Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens' complete works online

. (page 50 of 84)
Online LibraryCharles DickensCharles Dickens' complete works → online text (page 50 of 84)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

received (he was further instructed) by the sance-female, who
would be provided with brandy in a blue state of combiistlmi.

All these arrangements were ei;ecuted in the most exact and
punctual manner. I never saw a finer turkey, finer beef, or
greater prodigality of sauce and gravy : and my travelers did
wonderful justice to every thing set before them. It made my
heart rejoice to observe how their wind-and-frost hardened
faces, softened in the clatter of plates and knives and forks,
and mellowed in the fire and snpper heat. While their haU.
and caps, and wrappers, hanging up ; a few small bandies o«
the ground in a corner ; and, in another eomer, three of fiovr
old walking-sticks, wore down at the end to mere fringe : liakad
this snug interior with the bleak outside in a goklen ohaifi.

When supper was done, and my brown beauty had been ele*
rated on the table, there was a general requisition to lae, tm
" take the corner;'' which suggested to me, comfortably euougK
how much my friends here made of a fire — ^for when bad I ever
thought so highly of the corner, since the days when 1 con«

Digitized by



neeted H with Jtick Homer ? However, as I declined, Ben,
whose toaeh on all convivial instxaments is perfect, drew tlie
table apart, and instructing my travelers to open right and
left, on either side of me, aod form ronnd the fire, closed up
the centre with myself and my chair, and preserved the order
we had kept at table. He bad already, in a tranquil manner,
boxed the ears of the inattentird boys, until they had been bj
imperceptible degrees boxed out of the room ; and he now
rapidly skirmished the sauce-lemale into the High-street, dis-
appeared, and softly elosed the door.

This was the time for bringing the poker to bear on the
bill^of wood. I tapped it three times, like an enchanted talis-
oiaa, and a brilliant host of merry-makers barst out of it, and
sported off by the chimney — rushing up the middle in a fiery
eomtry dance, and never eoming down again. Meanwhile, by
their sparkling lights which threw our lamp into the shade, I
filled the glasses, and gave ray Travelers, Christmas ! — Christ-^
HAS Eva, my friends, when the Shepherds, who were Poor
Travelers, too, in their vay, heai*d the angels sing, '' On earth,
peace. Qood*will toward men I''

I don't know who was the first among us to think that we
OQght to take hands as we sat, in deferepce to the toast, or
whether any one of us anticipated the others, but at any rate
we M did it Wo then drank to the memory of the good Master
Bichard Watta. And I wish his ghost may never have had
aay worse usage nuder that roof, than it had from us I

It was the witching time for story-telling. "Our whole
life, Travelers," said I, ** is a story more or less intelligible—-
generally less ; but we shall read it by a clearer light when it
is ended. I, for one, am so divided this night between fact
and fiction, that I scarce know which is which. Shall we be*
guile the time by telling stories, Sa our order as we sit here 7"

They all a&awered, yes, provided I would begin. I had
little to tell then^ but I was bound by my own proposal.
Therefore, after looking for awhile at the spiral column of smoke
wreathing up firom my brown beauty, through which I could
have almost sworu I saw the effigy of Master Bichard Watts
less startled than usual : I fired away.

Digitized by



In the jear one thousand seven hundred and ninetj-niae, a
relative of mine came limping down, on foot, to this town of
Chatham. I call it this town, becaose if anybody preseat
knows to a nicety where Rochester ends and Chatham begiu»
it is more than I do. He was a poor trayeler, with not a
farthing in his pocket. He sat by the fire in this very rooa,
and he slept one night in a bed that will be oecapied tOHiiglil
by some one here.

- My relative eame down to Chatham to enlist in a ea?alrf
regiment, if a cavalry regiment would have him ; if aot, ^
take Kihg George's shilling from any corporal or serg^nt, who
wonld pat a bnnch of ribbons in his hat. His ol^eet wit to
get shot ; bat he thoaght he might as well ride to death at b%
at the troable of walking.

