Charles Dickens.

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that fringe those river-banks ; the long white roads, hedgeless,
bnt^ oh ! 60 dismally ditchful ; the long low stone walls ; the
long farm-houses, without a spark of the robust, leafy, cheerful
life of the English homesteads ; the long fields, scarcely ever
green, but of an ashen tone, wearily furrowed, as though the
earth had grown old and was beginning to show the crow's
feet ; the long interminable gray French landscape ? The sky
itself seems longer than it ought to be ; and the clouds stretch
away to goodness knows where in long low banks, as if the
heavens had been ruled with a parallel. If a vehicle passes
yoa it is only a wofully long diligence — lengthened yellow ugli-
ness long drawn out, with a seemingly endless team of horses,
and a long, stiffling cloud of dust behind it ; a driver for the
wheelers with a whip seven times as long as it ought to be ;
and a postillion for the leaders with boots long enough for seven*
leaguers. His oaths are long ; the horses' manes are long ; their
tails are so long that they are obliged to have them tied up
with straw. The stages are long, the journey long, the
fares long — the whole iongtitndinal carriage leaves a long
melancholy jingle of bells behind it

Yes : French scenery is very lengthy ; so I settled in my
nund, at leasts as I walked with long strides along the white
French road. A longer me — my shadow — walked before
me, bending its back and drooping its arms, and angn«
larixing its elongated legs like drowsy compasses. The shadow


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looked tired ; I felt so. I had been oppressed by length all day.
I had passed a long procession — some hundreds of boys in gray
great coats and red trowsers : soldiers. I had found their gans and
bayonets too long ; their coats disproportionately lengthy ; the
mustaches of their officers, ridiculously elongated. There was no
end of them — their rolling drams, baggage wagons, and led horses.
I had passed a team of bullocks plowing ; they looked as long as
the lane that hath no turning. A long mao followed them smoking
a long pipe. A wretched pig I saw, too — a long, lean, bristly,
lanky-legged monstrosity, without even a curiy tail, for his tail
was long and pendant; a miserable pig, half-flnonted graj-
hound, half-abashed weazel, whole hog, and an eyesore to me.
I was a long way from home. I had the spleen, I wanted
something short — not to drink, but a short break in the longlaiid-
scape, a house, a knoll, a clump of trees — any thing to reliefe
this long purgatory.

Whenever I feel inclined to take a more than ordinarily dis-
mal view of things, I find it expedient to take a pipe of tobacco
instead. As I wanted to rest, however, as well as smoke, I
had to walk another long mile, when I descried a house, in
front whereof was a huge felled tree ; and on the tree I sat, and
lighted my pipe. The day was of no particular character
whatever ; neither wet nor dry, cold nor hot — neither springy,
summery, autumnal, nor winter.

The house I was sitting opposite to might have been one of
public entertainment (for it was a cabaret) if there had been
any public in the neighborhood to be entertained, which (mt-
self excepted) I considered doubtful. It seemed to me as if
Bacchus, roving about on the loose, bad dropped a stray tub
here on the solitary road, and no longer coming that way, tho
tub itself had gone to decay — had become unhooped, mouldy,
leaky. I declare that, saving a certain fancifbl resemblance to
the barrel on which the god of wine is generally supposed to
take horse exercise, the house had no more shape than a lamp
of cheese that one might dig hap-hazard from a soft double
Gloucester. The windows were patches and the door-way h*d
evidently been made subsequently to the erection of the boiM-
ing, and looked like an excrescence as it was. The top of tfca
house had been pelted with mud, thatch, tiles, and slates, ratta

