Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens' complete works online

. (page 44 of 84)
Online LibraryCharles DickensCharles Dickens' complete works → online text (page 44 of 84)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and time, which sooner or later, wears out all tilings,
gradually wore out the impression produced on him by the
dream. He began by thinking of it carelessly, and he ended
by not thinking of it at all. This result was tiie more easily
brought about by the advent of some important changes for
the better in his prospects, which commenced not long after
his terrible nighfs experience at the inn. He reaped at last
the reward of his long and patient sufTering under adversity,
by getting an excellent place, keeping fo^ sewn yean, and
leaving it, on the death of his master, not only with an ex-
cellent character, but also with a com fo rtable aamuity be^
queathed to him as a reward for saving his mistress's lifc in a
carriage accident. Thus it happened, that Isaac Scatchard
returned to his old mother, seven yeam after tiie time of the
dream at the inn, with an annual sum of money at his £s-
posal, sufficient to keep them both in ease and independence
for the rest of their lives.

The mother, whose health had been bad of late years,
profited so much by the care bestowed on her and by fW^om
from money anxieties, that when Isaac's next birtliday came
round, she was able to sit up comfortably at the taUe and
dine with him.

On that day, as the evening drew on, Krs. Scatchard dia*
covered that a bottle of tonic medicine — ^which she was aocQ9-
tomed to take, and in which she had foncled tliat a doee or
more was still left — ^happened to be empty. laaac unme*
diately volunteered ta go to the chemivf i^ and get it iDed

Digitized by



again. It was as nmj and bleak an autumn night as on the
mem<Hrable past occasion when he lost his way »nd slept at the

On going to the chemist's shop, he was passed fanrriedly by
a poorlj-dittssed woman coming out of it. The glimpse he
had of her &oe stro^ him, and he looked baek alter her as
•he deseesided the door steps.

'^Yoo^ie notioing thad woman?'' said the chemist's
apprentice behind the counter. ^Ifs my <^inion there's
KMnetbing wrong with her. She's been asking for laudanum
to put to a bad tooth. Master's out for half an hour ; and I
told her I wasn't allowed to sell poison to strftngers in his
abscmee. She laughed in a queer way, and said she would
eome badk in half an hour. If she expects master to serve
her, I think she'll be disappointed. If s a case of suicide, if
ever there was one yet."

These words added immeasurably to the siidden interest in
the woman which Isaac had felt at the first sight of her face.
After he had got the medicine bottle tUed, he looked about
anxiously fi>r her, as soon as he was out in the street. She
was walking sbwly up and down on the opposite side c^ the
road. With his heart, vsiy mudi to his own surprise, beat*
ing fast, Isaac crossed over and spoke to her.

He asked if she was in any distress. She pointed to her
torn shawl, her seaaty dress, h«r omshed, dirty bonnet — then
moved under a lamp so as to let the light ihll on her stem,
paky but still most beautifbl lace.

^ I look like a oomfovtabk) happy woman«*^-dbn't I ? " she
sad with a bitter laugh.

She speke with a purity of intonation which Isaac had
never heard beftve from other than ladies' Hps. Her slightest
ae^ons seemed to have ihe easy negligent grace of a
tliorough-bred woman* Her skin, for all its poverty-stricken
painless was as delicate as if her life had been passed in the
eajoyuttnt of every soetai comfort that weahh can purchase.
Svsn.her smaD, £nely^shiiped. hands, gloveless as they wer^
had not lost their vhiteness.

Digitized by



Litde by littile^ in answer to his questkm, the sad story of
the woman came out. There is no need to relate it here ; it
is told over and over again in Police Beports and paragraphs
about Attempted Suiddes*

^' My name is Eebecca Murdoch,'^ said the woman, as she
ended. '' I have ninepence left^ and I thovght of spending it
at the chemist's over the way in securing a passage to the
other world. Whatever it is^ it canH be worse to me than
this — BO why should I stop here ? "

Besides the natural compassion and sadness moved in bii
heart by what he heard, Isaac fek within him some mysteri-
ous influence at work all the time the woman was spealang,
which utterly confused his ideas and ahaooet dejHEived him of
his powers of speech. All that he could say in answw to her
last reckless words was, that he would prevent her fioia
attempting her own life, if he followed her about all night to
do it. His rou^ trembling earnestness seemed to inqiress

<' I won^t occasion you that trouUe^^' she answered, when
he repeated his threat ^ You have given me a fimey kt
living by speaking kindly to me. No need lor the mookeiy
of protestations and promises. You may believe me withoat
them. Gome to Fuller's Meadow to-mom>w at twelve, and
you will find me alive, to aasw^ lor myselfl No! — no
money. My ninepence will do to get me as good a nights
lodging as I want.

