Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 98 of 103)
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CHAPTER II.



THE GIFT DIFFUSED.




SMALL man sat in a small parlour,
partitioned off from a small shop by
a small screen, pasted all over with
small scraps of newspapers. In com-
pany with the small man was almost
■; ' ^ ,-/ any amount of small children you may
^^^ please to name — at least, it seemed so;
-^^ they made, in that very limited sphere
of action, such an imposing effect, in point of
numbers.

Of these small frj-, two had, by some strong
machinery, been got into bed in a corner, where
they might have reposed snugly enough in the
sleep of innocence, but for a constitutional pro-
pensity to keep awake, and also to scufile in
and out of bed. The immediate occasion of
these predatory dashes at the waking world
was the construction of an oyster-shell wall in a
corner, by two other youths of tender age ; on



which fortification the two in bed made harass-
ing descents (like those accursed Picts and Scots
who beleaguer the early historical studies of
most young Britons), and then withdrew to their
own territory.

In addition to the stir attendant on these in-
roads, and the retorts of the invaded, who pur-
sued hotly, and made lunges at the bedclothes,
under which the marauders took refuge, another
litUe boy, in another little bed, contributed his
mite of confusion to the family stock, by casting
his boots upon the waters ; in other words, by
launching these and several small objects, in-
offensive in themselves, though of a hard sub-
stance considered as missiles, at the disturbers
of his repose, — who were not slow to return
these compliments.

Besides which, another little boy — the biggest
there, but still little — was tottering to and fro,
bent on one side, and considerably aftected in
his knees by the weight of a large baby, which
he was supposed, by a fiction that obtains some-
times in sanguine families, to be hushing to
sleep. But oh ! the inexhaustible regions of
contemplation and watchfulness into which this
baby's eyes were then only beginning to com-
pose themselves to stare over his unconscious
shoulder !

It was a very Moloch of a baby, on whose
insatiate altar the whole existence of this par-
ticular young brother was offered up a daily
sacrifice. Its personality may be said to have
consisted in its never being quiet, in any one
place, for five consecutive minutes, and never
going to sleep when required. " Tetterby's
baby " was as well known in the neighbourhood
as the postman or the potboy. It roved from
door-step to door-step, in the arms of little
Johnny Tetterby, and lagged heavily at the rear
of troops of juveniles who followed the Tumblers
or the Monkey, and came up, all on one side, a
little too late for everything that was attractive,
from Monday morning until Saturday night.
Wherever childhood congi-egated to play, there
was little ]\Ioloch making Johnny fag and toil.
Wherever Johnny desired to stay, little Moloch
became fractious, and would not remain. W^hen-
ever Johnny wanted to go out, Moloch was
asleep, and must be watched. AVhenever Johnny
wanted to stay at home, Moloch was awake,
and must be taken out. Yet Johnny was verily
persuaded that it was a fiiultless baby, without
its peer in the realm of England ; and was quite
content to catch meek glimpses of things in
general from behind its skirts, or over its limp
flapping bonnet, and to go staggering about with
it like a very little porter with a very large parcel,




'you're in spirits, TUGBY, my dear," observed his wife. • . . "NO," SAID TUGBY.

•'no. not particular. I'm a little elewated. the muffins came so p.vrl" — p. 69



TETTERBY AND CO.



169



which was not directed to anybody, and could
never be delivered anywhere.

The small man who sat in the small parlour,
making fruitless attempts to read his newspaper
peaceably in the midst of this disturbance, was



the father of the family, and the chief of the firm
described in the inscription over the little shop-
front, by the name and title of A. Tetteruy
AND Co., Newsmen. Indeed, strictly speak-
ing, he was the only personage answering to




" IT ROVED FROM DOOR-STEP TO DOOR-STEP, IN THE ARMS OF LITTLE JOHNNY TETTERBY, AND LAGGED
HEAVILY AT THE REAR OF TROOPS OF JUVENILES WHO FOLLOWED THE TUMBLERS," ETC.



that designation ; as Co. was a mere poetical
abstraction, altogether baseless and impersonal.
Tetterby's was the corner shop in Jerusalem
Buildings. There was a good show of literature
in the window, chiefly consisting of picture-
newspapers out of date, and serial pirates and
footpads. Walking-sticks, likewise, and marbles,



were included in the stock-in-trade. It had once
extended into the light confectioner}^ line ; but
it would seem that those elegancies of life were
not in demand about Jerusalem Buildings, for
nothing connected with that branch of com-
merce remained in the window, except a sort
of small glass lantern containing a languishing



lyo



THE HAUNTED MAN.



