ; like your
own."

With that, she resumed the work she had for
a moment laid down when her sister spoke so
fervently ; and with it the old song the Doctor
liked to hear. And the Doctor, still reposing



in his easy-chair, with his slippered feet stretched
out before him on the rug, listened to the tune,
and beat time on his knee with Alfred's letter,
and looked at his two daughters, and thought
that, among the many trifles of the trifling
world, these trifles were agreeable enough.

Clemency Newcome, in the meantime, having
accomplished her mission and lingered in the
room until she had made herself a party to the
news, descended to tlie kitchen, where her co-
adjutor, Mr. Britain, was regaling after supper,
surrounded by such a plentiful collection of
bright pot-lids, well-scoured saucepans, bur-
nished dinner-covers, gleaming kettles, and
other tokens of her industrious habits, arranged
upon the walls and shelves, that he sat as in the
centre of a hall of mirrors. The majority did
not give forth very flattering portraits of him,
certainly ; nor were they by any means unani-
mous in their reflections ; as some made him
very long-faced, others very broad-faced, some
tolerably well-looking, others vastly ill-looking,
according to their several manners of reflecting :
which were as various, in respect of one fact, as
those of so many kinds of men. But they all
agreed that in the midst of them sat, quite at his
ease, an individual with a pipe in his mouth,
and a jug of beer at his elbow, who nodded con-
descendingly to Clemency when she stationed
herself at the same table.

" Well, Clemmy," said Britain, " how are you
by this time, and what's the news ? "

Clemency told him the news, which he re-
ceived very graciously. A gracious change had
come over Benjamin from head to foot. He
was much broader, much redder, much more
cheerful, and much jollier in all respects. It
seemed as if his face had been tied up in a knot
before, and was now untwisted and smoothed out.

"There'll be another job for Snitchey and
Craggs, I suppose," he observed, pufiing slowly
at his pipe. " More witnessing for you and me,
perhaps, Clemmy ! "

" Lor ! " replied his fair companion, with her
favourite twist of her favourite joints. " I wish
it was me, Britain ! "

" Wish what was you ? "
" "' A-going to be married," said Clemency.

Benjamin took his pipe out of his mouth and
laughed heartily. " Yes ! you're a likely subject
for that ! " he said. " Poor Clem ! " Clemency
for her part laughed as heartily as he, and
seemed as much amused by the idea. " Yes,"
she assented, "I'm a likely subject for that;
an't I ? "

" Ybu^ll never be married, you know," c-aid
Mr. Britain, resuming his pipe.



CLEMENCY AND MR. BRITAIN.



137



" Don't you think I ever shall, though ? " said
Clemency in perfect good faith.

Mr. Britain shook his head. " Not a chance
of it ! "

" Only think ! " said Clemency. " Well !— I
suppose you mean to, Britain, one of these days ;
don't you ? "

A question so abrupt, upon a subject so mo-
mentous, required consideration. After blow-
ing out a great cloud of smoke, and looking at
it with his head now on this side, and new on
that, as if it were actually the question, and he
Avere surveying it in various aspects, Mr. Britain
replied that he wasn't altogether clear about it,
but — ye-es — he thought he might come to that
at last.

" I wish her joy, whoever she may be ! " cried
Clemency.

" Oh ! she'll have that," said Benjamin, " safe
enough."

" But she wouldn't have led quite such a joy-
ful life as she will lead, and wouldn't have had
quite such a sociable sort of husband as she will
have," said Clemency, spreading herself half
over the table, and staring retrospectively at the
candle, *' if it hadn't been for — not that I went
to do it, for it was accidental, I am sure — if it
hadn't been for me : now would she, Britain ? "

" Certainly not," returned Mr. Britain, by this
time in that high state of appreciation of his
pipe, when a man can open his mouth but a
very little way for speaking purposes ; and,
sitting luxuriously immovable in his chair, can
aftbrd to turn only his eyes towards a com-
panion, and that very passively and gravely.
" Oh ! I'm greatly beholden to you, you know,
Clem."

