Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 95 of 103)
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He looked towards the sun, then fast declin-
ing, and said that the appointed time was sun-
set.

" Alfred ! " said Grace, laying her hand upon
his shoulder earnestly, "there is something in
this letter — this old letter, which you say I read



go often — that I have never told you. But to-
night, dear husband, with that sunset drawing
near, and all our life seeming to soften and be-
come hushed with the departing day, I cannot
keep it secret."

"What is it, love?"

" When Marion went away, she wrote me,
here, that you had once left her a sacred trust
to me, and that now she left you, Alfred, such a
trust in my hands : praying and beseeching me,
as I loved her, and as I loved you, not to re-
ject the affection she believed (she knew, she
said) you would transfer to me when the new
wound was healed, but to encourage and return
it."

" — And make me a proud and happy man
again, Grace. Did she say so ? "

" She meant, to make myself so blessed and
honoured in your love," was his wife's answer as
he held her in his arms.

" Hear me, my dear ! " he said. — " No. Hear
me so ! " — and, as he spoke, he gently laid the
head she had raised, again upon his shoulder.
" I know why I have never heard this passage
in the letter until now. I know why no
trace of it ever showed itself in any word or
look of yours at that time. I know why Grace,
although so true a friend to me, was hard to
win to be my wife. And knowing it, my own !
I know the priceless value of the heart I gird
within my arms, and thank God for the rich
possession 1 "

She wept, but not for sorrow, as he pressed
her to his heart. After a brief space he looked
down at the child who was sitting at their
feet, playing with a little basket of flowers, and
bade her look how golden and how red the sun
was.

" Alfred ! " said Grace, raising her head
quickly at these words. " The sun is going
down. You have not forgotten what I am to
know before it sets ? "

"You are to know the truth of Marion's
history, my love," he answered.

" All the truth," she said imploringly. " No-
thing veiled from me any more. That was the
promise. Was it not ? "

" It Avas," he answered.

"Before the sun went down on Marion's
birthday. And you see it, Alfred ? It is sinking
fast."

He put his arm about her waist, and, look-
ing steadily into her eyes, rejoined :

" That truth is not reserved so long for me
to tell, dear Grace. It is to come from other
lips."

" From other lips ? " she faintly echoed.



152



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



** Yes. I know your constant heart, I know
how brave you are, I know that to you a word
of preparation is enough. You have said, truly,
that the time is come. It is. Tell me that you
have present fortitude to bear a trial — a surprise
— a shock : and the messenger is waiting at the
gate."

" ^Vhat messenger ? " she said. " And what
intelligence does he bring ? "

" I ara pledged," he answered her, preserving
his steady look, " to say no more. Do you think
you understand me ? "



" I am afraid to think," she said.

There was that emotion in his face, despite its
steady gaze, which frightened her. Again she
hid her own face on his shoulder, trembling, and
entreated him to pause — a moment.

" Courage, my wife ! When you have firm ■
ness to receive the messenger, the messenger is
waiting at the gate. The sun is setting on
Marion's birthday. Courage, courage, Grace ! "

She raised her head, and, looking at him, told
him she was ready. As she stood, and looked
upon him going away, her face was so like




"GUESSED HALF ALOUD '.MILK AND WATER,' 'MONTHLY WARNING,' 'MICE AND WALNUTS' — AND COULDN'T

APPROACH HER MEANING."



Marion's as it had been in her later days at
home, that it was wonderful to see. He took
the child with him. She called her back — she
bore the lost girl's name — and pressed her to
her bosom. The litde creature, being released
again, sped after him, and Grace was left alone.

She knew not what she dreaded, or what
hoped ; but remained there, motionless, looking
at the porch by which they had disappeared.

Ah ! what was that emerging from its shadow ;
standing on its threshold ? That figure, with its
white garments rustling in the evening air; its



head laid down upon her father's breast, and
pressed against it to his loving Keart ? Oh God !
was it a vision that came bursting from the old
man's arms, and with a cry, and with a waving
of its hands, and with a wild precipitation of
itself upon her in its boundless love, sank down
in her embrace ?

" Oh, Marion, Marion ! Oh, my sister ! Oh,
my heart's dear love ! Oh, joy and happiness
unutterable, so to meet again ! "

It was no dream, no phantom conjured up
by hope and fear, but Marion, Sfjeet Marion !



MARION FOUND.