She nodded and left him. He made no attempt to Ibllov
'^^e felt no suspicion that she was deoeiving him.

" It's strange, but I can't help believing her," he said ta
himself— and walked away, bewildered, towards hooM.

On entering the house his mind was still so omnpleMy
absorbed by its new subject of interest, that he tiM^ no notwe
of what his mother was doing when he came in with the
bottle of medicine. She had opened her dd writing-desk in
his absence, and was now reading a paper attentively that lay
inside it. On every birthday of Isaac's since she had written

Digitized by



down the particulars of his dream from his own lips, she had
been accustomed to read that same paper, and ponder over it
in private.

The next day he went to Fuller^s Meadow. He had done
only right in believing her so implicitly — she was there,
punctual to a minute, to answer for herself. The last, left
£(unt defences in Isaac's heart against the fascination which a
word or look from her began inscratably to exercise over him,
sank down and vanished before her forever on that memorablo

When a man, previously insensible to the influence of
woman, fonns an attachment in middle hfe, the instances are
nure, indeed, let the warning circumstances be what they may,
in which he is found capable of freeing himself from the
tyranny of the new ruling passion. The chann of being
qK>ken to familiarly, fondly, and gratefrdly by a woman whose
hmg^ge and manners still retained enough of their early
refinement to hint at the high social station that she had lost,
would have been a dangerous luxury to a man of Isaac's rank
at the age of twenty. But it was far more than that — ^it was
certain ruin to him-*-diow that his heart was opening unwor-
thily to a new influence, at that middle time of life when
strong feelings of aU kinds, once implanted, strike root most
stubbornly in a man^s moral nature. A few more stolen inter-
views after that first morning in Fuller's Meadow completed
his infatuation. In less than a month from the time when he
first met her, Isaac Scatehard had consented to give Eebecca
Murdoch a new interest in existence and a chance of recover-
ing the character she had lost, by promising to make her his

She had taken possession, not of his passions only, but of
his faeolties as well. All anangements for the present, and
all plans for the future were of her devising. All the mind
he had he put in her keei»ng. She directed him on every
point; even instructing him how to break the news of his
af^roaching marriage in the safldst manner to his mother.

Digitized by



'^ If you tell her how you met me and who I am at fixst,"
said the cunning woman, '^ she will move heaven and earl^ to
prevent our marriage. Say I am the sister of one of yonr
fellow servants — ask her to see me before yoti go into sny
more particulars — and leave it to me to do the rest. I wsiit
to make her love me next best to youy Isaae^ before she knowi
anything of who I really am."

The motive of the deoeit was sufficient to saaetify rt tt
Isaac. The stratagem proposed relieved him of his one
great anxiety, and quieted his uneasy conscience on the sub-
ject of his mother. Still, there was soooething waa^g to
perfect his happiness, something that he could Bot lealiM^
something mysteriously untraaeable, and yet, acunething that
perpetually made itself felt; not when he was absent inm
Bebecca Murdoch, bjut, strange to ss^r, wh»n he was actually
in her presence! She was kindness itself with him; sht
never made him feel his inferieor capaoitieiv and ia&rior man-
ners, — she showed the sweetest anxiety to please him in tiM
smallest trifles ; but, in spite of all tibese attractions, he neviff
could feel quite at bis ea^e with her. At their ftrst meelmg,
there had mingled with his admiration when he looked in her
fsice, a faint involuntary feeling of doubt whether that &ot
was entirely strange to him. No after familiiynty had the
slightest effect on this inexplicable^ weaxiaome uncertainty.

Concealing the truth as be had been direoted, he aimoaiieed
his marriage engagement pc^ipitately and oonfiiaedly to his
mother, on the day when he contracted it Poor Mia. Scat*
chard showed her perfect ccmfidenee in her son 1^ flinging
her arms round his neck, and giving him joy of hankig feimd
at last, in the sister of one of his fellow-servants, a woman ts
eomfort and care for him after his mother waa gone. She was
all eagerness to see the woman of her son's cheioe ; and the
next day was fixed for the introduction.