" Lor, how nice that is to think of ! " said
Clemency.

At the same time bringing her thoughts as
well as her sight to bear upon the candle grease,
and becoming abruptly reminiscent of its heal-
ing qualities as a balsam, she anointed her left
elbow with a plentiful application of that re-
medy.

" You see I've made a good many investiga-
tions of one sort and another in my time," pur-
sued Mr. Britain with the profundity of a sage ;
" having been always of an inquiring turn of
mind ; and I've read a good many books about
the general Rights of things and Wrongs of
things, for ,1 went into the literary line myself
■when I began life."

" Did you, though ? " cried the admiring
Clemency.

" Yes," said Mr. Britain : " I was hid for the
best part of two years behind a book-stall, ready



to fly out if anybody pocketed a volume ; and,
after that, I was light porter to a stay and
mantua maker, in which capacity I was em-
ployed to carry about, in oil-skin baskets,
nothing but deceptions — which soured my
spirits and disturbed my confidence in human
nature ; and, after that, I heard a world of dis-
cussions in this house, which soured my spirits
fresh ; and my opinion, after all, is that, as a
safe and comfortable sweetener of the same, and
as a pleasant guide through life, there's nothing
like a nutmeg-grater."

Clemency was about to ofl'er a suggestion, but
he stopped her by anticipating it.

" Com-bined," he added gravely, " with a
thimble."

" Do as you wold, you know, and cetrer, eh ? "
observed Clemency, folding her arms comfort-
ably in her delight at this avowal, and patting
her elbows. " Such a short cut, an't it?"

" I'm not sure," said Mr. Britain, " that it's
what would be considered good philosophy.
I've my doubts about that ; but it wears well,
and saves a quantity of snarling, which the
genuine article don't always."

" See how you used to go on once yourself,
you know ! " said Clemency.

" Ah ! " said Mr. Britain. " But, the most
extraordinary thing, Clemmy, is that I should
live to be brought round through you. That's
the strange part of it. Through you ! Why, I
suppose you haven't so much as half an idea in
your head."

Clemency, without taking the least offence,
shook it, and laughed, and hugged herself, and
said, " No, she didn't suppose she had."

" I'm pretty sure of it," said Mr. Britain.

" Oh ! I dare say you're right," said Cle-
menc3^ " I don't pretend to none. I don't
want any."

Benjamin took his pipe from his lips, and
laughed till the tears ran down his face. " What
a natural you are, Clemmy ! " he said, shaking
his head with an infinite relish of the joke, and
wiping his eyes. Clemency, without the smallest
inclination to dispute it, did the like, and laughed
as heartily as he.

" I can't help liking you," said Mr. Britain ;
" you're a regular good creature in your way, so
shake hands, Clem. Whatever happens, I'll always
take notice of you, and be a friend to you."

" Will you ? " returned Clemency. " Well !
that's very good of you."

"Yes, yes," said Mr. Britain, giving her his
pipe to knock the ashes out of it ; " I'll stand
by you. Hark ! That's a curious noise ! "

" Noise !" repeated Clemency.



i.^S



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



" A footstep outside. Somebody dropping
from the wall, it sounded like," said Britain.
" Are they all abed up-stairs ? "

" Yes, all abed by this time," she replied,

" Didn't you hear anything ? "

" No."

They both listened, but heard nothing.

" I tell you what," said Benjamin, taking
down a lantern ; "I'll have a look round before
I go to bed myself, for satisfaction's sake. Undo
the door while I light this, Clemmy ! "

Clemency comphed briskly ; but observed, as
she did so, that he would only have his walk for
his painS; that it was all his fancy, and so forth.
Mr. Britain said, " Very likely ; " but sallied out,
nevertheless, armed widi the poker, and casting
the light of the lantern far and near in all direc-
tions.

*' It's as quiet as a churchyard," said Cle-
mency, looking after him ; " and almost as
ghostly too ! "

Glancing back into the kitchen, she cried
fearfully, as a light figure stole into her view,
"What's that?"