1 53



So beautiful, so happy, so unalloyed by care and
trial, so elevated and exalted in her loveliness,
that as the setting sun shone brightly on her
upturned face, she might have been a spirit visit-
ing the earth upon some healing mission.

Clinging to her sister, who had dropped upon
a seat and bent down over her — and smiling
through her tears — and kneeling close before
her, with both arms twining round her, and
never turning for an instant from her face — and
with the glory of the setting sun upon her brow,
and with the soft tranquillity of evening gather-
ing around them — Marion at length broke
silence : her voice, so calm, low, clear, and plea-
sant, well tuned to the time.

" When this was my dear home, Grace, as it
will be now again "

" Stay, my sweet love ! A moment ! Oh,
Marion, to hear you speak again ! "

She could not bear the voice she 'oved so
well, at first.

" — When this was my dear home, Grace, as
it will be now again, I loved him from my soul.
I loved him most devotedly. I would have
died for him, though I was so young. I never
slighted his affection, in my secret breast, for
one brief instant. It was far beyond all price to
me. Although it is so long ago, and past and
gone, and everything is wholly changed, I could
not bear to think that you, who loved so well,
should think I did not truly love him once. I
never loved him better, Grace, than when he
left this very scene upon this very day. I never
loved him better, dear one, than I did that night
when / left here."

Her sister, bending over her, could look into
her face, and hold her fast.

" But he had gained, unconsciously," said
Marion with a gentle smile, " another heart,
before I knew that I had one to give him. That
heart — yours, my sister ! — was so yielded up,
in all its other tenderness, to me ; was so devoted,
and so noble ; that it plucked its love away, and
kept its secret from all eyes but mine — ah ! what
other eyes were quickened by such tenderness
and gratitude? — and was content to sacrifice
itself to me. But, I knew something of its depths,
I knew the struggle it had made. I knew its
high, inestimable worth to him, and his apprecia-
tion of it, let him love me as he would. I knew
the debt I owed it. I had its great example
every day before me. What you had done for
me, I knew that I could do, Grace, if I would,
for you. I never laid my head down on my
pillow, but I prayed with tears to do it. I never
laid my head down on my pillow, but 1 thought
of Alfred's own words on the day of his departure,



and how truly he had said (for I knew that, know-
ing you) that there were victories gained every
day, in struggling hearts, to which these fields of
battle were as nothing. Thinking more and
more upon the great endurance cheerfully sus-
tained, and never known or cared for, that there
must be, every day and hour, in that great strife
of which he spoke, my trial seemed to grow light
and easy. And He who knows our hearts, my
dearest, at this moment, and who knows there
is no drop of bitterness or grief — of anything
but unmixed happiness — in mine, enabled me to
make the resolution that I never would be Alfred's
wife. That he should be my brother, and your
husband, if the course I took could bring that
happy end to pass ; but that I never would
(Grace, I then loved him dearly, dearly !) be his
wife ! "

" Oh, Marion ! Oh, Marion ! "

" I had tried to seem indifferent to him ;" and
she pressed her sister's face against her own ;
" but that was hard, and you were always his
true advocate. I had tried to tell you of my
resolution, but you would never hear me ; you
would never understand me. The time was
drawing near for his return. I felt that I must
act before the daily intercourse between us was
renewed. I knew that one great pang, under-
gone at that time, would save lengthened agony
to all of us. I knew that, if I went away then,
that end must follow which has followed, and
which has made us both so happy, Grace ! I
wrote to good Aunt Martha for a refuge in her
house : I did not then tell her all, but some-
thing of my story, and she freely promised it.
While I was contesting that step with myself,
and with my love of you and home, Mr. \\'arden,
brought here by an accident, became, for some
time, our companion."

" I have sometimes feared, of late years, that
this might have been," exclaimed her sister ; and
her countenance was ashy pale. " You never
loved him — and you married him in your self-
sacrifice to me ! "

" He was then," said Marion, drawing her
sister closer to her, " on the eve of going secretly
away for a long time. He wrote to me after
leaving here ; told me what his condition and
prospects really were ; and offered me his
hand. He told me he had seen I was not
happy in the prospect of Alfred's return. I
believe he thought my heart had no part in that
contract; perhaps thought I might have loved
him once, and did not then ; perhaps thought
that, when I tried to seem indifierent, I tried to
hide indiflerence — I cannot tell. But I wished
that you should feel me wholly lost to Alfred —



154



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



hopeless to him — dead. Do you understand
me, love?"

Her sister looked into her face attentively.
She seemed in doubt.