My relative's Christian name was Richard, bat he was better
known as Dick. He dropped his own sarname on the roed
down, and took up that of Doiibledick. He was passed u
Richard Doublediek ; age twenty-two ; height^ fife foot ten ;
native place^ Exmouth ; which he had never been near in his
life. — There was no cavalry in Chatham, when he limped over
the bridge here, with half a shoe to his dusty foot» so he enlisted
into a regiment of the line, and was glad to get drunk and lor*
get all about it

Yon are to know that this relative of mine had gone wrong
and run wild. His heart was in the right plaoe, but it wis
sealed up. He had been betrothed to a good and beaatiM
girl whom he had loved better than she — or peiliaps even bo
t— believed ; but in an evil hour, he had given her cause to say to
him, solemnly, "Richard, I will never marry any other man. I
will live single for your sake, but Mary Marshall's lips;" — her
name was Mary Marshall ; — '' never address another word to
you on earth. Go, Richard! Heaven forgive yon I" This
finished him. This brought him down to Chatham. This made
him private Richard Doublediek, with a deep determination to
be shot

There was not a more dissipated and reekless soldier ia
Chatham barracks, in the year one thousand seven hundred and
ninety-nine, than private Richard Doublediek. He aasoc ia tcd
with the dregs of every regiment, he was as seldom sober as hs

Digitized by



could be, and was constantlj under panishment. It became
clear to the whole barrackB, that Private Richard Doubledick
wonld Tery soon be flogged.

Now tkie Captain of Richard Donbledick'g company was a
jonn^ gentleman not above five years his senior, whose eyes
had an expression in them which affected Private Richard
IkMibledick in a very remarkable way. They were bright,
handsome, dark eyes — what are called langhing eyes generally,
and, when serions, rather steady than severe — bat, they were
the oaly eyes now left in his narrowed world that Private
Richard Dooblediok conld not stand. Unabashed by evil
report and punishment, defiant of every thing else and every-
body else, he had but to know that those eyes looked at him for
a moment, and he felt ashamed. He could not so mnoh as
salute Captain Taunton in the street, Kke any other officer!
He was reproached and confused-troubled by the mere po^si-
bilitj of the captain's looking at him. In his worst momenta
he would rather turn back and go any distance out of hid wnj,
than encounter those two handsome, dark, bright eyes.

One day, when Private Richard Doubledick came^nt of the
Black Hole, where he had been passing the last eight-and-forty
hours, and in which retreat he spent a good deal of his time/ he
was ordered to betake himself to Captain Taunton's quarters:
In the stale and squalid state of a man just out of the Black
Hole, he had less fancy than ever for being seen by the Captain ;
but he was not so mad yet as to disobey orders, and consequently
went np to the terrace overlooking the parade-ground, where
the oflftcors' quarters were: twisting and breaking in his hands
as he went along, a bit of the straw that had formed the decora-
tive fyoimiture of the Black hole.

** Come in i" cried the Captain, when he knocked with his
knuckles at the door. Private Richard Doubledick pulled oflf
his cap, took a stride forward, and felt very conscious that he
stood in the light of the dark bright eyes.

There was a silent pause. Private Richard Doubledick had
put the straw in his mouth, and was gradually doubling it up
iiite his windpipe and choking himself.

"Doubledick," said the Captain, "do you know where yoa

Digitized by



"To tfle Devil, sirl'^ fakered Doubledick.

" Yes," rcturued the CApUtia^ "And very haU"

Private Richard Doobledick tamed the straw of iht Uaek
bole ia his luooth, and made a miserable salute of acqoieiceace.

'' Doubledick,'' said the Captain, " sinoe I entered his MaJMtj'f
service, a boy of seventeen, I have been pained to see mssy
men of promise going thai road ; font I have never been so paiM4
to see a man determined to midce the shameful jooroej, as I hav«
been, ever since you joined the regiment^ to see yon."

Private Richard Povblediek began to find a filv stealiag
over the floor at which be looked ; also to find the legs of thi
Captain's breakfast-table turning crooked, as if he saw ikm
through water.

" I an only a common soldier, sir," said be. " It signiiei
yery little what such a poor brute comeo to.''

" You are a man," re^nraed the Captain with grave iadigBa-
tion, " of education and superior advantages ; and if you nj
that» meaning what you say, yon have sunk lower than I hid
believed. How low that must be, I leave you to eoasider;
knowing what I know of your diagra^^ and seeing what I

''I hope to gist shot soon, sir," said Private Bkhard Doable*
dick : " and then thf regiment^ and the world together, will beii4
of me."

The legs of the table were beeomii^ very K^rooked. Doable-
dick, looking up to steady his vision^ met the eyes that had se
strong an influeoce over him. He put his hand before his ova
eyes, and the breast of hia diagraoe^jacket swelled as if it woaM
fly asunder.

"I would rather," said the young Captain, '^see this ia yea,
Donblediok, than I would see five thonsaad guineas eowiled
out upon this table for a gift to my fi^ood pother. Have you a
mother ?"

