Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 93 of 103)
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Then Mrs, Snitchey said, within herself, that
that look of hers had pierced to Craggs's soul,
and he knew it ; and Mrs, Craggs observed, to
Craggs, that " his Snitcheys " were deceiving
him behind his back, and he would find it out
when it was too late.

Still, ]\Ir. Craggs, without much heeding these
remarks, looked uneasily about him until his
eye rested on Grace, to whom he immediately
presented himself,

" Good evening, ma'am," said Craggs. "You
look charmingly. Your — Miss — your sister, Miss
Marion, is she "



MARION NOT MISSING.



141



" Oh ! she's quite well, Mr. Craggs."

" Yes — I — is she here ? " asked Craggs.

" Here ! Don't you see her yonder ? Going
to dance ? " said Grace.

Mr. Craggs put on his spectacles to see the
better ; looked at her througli them for some
time ; coughed ; and put them, with an air of
satisfaction, in their sheath again, and in his
pocket.

Now the music struck up, and the dance com-
menced. The bright fire crackled and sparkled,
rose and fell, as though it joined the dance
itself, in right good fellowship. Sometimes, it
roared as if it would make music too. Some-
times, it flashed and beamed as if it were the
eye of the old room : it winked too, sometimes,
like a knowing Patriarch, upon the youthful
whisperers in corners. Sometimes, it sported
with the holly-boughs ; and, shining on the
leaves by fits and starts, made them look as
if they were in the cold winter night again,
and fluttering in the wind. Sometimes, its
genial humour grew obstreperous, and passed all
bounds; and then it cast into the room, among
the twinkling feet, with a loud burst, a shower of
harmless little sparks, and in its exultation leaped
and bounded like a mad thing up the broad old
chininey.

Another dance was near its close, when l\Ir.
Snitchey touched his partner, who was looking
on, upon the arm.

Mr. Craggs started, as if his familiar had been
a spectre.

" Is he gone ? " he asked.

" Hush ! He has been with me," said Snitchey,
" for three hours and more. He went over
everything. He looked into all our arrange-
ments for him, and was very particular indeed.
He Humph ! "

The dance was finished. Marion passed close
before him as he spoke. She did not observe
him, or his partner ; but looked over her shoulder
towards her sister in the distance, as she slowly
made her way into the crowd, and passed out of
their view.

" You see ! All safe and well," said Mr.
Craggs. " He didn't recur to that subject, I
suppose ? "

" Not a word."

" And is he really gone ? Is he safe away ? "

" He keeps to his word. He drops down the
river with the tide in that shell of a boat of his,
and so goes out to sea on this dark night — a
dare-devil he is ! — before the wind. There's no
such lonely road anywhere else. That's one
thing. The tide flows, he says, an hour before
midnight — about this time. I'm glad it's over."



Mr. Snitchey wiped his forehead, which looked
hot and anxious.

" \Vhat do you think," said Mr. Craggs,
" about "

" Hush !" replied his cautious partner, looking
straight before him. " I understand you. Don't
mention names, and don't let us seem to be
talking secrets. I don't know what to think ;
and, to tell you the truth, I don't care now. It's
a great relief. His self-love deceived him, I
suppose. Perhaps the young lady coquetted a
little. The evidence would seem to point that
way. Alfred not arrived ? "

" Not yet," said Mr. Craggs. " Expected
every minute."

" Good." Mr. Snitchey wiped his forehead
again. " It's a great relief. 1 haven't been so
nervous since we've been in partnership. I in-
tend to spend the evening now, Mr. Craggs."

Mrs. Craggs and Mrs. Snitchey joined them
as he announced this intention. The Bird of
Paradise was in a state of extreme vibration, and
the little bells were ringing quite audibly.

" It has been the theme of general comment,
Mr. Snitchey," said Mrs. Snitchey. " I hope
the office is satisfied."

" Satisfied with what, my dear ? " asked Mr.
Snitchey.

" With the exposure of a defenceless woman
to ridicule and remark," returned his wife.
" That is quite in the way of the office, that is."

" I really, myself," said Mrs. Craggs, " have
been so long accustomed to connect the oflice
with everything opposed to domesticity, that 1
am glad to know it as the avowed enemy of m\-
peace. There is something honest in that, at
all events."

" My dear," urged Mr, Craggs, " your good
opinion is invaluable, but /never avowed that
the office was the enemy of your peace."

" No," said Mrs. Craggs, ringing a perfect
peal upon the little bells. " Not you, indeed.
You wouldn't be worthy of the office, if you had
the candour to."