" I saw Mr. Warden, and confided in his
honour; charged him with my secret on the eve
of his and my departure. He kept it. Do you
understand me, dear ?"

Grace looked confusedly upon her. She
scarcely seemed to hear.

" My love, my sister!" said Marion, "recall
your thoughts a moment ; listen to me. Do not
look so strangely on me. There are countries,
dearest, where those who would abjure a mis-
placed passion, or would strive against some
cherished feeling of their hearts and conquer it,
retire into a hopeless solitude, and close the
world against themselves and worldly loves and
hopes for ever. When women do so, they
assume that name which is so dear to you and
me, and call each other Sisters. But, there may
be sisters, Grace, who, in the broad world out
of doors, and underneath its free sky, and in its
crowded places, and among its busy life, and
trying to assist and cheer it, and to do some
good, learn the same lesson ; and who, with
hearts still fresh and young, and open to all
happiness and means of happiness, can say the
battle is long past, the victory long Avon. And
such a one am I ! You understand me now ? "

Still she looked fixedly upon her, and made
no reply.

" Oh, Grace', dear Grace ! " said Marion,
clinging yet more tenderly and fondly to that
breast from which she had been so long exiled,
" if you were not a happy wife and mother — if I
had no little namesake here — if Alfred, my kind
brother, were not your own fond husband — from
whence could I derive the ecstasy I feel to-
night? But, as I left here, so I have returned.
My heart has known no other love, my hand
has never been bestowed apart from it. I am
still your maiden sister, unmarried, unbetrothed :
your own old loving Marion, in whose affection
you exist alone and have no partner, Grace ! "

She understood her now. Her face relaxed ;
sobs came to her relief ; and, falling on her neck,
she wept and wept, and fondled her as if she
were a child again.

When they were more composed, they found
that the Doctor and his sister, good Aunt ]\Iar-
tha, were standing near at hand, with Alfred.

" This is a weary day for me," said good Aunt
Martha, smiling through her tears as she em-
braced her nieces; "for I lose my dear com-
panion in making you all happy ; and what can
you give me in return for my Marion ? "



" A converted brother," said the Doctor.

" That's something, to be sure," retorted Aunt
Martha, " in such a farce as "

" No, pray don't," said the Doctor penitently.

" Well, I won't," replied Aunt Martha. " But,
I consider myself ill used. I don't know what's
to become of me without my Marion, after we
have lived together half-a-dozen years."

" You must come and live here, I suppose,"
replied the Doctor. " We shan't quarrel now,
Martha."

" Or you must get married, aunt," said Alfred.

" Indeed," returned the old lady, " I think it
might be a good speculation if I were to set my
cap at Michael Warden, who, I hear, is come
home much the better for his absence in all
respects. But, as I knew him when he was a
boy, and I was not a very young woman then,
perhaps he mightn't respond. So I'll make up
my mind to go and live with Marion when she
marries, and until then (it will not be very long,
I dare say) to live alone. What do yoic say,
brother ? "

" I've a great mind to say it's a ridiculous
world altogether, and there's nothing serious in
it," observed the poor old Doctor.

" You might take twenty affidavits of it if you
chose, Anthony," said his sister ; " but nobody
would believe you Avith such eyes as those."

" It's a world full of hearts," said the Doctor,
hugging his younger daughter, and bending
across her to hug Grace — for he couldn't sepa-
rate the sisters ; " and a serious world, with all its
folly — even with niine, which was enough to have
swamped the whole globe ; and it is a world on
which the sun never rises, but it looks upon a
thousand bloodless battles that are some set-off
against the miseries and wickedness of Battle-
Fields ; and it is a world we need be careful how
we libel, Heaven forgive us, for it is a Avorld of
sacred mysteries, and its Creator only knows
what lies beneath the surface of His lightest
image ! "

You would not be the better pleased with my
rude pen, if it dissected and laid open to your
view the transports of this family, long severed
and now reunited. Therefore I will not follow
the poor Doctor through his humbled recollec-
tion of the sorrow he had had when Marion was
lost to him ; nor will I tell how serious he had
found that world to be in which some love, deep-
anchored, is the portion of all human creatures ;
nor, how such a trifle as the absence of one little
unit in the great absurd account had stricken
him to the ground. Nor, how, in compassion
for his distress, his sister had, long ago, revealed



CLEMENCY IN ECSTASIES.



^55



the truth to him by slow degrees, and brought
him to the knowledge of the heart of his self-
banished daughter, and to that daughter's side.