" Hush ! " said Marion in an agitated whisper.
" You have always loved me, have you not ? "

" Loved you, child ! You may be sure I
have."

" I am sure. And I may trust you, may I
not? There is no one else just now in whom I
can trust."

" Yes," said Clemency with all her heart.

" There is some one out there," pointing to
the door, " whom I must see, and speak with,
to-night. Michael Warden, for God's sake re-
tire ! Not now ! "

Clemency started with surprise and trouble
as, following the direction of the speaker's eyes,
she saw a dark figure standing in the doorway.

" In another moment you maybe discovered,"
said Marion. " Not now. Wait, if you can, in
some concealment. I will come presently."

He waved his hand to her, and was gone.

" Don't go to bed. Wait here for me ! " said
Marion hurriedly. " I have been seeking to speak
to you for an hour past. Oh, be true to me ! "

Eagerly seizing her bewildered hand, and
pressing it with both her own to her breast — an
action more expressive, in its jjassion of en-
treaty, than the most eloquent appeal in words
— Marion withdrew ; as the light of the return-
ing lantern flashed into the room.

"All still and peaceable. Nobody there.
Fancy, I suppose," said Mr. Britain as he locked
and barred the door. " One of the effects of
having a lively imagination. Halloa ! Why,
what's the matter?"



Clemency, who could not conceal the effects
of her surprise and concern, was sitting in a
chair : pale, and trembling from head to foot.

" Matter ! " she repeated, chafing her hands
and elbows nervously, and looking anywhere
but at him. " That's good in you, Britain, that
is ! After going and frightening one out of one's
life with noises, and lanterns, and I don't know
what all. Matter ! Oh yes ! "

" If you're frightened out of your life by a
lantern, Clemmy," said Mr. Britain, composedly
blowing it out and hanging it up again, " that
apparition's very soon got rid of. But you're as
bold as brass in general," he said, stopping to
observe hei ^ ■* and were, after the noise and the
lantern too. What have you taken into your
head ? Not an idea, eh?"

But, as Clemency bade him good night very
much after her usual fashion, and began to bustle
about with a show of going to bed herself imme-
diately, Little Britain, after giving utterance to
the original remark that it was impossible to
account for a woman's whims, bade her good
night in return, and, taking up his candle, strolled
drowsily away to bed.

When all was quiet ISIarion returned.

" Open the door," she said ; " and stand
there, close beside me, while I speak to him
outside."

Timid as her manner was, it still evinced a
resolute and settled purpose, such as Clemency
could not resist. She softly unbarred the door :
but, before turning the key, looked round on the
young creature waiting to issue fordi when she
should open it.

The face was not averted or cast down, but
looking full upon her, in its pride of youth and
beauty. Some simple sense of the slightness of
the barrier that interposed itself between the
happy home and honoured love of the fair girl,
and what might be the desolation of that home,
and shipwreck of its dearest treasure, smote so
keenly on the tender heart of Clemency, and so
filled it to overflowing with sorrow and compas-
sion, that, bursting into tears, she threw her arms
round Marion's neck.

"It's little that I know, my dear," cried Cle-
mency, "very little ; but I know that this should
not be. Think of what you do ! "

" I have thought of it many times," said
Marion gently.

" Once more," urged Clemency. " Till to-
morrow." Marion shook her head.

" For Mr. Alfred's sake," said Clemency Avith
homely earnestness. " Him that you used to
love so dearly once ! "

She hid her face, upon the instant, in her



"77/AS £>AV MONTir' IS COME.



139



hands, repeating " Once ! " as if it rent her
heart.

" Let me go out," said Clemency, soothing
her. " I'll tell him what you like. Don't cross
the door-step to-night. I'm sure no good will
come of it. Oh, it was an unhappy day when
]\Ir. Warden was ever brought here ! Think of
your good father, darling — of your sister!"