'' As to my having been away to-night, my
dear," said Mr. Snitchey, giving her his arm,
" the deprivation has been mine, I'm sure ; but,
as Mr. Craggs knows "

Mrs. Snitchey cut this reference very short by
hitching her husband to a distance, and asking
him to look at that man. To do her the favour
to look at him !

" At which man, my dear ? " said Mr. Snitchey.

" Your chosen companion ; /'m no companion
to you, Mr. Snitchey."

" Yes, yes, you are, my dear," he interposed.

" No, no, I'm not," said Mrs. Snitchey with



142



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



a majestic smile. "I know my station. Will

you look at your chosen companion, Mr.
Snitchey ; at your referee, at the kee])er of your
secrets, at the man you trust ; at your other self,
in short ? "

The habitual association of Self with Craggs
occasioned Mr. Snitchey to look in that direc-
tion.

" If you can look that man in the eye this
night," said Mrs. Snitchey, '' and not know that
you are deluded, practised upon, made the victim
of his arts, and bent down prostrate to his will
by some unaccountable fascination which it is
impossible to explain, and against which no
warning of mine is of the least avail, all I can
say is — I pity you ! "

At the very same moment Mrs. Craggs was
oracular on the cross subject. Was it possible,
she said, that Craggs could so blind himself to
his Snitcheys as not to feel his true position?
Did he mean to say that he had seen his
Snitcheys come into that room, and didn't
plainly see that there was reservation, cunning,
treachery, in the man? Would he tell her that
his very action, when he wiped his forehead and
looked so stealthily about him, didn't show that
there was something weighing on the conscience
of his precious Snitcheys (if he had a con-
science), that wouldn't bear the light? Did
anybody but his Snitcheys come to festive enter-
tainments like a burglar? which, by the way, was
hardly a clear illustration of the case, as he had
walked in very mildly at the door. And would
he still assert to her at noonday (it being nearly
midnight), that his Snitcheys were to be justified
through thick and thin, against all facts, and
reason, and experience ?

Neither Snitchey nor Craggs openly attempted
to stem the current which had thus set in, but
both were content to be carried gently along it
until its force abated. This happened at about
the same time as a general movement for a
country dance ; when Mr, Snitchey proposed
himself as a partner to Mrs. Craggs^ and Mr.
Craggs gallantly offered himself to Mrs. Snitchey ;
and, after some such slight evasions as "Why
don't you ask somebody else ?" and "You'll be
glad, I know, if I decline," and " I wonder you
can dance out of the office •' (but this jocosely
now), each lady graciously accepted an^d took
her place.

It was an old custom among them, indeed, to
do so, and to pair off, in like manner, at dinners
and suppers ; for they were excellent friends,
and on a footing of easy familiarity. Perhaps
the false Craggs and the wicked Snitchey were
a recognised fiction with the two wives, as Doe



and Roe, incessantly running up and down baili-
wicks, were with the two husbands ; or, perhaps
the ladies had instituted, and taken upon them-
selves, these two shares in the business, rather
than be left out of it altogether. But, ceitain
it is that each wife went as gravely and steadily
to work in her vocation as her husband did in his,
and would have considered it almost impossible
for the Firm to maintain a successful and respect-
able existence Avithout her laudable exerdons.

But, now the Bird of Paradise was seen to
flutter down the middle ; and the little bells
began to bounce and jingle in poussette ; and the
Doctor's rosy face spun round and round, like
an expressive pegtop highly varnished ; and
breathless j\Ir. Craggs began to doubt already
whether country dancing had been made '^ too
easy," like the rest of life ; and Mr. Snitchey,
with his nimble cuts and capers, footed it for
Self, and Craggs, and half-a-dozen more.

Now, too, the fire took fresh courage, favoured
by the lively wind the dance awakened, and
burnt clear and high. It was the Genius of the
room, and present everywhere. It shone in
people's eyes, it sparkled in the jewels on the
snowy necks of girls, it twinkled at their ears as
if it whispered to them slily, it flashed about
their waists, it flickered on the ground and made
it rosy for their feet, it bloomed upon the ceiling
that its glow might set oft' their bright faces, and
it kindled up a general illumination in ]\Irs.
Craggs's little belfry.

Now, too, the lively air that fanned it grew
less gentle as the music quickened and the dance
proceeded with new spirit; and a breeze arose that
made the leaves and berries dance upon the
wall, as they had often done upon the trees ;
and the breeze rustled in the room as if an in-
visible company of fairies, treading in the foot-
steps of the good substantial revellers, Avere
whirling after them. Now, too, no feature of
the Doctor's face could be distinguished as he
spun and spun ; and now there seemed a dozen
Birds of Paradise in fitful flight; and now there
were a thousand little bells at work ; and now a
fleet of flying skirts was ruffled by a little tem-
pest, when the music gave in, and the dance was
over.