It was a bright sunny momingf and the little cotlage par-
lor was full of l^ht, as Mrs. Soatohard, hapf^y and eocpectanl^
dressed for the occasion in her Sund^ gewn» est waiting fa

Digitized by



hex BOD. and her future daughter-in-law. PunotuaL to ihe
appointed time, Isaac hurriedly and nervously led his prom-
is^ wife into the room. His mother rose to receive her —
advanced a few stepis^ smiling — looked Eebeoca full in the
eyes — and suddenly stopped. Her &ce^ which had heen
flushed the moment hefore, turned white in an instant — her
eyes lost their expression of softness and kindness, and
assumed a blank look o£ terror — ^her outstretched hands fell to
her sides, and she staggered back a few stops with a low cry
to her son.

^ Isaac ! " she whispered, clutching him fiast by the arm,
when he asked alarmedly if sha was taken ilL << Isaac!
Does that won^an's face remind you of nothing ? ''

Before he could answer; before he could look round to
where Bebecca, astonished and angered by her reception,
stood, at the lower end of the room ; his mother pointed
impotien^y to her writuig^desfc, and* gave him the key.
'^ Open it," she said, in a quick, breathless whisper.
"What does thia mean ? Why am I trei^ed as if I had
no business here ? Does your mother want to insult me ? "
^ed Eebece% angrily.

" Open ity and give me the paper in the left-hand drawer.
Quick! quick, for Heaven's sake!" said Mrs. Scatchard,
shrinking further back in terror. Isaac gave her the paper.
She looked it over eagerly for a moment — then followed
Bebecca, who was now turning away haughtily to leave the
Toom, and caught her by the shoulder — abruptly raised the
kmg, loose sleeve of her gown, and g^ianced at her hand and
arm. Something like fear began to steal over the angry
axpression of Bebecca's fiaoe as she shook herself ^ree fix>m
the oUl woman's grasp. "Mad!" she said to herself $ "and
Isaac never told me." With these few words she left the

Isaac waa hastening after her when his modier turned and
ftt^ped his further progress. It wrung his heart to see the
l>tiaery a«d tersor in her faoe as she looked at him.

Digitized by



" Light grey eyes/' she said, in low moomful, awe-fltnidr
tones, pointing towards the open door. ^ A droqp in the kft
eyelid. Flaxen hair with a gold*yellow streak in it. White
arms with a down on them. Little, lady's hand, with a red-
dish look under the finger-nails. The woman of the dream!
—-Oh, Heaven ! Isaac, the wmnan of the dream ! ^'

That £Eiint cleaving donbt which he had never been able to
shake off in Rebecca Murdoch's presence, was fatally set ai
rest for ever. He ?iad seen her face, then, before — seyen
years before, on his birthday, in the bedroom of the lonelj
inn. ^ The woman of the dream ! "

^^Be warned, Oh, my smiI be warned! Isaac! Isaac! let
her go, and do yon stop with me ! "

Something darkened the parlor window, as those wotds
were said. A sndd^i chill ran throu^ him ; and he glanced
sidelong at the shadow. Rebecca Murdoch had come btck.
She was peering in ounoqaly at them over the low window

'^ I have promised to marry, mother,^' he said, ^ and many
I must."

The tears came into his eyes as he spoke, and dimmed his
sight ; but he could just discern the fatal face outside moving
away again from the window.

His mother's head sank lower.

" Are you faint ? " he whisper^.

" Broken-hearted, Isaac"

He stooped down and kissed her. The shadow, as he did
so, returned to the window ; and the &tal face peered in citri*
ously once more.

Three weeks after that day, Isaac and Rebecca were man
and wife. All that was hopelessly dogged and stubbora in ^
man's moral nature, seemed to have closed round his fiital
passion, and to have fixed it unassailably in his heart

After that first interview in the cottage parlor, no consid-
eration would induce Mrs. Scatdiard to see her son's wife
again, or even to talk of her when Isaac tried bard to plead

Digitized by



her eanse after their marriage. This course of ccmduot was
not in any degree occa8i<med by a discovery of the degrada-
tion in which Bebecca had Uved. There was no question of
that between mother and son. There was no question of
anything but the fearfully exact resemblance between thp
living breathing w<»nan and the spectre woman of Isaac's
dream. Rebecca, on her side, neither felt nor expressed the
^ghtest sorrow at the estrangement between herself and her
mother^in*law. Isaac, ior the sake of peace, had never con-
tradicted her first idea that age and long illness had affected
Mrs. Scatchard's mind. He even allowed his wife to upbraid
him for not having confessed this to her at the time of their
inarnage engagement, rather than risk anything by hinting
at the truth. The sacrifice of his integrity before his one allr
mastering delusion, seemed but a small thing, and cost his
conscience but little, after the sacrifices he had already made.