" I have," said Marion, hastily raising her
head. " You don't know what I do. You don't
know what I do. I must speak to him. You
are the best and truest frienil in all the world for
what you have said to me, but I must take this
step. Will you go with me. Clemency," she
kissed her on her friendly face, " or shall I go
alone? "

Sorrowing and wondering. Clemency turned
the key, and opened the door. Into the dark
and doubtful night that lay beyond the threshold,
Marion passed quickly, holding by her hand.

In the dark night he joined her, and they
spoke together earnestly and long ; and the hand
that held so fast b)- Clemency's, now trembled,
now turned deadly cold, now clasped and closed
on hers, in the strong feeling of the speech it
emphasized unconsciously. When they returned,
he followed to tlie door, and, pausing there a
moment, seized the other hand, and pressed it
to his lips. Then stealthily withdrew.

The door was barred and locked again, and
once again she stood beneath her father's roof.
Not bowed down by the secret that she brought
there, though so young ; but with that same ex-
pression on her face for which I had no name
before, and shining through her tears.

Again she thanked and thanked her humble
friend, and trusted to her, as she said, with con-
fidence, implicitly. Her chamber safely reached,
she fell upon her knees; and, with her secret
weighing on her heart, could pray !

Could rise up from her prayers so tranquil and
serene, and bending over her fond sister in her
slumber, look upon her face and smile — though
sadly : murmuring, as she kissed her forehead,
how that Grace had been a mother to her ever,
and she loved her as a child.

Could draw the passive arm about her neck
when lying down to rest — it seemed to cling
there, of its own will, protectingly and tenderly
even in sleep — and breathe upon tha parted
lips, God bless her !

Could sink into a peaceful sleep herself ; but
for one dream, in which she cried out, in her
innocent and touching voice, that she was quite
alone, and they had all forgotten her.

A month soon passes, even at its tardiest pace.



The month appointed to elapse between that
night and the return was (juick of foot, and went
by like a vapour.

The day arrived. A raging winter day, that
shook the old house, sometimes, as if it shivered
in the blast. A day to make home doubly
home. To give the chimney-corner new de-
lights. To shed a ruddier glow upon the faces
gathered round the hearth, and draw each fire-
side group into a closer and more social league
against the roaring elements without. Such a
wild winter day as best prepares the way for
shut-out night ; for curtained rooms and cheer-
ful looks ; for music, laughter, dancing, light, and
jovial entertainment !

All these the Doctor had in store to welcome
Alfred back. They knew that he could not
arrive till night ; and they would make the night
air ring, he said, as he approached. All his
old friends should congregate about him. He
should not miss a face that he had known and
liked. No ! They should every one be there 1

So guests were bidden, and musicians were
engaged, and tables spread, and floors prepared
for active feet, and bountiful provision made of
every hospitable kind. Because it was the
Christmas season, and his eyes were all unused
to English holly and its sturdy green, the danc-
ing-room was garlanded and hung with it ; and
the red berries gleamed an English welcome to
him, peeping from among the leaves.

It was a busy day for all of them ; a busier
day for none of them than Grace, who noise-
lessly presided everywhere, and was the cheerful
mind of all the preparations. Many a time that
day (as well as many a time Avithin the fleeting
month preceding it), did Clemency glance anx-
iously, and almost fearfully, at Marion. She saw
her paler, perhaps, than usual ; but there was a
sweet composure on her face that made it love-
lier than ever.

At night when she was dressed, and wore
upon her head a wreath that Grace had proudly
twined about it — its mimic flowers were Alfred's
favourites, as Grace remembered when she chose
them — that old expression, pensive, almost sor-
rowful, and yet so spiritual, high, and stirring,
sat again upon her brow, enhanced a hundred-
fold.

" The next wreath I adjust on this fair head
will be a marriage wreath," said Grace ; " or I
am no true prophet, dear."

Her sister smiled, and held her in her
arms,

" A moment, Grace, Don't leave me yet.
Are you sure that I v/ant nothing more ? ''

Her care was not for that. It was her sister's



Z40



THE BA TTLE OF LIFE.



face she thought of, and her eyes were fixed upon

it tenderly.

" My art," said Grace, " can go no farther,
dear girl ; nor your beauty. I never saw you
look so beautiful as now."