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than roofed ; and a top room jutted out laterally fVom ooe of
the walls, supported beneath by erasy uprights, like a poor re*
Ution clinging to a genteel kinsman nearly as poor. The wallg
bad been plastered once, but the plaster had peeled off in places,
and mod and wattles peeped through like a beggar's bare kne«
through his torn trowsers. An anomalous wooden ruin, that
might have been a barrel in the beginning, then a dog-kennel,
then a dust-bin, then a ben-ooop, seemed fast approximating
(eked out by some rotten pailings and half a deal box) to a
pigstye: perhaps my enemy the long pig with the pendant
tail lived there when he was at home. A lively old birch*
broom, senile but twiggy, thriving under a kindly manure of
broken bottles and wood-ashes, was the only apology for trees,
hedges, or vegetation generally, visible. If wood was deficient,
however, there was plenty of water. Behind the house, where
it had been apparently raining for some years, a highly respect-
able puddle, as far as mud and stagnation went, had formed,
and on the surface of it drifted a solitary, purposeless, soleleaa
old shoe, and one dismal duck, which no amount of green peas
would have ever persuaded me to eat There was a chimney to
the house, but not in the proper place, of course ; it came out
of one of the walls, close to the impromptu pigstye, in the shape
of a rusty, batttered iron funnel. There had never been any
thing to speak of done in the way of painting to the house ;
only some erratic journeyman painter passing that way had
tried bis brushes, in red, green, and yellow smudges on the
wall ; had commenced dead coloring one of the window sills ;
and had then given it up as a bad job. Some pretentions an«
Doonceraents relative to " good wines and liquors" and *' II y a
on billard," there had been once above the door, but the rain
had washed out some of the letters, and the smoke had ob-
scored others, and the plaster had peeled off from beneath more;
and some, perhaps, the writer had never finished ; so the inscrip-
tions were a mere wandering piece of idiotcy now. If any
thing were wanted to complete the general wretchedness of this
bouse of dismal appearance, it would have been found in the
presence of a ghostly set of ninepins that Rip Van Winkle
might have played with.

Ail these things were not calculated to inspire cheerfulnesa.

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I <;oTitinned smoking, however, and thoQghc that, by-and-bj, I
would enter the cabaret, and see if there were any live people
there ; which appeared unlikely.

All at once, there came ont to me from the hoose a little
man. It is not at all derogating from bis manhood, to state
that he was also a little boy, of perhaps eight years old ; bat
in look, in eye, in weird fur-cap, in pea-coat, blue canms trow-
sers, and sabots, he was at least thirty-seven years of age. He
had a remarkable way, too, of stroking his chin with his band.
He looked at me long and fully, bet without the slightest rode-
ness or intmsive curiosity ; then sitting by my side on the great
felled tree, he smoked a mental pipe (so it appeared to me),
while I smoked a material one. Once, I think, he softly felt
the texture of my coat ; but I did not turn my head, and pre-
tended not to notice.

We were getting on thus, very sociably together, withort
saying a word, when, having finished my pipe, I replaced it in
my pouch, and began to remove a little of the superfluous dost
from my boots. My pulverous appearance was the cue for the
little man to address himself to speech.

" I see," said he, gravely, " you are one of those Poor Trav-
elers whom mamma tells us we are to take such care of. Attead
attend ; I will do your affair for you in a moment."

He trotted across to the cabaret, and after a lapse of two or
three minutes returned with a tremendous hunch of bread, t
cube of cheese — which smelt, as the Americans say, rather loud,
but was excellently well tasted — and an anomalous sort of ves-
sel, that was neither a jug, a mug, a cup, a glass, nor a piat*
pot, but partook of the characteristics of all — full of Maeoo

"This is Friday," added the Kttle man, "and meagre day,
else should you be regaled with sausage — and of Lyons— of
which we have as long as that." Saying which, he exteaded
his little wrms to perhaps half a yard's distance one from tte

I did not care to inform the little man that I was of a per-
suasion that did not forbid the eating of sausages on Fridays.
I ate the bread and cheese, and drank the wine, all of which
were very good and very palatable, very coutentally — the little

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mae sitting by, the while, narsin^ one of his short le^ and
talking to himself softly.

When I had finished, I lighted another pipe, and went in for
conversation with the little man. We soon exhausted the or-
dinary topics of conrersation, such as the weather, the distance
from the last town, and the distance to the next. I found that
the little man's forte was interrogatory, and let him have his
swing that way.

" Yon come from a long way ?" he asked.

*' A long way," I answered. " Prom beyond the Sous-pre-
fectore, beyond Nantes, beyond Brest and L'Orient."

" Bat from a town always ? Yon come from a town where
there are a great many people, and where they make wheels ?"

I answered that I came from a large town, and that I had
no doabt, though I had no personal experience in the matter,
that wheels were made there.

'* And cannot yon make wheels ?"

I told him I was not a wheelwright : I only made the wheels
of watches, which were not the wheels he meant.