Hot and breathless as the Doctor was, it
only made him the more impatient for Alfred's
coming.

" Anything been seen, Britain ? Anything
been heard ? "'

" Too dark to see far, sir. Too much noise
inside the house to hear. "

" That's right ! The gayer welcome for him.
How goes the time? "



MARION LOST.



143



" Just twelve, sir. He can't be long, sir."

" Stir I. ) the fire and throw another log upon
it," said tue Doctor. " Let him see his welcome
blazing out upon the night — good boy ! — as he
conies along 1 "

He saw it. Yes ! From the chaise he caught
the light, as he turned the corner by the old
church. He knew the room from which it shone.
He saw the wintry branches of the old trees
between the light and him. ?Ie knew that one
of those trees rustled musically in the summer-
time at the window of IMarion's chamber.

The tears were in his eyes. His heart throbbed
so violently that he could hardly bear his happi-
ness. How often he had thought of this time
— pictured it under all circumstances — feared
that it might never come — yearned and wearied
for it — far away !

Again the light ! Distinct and ruddy ; kindled,
he knew, to give him welcome, and to speed
him home. He beckoned with his hand, and
waved his hat, and cheered out loud, as if the
light were they, and they could see and hear
him, as he dashed towards them through the
mud and mire triumphantly.

Stop! He knew the Doctor, and understood
what he had done. He would not let it be a
surprise to them. But he could make it one,
yet, by going forward on foot. If the orchard
gate were open, he could enter there ; if not, the
wall was easily climbed, as he knew cf old ; and
he would be among them in an instant.

He dismounted from the chaise, and telling
the driver — even that was not easy in his agita-
tion — to remain behind for a few minutes, and
then to follow slowly, ran on with exceeding
swiftness, tried the gate, scaled the wall, jumped
down on the other side, and stood panting in
the old orchard.

There was a frosty rime upon the trees, which,
in the faint light of the clouded moon, hung
upon the smaller branches like dead garlands.
Withered leaves crackled and snapped beneath
his feet, as he crept softly on towards the house.
The desolation of a winter night sat brooding
on the earth, and in the sky. But, the red
light came cheerily towards him from the
windows ; figures passed and re-passed there ;
and the hum and murmur of voices greeted his
ear sweetly.

Listening for hers : attempting, as he crept on,
to detach it from the rest, and half believing
that he heard it : he had nearly reached the
door, when it was abruptly opened, and a figure
coming out encountered his. It instantly re-
coiled with a half-suppressed cry.

"Clemency," he cried, '' doc't you know me ?"



" Don't come in !" she answered, pushing him
back. " Go away. Don't ask me why. Don't
come in."

" What is the matter? " he exclaimed.

" I don't know. I — I am afraid to think.
Go back. Hark ! "

There was a sudden tumult in the house. She
put her hands upon her ears. A wild scream,
such as no hands could shut out, Avas heard ;
and Grace — distraction in her looks and manner
— rushed out at the door.

" Grace ! " He caught her in his arms.
" What is it ? Is she dead ? "

She disengaged herself, as if to recognise his
face, and fell down at his feet.

A crowd of figures came about them from the
house. Among them was her father, with a
paper in his hand.

" What is it?" cried Alfred, grasping his hair
with his hands, and looking in an agony from
face to face, as he bent upon his knee beside
the insensible girl. " Will no one look at me ?
Will no one speak to me ? Does no one know
me ? Is there no voice among you all to tell
me what it is ? "

There was a murmur among them. '• She is
gone."

" Gone ! " he echoed.

" Fled, my dear Alfred ! " said the Doctor in
a broken voice, and with his hands before his
face. " Gone from her home and us. To-night !
She writes that she has made her innocent and
blameless choice — entreats that we will forgive
her — prays that w^e will not forget her — and is
gone."'

" With whom ? A\'herc ? "

He started up, as if to follow in pursuit ; but,
when they gave way to let him pass, looked
wildly round upon them, staggered back, and
sank down in his former attitude, clasping one
of Grace's cold hands in his own.

There was a hurried running to and fro, con-
fusion, noise, disorder, and no purpose. Some
proceeded to disperse themselves about the
roads, and some took horse, and some got lights,
and some conversed together, urging that there
was no trace or track to follow. Some approached
him kindly, with the view of offering consola-
tion ; some admonished him that Grace must
be removed into the house, and that he pre-
vented it. He never heard them, and he never
moved.

