Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 94 of 103)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 94 of 103)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


fices,' &c., ' shrubberies,' &c., 'ring fence,' &c.
' Messrs. Snitchey and Craggs,' &c., ' ornamental
portion of the unencumbered freehold property
of Michael Warden, Esquire, intending to con-
tinue to reside abroad.' "

" Intending to continue to reside abroad ! "
repeated Clemency.

" Here it is," said Mr. Britain. " Look ! "

" And it was only this very day that I heard
it whispered at the old house that better and
plainer news had been half promised of her
soon ! " said Clemency, shaking her head sorrow-
fully, and patting her elbows as if the recollection
of old times unconsciously awakened her old
habits. " Dear, dear, dear ! There'll be heavy
hearts, Ben, yonder."

Mr. Britain heaved a sigh, and shook his
head, and said he couldn't make it out ; he had
left off trying long ago. With that remark, he
applied himself to putting up the bill just inside
the bar window. Clemency, after meditating in
silence for a few moments, roused herself, cleared
her thoughtful brow, and bustled off to look after
the children.

Though the host of the Nutmeg Grater had a
lively regard for his good wife, it was of the old
patronising kind, and she amused him mightily.
Nothing would have astonished him so much as
to have known for certain, from any third party,
that it was she who managed the whole house,
and made him, by her plain straightforward thrift,
good-humour, honesty, and industry, a thriving
man. So easy it is, in any degree of life (as the
world very often finds it), to take those cheerful
natures, that never assert their merit, at their
own modest valuation ; and to conceive a flip-
pant liking of people for their outward oddities
and eccentricities, whose innate worth, if we
would look so far, might make us blush in the
comparison !

It was comfortable to Mr. Britain to think of
his own condescension in having married Cle-
mency. She was a perpetual testimony to him
of the goodness of his heart, and the kindness
of his disposition ; and he felt that her being an
excellent wife was an illustration of the old pre-
cept, that virtue is its own reward.

He had finished wafering up the bill, and had
locked the vouchers for her day's proceedings in
the cupboard — chuckling all the time over her
capacity for business — when, returning with the
news that the two Master Britains were playing
in the coach-house under the superintendence
of one Betsey, and that little Clem was sleeping
" like a picture," she sat down to tea, which had
• awaited her arrival On a little table. It was ;:



A TRAVELLER.



147



very neat little bar, with the usual display of
bottles and glasses ; a sedate clock, right to the
minute (it was half-past five) ; everything in its
place, and everything furbished and polished up
to the very utmost. ;

" It's the first time I've sat down quietly to-
day, I declare," said Mrs. Britain, taking a long
breath, as if she had sat down for the night ;
but getting up again immediately to hand her
husband his tea, and cut him his bread-and-
butter. " How that bill does set me thinking of
old times ! "

"Ah I" said Mr. Britain, handling his saucer
like an oyster, and disposing of its contents on
the same principle.

" That same Mr. Michael Warden," said Cle-
mency, shaking her head at the notice of sale,
" lost me my old place."

" And got you your husband," said Mr. Britain.

" Well ! So he did," retorted Clemency, " and
many thanks to him."

" Man's the creature of habit," said ]\Ir. Britain,
surveying her over his saucer. " I had somehow
got used to you, Clem ; and I found I shouldn't
be able to get on without you. So w-e went and
got made man and wife. Ha, ha ! We ! Who'd
have thought it?"

" Who indeed ! " cried Clemency. " It was
very good of you, Ben."

" No, no, no," replied Mr. Britain with an air
of self-denial. " Nothing worth mentioning."

*' Oh yes, it was, Ben ! " said his wife with
great simplicity. " I'm sure I think so, and am
very much obliged to you. Ah ! " looking again
at the bill ; "^ when she was known to be gone,
and out of reach, dear girl, I couldn't help telling
— for her sake quite as much as theirs — what I
knew, could I ? "

*' You told it, anyhow," observed her husband,

"And Doctor Jeddler," pursued Clemency,
putting down her teacup and looking thought-
fully at the bill, " in his grief and passion, turned
me out of house and home ! I never have been
so glad of anything in all my life as that I didn't
say an angry word to him, and hadn't an angry
feeling towards him, even then ; for he repented
that truly afterwards. How often he has sat in
this room, and told me over and over again he
was sorry for it ! — the last time, only yesterday,
when you were out. How often he has sat in
this room, and talked to me, hour after hour,
about one thing and another, in which he made
believe to be interested ! — but only for the sake
of the days that are gone by, and because he
knows she used to like me, Ben ! "

"Why, how did you ever come to catch a
glimpse of tkat, Clem ? " asked her husband,



astonished that she should have a distinct per-
ception of a truth which had only dimly suggested
itself to his inquiring mind.