The time of waking from his delusion — the cruel and the
meful time^ — ^was not &r oiL After some quiet months of
married life, as the summer was ending, and the year was
getting on towards the month of his birthday, Isaac found his
wife altering towards him. She grew sullen and contempt-
uous — she formed acquaintances of the most dangerous kind,
in defiance of his objections, his entreaties, and his c(»nmands,
— and worst of all, she learned, ere long, after every firesh
difference witii her husband, to seek the deadly self-oblivion
of drink. Little by little, after the first miserable discovery
that; his wife was keeping company witii drunkards, the
shocking certainty forced itself on Isaac &at she had grown
to be a drunkard hersel£

He had been in a sadly desponding state for some time
before the occurrence of these domestic calamities. His
mother's health, as he could but too plainly discern every
time he went to see her at the cottage, was failing fast ; and
he upbraided himself in secret as the cause of the bodily and
mental suffering she endured. When, to his remorse on his
mother's aocoont, was added tiie shame and misery oecasioned

Digitized by



by the difloovery of his wife's degcBdation^ he sank under tht
double trial — his fiaoe began to alter fut^ and he lodged what
he was, a ^>irit*broken man. His mother, still struggliBg
bravely against the illness that was harrying her to die gmre,
was the first to notice the- sad alteration in hiia, aau the fini
to hear of his last bitterest tronhle with his wi£a. She could
only weep bitterly, on the day whoi he made his hnmihatiiig
confession ; bni on the next oe»sion when he went io see her,
^e had taken a retohition, in reference to his domestio iffli9>
tioms, which astonished, aad even alaimed him* He fmai
her dressed to go out, and on asking the reason, receired this

'' I am not long for this worlds Isaac," said she ; ^and I
shall not feel easy on my death*bed, nnless I hafe dom my
best to the last, to make my son hapjpy* I mean to pot my
own fears and my own feelings out of the qnestion, and to go
with yon to yonr wife, and try what I can do to oecfaufli her.
Give me your arm, Isaao; and let ma do the last thing I om
in this woidd to help my son before it is too lata."

He could not disobey her; and they widked togetlMr tlowlj
towards his miserable home. It was only one o'c^Dck in Um
afternoon when they reached the cottage where he lived. It
was their dinner hoar, and Bebecea was in the kitchen. Ht
was thus ablA to take his mother quietly into Uie pariot^ sad
then prepaie his wife for the interview. She had fbftaaatdy
drank hot little at that early hour, and she was leae suDrn and
Mpricions than usual. He returned to bia motheir, with fail
mind toleral^y at ease* His wife soon feUowed him into the
I'avlur, and the meeting between her and Mrs. Seal<^aid
pasKed off better than he had veintarsd to at\ti^;ipate : tlioa^^i
he observed, with secret apprehension, that hb mother, rso*
lutely as she controlled herself in other lespocts^ could not
k)ok his wife in the face when slie spoke to her. It was a
relief td him tlierefore, when Rebecca began to lay the cloth.

She laid the doth — brought in the bread^-tray, and oat s
alico hoot the kaf fer haxL huil^aiid — ^thea retoraed ta tbs

Digitized by



kitchen. At thai moment, Isaac, still anxiovuily watchiiig his
mother, was startled by seeing the same ghastly change pass
orer her face, which had altered it so awfully on the morning
when Rebecca and £^e first met. Before he could say a woid
she whispered with a look of honor : —

^ Take me back I — ^home^ home, again, Isaac ! Gome with
ine, and nerer come back agMn.'^

He was afraid to ask for an explanation, — he could only
sign to her to be silent, and help h^ quickly to the door. As
they passed the bread-tray on tlie table s^ stopped and
pointed to it.

^ Did you see what your wife cut your btead with ? " dia
asked, in a low, still whisper.

" No, moliier, — ^I was not noticing— what was it ? '^

"Look!'* .

He did look. A new olasp^knild, with a buok-hom handle
ky with the loaf in the bread-tray. He stzetdied out his
hand, shudderingly, to possess himself of it ; but, at the same
time, there was a noise in the kitchen, and his mother caught
at his arm.

" The knife of the dream ! — Isaac, I'm ffeint with &ar-—
take me away ! befbre she comes back ! "

He was hardly able to support her— ^he risible, tangible
reality of the knilb struck him with a paodc, and utterli
destroyed any fhint doubts that he might have entertained up
to this time, in relation to ihe mysteiious dteam^waming of
neariy eight years bef^e. By a last desperafce effort^ he sum*
moned self-possession enough to help his mother quietly out
of the house— HBO quietly, that the <^ dieam^woman " (he
thought of her by l^at name, now ! ) did not hear them
departing from the kitchen.

