Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 99 of 103)
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"Well, 'Dolphus, I'm sure I never think of
such things now, to regret them ; and I'm sure
I've got as good a husband, and would do as
much to prove that I was fond of him, as "

" As any little woman in the world," said Mr.
Tetterby. " Very good. Very good."

If Mr. Tetterby had been ten feet high, he
could not have expressed a gentler considera-
tion for Mrs. Tetterby's fairy-like stature ; and,
if Mrs. Tetterby had been two feet high, she



174



THE HAUNTED MAN.



could not have felt it more appropriately her
due.

" But you see, 'Dolphus," said Mrs. Tetterby,
" this being Christmas-time, when all people who
can, make holiday, and when all people who
have got money like to spend some, I did, some-
how, get a little out of sorts when I was in the
streets just now. There were so many things to
be sold — such delicious things to eat, such fine
things to look at, such delightful things to have
— and there was so much calculating and cal-
culating necessary, before I durst lay out a six-
pence for the commonest thing ; and the basket
was so large, and wanted so much in it ; and
my stock of money was so small, and would go
such a little way-r — You hate me, don't you,
'Dolphus?''

" Not quite,'' said Mr. Tetterby, " as yet."

" Well ! I'll tell you the whole truth," pur-
sued his wife penitently, " and then perhaps you
will. I felt all this so much, when I was trudg-
ing about in the cold, and when I saw a lot of
other calculating faces and large baskets trudging
about too, that I began to think whether I
mightn't have done better, and been happier,

if— I — hadn't " The wedding-ring went

round again, and Mrs. Tetterby shook her down-
cast head as she turned it.

" I see," said her husband quietly ; " if you
hadn't married at all, or if you had married some-
body else ? "

" Yes," sobbed Mrs. Tetterby. " That's really
■what I thought. Do you hate me now, 'Dol-
phus?"

" Why, no," said Mr. Tetterby, " I don't find
that I do as yet."

Mrs. Tetterby gave him a thankful kiss, and
went on.

" I begin to hope you won't, now, 'Dolphus,
though I am afraid I haven't told you the worst.
I can't think what came over me. I don't know
whether I was ill, or mad, or what I was, but I
couldn't call up anything that seemed to bind us
to each other, or to reconcile me to my fortune.
All the pleasures and enjoyments we had ever
had — they seemed so poor and insignificant, I
hated them. I could have trodden on them.
And I could think of nothing else except our
being poor, and the number of mouths there
were at home."

"Well, Avell, my dear," said Mr. Tetterby,
shaking her hand encouragingly, " that's truth,
after all. We are poor, and there ore a number
of mouths at home here."

" Ah ! but, Dolf, Dolf ! " cried his wife, laying
her hands upon his neck, "my good, kind,
patient fellow, when I had been at home a very



little while — how different ! Oh, Dolf dear, how
different it was ! I felt as if there was a rush of
recollection on me, all at once, that softened my
hard heart, and filled it up till it was bursting.
All our struggles for a livelihood, all our cares
and wants since we have been married, all the
times of sickness, all the hours of watching, we
have ever had, by one another, or by the children,
seemed to speak to me, and say that they had
made us one, and that I never might have been,
or could have been, or would have been, any
other than the wife and mother I am. Then the
cheap enjoyments that I could have trodden on
so cruelly, got to be so precious to me — oh, so
priceless and dear ! — that I couldn't bear to
think how much I had Avronged them ; and I
said, and say again a hundred times, how could
I ever behave so, 'Dolphus ? how could I ever
have the heart to do it? "

The good woman, quite carried away by her
honest tenderness and remorse, was weeping
with all her heart, when she started up with a
scream, and ran behind her husband. Her cry
was so terrified, that the children started from
their sleep and from their beds, and clung about
her. Nor did her gaze belie her voice as she
pointed to a pale man in a black cloak who had
come into the room.

" Look at that man ! Look there ! What
does he want ? "

" My dear," returned her husband, " I'll ask
him if you'll let me go. What's the matter ?
How you shake ! "

" I saw him in the street when I was out just
now. He looked at me, and stood near me. I
am afraid of him."

" Afraid of him ! Why ? "

" I don't know why — I — stop ! husband ! "
for he was going towards the stranger.

She had one hand pressed upon her forehead,
and one upon her breast ; and there was a
peculiar fluttering all over her, and a hurried un-
steady motion of her eyes, as if she had lost
something.