The snow fell fast and thick. He looked up
for a moment in the air, and thought that those
w'hite ashes strewn upon his hopes and misery
were suited to them well. He looked round on
the whitening ground, and thought how Marion's



144



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



footprints would be hushed and covered up as
soon as made, and even that remembrance of her
blotted out. But he never felt the weather, and
he never stirred.



PART THE THIRD.

HE world had grown six years older since
that night of the return. It was a warm
autumn afternoon, and there had been heavy



T



rain. The sun burst suddenly from among
the clouds ; and the old Battle Ground, spark-
ling brilliantly and cheerfully at sight of it in one
green place, flashed a responsive welcome there,
which spread along the country-side as if a joy-
ful beacon had been lighted up, and answered
from a thousand stations.

How beautiful the landscape kindling in the
light, and that luxuriant influence passing on
like a celestial presence, brightening everything !
The wood, a sombre mass before, revealed its
varied tints of yellow, green, brown, red : its dif-




" WHAT IS THE MATTER ? " HE EXCLAIMED.
" I don't know. I — I AM AFRAID TO THINK.



GO BACK. HARK ! "



ferent forms of trees, with rain-drops glittering
on their leaves, and twinkling as they fell. The
verdant meadow land, bright and glowing,
seemed as if it had been blind a minute since,
and now had found a sense of sight wherewith
to look up at the shining sky. Corn-fields,
hedgerows, fences, homesteads, the clustered
roofs, the steeple of the church, the stream, the
water-mill, all sprang out of the gloomy darkness



smiling. Birds sang sweetly, flowers raised
their drooping heads, fresh scents arose from
the invigorated ground ; the blue expanse above,
extended and diffused itself; already the sun's
slanting rays pierced mortally the sullen bank of
cloud that lingered in its flight ; and a rainbow,
spirit of all the colours that adorned the earth
and sky, spanned the whole arch with its tri-
umphant glory.



THE NUTMEG GRATER.



M5



At such a time, one little roadside inn, snugly
sheltered behind a great elm-tree, with a rare
seat for idlers encircling its capacious bole, ad-
dressed a cheerful front towards the traveller, as
a house of entertainment ought, and tempted
him with many mute but significant assurances
of a comfortable welcome. The ruddy sign-
board perched up in the tree, with its golden
letters winking in the sun, ogled the passer-by,
from among the green leaves, like a jolly face,
and promised good cheer. The horse-trough,
full of clear fresh water, and the ground below it
sprinkled with droppings of fragrant hay, made
every horse that passed prick up his ears. The
crimson curtains in the lower rooms, and the
pure white hangings in the little bedchambers
above, beckoned. Come in ! with every breath of
air. Upon the bright green shutters there were
golden legends about beer and ale, and neat
wines, and good beds ; and an affecting picture
of a brown jug frothing over at the top. Upon
the window-sills were flowering plants in bright
red pots, which made a lively show against the
white front of the house ; and in the darkness of
the doorway there were streaks of light, which
glanced off from the surfaces of bottles and
tankards. «.

On the door-step appeared a proper figure of
a landlord, too ; for, though he was a short man,
he was round and broad, and stood with his
hands in his pockets, and his legs just wide
enough apart to express a mind at rest upon the
subject of the cellar, and an easy confidence —
too calm and virtuous to become a swagger — in
the general resources of the inn. The super-
abundant moisture, trickling from everything
after the late rain, set him off well. Nothing
near him was thirsty. Certain top-heavy dah-
lias, looking over the palings of his neat, well-
ordered garden, had swilled as much as they
could carry— perhaps a trifle more — and may
have been the worse for liquor ; but, the sweet-
brier, roses, wallflowers, the plants at the win-
dows, and the leaves on the old tree, were in the
beaming state of moderate company that had
taken no more than was wholesome for them,
and had served to develop their best quali-
ties. Sprinkling dewy drops about them on
the ground, they seemed profuse of innocent
and sparkling mirth, that did good where it
lighted, softening neglected corners which the
steady rain could seldom reach, and hurting
nothing.

This village inn had assumed, on being esta-
blished, an uncommon sign. It was called The
Nutmeg Grater. And underneath that house-
hold word was inscribed, up in the tree, on the
Christmas Books, io.



same flaming board, and in the like golden cha-
racters. By IJenjamin Britain.