"Don't go back Isaac — don't go back!" implored Mrs.
Scatchard, as he turned to go away, aflier seeing her safely
seated again in her own room.

" I must get the knife," he answered, vnder his breath*
• 4 •

Digitized by



Bhe tried to stop him again; but he honied oat without
another word.

On his return, he found that his wife had discoyered thdir
secret departure from the house. She had been drinking, and
was in a fury of passion. The dinner in the kitchen was flong
under the gate ; the ckyth was off the parbr table. Where
was the knife ? Unwisely, he asked for it. She was only too
glad of the opportunity of irritating him, which the request
afforded her. <'He wanted the knife, did he? Gould he
give her a reason why ? — ^No ! — ^Then he should not ha^e i^
**^not if he went down on his knees to ask for it." Furthei
recriminations elicited the £em^ that she had bought it a bar-
gain — and that she considered it her own especial property.
Isaac saw the uselessness of attempting to get tiie knife by
fair means, and determined to search for it, later in the di^, in
secret. The search was unsuocea^iL Night came on, and he
left the house to walk about the streets. He was a&aid now
to sleep in the same room with her.

Three weeks passed. Still sullenly enraged with him, she
would not give up the knife ; and still that fear of sleeping in
the same room with her possessed him. He walked about at
night, or dozed in the parlor, or sat watching by his mother's
bedside. Before the expiration of the first week in the new
month his mother died. It wanted then but ten days of her
son's birthday. She had longed to live till that anniversaiy.
Isaac was present at her death; and her last words in this
world were addressed to him : << Don't go back, my son, don't
go back ! "

He was obliged to go ba(^, if it were only to watch his
wife. Exasperated to the last degree by his distrust of her,
she had revengefully sought to add a sting to his grie^ daring
the last da3rs of hie mother's illness, by declaring that she
would assert her right to attend the fiineraL In spite of all
that he could do, or say, she held with wicked pertinacity to
her word ; and, on the day appointed for the burial, forced her-
self — ^inflamed and shameless with drink — ^into her husband's

Digitized by



presence, and declared ihat she would walk in the fonoral
procession to his mother's grave.

This hist worst ontrage, acoompanied hj all that was most
insulting in word and look, maddened him for 4he moment
Re struck her. The instant liie hlow was dealt, he repented
it. She crouched down, silent in a comer of the room, and
eyed him steadily; it was a look that cooled his hot blood,
and made him tremble. But there was iko time now to think
of a means of making atonement. Nothing jremained, but to
risk the worst till the funeral was over. There was hut one
way of making sure of her. He kcked her into her bed-

When he came back some hours after, he found her sitting,
very much altered in look and bearing, by the bedside, with a
bundle on her lap. She rose, and £»ced him quietly, and
spoke widi a strange stillness in her voice, a strange repose
in her eyes, a strange composure in her manner.

'^ No man has ever struck me twice," she said, ^^ and my
husband shall have no second opportunity. Set the door
open and let me go. From this day forth we see each other
no more,"

Before he could answer she passed him, aad left the room.
He saw her walk away up the street.

Would she return ? All that night he watched and
waited; but no footstep came near the house. The neyt
night, orerpofweied by fatigue, he ky down in bed, in his
clothes, with the door looked, the key on the table, and the
candle burning. His shimber was not disturbed. The third
night, the feur^, the fifth, the sixth, passed, and nothing
happened. He lay down on the seventh, still in his clothes,
stifl with the door hx^ed, the key on the table, and the candJo
burning, but easier in his mind.

Easier in his mind, and in perfect health of body, when he
^l off to sleep. But his rest was disturbed. He awoke
twice, without any sensation of uneasiness. But the third
time it wr«s ^thal nevBr-to**be*£bi!go>(:ten shivering of the night

Digitized by



at the lonely inn, that dreadful sinking pain at the heart,
which once more aroused him in an instant.

His eyes opened towards the left hand side of the hed, and

there stood ^The woman of the dream again ? — ^No I His

wife ; the living reality, with the dream-spectre's face — ^in the
dream-spectre's attitude ; the fait arm up — the knife da^ed
in the delicate, white hand.

Online LibraryCharles DickensCharles Dickens' complete works → online text (page 44 of 84)