" I don't know, I'm sure," said Clemency,
blowing her tea to cool it. "Bless you, I
couldn't tell you if you was to offer me a reward
of a hundred pound."

He might have pursued this metaphysical sub-
ject but for her catching a glimpse of a substan-
tial fact behind him, in the shape of a gentleman
attired in mourning, and cloaked and booted like
a rider on horseback, who stood at the bar door.
He seemed attentive to their conversation, and
not at all impatient to interrupt it.

Clemency hastily rose at this sight. Mr.
Britain also rose and saluted the guest. " Will
you please to walk up-stairs, sir? There's a
very nice room up-stairs, sir."

" Thank you," said the stranger, looking
earnestly at Mr. Britain's wife. "May I come
in here ? "

" Oh, surely, if you like, sir," returned Cle-
mency, admitting him. " What would you please
to want, sir ?"|

The bill had caught his eye, and he was
reading it.

" Excellent property that, sir," observed Mr.
Britain.

He made no answer ; but, turning round
when he had finished reading, looked at Cle-
mency with the same observant curiosity as

before. " You were asking me " he said,

still looking at her.

" What you would please to take, sir," answered
Clemency, stealing a glance at him in return.

" If you will let me have a draught of ale,"
he said, moving to a table by the window, " and
will let me have it here, AUthout being any inter-
ruption to your meal, I shall be much obliged
to you."

He sat down as he spoke without any further
parley, and looked out at the prospect. He was
an easy, well-knit figure of a man in the prime
of life. His face, much browned by the sun,
was shaded by a quantity of dark hair ; and he
wore a moustache. His beer being set before
him, he filled out a glass, and drank, good-
humouredly, to this house ; adding, as he put
the tumbler down again :

" It's a new house, is it not ? "

" Not particularly new, sir," replied Mr. Britaia

" Between five and six years old," said Cle-
mency : speaking very distinctly.

" I think I heard you mention Doctor Jeddler's
name as I came in," inquired the stranger. " That
bill reminds me of him ; for I happen to know
something of that story, by hearsay, and through



148



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



certain connections of mine. — Is the old man

living ? "

" Yes, he's living, sir," said Clemency.
" Much changed ? "

" Since when, sir ? " returned Clemency with
remarkable emphasis and expression.
" Since his daughter — went away."
" Yes ! he's greatly changed since then," said
Clemency. " He's grey and old, and hasn't the
same way with him at all ; but I think he's
happy now. He has taken on with his sister
since then, and goes to see her very often. That
did him good directly. At first he was sadly
broken ilown ; and it was enough to make one's
heart bleed to see him wandering about, railing
at the world ; but a great change for the better
came over him after a year or two, and then he
began to like to talk about his lost daughter, and
to praise her, ay, and the world too ! and was
never tired of saying, with the tears in his poor
eyes, how beautiful and good she was. He had
forgiven her then. That was about the same
time as Miss Grace's marriage. Britain, you
remember ? "

Mr. Britain remembered very well.
" The sister is married, then," returned the
stranger. He paused for some time before he
asked, " To whom ? "

Clemency narrowly escaped oversetting the
tea-board in her emotion at this question.
" Vi'x^ you never hear ?" she said.
" I should like to hear," he replied as he filled
his glass again, and raised it to his lips.

" Ah ! It would be a long story, if it was
properly told," said Clemency, resting her chin
on the palm of her left hand, and supporting
that elbow on her right hand, as she shook her
head, and looked back through the intervening
years, as if she were looking at a fire. " It
would li^e a long story, I am sure."

" But told as a short one," suggested the
stranger.

" Told as a short one," repeated Clemency in
the same thoughtful tone, and without any appa-
rent reference to him, or consciousness of having
auditors, " what would there be to tell ? That
they grieved together, and remembered her to-
gether, like a person dead ; that they were so
tender of her, never would reproach her, called
her back to one another as she used to be, and
found excuses for her ! Every one knows that.
I'm sure /do. No one better," added Clemency,
wiping her eyes with her hand.