" Are you ill, my dear ? "

'' What is it that is going from me again ? " she
muttered in a low voice. " What is this that is
going away ? "

Then she abruptly answered : " 111 ? No, I
am quite well," and stood looking vacantly at
the floor.

Her husband, who had not been altogether
free from the infection of her fear at first, and
whom the present strangeness of her manner did
not tend to reassure, addressed himself to the
pale visitor in the black cloak, who stood still,
and whose eyes were bent upon the ground.



INFECTED AIR.



^IS



" What may be your pleasure, sir," he asked,
"with us?"

" I fear that my coming in unperceived," re-
turned the visitor, " has alarmed you ; but you
were talking, and did not hear me."

" My little woman says — perhaps you heard
her say it," returned Mr. Tetterby, " that it's not
the first time you have alarmed her to-night."

" I am sorry for it. I remember to have ob-
served her, for a few moments only, in the street.
I had no intention of frightening her."

As he raised his eyes in speaking, she raised
hers. It was extraordinary to see what dread
she had of him, and with what dread he observed
it — and yet how narrowly and closely.

" My name," he said, " is Redlaw. I come
from the old College hard by. A young gentle-
man, who is a student there, lodges in your
house, does he not ? "

" Mr. Denham ? " said Tetterby.

" Yes."

It was a natural action, and so slight as to be
hardly noticeable ; but the little man, before
speaking again, passed his hand across his fore-
head, and looked quickly round the room, as
though he were sensible of some change in its
atmosphere. The Chemist, instantly transferring
to him the look of dread he had directed to-
wards the wife, stepped back, and his face turned
paler.

" The gentleman's room," said Tetterby, " is
up-stairs, sir. There's a more convenient pri-
vate entrance ; but, as you have come in here,
it will save your going out into the cold, if you'll
take this little staircase," showing one commu-
nicating directly with the parlour, " and go up
to him that way, if you wish to see him."

" Yes, I wish to see him," said the Chemist.
** Can you spare a light ? "

The watchfulness of his haggard look, and the
inexplicable distrust that darkened it, seemed to
trouble Mr. Tetterby. He paused ; and, looking
fixedly at him in return, stood for a minute or
so, like a man stupefied or foscinated.

At length he said, " I'll light you, sir, if you'll
follow me."

" No," replied che Chemist, " I don't wish to
be attended, or announced to him. He does
not expect me. I would rather go alone. Please
to give me the light, if you can spare it, and I'll
find the way."

In the quickness of his expression of this
desire, and in taking the candle from the news-
man, he touched him on the breast. With-
drawing his hand hastily, almost as though he
had wounded him by accident (for he did not
know in what part of himself his new power



resided, or how it was communicated, or how
the manner of its reception varied in different
persons), he turned and ascended the stair.

But, when he reached the top, he slopped and
looked down. The wife was standing in the
same place, twisting her ring round and round
upon her finger. The husband, with his head
bent forward on his breast, was musing heavily
and sullenly. The children, still clustering
about the mother, gazed timidly after the visitor,
and nestled together when they saw him looking
down.

" Come ! " said the father roughly. " There's
enough of this. Get to bed here ! "

" The place is inconvenient and small enough,"
the mother added, " without you. Get to bed ! "

The whole brood, scared and sad, crept away :
little Johnny and the baby lagging last. The
mother glancing contemptuously round the sordid
room, and tossing from her the fragments of
their meal, stopped on the threshold of her task
of clearing the table, and sat down, pondering
idly and dejectedly. The father betook himself
to the chimney-corner, and, impatiently raking
the small fire together, bent over it as if he would
monopolise it all. They did not interchange a
word.

The Chemist, paler than before, stole upward
like a thief ; looking back upon the change
below, and dreading equally to go on or return.

" What have I done ? " he said confusedly.
" What am I going to do ? "

"To be the benefactor of mankind," he
thought he heard a voice reply.

He looked round, but there was nothing
there; and a passage now shutting out the little
parlour from his view, he went on, directing his
eyes before him at the way he went.

" It is only since last night," he muttered
gloomily, " that I have remained shut up, and
yet all things are strange to me. I am strange
to myself. I am here as in a dream. What
interest have I in this place, or in any place
that I can bring to my remembrance? Alymind
is going blind ! "

There was a door before him, and he knocked
at it. Being invited, by a voice within, to enter,
he complied.