"I am thankful to say she is dead, sir.^'

** If your praise," returned the Captain, *' were aouadad fmi
mouth to mouth through the whole regiment, through the whola
army, through the whole country^ you would wish she had
lived, to say with pride and joy, ' He is my son f "

''Spare me, sir;" said Doubledick. " She would nevtr base

Digitized by



beard any good of me. She would never hare had any prido^
and joy in owning herself my mother. Lote and compassion
she might have had, and wonld have always had, I know ; but

uot Spare me, sir I I am a broken wretch, quite at yotir

mercy P And he turned his fece to the wall, and stretched
out his imploring hand.

" My friend ^ began the captain.

"God bless you, sir!" sobbed Private Richard Doubledick.
''You are at the crisis of your fate. Hold your course un-
chapged, a little longer, and yon know what must happen. /
know even better than yon can imagine, that after that has
happened, you are lost. Ko man who could shed those tears,
could bear those marks.''

"I fully believe it, sir,'* in a low, shiverhig voice, said
Private Kichard Doubledick.

'* But a man in any station can do his duty,'' said the young
Captain, "and, in doing it, can earn his own respect, even if
his case should be so very unfortunate and so very rare, that
he can earn no other man's, A common soldier, poor brute
though you called him Just now, has this advantage in the
stormy times we live in, that he always does his duty before a
host of sympathizing witnesses. Bo you doubt that he may
so do it as to be extolled through a whole regiment, through a
whole army, through a whole country f Turn while you may
yet retrieve the past, and try."

" I will I I ask for only one witness, sir," cried Richard, with
a bursting heart.

**I understand you. 1 wili be a watchful and a faithful one "

I have heard from Private Richard Doubledick's own lips,

that he dropped down upon his knee, kissed that officer's hand,

arose, and went out of the light of the dark bright eyes, an

altered man.

In that year, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine,
the French were in Egypt, in Italy, in Germany. Where not ?
Kapoleon Bonaparte had likewise begun to stir against us in
India, and most men could read the signs of the great troubles
that were coming on. In the very next year, when we formed
an alliance with Austria against him. Captain Taunton's regi-
ment was on service in India. And there was not a finer noii-

Digitized by



commissioned ofiicer in it — no, nor in the wkole line^thaa
Corporal Richard Doubledick.

In eighteen hundred and one, the Indian array were on the
coast of Egypt. Next year was the year of the proclamation of
the short peace, and they were recalled. It had then become well
known to thousands of men, that wherever Captain Taantoo, with
the dark bright eyes, led, there, close to him, ever at his side, firm
as a rock, true as the sun, and brave as Mars^ would be certaia
to be found, while life beat in their hearts, that famous sokUer,
Sergeant Richard Doubledick.

. Eighteen hundred and five, besides being the great year of
Trafalgar, was a year of hard fighting in India. That year sat
such wonders done by a Sergeant-Majori who cut his way single-
handed through a solid mass pf men^ recovered the colors of bit
regiment which had been seized from the hands of a poor boj
shot through the heart, and rescued his wounded captain, who
was down, and in a very jungle of hors<es' hoofs and sabres — saw
such wonders done, I say, by this brave Sergeant-Migor, that be
was especially made the bearer of the colors he had worn; and
I2usign Richard Doubledick had risen from the ranks.

Sorely cut up in every battle, but always reinfon*ed by the
i)ravest of men — for, the fame of following the old colors, shot
through and through, which Ensign Richard Doubledick had
^aved, inspired all breasts — this regiment fought its way through
the Peninsular war, up to the investment of Badajoz in eighteen
hundred and twelve* Again and again it had been cheered
through the British ranks until the tears had sprung into mea-s
eyes at the mere hearing of the mighty British voice so exultant
in their valor; and there was not a drummer-boy but knew the
legend, that wherever the two friends, Major Taunton with the
dark bright eyes, and Ensign Richard Doubledick who was
devoted to him, were seen to go, there the boldest spirits in the
English army became wild to follow.

One day, at Badajoz — not in the great storming, but in
repelling a hot sally of the besieged upon our men at work
in the trenches, who had given way, the two oflicers found
themselves hurrying forward, face to face, against a party of
French infantry who made a stand. There was an officer at
.their head, encouraging bis men — a courageous, handsome, gal*

Digitized by



laBt officer of five and thirty — w'bom Doabledick saw harriedly,
Almost momentarily, bat saw irell. He particalariy eotiood
this officer was waving his sword, and rallying his men with aa
eager and excited cry, when they fired in obedience to his ges-
ture, and Major Tavnton dropped.