Nor, how Alfred Heathfiekl had been told the
truth, too, in the course of that then current
year ; and Marion had seen him, and had pro-
mised him, as her brother, that on her birthday,
in the evening, Grace should know it from her
lips at last.

" I beg your pardon. Doctor," said Mr.
Snitchcy, looking into the orchard, " but have I
liberty to come in ? "

Without waiting for permission, he came
straight to Marion, and kissed her hand, quite
joyfully.

" If Mr. Craggs had been alive, my dear Miss
Marion," said Mr. Snitchey, " he would have had
great interest in this occasion. It might have
suggested to him, Mr. Alfred, that our life is not
too easy, perhaps ; that, taken altogether, it will
bear any little smoothing we can give it ; but
Mr. Craggs was a man who could endure to be
convinced, sir. He was always open to convic-
tion. If he were open to conviction, now, I

This is weakness. j\Irs. Snitcliey, my dear," —
at his summons that lady appeared from behind
the door, — " you are among old friends."

Mrs. Snitchey, having delivered her congratu-
lations, took her husband aside.

" One moment, j\Ir. Snitchey," said that lady.
" It is not in my nature to rake up the ashes of
the departed."

" No, my dear," returned her husband.

" Mr. Craggs is "

"Yes, my dear, he is deceased," said Mr.
Snitchey.

" But I ask you if you recollect," pursued his
wife, " that evening of the ball ? I only ask
you that. If you do ; and if your memory has
not entirely failed you, i\Ir. Snitchey ; and if you
are not absolutely in your dotage ; I ask you to
connect this time with that — to remember how
I begged and prayed you, on my knees "

" Upon your knees, my dear ! " said Mr.
Snitchey.

" Yes," said Mrs. Snitchey confidently, " and
you know it — to beware of that man — to ob-
serve his eye — and now to tell me whether I
was right, and whether at that moment he knew
secrets which he didn't choose to tell."

" Mrs, Snitchey," returned her husband in her
ear, " madam. Did you ever observe anything
in my eye ? "

" No," said Mrs. Snitchey sharply. '•' Don't
flatter yourself."

" Because, ma'am, that night," he continued,
twitching her by the sleeve, " it happens that we



lioth knew secrets which we didn't choose to
tell, and both knew just the same professionally.
And so the less you say about such things the
better, Mrs. Snitchey ; and take this as a warn-
ing to have wiser and more charitable eyes
another time. Miss Marion, I brought a friend
of yours along with me. Here ! Mistress !"

Poor Clemency, with her apron to her eyes,
came slowly in, escorted by her husband ; the
latter doleful with the presentiment that, if she
abandoned herself to grief, the Nutmeg Grater
was done for.

" Now, mistress," said the lawyer, checking
Marion as she ran towards her, and interposing
himself between them, " what's the matter with
yoic / "

" The matter ! " cried poor Clemency. — When,
looking up in wonder, and in indignant remon-
strance, and in the added emotion of a great
roar from Mr. Britain, and seeing that sweet face
so well remembered close before her, she stared,
sobbed, laughed, cried, screamed, embraced her,
held her fast, released her, fell on Mr. Snitchey
and embraced him (much to Mrs. Snitchey's
indignation), fell on the Doctor and embraced
him, fell on Mr. Britain and embraced him, and
concluded by embracing herself, throwing her
apron over her head, and going into h3'Sterics
behind it.

A Stranger had come into the orchard after
Mr. Snitchey, and had remained apart, near the
gate, without being observed by any of the
group ; for they had little spare attention to
bestow, and that had been monopolised by the
ecstasies of Clemency. He did not appear to
wish to be observed, but stood alone, with
downcast eyes ; and there was an air of dejec-
tion about him (though he was a gentleman of a
gallant appearance), which the general happiness
rendered more remarkable.

None but the quick eyes of Aunt Martha,
however, remarked him at all ; but, almost as
soon as she espied him, she was in conversation
with him. Presently, going to where jNIarion
stood with Grace and her little namesake, she
whispered something in Marion's ear, at which
she started, and appeared surprised ; but, soon
recovering from her confusion, she timidly ap-
proached the stranger, in Aunt Martha's com-
pany, and engaged in conversation with him
too.