" Is that my kind nurse ? " said the voice.
" But I need not ask her. There is no one else
to come here."

It spoke cheerfully, though in a languid tone,
and attracted his attention to a young man lying
on a couch, drawn before the chimney-piece,
with the back towards the door, A meagre,
scanty stove, pinched and hollowed like a sick
man's cheeks, and bricked into the centre of a



176



THE HA UNTED MAN.



hearth that it could scarcely warm, contained
the fire, to which his face was turned. Being
so near the windy housetop, it wasted quickly,
and with a busy sound, and the burning ashes
dropped down fast.

" They chink when they shoot out here," said
the student, smiling ; "so,according to the gossips,
they are not coffins, but purses. I shall be well
and rich yet, some day, if it please God, and
shall live, perhaps, to love a daughter Milly,
in remembrance of the kindest nature and the
gentlest heart in the world."

He put up his hand as if expecting her to take
it, but, being weakened, he lay still, with his
face resting on his other hand, and did not turn
round.

The Chemist glanced about the room ; — at the
student's books and papers, piled upon a table
in a corner, where they, and his extinguished
reading-lamp, now prohibited and put away, told
of the attentive hours that had gone before this
illness, and perhaps caused it ; — at such signs of
his old health and freedom as the out-of-door
attire that hung idle on the wall ; — at those
remembrances of other and less solitary scenes,
the little miniatures upon the chimney-piece,
and the drawing of home ; — at that token of his
emulation, perhaps, in some sort, of his personal
attachment, too, the framed engraving of him-
self, the looker-on. The time had been, only
yesterday, when not one of these objects, in its
remotest association of interest with the living
figure before him, would have been lost on Red-
law. Now, they were but objects ; or, if any
gleam of such connection shot upon him, it per-
plexed, and not enlightened him, as he stood
looking round with a dull wonder.

The student, recalling the thin hand which
had remained so long untouched, raised himself
on the couch, and turned his head.

" Mr. Redlaw !" he exclaimed, and started up.

Redlaw put out his arm.

" Don't come near to m.c. 1 will sit here.
Remain you where you are ! "

He sat down on a chair near the door, and,
having glanced at the young man standing lean-
ing with his hand upon the couch, spoke with
his eyes averted towards the ground.

" I heard, by an accident, by what accident is
no matter, that one of my class was ill and soli-
tary. I received no other description of him
than that he lived in this street. Beginning my
inquiries at the first house in it, I have found
him."

" I have been ill, sir," returned the student,
not merely with a modest hesitation, but with a
kind of awe of him, " but am greatly better. An



attack of fever — of the brain, I believe — has
weakened me, but I am much better. I cannot
say I have been solitary in my illness, or I
should forget the ministering hand that has been
nf ar mc."

" You are speaking of the keeper's wife ? "
said Redlaw.

" Yes." The student bent his head, as if he
rendered her some silent homage.

The Chemist, in whom there was a cold,
monotonous apathy, which rendered him more
like a marble image on the tomb of the man
who had started from his dinner yesterday at
the first mention of this student's case, than
the breathing man himself, glanced again at the
student leaning with his hand upon the couch,
and looked upon the ground, and in the air, as
if for light for his blinded mind.

" I remembered your name," he said, " when
it was mentioned to me down-stairs just now;
and I recollect your face. We have held but
very little personal communication together ? "

" Very little."

" You have retired and withdrawn from me,
more than any of the rest, I think ? "

The student signified assent.

"And why?" said the Chemist; not with the
least expression of interest, but with a moody,
wayward kind of curiosity. " Why ? How comes
it that you have sought to keep especially from
me the knowledge of your remaining here, at
this season, when all the rest have dispersed,
and of your being ill ? I want to know why
this is ?"

The young man, who had heard him with
increasing agitation, raised his downcast eyes to
his face, and, clasping his hands together, cried
with sudden earnestness, and with trembling
lips :

" Mr. Redlaw ! You have discovered me.
You know my secret ! "

" Secret ? " said the Chemist harshly. " /
know ? "

" Yes ! Your manner, so different from the
interest and sympathy which endear you to so
many hearts, your altered voice, the constraint
there is in everything you say, and in your
looks," replied the student, "warn me that you
know me. That you would conceal it, even
now, is but a proof to me (God knows I need
none !) of your natural kindness, and of the bar
there is between us."