It was over in ten minutes more, and Donbledick retamed
to the spot where he had laid the best friend man ever had, on
a coat spread upon the wet clay. Major Taunton's uniform
was opened at ^e breast, and on his shirt were three little
apots of l^ood.

" Dear Doubledick," said he, " I am dying."
' " For the love of Heaven, no I" exclaimed the other, kneel-
ing down beside htm, and passing his arm round his neck to
raise his head. " Taanton 1 My preserver, my guardian angel^
ny witness 1 Dearest, trnest^ kindest of human beings 1
Taunton ! For God's sake l'^

The bright dark eyesr-flo very, very dark now, in the pale
face — smiled upon him ; and the hand he had kissed thirteen
years ago, laid itself fondly on his breast

^ Write to my mother. Yon will see home again. Tell her
how we became friends. It will comfort her as it comforts

He spoke no more, bat faintly signed for a moment toward
his hair as it fluttered in the wind. The Ensign understood
him. He smiled again when he saw that» and gently turning
his face over on the supporting arm as if for rest, died, witJb
his hand upon the breast in which he had revived a soul.

No dt7 eye looked onEnftign RiehKrd Donbledick that
mehineholy day* He buried bis friend on the field, and becaDbe"
a lone, bereaved man. Beyond his duty he appeared to haver
but two rematoing cares in lift; obe, to preserve the little
packet of hair he was to give to Taunton's mother ; the other,
to encounter that French officer who had rallied the men under
whose fire Taunton fell A new legend now began to circulate
among our troops ; and it was, that when he and the French
^cer came iace to face once more, there would be weeping in

The war went on — and through it went the exact picture of
the French officer on the otme side, ftnd the bodily rpality upon

Digitized by



the othef-^nntil the Battle of Toalotise was fbught In the
returns sent home, appeared these words : '' Sererelj woonde^
hni not dangeronslj, Lieateoant Richard Doubledick."

At midsamiDer time in the year eighteen hnndred and four-
teen, Lieutenant Richard Doubledick, now a browned soldiet;
seyen and thirty yea;rs of age, came home to England iaraltded.
Ho brought the hair with him, near his heart. Mauy a French
ofScer had he seen, since that day ; many a dreadfol night ia
searching with men and lanterns for his wounded, had he re-
lieved French officers lying disabled ; but the raetital pictora
and tlie reality had never come together.

Though he was weak and suffered pain, he lost not an hoar
in getting down to Frome in Somersetshire, where Taunton's
mother lived. In the sweet compassionate words that naturaUj
present thems^ves to the mind to-night, " he was the only sob
of his mother, and she was a widow.'*

It was a Shmday evening and the lady sat at her quiet gar-
den-window, reading the Bible ; reading to l^ereelf, ia a
trembling voice, that very passage in it as I have heard htm
tell. He heard the words, "Yonng man, I say onto thee
arise I"

He had to pass the window ; and the bright dark eyes of hil
debased time seemed to look at him. Hef heart told her who
he was ; she came to the door quickly, and fell upon hfs neck.

** He saved me from rnin, made me a hnman oreslore, won
me from infamy and shame. O Ood, fSc^rever bless him I As
He will, He will I**

" He will t^' the tady answered. " I know he is in Heavea !**
Then she piteonsly cried, *' Bat O, ray darting boy, my darTmff
boy I"

Never, from the honr when Private Richard Donhlediek en-
listed at Chatham, had the Private, Oorporal, Sergeant, 8eiw
gcant-Major, Ensign, or Lieutenant, breathed his right nam^
or the name of Mary Marshall, or a word of the story of his
life, into any ear, except his reclaimer's. That preirlons scene
In his existence was closed. He tiad firmly resolved that hk
expiation should be, to live unknown ; to disturb no more the
peace that had long grown over his old ofltenses ; to let it be
revv'aled when he was dead, tiial he had atrlTen and aaftrtd,

Digitized by



and had never forgotten ; and then, if they eoald forgirc him
and believe him — well, it would be time enough — time enough 1

But that night, remembering the words he had cherished for
two years, " Tell her how we became friends. It will comfort
her as it comforts me," he related every thing. It gradually
seemed to him as if in his maturity he had recovered a mother ;
it gradually seemed to her as if in her bereavement she had
found a son. During his stay in England, the quiet garden
into which he had slowly and painfully crept, a stranger, be-
eame the boundary of his home ; when he was able to rejoin
his regiment in the spring, he left the garden, thinking this was
indeed the first time be had ever turned his face toward the old
Colors, with a woman^s blessing I

He Allowed them — so ragged, so scarred and pierced now,
that they would scarcely hold together — to Quatre Bras, and
Ligny. He stood beside them, in an awfiil stillness of many
men, shadowy throngh the mist and drizzle of a wet June fore*
noon, on the field of Waterloo. And down to that hour, the
picture in his mind of the French officer had never been com-
pared with the reality.