mass of bull's-eyes, which had melted in the

summer and congealed in the winter, until all
hope of ever getting them out, or of eating them
without eating the lantern too, was gone for
ever. Tetterby's had tried its hand at several
things. It had once made a feeble little dart at
the toy business ; for, in another lantern, there
was a heap of minute wax dolls, all sticking to-
gether upside down, in the direst confusion,
with their feet on one another's heads, and a pre-
cipitate of broken arms and legs at the bottom.
It had made a move in the millinery direction,
which a few dry, wiry bonnet-shapes remained
in a corner of the window to attest. It had
fancied that a living might lie hidden in the
tobacco trade, and had stuck up a representa-
tion of a native of each of the three integral
portions of the British empire in the act of con-
suming that fragrant weed ; with a poetic legend
attached, importing that united in one cause
they sat and joked, one chewed tobacco, one
took snuff, one smoked : but nothing seemed to
have come of it — except flies. Time had been
when it had put a forlorn trust in imitative
jewellery, for in one pane of glass there was a
card of cheap seals, and another of pencil-cases,
and a mysterious black amulet of inscrutable in-
tention labelled ninepence. But, to that hour,
Jerusalem Buildings had bought none of them.
In short, Tetterby's had tried so hard to get a
livelihood out of Jerusalem Buildings in one
way or other, and appeared to have done so in-
differently in all, that the best position in the
firm was too evidently Co.'s ; Co., as a bodiless
creation, being untroubled with the vulgar in-
conveniences of hunger and thirst, being charge-
able neither to the poor's-rates nor the assessed
taxes, and having no young family to provide
for. ...

Tetterby himself, however, in his little parlour,
as already mentioned, having the presence of a
young family impressed upon his mind in a
manner too clamorous to be disregarded, or to
comport with the quiet perusal of a newspaper,
laid down his paper, wheeled, in his distraction,
a few times round the parlour like an undecided
carrier pigeon, made an ineffectual rush at one
or two flying little figures in bedgowns that
skimmed past him, and then, bearing suddenly
down upon the only unoffending member of the
family, boxed the ears of little Moloch's nurse.

" You bad boy ! " said Mr. Tetterby ; " haven't
you any feeling for your poor father after the
fatigues and anxieties of a hard winter's day,
since five o'clock in the morning, but must you
wither his rest, and corrode his latest intelli-
gence, with your wicious tricks ? Isn't it enough,



sir, that your brother 'Dolphus is toiling and
moiling in the fog and cold, and you rolling in
the lap of luxury with a — with a baby, and
everythink you can wish for," said ]\Ir. Tetterby,
heaping this up as a great climax of blessings,
" but must you make a wilderness of home, and
maniacs pf your parents ? Must you, Johnny ?
Hey?" At each interrogation, Mr. Tetterby
made a feint of boxing his ears again, but
thought better of it, and held his hand.

" Oh, father ! " whimpered Johnny, " when I
wasn't doing anything, I'm sure, but taking such
care of Sally, and getting her to sleep. Oh,.
father ! "

" I wish my little woman would come home !"
said Mr. Tetterby, relenting and repenting ; " I
only wish my little woman would come home !
I ain't fit to deal with 'em. They make my
head go round, and get the better of me. Oh,
Johnny ! Isn't it enough that your dear mother
has provided you with that sweet sister?" indi-
cating Moloch ; " isn't it enough that you were
seven boys before, without a ray of gal, and that
your dear mother went through what she did go
through, on purpose that you might all of you
have a little sister, but must you so behave
yourself as to make my head swim ? "
■ Softening more and more as his own tender
feelings, and those of his injured son, were
worked on, Mr. Tetterby concluded by embrac-
ing him, and immediately breaking away to'
catch one of the real dehnquents. A reasonably
good start occurring, he succeeded, after a short
but smart run, and some rather severe cross-
country work under and over the bedsteads,
and in and out among the intricacies of the
chairs, in capturing this infant, whom he con-
dignly punished, and bore to bed. This example
had a powerful, and apparently mesmeric, influ-
ence on him of the boots, who instantly fell into
a deep sleep, though he had been, but a moment
before, broad awake, and in the highest possible
feather. Nor was it lost upon the two young
architects, who retired to bed, in an adjoining
closet, with great privacy and speed. The com-
rade of the Intercepted One also shrinking into
his nest with similar discretion, Mr. Tetterby,
when he paused for breath, found himself unex-
pectedly in a scene of peace.
' " My little woman herself," said Mr. Tetterby,
wiping his flushed face, " could hardly have done
it better ! I only wish my little woman had had
it to do, I do indeed ! "

Mr. Tetterby sought upon his screen for a
passage appropriate to be impressed upon his
children's minds on the occasion, and read the
following :



MR. TETTERBY'S LrnXE WOMAN.