A vacant and contemptuous laugh was all his
answer.

•'But, Mr. Redlaw," said the student, "as
a just man, and a good man, think how innocent
I am, except in name and descent, of participa-




MR. REDLAW!" HE EXCLAIMED, AND STARTED VV. — The Hatmtcd Matt. — P. XV6



HER SON.



177



tion in any wrong inflicted on you, or in any
sorrow you have borne."

"Sorrow!"' said Redlaw, laugliing. "Wrong!
What are those to me ?"

" For Heaven's sake," entreated the shrinking
student, " do not let the mere interchange of a
icw words with me change you Hke this, sir !
Let me pass again from your knowledge and
notice. Let me occupy my old reserved and
distant place among those whom you instruct.
Know me only by the name I have assumed,
and not by that of Longford "

" Longford 1" exclaimed the other.

He clasped his head with both his hands,
and for a moment turned upon the young man
his own intelligent and thoughtful face. But the
light passed from it like the sunbeam of an
instant, and it clouded as before.

" The name my mother bears, sir," faltered
the young man, " the name she took, when she
might, perhaps, have taken one more honoured.
Mr. Redlaw," hesitating, " I believe I know that
history. Where my information halts, my guesses
at what is wanting may supply something not
remote from the truth. I am the child of a
marriage that has not proved itself a well-assorted
or a happy one. From infancy I have heard you
spoken of with honour and respect — with some-
thing that was almost reverence. I have heard
of such devotion, of such fortitude and tender-
ness, of such rising up against the obstacles
which press men down, that my fancy, since I
learnt my little lesson from my mother, has shed
a lustre on your name. At last, a poor student
myself, from whom could I learn but you ? "

Redlaw, unmoved, unchanged, and looking at
him with a staring frown, answered by no word
or sign.

" I cannot say," pursued the other, " I should
tr)' in vain to say, how much it has impressed
me, and affected me, to find the gracious traces
of the past, in that certain power of winning
gratitude and confidence which is associated
among us students (among the humblest of us
most) with Mr. Redlaw's generous name. Our
ages and positions are so different, sir, and I am
so accustomed to regard you from a distance,
that I wonder at my own presumption when I
touch, however lightly, on that theme. But to
one who — I may say, who felt no common in-
terest in my mother once — it may be something
to hear, now that is all past, with what inde-
scribable feelings of aflection I have, in my
obscurity, regarded him ; Avith what pain and
reluctance I have kept aloof from his encourage-
ment, when a word of it would have made me
rich ; yet how I have felt it fit that I should
Christmas Books, 12.



hpld my course, content to know him, and to be
unknown. Mr. Redlaw," said the student faintly,
" what I would have said, I have said ill, for my
strength is strange to me as yet ; but, for any-
thing unworthy in this fraud of mine, forgive me,
and for all the rest forget me ! "

The staring frown remained on Redlaw's face,
and yielded to no other expression until the
student, with these words, advanced towards
him, as if to touch his hand, when he drew back
and cried to him :

" Don't come nearer to me ! "

The young man stopped, shocked by the
eagerness of his recoil, and by the sternness of
his repulsion ; and he passed his hand thought-
fully across his forehead.

" The past is past," said the Chemist. " It
dies like the brutes. Who talks to me of its
traces in my life ? He raves or lies ! What
have I to do with your distempered dreams?
If you want money, here it is. I came to offer
it; and that is all I came for. There can be
nothing else that brings me here," he muttered,
holding his head again with both his hand^.
" There ca?i be nothing else, and yet "

He had tossed his purse upon the table. As
he fell into this dim cogitation with himself, the
student took it up, and held it out to him.

" Take it back, sir," he said proudly, though
not angrily. " I wish you could take from me,
with it, the remembrance of your words and
ofter."

" You do ? " he retorted, with a wild light in
his eyes. " You do ? "

"I do!"

The Chemist went close to him for the first
time, and took the purse, and turned him by
the arm, and looked him in the face.

" There is sorrow and trouble in sickness, is
there not ?" he demanded with a laugh.

The wondering student answered, "Yes."

" In its unrest, in its anxiety, in its suspense,
in all its train of physical and mental miseries?"
said the Chemist with a wild, unearthly exulta-
tion. " All best forgotten, are they not ? "

The student did not answer, but again passed
his hand confusedly across his forehead. Red-
law still held him by the sleeve, when Milly's
voice was heard outside.