" Mr. Britain," said the lawyer, putting his
hand in his pocket, and bringing out a legal-
looking document while this was going on, " I
congratulate you. You are now the whole and
sole proprietor of that freehold tenement, at pre-
sent occupied and held by yourself as a licensed



iS6



THE BATTLE OF LIFE.



tavern, or house of public entertainment, and
commonly called or known by the sign of the
Nutmeg Grater. Your wife lost one house
through my client, Mr. Michael Warden ; and
now gains another. I shall have the pleasure of
canvassing you for the county, one of these fine
mornings." -. /

" Would it make any difference in the vote if
the sign was altered, sir ? " asked Britain.

" Not in the least," replied the lawyer.

" Then," said Mr. Britain, handing him back
the conveyance, "just clap in the words, 'and
Thimble,' will you be so good ? and I'll have
the two mottoes painted up in the parlour, in-
stead of my wife's portrait."

" And let me," said a voice behind them ; it
was the stranger's — Michael Warden's ; " let me
claim the benefit of those inscriptions. Mr.
Heathfield and Doctor Jeddler, I might have
deeply wronged you both. That I did not is no
virtue of my own. I will not say that I am six
years wiser than I was, or better. But I have
known, at any rate, that term of self-reproach.



I can urge no reason why you should deal gently
with me. I abused the hospitality of this house ;
and learnt my own demerits, with a shame I never
have forgotten, yet, with some profit too, I would
fain hope, from one," he glanced at Marion, " to
whom I made my humble supplication for for-
giveness, when I knew her merit, and my deep
unworthiness. In a few days I shall quit this
place for ever. I entreat your pardon. Do as
you would be done by ! Forget and Forgive ! "

Time— from whom I had the latter portion of
this story, and with whom I ha\'e the pleasure
of a personal acquaintance of some five-and-thirty
years' duration — informed me, leaning easily
upon his scythe, that Michael Warden never
went away again, and never sold his house, but
opened it afresh, maintained a golden mean of
hospitality, and had a wife, the pride and honour
of that country-side, whose name was Marion.
But, as I have observed that Time confuses facts
occasionally, I hardly know what weight to giv?
to his authority.



END OF "the battle OF LIFE.





THE HAUNTED MAN,

AND THE GHOST'S BARGAIN.



CHAPTER I.



THE GIFT BESTOWED.



pVERYBODY said so.

-*— ' Far be it from me to assert that what



j general experience, everybody has been wrong
! so often, and it has taken, in most instances,
such a weary while to find out how wrong, that
authority is proved to be fallible. Every-
body may sometimes be right ; " but thaf's, no
rule," as the ghost of Giles Scroggins says in the



everybody says must be true. Everybody is, I ballad.

often, as likely to be wrong as right. In the The dread word, Ghost, recalls me.



155



THE HA UNTED MAN.



Everybody said he looked like a haunted man.
The extent of my present claim for everybody
is, that they were so far right. He did.

Who could have seen his hollow cheek ; his
sunken, brilliant eye; his black-attired figure,
indefinably grim, although well knit and well
proportioned; his grizzled hair hanging, like
tangled seaweed, about his face, — as if he had
been, through his whole life, a lonely mark for
the chafing and beating of the great deep of
humanity, — but might have said he looked like
a haunted man ?

AVho could have observed his manner, taci-
turn, thoughtful, gloomy, shadov;ed by habitual
reserve, retiring always, and jocund never, with
a distraught air of reverting to a bygone place
and time, or of listening to some old echoes in
his mind, but might have said it was the manner
di a haunted man ?

Who could have heard his voice, slow-speak-
ing, deep, and grave, with a natural fulness and
melody in it which he seemed to set himself
against and stop, but might have said it was the
voice of a haunted man ?

Who that had seen him in his inner chamber,
part library and part laboratory, — for he was, as
the world knew, far and wide, a learned man in
chemistry, and a teacher on whose lips and
hands a crowd of aspiring ears and eyes hung
daily — who that had seen him there, upon a
winter night, alone, surrounded by his drugs
and instruments and books ; the shadow of his
shaded lamp a monstrous beetle on the wall,
motionless among a crowd of spectral shapes
raised there by the flickering of the fire upon
the quaint objects around him ; some of these
phantoms (the reflection of glass vessels that
held liquids) trembling at heart like things that
knew his power to uncorabine them, and to give
back their component parts to fire and vapour ;
— who that had seen him then, his work done,
and he pondering in his chair before the rusted
grate and red flame, moving his thin mouth as if
in speech, but silent as the dead, would not
have said that the man seemed haunted, and
the chamber too ?

Who might not, by a very easy flight of fancy,



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 95 of 103)