171



" * It is an undoubted fact that all remarkable
men have had remarkable mothers, and have
respected them in after life as their best friends.'
Think of your own remarkable mother, my
boys," said Mr. Tetterby, " and know her value
while she is still among you ! "

He sat down again in his chair by the fire,
and composed himself, cross-legged, over his
newspaper.

" Let anybody, I don't care who it is, get out
of bed again," said Tetterby as a general pro-
clamation, delivered in a very soft-hearted
manner, "and astonishment will be the portion
of that respected contemporary ! " — which ex-
pression Mr. Tetterby selected from his screen.
" Johnny, my child, take care of your only sister,
Sally; for she's the brightest gem that ever
sparkled on your early brow."

Johnny sat down on a little stool, and de-
votedly crushed himself beneath the weight of
Moloch.

"Ah, what a gift that baby is to you,
Johnny!" said his father; "and how thankful
you ought to be ! ' It is not generally known,'
Johnny," — he was now referring to the screen
again, — " 'but it is a fact ascertained, by accu-
rate calculations, that the following immense
per-centage of babies never attain to two years
old ; that is to say ' "

" Oh, don't, father, please ! " cried Johnny.
" I can't bear it when I think of Sally."

ISIr. Tetterby desisting, Johnny, with a pro-
founder sense of his trust, wiped his eyes, and
hushed his sister.

" Your brother 'Dolphus," said his father,
poking the fire, " is late to-night, Johnny, and
will come home like a lump of ice. What's got
your precious mother ? "

"Here's mother, and 'Dolphus too, father,"
exclaimed Johnny, " I think ! "

" You're right ! " returned his father, listen-
ing. " Yes, that's the footstep of my little
woman."

The process of induction, by which Mr.
Tetterby had come to the conclusion that his
A\nfe was a little woman, was his own secret.
She would have made two editions of himself
very easily. Considered as an individual, she
was rather remarkable for being robust and
portly; but, considered with reference to her
husband, her dimensions became magnificent.
Nor did they assume a less imposing proportion
when studied with reference to the size of her
seven sons, who were but diminutive. In the
case of Sally, however, Mrs. Tetterby had as-
serted herself at last ; as nobody knew better
than the victim Johnny, who weighed and



measured that exacting idol every hour in the
day.

Mrs. Tetterby, who had been marketing, and
carried a basket, threw back her bonnet and
shawl, and sitting down, flitigued, commanded
Johnny to bring his sweet charge to her straight-
way for a kiss. Johnny having complied, and
gone back to his stool, and again crushed him-
self. Master Adolphus Tetterby, who had by
this time unwound his Torso out of a prismatic
comforter, apparently interminable, requested
the same favour. Johnny having again com-
plied, and again gone back to his stool, and
again crushed himself, Mr. Tetterby, struck by
a sudden thought, preferred the same claim on
his own parental part. The satisfaction of this
third desire completely exhausted the sacrifice,
who had hardly breath enough left to get back
to his stool, crush himself again, and pant at his
rektions.

" Whatever you do, Johnny," said Mrs. Tet-
terby, shaking her head, " take care of her, or
never look your mother in the face again."

" Nor your brother," said Adolphus.

" Nor your father, Johnny," added Mr. Tet-
terby.

Johnny, much affected by this conditional
renunciation of him, looked down at Moloch's
eyes to see that they were all right, so far, and
skilfully patted her back (which was uppermost),
and rocked her with his foot.

" Are you wet, 'Dolphus, my boy ? " said his
father. " Come and take my chair, and dry
yourself."

" No, father, thankee," said Adolphus, smooth-
ing himself down with his hands. " I an't very
wet, I don't think. Does my face shine much,
father?"

" Well, it docs look waxy, my boy," returned
Mr. Tetterby.

" It's the weather, father," said Adolphus,
polishing his cheeks on the worn sleeve of his
jacket. " What with rain, and sleet, and wind,
and snow, and fog, my face gets quite brought
out into a rash sometimes. And shines, it does
— oh, don't it, though ! "

Master Adolphus was also in the newspaper
line of life, being employed, by a more thrivmg
firm than his father and Co., to vend newspapers
at a railway station, where his chubby little
person, like a shabbily-disguised Cupid, and his
shrill little voice (he was not much more than
ten years old), were as well known as the hoarse
panting of the locomotives running in and out.
His juvenility might have been at some loss for
a harmless outlet, in this early application to
traffic, but for a fortunate discovery he made of



172



THE HAUNTED MAN.