At a second glance, and on a more minute
examination of his face, you might have known
that it was no other than Benjamin Britain him-
self who stood in the doorway — reasonably
changed by time, but for the better ; a very
comfortable host indeed. '

" Mrs. B.," said Mr. Britain, looking down the
road, " is rather late. It's tea-time."

As there was no Mrs. Britain coming, he
strolled leisurely out into the road, and looked
up at the house, very much to his satisfaction.
" It's just the sort of house," said Benjamin, " I
should wish to stop at if I didn't keep it."

Then he strolled towards the garden paling,
and took a look at the dahlias. They looked
over at him, with a helpless drowsy hanging of
their heads : which bobbed again as the heavy
drops of wet dripped off them.

" You must be looked after," said Benjamin.
" Memorandum, not to forget to tell her so.
She's a long time coming."

Mr. Britain's better half seemed to be by so
very much his better half, that his own moiety
of himself was utterly cast away and helpless
without her.

" She hadn't much to do, I think," said Ben.
" There were a few little matters of business
after market, but not many. Oh, here we are
at last !"

A chaise-cart, driven by a boy, came clattering
along the road : and seated in it, in a chair, with
a large, well-saturated umbrella spread out to
dry behind her, was the plump figure of a ma-
tronly woman, with her bare arms folded across
a basket which she carried on her knee, several
other baskets and parcels lying crowded about
her, and a certain bright good-nature in her face
and contented awkwardness in her manner, as
she jogged to and fro with the motion of her
carriage, which smacked of old times, even in
the distance. Upon her nearer approach, this
relish of bygone days was not diminished ; and,
when the cart stopped at the Nutmeg Grater
door, a pair of shoes, alighting from it, slipped
nimbly through Mr. Britain's open arms, and
came down with a substantial weight upon the
pathway, which shoes could hardly have be-
longed to any one but Clemency Newcome.

In fact, they did belong to her, and she stood
in them, and a rosy, comfortable-looking soul
she was : with as much soap on her glossy face
as in times of yore, but with whole elbows now,
that had grown quite dimpled in her improved
condition.

" You're late, Clemmy ! " said Mr. Britain.



146



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



" Why, you see, Ben, I've had a deal to do ! "
she repUed, looking busily after the safe removal
into the house of all the packages and baskets ;
" eight, nine, ten — where's eleven ? Oh, my
basket's eleven ! It's all right. Put the horse
up, Harry, and, if he coughs again, give him a
warm mash to-night. Eight, nine, ten. Why,
where's eleven ? Oh, I forgot, it's all right !
How's the children, Ben ? "

" Hearty, Clemmy, hearty."

" Bless their precious faces ! " said Mrs. Bri-
tain, unbonneting her own round countenance
(for she and her husband were by this time in
the bar), and smoothing her hair with her open
hands. " Give us a kiss, old man ! "

Mr. Britain promptly complied.

" I think," said Mrs. Britain, applying herself
to her pockets, and drawing forth an immense
bulk of thin books and crumpled papers : a very
kennel of dog's ears : " I've done everything.
Bills all settled — turnips sold — brewer's account
looked into and paid— 'bacco-pipes ordered —
seventeen pound four paid into the Bank —
Doctor Heathfield's charge for little Clem —
you'll guess what that is — Doctor Heathfield
won't take nothing again, Ben."

" I thought he wouldn't," returned Britain.

" No. He says whatever family you was to
have, Ben, he'd never put you to the cost of a
halfpenny. Not if you was to have twenty."

Mr. Britain's face assumed a serious expres-
sion, and he looked hard at the w^all.

" Ain't it kind of him ? " said Clemency.

" Very," returned Mr. Britain. " It's the
sort of kindness that I wouldn't presume upon,
on any account."

" No," retorted Clemency. " Of course not.
Then there's the pony — he fetched eight pound
two ; and that an't bad, is it ?"

" It's very good," said Ben.

" I'm glad you're pleased ! " exclaimed his
wife. '' I thought you would be ; and I think
that's all, and so no more at present from yours
and cetrer, C. Britain. Ha, ha, ha ! There !
Take all the papers, and lock 'em up. Oh !
Wait a minute. Here's a printed bill to stick
on the wall. Wet from the printer's. How nice
it smells ! "

"What's this?" said Ben, looking over the
document.

" I don't know," replied his wife. *' I haven't
read a word of it."

" 'To be sold by Auction,'" read the host of the
Nutmeg Grater, " ' unless previously disposed of
by private contract ' "

"They always put that," said Clemency.

"Yes, but they don't always put this," he



returned. " Look here ! * Mansion,' &c. — ' of-



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 93 of 103)