The famous regiment was in action early in the battle, and
received its first cheek in many an eventful year, when he was
seen to fall. But ft swept on to avenge him, and left behind
no sncfa creature in the world of consciousness as Lieutenant
Richard Doubledick.

Through pits of mire, and pools of rain ; along deep ditches,
once roads that were pounded and plowed to pieces by artil-
lery, heavy wagons, tramp of men and horses, and the struggle
of every wheeled thing that could carry wounded soldiers;
jolted among the dying and the dead, so disfigured by blood
and mod as to be hardly recognizable for humanity ; undis-
turbed by the moaning of men and the shrieking of horses,
which, newly taken from the peaceful pursuits of life, conld
ilot endure the sight of the stragglers lying by the wayside,
never to resume their toilsome journey ; dead, as to any sentient
Hfe that was in it, and yet alive ; the form that had been Lien-
tenant Richard Doubledick, with whose praises England rang,
was conveyed to Brussels. There it was tenderly laid down in
hospital : and tliere it lay week after week, through the long

Digitized by



bright summer days until the harvest, spared by war, bad
ripeued and was gathered in.

Over and over again the sun rose and set apou the crowded
city ; over and over again, the moonlight nights were quiet oa
the plains of Waterloo ; and all that time was a blank to what
bad been Lieutenant Richard Doubledick. Rejoicing troopfl
marched into Brussels, and marched out ; brothers and fathen,
sisters^ mothers, and wives, came thronging thither, drew their
lots of joy or agony, and departed ; so many times a day the
bells rang ; so many times the shadows of the great bnilding
changed ; so many lights sprang up at dusk ; so many feet
passed here and there upon the pavements ; so many hoars of
sleep and cooler air of night succeeded ; indifferent to all, a
marble face lay on a bed, like the face of a recumbent statao
on the tomb of Lieutenant Richard Doubledick.

Slowly laboring at last, through a long heavy dream of cod*
fused time and place, presenting faint glimpses of army surgeons
whom he knew, and oi faces that had been familiar to his youth
— dearest and kindest among them, Mary MarshalPs, with i
solicitude upon it more like reality than any thing be could
discern — Lieutenant Richard Doubledick came back to life.
To the beautiful life of a calm autumn evening sunset. To tha
peaceful life of a fresh quiet room with a large window stand-
ing open ; a balcony, beyond, in which were moving leaves and
sweet-smelling flowers ; beyond again, the clear sky, with the
sun full in his sight, pouring its golden radiance on his bed.

It was so tranquil and so lovely, that he thought he had
passed into another world. And he said in a faint voice
" Taunton, are you near me ?"

A face bent over him. Not his ; his mother's.

*' I came to nurse yon. We have nursed you many weeks.
Tou were moved here, long ago. Do you remember nothing r*


The lady kissed his cheek, and held his hand, sootbiag

** Where is the regiment ? What has happened t Let Wf$
call yon mother. What has happened, mother ?"

" A great victory, dear. The war is over, and the regimeat
was the bravest in the field.''

Digitized by



His eyes kindled, hts lips trembled, he sobbed, and the tears
r&n down his face. He was verj weak : too weak to move his

" Was it dark jast now ?'' he asked presently.


" It was only dark to me ! Something passed away like a
Mack shadow. Bot as it went, and the son — O the blessed Bun
how beaatifal it is I — touched my face, I thongfat I saw a light
white clood pass-out at the door. Was there nothing that
irent out f"

She shook her head, and in a little while he fell asleep : she
still holding his hand and soothing him.

Prom that time, he recovered. Slowly, for he had been
desperately wounded in the head, and had been shot in the
bodj : but making some little advance every day. When he
Jiad gained sufficient strength to converse as he lay in bed, he
soon began to remark that Mrs. Taunton always brought him
back to his own history. Then he recalled his preserver's dying
words, and«thought^ '*it comforts her."

Online LibraryCharles DickensCharles Dickens' complete works → online text (page 50 of 84)