a means of entertaining himself, and of dividing
the long day into stages of interest, without
neglecting business. This ingenious invention,
remarkable, like many great discoveries, for its
simplicity, consisted in varying the first vowel
in the word " paper," and substituting in its
stead, at different periods of the day, all the
other vowels in grammatical succession. Thus,
before daylight in the winter-time, he went to
and fro, in his little oil-skin cap and cape, and
his big comforter, piercing the heavy air with
his cry of " Morn-ing Pa-per !" which, about an
hour before noon, changed to " Morn-ing Pep-
per ! " which, at about two, changed to " Morn-
ing Pip-per ! " which, in a couple of hours,
changed to " Morn-ing Pop-per ! " and so de-
clined with the sun into " Eve-ning Pup-per ! "
to the great relief and comfort of this young
gentleman's spirits.

Mrs. Tetterby, his lady mother, who had been
sitting with her bonnet and shawl thrown back,
as aforesaid, thoughtfully turning her wedding-
ring round and round upon her finger, now rose,
and, divesting herself of her out-of-door attire,
began to lay the cloth for supper.

" Ah, dear me, dear me, dear me ! " said Mrs.
Tetterby. " That's the way the world goes ! "

" Which is the way the world goes, my dear?"
asked Mr. Tetterby, looking round.

" Oh, nothing ! " said Mrs. Tetterby.

Mr. Tetterby elevated his eyebrows, folded
his newspaper afresh, and carried his eyes up it,
and down it, and across it, but was wandering
in his attention, and not reading it.

Mrs. Tetterby, at the same time, laid the
cloth, but rather as if she were punishing the
table than preparing the family supper ; hitting
it unnecessarily hard with the knives and forks,
slapping it with the plates, dinting it with the
salt-cellar, and coming heavily down upon it
with the loaf.

" Ah, dear me, dear me, dear me ! " said
Mrs. Tetterby. "That's the way the world
goes ! "

"My duck," returned her husband, looking
round again, "you said that before. Which is
the way the world goes ? "

" Oh, nothing ! " said Mrs. Tetterby.

" Sophia ! " remonstrated her husband, "you
said that before, too."

" Well, Pll say it again if you like," returned
Mrs. Tetterby. " Oh, nothing — there ! And
again if you like. Oh, nothing — there ! And
again if you like. Oh, nothing — now then ! "

Mr. Tetterby brought his eye to bear upon
the partner of his bosom, and said, in mild
astonishment ;



" My little woman, what has put you out? "

" I'm sure / don't know," she retorted.
" Don't ask me. Who said I was put out at
all ? / never did."

Mr. Tetterby gave up the perusal of his
newspaper as a bad job, and, taking a slow
walk across the room, with his hands behind
him, and his shoulders raised — his gait accord-
ing perfectly with the resignation of his manner
-. — addressed himself to his two eldest offspring.

" Your supper will be ready in a minute,
'Dolphus," said Mr. Tetterby. " Your mother
has been out in the wet, to the cook's shop, to
buy it. It was very good of your mother so to
do. You shall get some supper too, very soon,
Johnny. Your mother's pleased with you, my
man, for being so attentive to your precious
sister."

Mrs. Tetterby, without any remark, but with
a decided subsidence of her animosity towards
the table, finished her preparations, and took
from her ample basket a substantial slab of
hot pease-pudding wrapped in paper, and a basin
covered with a saucer, which, on being uncovered,
sent forth an odour so agreeable, that the three
pair of eyes in the two beds opened wide, and
fixed themselves upon the banquet. Mr. Tet-
terby, without regarding this tacit invitation to
be seated, stood repeating slowly, " Yes, yes,
your supper will be ready in a minute, "Dolphus
— your mother went out in the wet, to the cook's
shop, to buy it. It was very good of your
mother so to do" — until Mrs. Tetterby, who
had been exhibiting sundry tokens of contrition
behind him, caught him round the neck, and
wept.

" Oh, 'Dolphus ! " said Mrs. Tetterby, " how
could I go and behave so ? "

This reconciliation affected Adolphus the
younger and Johnny to that degree, that they
both, as with one accord, raised a dismal cry,
which had the eff'ect of immediately shutting
up the round eyes in the beds, and utterly rout-
ing the two remaining little Tetterbys, just then
stealing in from the adjoining closet to see what
was going on in the eating way.

" I am sure, 'Dolphus," sobbed j\Irs. Tetterby,
" coming home, I had no more idea than a
child unborn "

Mr. Tetterby seemed to dislike this figure of
speech, and observed, " Say than the baby, my
dear."