** And so " suggested the stranger.

" And so," said Clemency, taking him up me-
chanically, and without any change in her attitude
or manner, " they at last were married. They



were married on her birthday — it comes round
again to-morrow — very (juiet, very humble like,
but very happy. Mr. Alfred said, one night
when they were walking in the orchard, ' Grace,
shall our wedding-day be Marion's birthday?'
And it was."

" And they have lived happily together ? "
said the stranger.

" Ay," said Clemency. " No two people ever
more so. They had no sorrow but this."

She raised her head as with a sudden atten-
tion to the circumstances under which she was
recalling these events, and looked quickly at the
stranger. Seeing that his face was turned to-
wards the window, and tliat he seemed intent
upon the prospect, she made some eager signs
to her husband, and pointed to the bill, and
moved her mouth as if she were repeating, with
great energy, one word or phrase to him over
and over again. As she uttered no sound, and
as her dumb motions, like most of her gestures,
were of a very extraordinary kind, this unintelli-
gible conduct reduced Mr. Britain to the con-
fines of despair. He stared at the table, at the
stranger, at the spoons, at his wife — followed her
pantomime with looks of deep amazement and
perplexity — asked in the same language was it
property in danger, was it he in danger, was it
she ? — answered her signals with other signals
expressive of the deepest distress and confusion
— followed the motions of her lips — guessed half
aloud " milk and water," " monthly warning,"
"mice and walnuts" — and couldn't approach
her meaning.

Clemency gave it up at last, as a hopeless
attempt; and, moving her chair by very slow
degrees a little nearer to the stranger, sat with
her eyes apparently cast down, but glancing
sharply at him now and then, waiting until he
should ask some other question. She had not
to wait long ; for he said, presently :

" And what is the after history of the young
lady who went away ? They know it, I suppose ?"

Clemency shook her head. " I've heard," she
said, " that Doctor Jeddler is thought to know
more of it than he tells. Miss Grace has had
letters from her sister, saying that she was well
and happy, and made much happier by her
being married to Mr. Alfred : and has written
letters back. But there's a mystery about her
life and fortunes, altogether, which nothing has
cleared up to this hour, and which "

She faltered here, and stopped.

" And which " repeated the stranger.

" — Which only one other person, I believe,
could explain," said Clemency, drawing her
breath quickly.



THE TRA VELLER RECOGNISED.



149



" Who may that be ? " asked the stranger.

" Mr. Michael Warden ! " answered Cle-
mency, almost in a shriek : at once conveying
to her husband what she wouUI have had him
understand before, and letting Michael Warden
know that he was recognised.

"You remember me, sir?" said Clemency,
trembling with emotion. "I saw just now you
did ' You remember me that night in the
garaen. I was with her ! "

" Yes. You were," he said.

"Yes, sir," returned Clemency. "Yes, to be
sure. This is my husband, if you please. Ben,
my dear Ben, run to Miss Grace — run to Mr.
Alfred — run somewhere, Ben ! Bring some-
body here directly ! "

"Stay !" said Michael Warden, quietly inter-
posing himself between the door and Britain.
" What would you do ? "

" Let them know that you are here, sir,"
answered Clemency, clapping her hands in sheer
agitation. " Let them know that they may hear
of her from your own lips; let them know that
she is not quite lost to them, but that she will
come home again yet to bless her father and her
loving sister — even her old servant, even me,"
she struck herself upon the breast with both
hands, " with a sight of her sweet face. Run,
Ben, run ! " And still she pressed him on to-
wards the door, and still Mr. Warden stood
before it, with his hand stretched out, not angrily,
but sorrowfully.

" Or, perhaps," said Clemency, runnmg past
her husband, and catching in her emotion at
Mr. Warden's cloak, " perhaps she's here now ;
perhaps she's close by. I think, from your
manner, she is. Let me see her, sir, if you
please. I waited on her when she was a little
child. I saw her grow to be the pride of all
this place. I knew her when she was Mr.
Alfred's promised wife. I tried to warn her
when you tempted her away. 1 know what her
old home was when she was like the soul of it,
and how it changed when she was gone and lost.
Let me speak to her, if you please ! "

He gazed at her with compassion, not unmixed
with wonder : but he made no gesture of assent.

" I don't think she can know," pursued Cle-
mency, " how truly they forgive her \ how they
love her ; what joy it would be to them to see
her once more. She may be timorous of going
home. Perhaps, if she sees me, it may give her
new heart. Only tell me truly, Mr. Warden, is
she with you?"

" She is not," he answered, shaking his head.