" I can sec very well now," she said, " thank
you, Dolf. Don't cry, dear. Father and
mother will be comfortable again to-morrow,
and home will be comfortable too. A gentle-
man with him, is there?"
' Redlaw released his hold as he listened.

" I have feared, from the first moment," he
murmured to himself, " to meet her. There is



178



THE HA UNTED MAN.



a steady quality of goodness in her that I dread
to influence, I may be tlic murderer of what
is tenderest and best within her bosom."

She was knocking at the door.

" Shall I dismiss it as an idle foreboding, or
still avoid her ? " he muttered, looking uneasily
around.

She was knocking at the door again.

" Of all the visitors who could come here,"
he said in a hoarse, alarmed voice, turning to
his companion, " this is the one I should desire
most to avoid. Hide me ! "

The student opened a frail door in the wall,
communicating, where the garret roof began to
slope towards the floor, with a small inner room.
Redlaw passed in hastily, and shut it after
Lim.

The student then resumed his place upon the
couch, and called to her to enter.

"Dear Mr, Edmund," said Milly, looking
round, "they told me there was a gentleman
here." c

" There is no one here but I."

"There has been some one?"

" Yes, yes, there has been some one.

She put hei- little basket on the table, and
went up to the back of the couch, as if to take
the extended hand — but it was not there. A
little surprised, in her quiet way, she leaned
over to look at his face, and gently touched him
on the brow,

" Are you quite as well to-night ? Your head
is not so cool as in the afternoon."

" Tut ! " said the student petulantly, " very
little ails me."

A little more surprise, but no reproach, was
expressed in her face, as she withdrew to the
other side of the table, and took a small packet
of needlework from her basket. But she laid it
down again, on second thoughts, and going
noiselessly about the room, set everything exactly
in its place, and in the neatest order ; even to
the cushions on the couch, which she touched
with so light a hand, that he hardly seemed to
know it, as he lay looking at the fire. When
all this was done, and she had swept the hearth,
she sat down, in her modest little bonnet, to her
work, and was quietly busy on it directly.

" It's the new muslin curtain for the window,
Mr. Edmund," said ]\Iilly, stitching away as she
talked. " It will look very clean and nice,
though it costs very little, and will save your
eyes, too, from the light. My William says the
room should not be too light just now, when
you are recovering so v»ell, or the glare might
make you giddy."

He said nothing ; but there was something so



fretful and impatient in his change of position,
that her quick fingers stopped, and she looked
at him anxiously.

" The pillows are not comfortable," she said,
laying down her work and rising, " I will soon
put them right,"

" They are very well,"' he answered. '' Leave
them alone, pray. You make so much of
everything,"

He raised his head to say this, and looked at
her so thanklessly, that, after he had thrown
himself down again, she stood timidly pausing.
However, she resumed her seat, and her needle,
without having directed even a murmuring look
towards him, and was soon as busy as before.

" I have been thinking, Mr. Edmund, that
you have been often thinking of late, when I
have been sitting by, how true the saying is,
that adversity is a good teacher. Health will
be more precious to you, after this illness, than
it has ever been. And years hence, when this
time of year comes round, and you remember
the days when you lay here sick, alone, that the
knowledge of your illness might not afliict those
who are dearest to you, your home wall be
doubly dear and doubly blessed. Now, isn't
that a good, true thing?"

She was too intent upon her w^ork, and too
earnest in what she said, and too composed and
quiet altogether, to be on the watch for any
look he might direct towards her in reply ; so
the shaft of his ungrateful glance fell harmless,
and did not wound her,

" Ah ! " said Milly, with her pretty head in-
clining thoughtfully on one side, as she looked
down, following her busy fingers with her eyes.
" Even on me — and I am very dift'erent from
you, Mr. Edmund, for I have no learning, and
don't know how to think properly — this view of
such things has made a great impression since
you have been lying ill. When I have seen
you so touched by the kindness and attention
of the poor people down-stairs, I have felt that
you thought even that experience some repay-
ment for the loss of health, and I have read in
your face, as plain as if it was a book, that but
for some trouble and sorrow we should never
know half the good there is about us,"

His getting up from the couch interrupted
her, or she w'as going on to say more,

" We needn't magnify the merit, Mrs.



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 99 of 103)