" — Had no more idea than the baby," said
l\Irs. Tetterby. — " Johnny, don't look at me,
but look at her, or she'll fall out of your lap and
be killed, and then you'll die in agonies of a
broken heart, and serve you right. — No more



MRS. TETTERBY RECOVERS HER TEMPER.



173



idea, I hadn't, than that darHng, of being cross

when I came home ; but somehow, 'Dolphus "

Mrs. Tetterby i)auscd, and again turned her
wedding-ring round and round upon her finger.

" I see ! " said Mr. Tetterby. " I understand !
My httle woman was put out. Hard times, and
hard weather, and liard work, make it trying
now and then. I see, bless your soul ! No
wonder ! 'Dolf, my man," continued Mr. Tet-
terby, exploring the basin with a fork, " here's
your mother been and bought, at the cook's
shop, besides pease-pudding, a whole knuckle
of a lovely roast leg of pork, with lots of crack-
ling left upon it, and with seasoning, gravy, and
mustard quite unlimited. Hand in your plate,
my boy, and begin while it's simmering."

Master Adolphus, needing no second sum-
mons, received his portion with eyes rendered
moist by appetite, and, withdrawing to his par-
ticular stool, fell upon his supper tooth and nail.
Johnny was not forgotten, but received his
rations on bread, lest he should, in a flush of
gravy, trickle any on the baby. He was re-
quired, for similar reasons, to keep his pudding,
when not on active service, in his pocket.

There might have been more pork on the
knuckle-bone, — which knuckle-bone the carver
at the cook's shop had assuredly not forgotten
in carving for previous customers, — but there
was no stint of seasoning, and that is an acces-
sory dreamily suggesting pork, and pleasantly
cheating the sense of taste. The pease-pudding,
too, the gravy and mustard, like the Eastern
rose in respect of the nightingale, if they were
not absolutely pork, had lived near it ; so, upon
the whole, there was the flavour of a middle-
sized pig. It was irresistible to the Tetterbys
in bed, who, though professing to slumber
peacefully, crawled out when unseen by their
parents, and silently appealed to their brothers
for any gastronomic token of fraternal affection.
They, not hard of heart, presenting scraps in
return, it resulted that a party of light skir-
mishers in nightgowns were careering about the
parlour all through supper, which harassed Mr.
Tetterby exceedingly, and once or twice im-
posed upon him the necessity of a charge, before
which these guerrilla troops retired in all direc-
tions, and in great confusion.

Mrs. Tetterby did not enjoy her supper. There
seemed to be something on Mrs. Tetterby's mind.
At one time she laughed without reason, and at
another time she cried without reason, and at
last she laughed and cried together in a manner
so very unreasonable that her husband was con-
founded.

" ]\Iy Httle woman," said ]\Ir. Tetterby, " if the



^ world goes that way, it appears to go the wrong

way, and to choke you."

" Give me a drop of water," said Mrs. Tet-
terby, struggling with herself, " and don't speak
to me for the present, or take any notice of it.
Don't do it ! "

Mr. Tetterby, having administered the water,
turned suddenly on the unlucky Johnny (who
was full of sympathy), and demanded why he
was wallowing there in gluttony and idleness,
instead of coming forward with the baby, that
the sight of her might revive his mother. Johnny
immediately approached, borne down by its
weight ; but Mrs. Tetterby liolding out her hand
to signify that she was not in a condition to bear
that trying appeal to her feelings, he was inter-
dicted from advancing another inch, on pain of
perpetual hatred from all his dearest connections ;
and accordingly retired to his stool again, and
crushed himself as before.

After a pause Mrs. Tetterby said she was better
now, and began to laugh.

"My little woman," said her husband dubi-
ously, " are you quite sure you're better ? Or
are you, Sophia, about to break out in a fresh
direction ? "

" No, 'Dolphus, no," replied his wife. " I'm
quite myself" With that, settling her hair, and
pressing the palms of her hands upon her eyes,
she laughed again.

" What a wicked fool I was to think so for
a moment ! " said Mrs. Tetterby. " Come nearer,
'Dolphus, and let me ease my mind, and tell you
what I mean. Let me tell you all about it."

Mr. Tetterby bringing his chair closer, Mrs.
Tetterby laughed again, gave him a hug, and
wiped her eyes.

" You know, 'Dolphus, my dear," said Mrs.
Tetterby, " that when I was single, I might have
given myself away in several directions. At one
time, four after me at once ; two of them were
sons of Mars."

" We're all sons of Ma's, my dear," said Mr.
Tetterby, " jointly with Pa's."

" I don't mean that," replied his wife ; " I mean
soldiers — sergeants."

" Oh ! " said Mr. Tetterby.



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 98 of 103)