This answer, and his manner, and his black
dress, and his coming back so quietly, and his



announced intention of continuing to live abroad,
explained it all. Marion was dead.

He didn't contradict her ; yes, she was dead !
Clemency sat down, hid her face upon the table,
and cried.

At that moment a grey-headed old gentleman
came running in : quite out of breath, and pant-
ing so mucli that his voice was scarcely to be
recognised as the voice of Mr. Snitchey.

" Good Heaven, Mr. Warden ! " said the
lawyer, taking him aside, " what wind has

blown " He was so blown himself, that he

couldn't get on any further until after a pause,
when he added feebly, "you here?"

" An ill wind, I am afraid," he answered. " If
you could have heard what has just passed —
how I have been besought and entreated to per-
form impossibilities — what confusion and afflic-
tion I carry with me ! "

" I can guess it all. But why did you ever
come here, my good sir ? " retorted Snitchey.

" Come ! How should I know who kept the
house ? When I sent my servant on to you, I
strolled in here because the place was new to
me ; and I had a natural curiosity in everything
new and old in these old scenes ; and it was
outside the town I wanted to communicate with
you, first, before appearing there. I wanted to
know what people would say to me. I see by
your manner that you can tell mc. If it were
not for your confounded caution, 1 should have
been possessed of everything long ago."

" Our caution ! " returned the lawyer, " speak-
ing for Self and Craggs — deceased," — here Mr.
Snitchey, glancing at his hat-band, shook his
head, — "how can you reasonably blame us, Mr.
Warden ? It was understood between us that
the subject was never to be renewed, and that it
wasn't a subject on which grave and sober men
like us (I made a note of your observations at
the time) could interfere. Our caution, too !
When Mr. Craggs, sir, went down to his re-
spected grave in the full belief "

" I had given a solemn promise of silence
until I should return, whenever that might be,"
interrupted Mr. Warden ; " and I have kept it."

" Well, sir, and I repeat it," returned Mr.
Snitchey, " we were bound to silence too. We
were bound to silence in our duty towards our-
selves, and in our duty towards a variety of
clients, you among them, who were as close as
wax. It was not our place to make inquiries of
you on such a delicate subject. I had my sus-
picions, sir; but, it is not six months since I
have known the truth, and been assured that
you lost her."

" By whom ? " inquired his client.



ISO



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



" By Doctor Jeddler himself, sir, who at last
reposed that confidence in me voluntarily. He,
and only he, has known the whole truth, years
and years."

" And you know it ? " said his client.

" I do, sir ! " replied Snitchey ; " and I have
also reason to know that it will be broken to her
sister to-morrow evening. They have given her
that promise. In the meantime, perhaps you'll
give me the honour of your company at my
house; being unexpected at your own. But, not
to run the chance of any more such difficulties as
you have had here, in case you should be recog-
nised — though you're a good deal changed ; I
think I might have passed you myself, Mr.
Warden — we had better dine here, and walk on
in the evening. It's a very good place to dine
at, Mr. Warden : you're own property, by-the-
bye. Self and Craggs (deceased) took a chop
here sometimes, and had it very comfortably
served. Mr. Craggs, sir," said Snitchey, shutting
his eyes tight for an instant, and opening them
again, " was struck off the roll of life too soon."

" Heaven forgive me for not condoling with
you," returned Michael Warden, passing his
hand across his forehead, " but I'm like a man
in a dream at present. I seem to want my wits.
Mr. Craggs — yes — I am very sorry we have lost
Mr. Craggs." But he locked at Clemency as
he said it, and seemed to sympathise with Ben,
consoling her.

" Mr. Craggs, sir," observed Snitchey, "didn't
find life, I regret to say, as easy to have and to
hold as his theory made it out, or he would
have been among us now. It's a great loss to
me. He was my right arm, my right leg, my
right ear, my right eye, was Mr. Craggs. I am
paralytic without him. He bequeathed his share
of the business to Mrs. Craggs, her executors,
administrators, and assigns. His name remains
in the Firm to this hour. I try, in a childish
sort of way, to make believe, sometimes, that
he's alive. You may observe that I speak for
Self and Craggs — deceased, sir — deceased," said
the tender-hearted attorney, waving his pocket-
handkerchief,

Michael Warden, who had still been observant
of Clemency, turned to ]\Ir. Snitchey when he
ceased to speak, and whispered in his ear.