" I never was so happy," she returned.

" Ay, but there is a greater happiness in store.
In such another home, as cheerful and as bright
as this looks now," said Grace, " Alfred and his
young wife will soon be living."

She smiled again. " It is a happy home,
Grace, in your fancy, I can see it in your eyes.
I know it will be happy, dear. How glad I am
to know it ! "

" Well," cried the Doctor, bustling in. " Here
we are, all ready for Alfred, eh ? He can't be
here until pretty late — an hour or so before mid-
night — so there'll be plenty of time for making
merry before he comes. He'll not find us with
the ice unbroken. Pile up the fire here, Bri-
tain ! Let it shine upon the holly till it winks
again. It's a world of nonsense, Puss; true
lovers and all the rest of it — all nonsense ; but
ue'U be nonsensical with the rest of 'em, and
give our true lover a mad welcome. Upon my
word ! " said the old Doctor, looking at his
daughters proudly, " I'm not clear to-night,
among other absurdities, but that I'm the father
of two handsome girls."

" All that one of them has ever done, or may
do — may do, dearest father — to cause you pain
or grief, forgive her," said Marion, " forgive her
now, when her heart is full. Say that you for-
give her. That you will forgive her. That slie

shall always share your love, and " And

the rest was not said, for her face was hidden on
the old man's shoulder.

" Tut, tut, tut ! " said the Doctor gently.
" Forgive ! U'hat have I to forgive ? Heyday,
if our true lovers come back to flurry us like
this, we must hold them at a distance ; we must
send expresses out to stop 'em short upon the
road, and bring 'em on a mile or two a day,
until we're properly prepared to meet 'em. Kiss
me, Puss. Forgive ! Why, what a silly child you
are ! If you had vexed and crossed me fifty
times a day, instead of not at all, I'd forgive you
everything but such a supplication. Kiss me
again, Puss. There ! Prospective and retrospec-
tive — a clear score between us. Pile up the fire
here ! Would you freeze the people on this
bleak December night ? Let us be light, and
warm, and merry, or 111 not forgive some of
you ! "

So gaily the old Doctor carried it ! And the
fire was piled up, and the lights were bright, and
company arrived, and a murmuring of lively



tongues began, and already there was a pleasant
air of cheerful excitement stirring through all the
house.

More and more company came flocking in.
Bright eyes sparkled upon Marion ; smiling lips
gave her joy of his return ; sage mothers fanned
themselves, and hoped she mightn't be too
youthful and inconstant for the quiet round of
home ; impetuous fathers fell into disgrace for
too much exaltation of her beauty ; daughters
envied her ; sons envied him ; innumerable
pairs of lovers profited by the occasion ; all
were interested, animated, and expectant,

Mr, and Mrs, Craggs came arm-in-arm, but
Mrs. Snitchey came alone, " Why, what's be-
come oi him V inquired the Doctor,

The feather of a Bird of Paradise in Mrs,
Snitchey's turban trembled as if the Bird of
Paradise were alive again, when she said that
doubtless Mr. Craggs knew. She was never
told.

" That nasty office ! " said Mrs. Craggs.

" I wish it was burnt down," said Mrs.
Snitchey.

" He's — he's — there's a little matter of busi-
ness that keeps my partner rather late," said
Mr. Craggs, looking uneasily about him.

"Oh — h! Business. Don"t tell me!" said
Mrs. Snitchey.

" We know what business means," said ]Mrs.
Craggs.

But their not knowing what it meant was per-
haps the reason why Mrs. Snitchey's Bird-of-
Paradise feather quivered so portentously, and
why all the pendent bits on Mrs. Craggs's ear-
rings shook like little bells.

" I wonder _;w/; could come away, Mr. Craggs,"
said his wife.

" Mr. Craggs is fortunate, I'm sure ! " said
Mrs. Snitchey,

" That office so engrosses 'em," said Mrs,
Craggs,

" A person v/ith an ofliice has no business to
be married at all," said Mrs, Snitchey.



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 92 of 103)