" Ah, poor thing ! " said Snitchey, shaking his
.head. " Yes. She was always very faithful to
Marion. She was always very fond of her. Pretty
^^'larion ! Poor Marion ! Cheer up, mistress —
you aj-e married now, you know, Clemency."

Clemency only sighed and shook her head.

" Well, well ! Wait till to-morrow," said the
lawyer kindly.



" To-morrow can't bring back the dead to life,
mister," said Clemency, sobbing.

" No. It can't do that, or it would bring
back Mr, Craggs, deceased," returned the lawyer.
"But it may bring some soothing circum-
stances ; it may bring some comfort. Wait till
to-morrow ! "

So Clemency, shaking his proffered hand,
said she would ; and Britain, who had been ter-
ribly cast down at sight of his despondent wife
(which was like the business hanging its head),
said that was right ; and Mr. Snitchey and
Michael Warden went up-stairs ; and there they
were soon engaged in a conversation so cautiously
conducted, that no murmur of it was audible
above the clatter of plates and dishes, the hiss-
ing of the frying-pan, the bubbling of saucepans,
the low, monotonous waltzing of the jack — with
a dreadful click every now and then, as if it had
met with some mortal accident to its head in a
fit of giddiness — and all the other preparations
in the kitchen for their dinner.

To-morrow was a bright and peaceful day;
and nowhere were the autumn tints more beauti-
fully seen than from the quiet orchard of the
Doctor's house. The snows of many Avinter
nights had melted from that ground, the withered
leaves of many summer-times had rustled there,
since she had fled. The honeysuckle porch was
green again, the trees cast bountiful and chang-
ing shadows on the grass, the landscape was as
tranquil and serene as it had ever been ; but
where was she?

Not there. Not there. She would have been
a stranger sight in her old home, now, even than
that home had been at first without her. But,
a lady sat in the familiar place, from whose heart
she had never passed away; in whose true
memory she lived, unchanging, youthful, radiant
with all promise and all hope ; in whose affec-
tion — and it was a mother's now, there was a
cherished little daughter playing by her side —
she had no rival, no successor; upon Avhose
gentle lips 'ner name was trembling then.

The spirit of the lost girl looked out of those
eyes. Those eyes of Grace, her sister, sitting
with her husband in the orchard, on their wed-
ding-day, and his and Marion's birthday.

He had not become a great man ; he had not
grown rich ; he had not foigotten the scenes and
friends of his youth ; he had not fulfilled any
one of the Doctor's old predictions. But, in his
useful, patient, unknown visiting of poor men's
homes ; and in his watching of sick beds ; and
in his daily knowledge of the gentleness and
goodness flowering the by-paths of this world,



GRACE AND HER HUSBAND.



«5J



not to be trodden down beneath the heavy foot
of poverty, but springing up, elastic, in its track,
and making its way beautiful ; he had better
learned and proved, in each succeeding year,
the truth of his old faith. The manner of his
life, though quiet and remote, had shown him
how often men still entertained angels unawares,
as in the olden time ; and how the most unlikely
forms — even some that Avere mean and ugly to
the view, and poorly clad — became irradiated
by the couch of sorrow, want, and pain, and
changed to ministering spirits with a glory round
their heads.

He lived to better purpose on the altered
battle-ground, perhaps, than if he had contended
restlessly in more ambitious lists ; and he was
happy with his wife, dear Grace.

And Marion. Had he forgotten her ?

" The time has flown, dear Grace," he said,
" since then ; " they had been talking of that
night; "and yet it seems a long while ago. We
count by changes and events within us. Not by
years."

" Yet we have years to count by, too, since
Marion was with us," returned Grace. " Six
times, dear husband, counting to-night as one,
we have sat here on her birthday, and spoken
together of that happy return, so eagerly expected
and so long deferred. Ah ! when will it be ?
When will it be?"

Her husband attentively observed her, as the
tears collected in her eyes ; and, drawing nearer,
said :

" But Marion told you, in that farewell letter
which she left for you upon your table, love,
and which you read so often, that years must
pass away before it could be. Did she not ?"

She took a letter from her breast, and kissed
it, and said " Yes."

" That through those intervening years, how-
ever happy she might be, she would look for-
ward to the time when you would meet again,
and all would be made clear ; and that she
prayed you trustfully and hopefully to do the
same. The letter runs so, does it not, my
dear?"

" Yes, Alfred."

" And every other letter she has written since ?"

" Except the last— some months ago — in which
she spoke of you, and what you then knew, and
what I was to learn to-night."



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 94 of 103)