'' Beeanse,'' the little man went on to say softly, and more to
himself than to me, " mamma said she liked to live in towns,
where there were many people, and M. le Cure said that wher-
ever wheels were made he could gain his bread.'*

I coald not make much of this statement, so I puffed away
at ray pipe and listened.

" By the way," my small but elderly companion remarked,
** would you have any objection to my bringing my sister to
yon f '*

The more I saw of so original a family the better, I thought,
8o I told him, I should be delighted to see his sister.

He crossed over to the cabaret again, and almost immediately
afterward returned, leading a little maid.

She seemed about a year younger or a year older than her
brother. I could not tell which. It did not matter which.
She was very fair, and her auburn locks were confined beneath
a little prim blue cap. Mittens, a striped woolen shirt, a smart
white chemisette, blue hose, and trim little sabots — all these
had the little maid. She had a little chain and golden cross, a
pair of scissors hanging by a string to her girdle, a black tabl-

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W!t apron, and a little silver ring on the forefinger of ber left
hand. Her eyes were very blue, but thej conld not see my
musty boots, my pipe, and three days' beard. They coold not
see the great felled tree, her brother in his pea-coat, the sky,
the sun going down beyond the long, straight banks of trees.
They had never seen any of these things. The little maid was

Site had known all about me, however, as far as the booti»
the pipe, the dust, the bread and cheese, and my having come a
long way, and not being a wheelwright, went, long since. At
least she seemed qnite an fait on general topics connected with
my social standing, or rather sitting, on the tree ; and taking a
seat on one side me, her brother, the little roan, on the other,
the two little children began to chatter most ddigbtfiilly.

Mamma worked in the fields — in her own fields. She had
three fields — fields large as that (distance measured by little
maid's arms, after the manner of ber brother in reference to
the sausage question). Papa made wheels. They loved him
very much, but be beat mamma and drank wine by cannons.
When he was between two wines (that is, dnrok) be knocked
Lili's head against the wall (Lili was the little man). When
M. le Cure tried to bring him to a sense of the moral, he
laughed at his nose. He was a farcer, was papa. He rasdt
beautiful wheels, and earned money like that (arm meaanremeiiC
again), except when he went weddingising (nocer), when he
always came back between two wines, and between the two fell
to the ground. Papa went away a long Ume, a very long tiaie
ago — before the white calf at the farm was bom. Before Aa-
dre drew the bad number in the conscription, and went away to
Africa. Before Lili had his grand malady (little man looked a
hundred years old with the conscious experience of a giand
malady. What was it f Elephanttasis^ spasmodic neuralgia f
Something wonderful, with a long name, I am sore). Papa
sold the brown horse, and the great bed in oak, before he west
away. He also brised mamma's head with a bottle previous to
his departure. He was coming back some day. He was saw
to come back. M. le Cure said no, and that he was a worth-
nothing, but mamma said yes, and cried — though for wy part;"
concluded the little maid, when between herself and brothff

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aii6 bad told me all tbis, ** I tbink tbat poor papa never will
-eame back, but be baA gone awaj among tbose Bedouin Turks,
who are so mecbants, and that they have eaten him up.'^

The little blind ftury made this statement with an air of sacb
positive yet mild convicUon, crossing her mites of hands in hei
lap as she did so, that for a moment I wonld have no more ai-
tjinpted to question the prevalence of cannibalism in Constanti-
nople than to deny the existence of the setting sun.

While these odd little people were thus entertaining me,
Heaven knows where my tbonghts were wandering. This strange
life they lead. The mother away at work, the drunken wheeU
Wright father a ftigitive (he must have been an nwfbl ruffian),
and, strangest of all strange phases, that these two little ones
shoald be left to keep a public house f I thought of all these
things, and then my thoughts came back to, and centred them-
flelvea in, the weird little figure of the blind girl beside me.
It was but a poor Hltle blind girl, in a blue petticoat and sa-
bots ; yet so exquisitely regular were the features, so golden the
llalr, so firm, and smooth, and white-^not marble, not wax, not
ivory, yet partaking of all three, the complexion, so symmetrical
every line, and so gloriously harmonious the whole combination
of lines, that the little maid might have been taken then and
there as she sat, popped in a frame, wil^ '* RafTaelle pinxit " in
the corner, and purchased on the nail for five thousand guineas.

I conid not help noticing from time to time, during our
conversation, that the little man in the pea-coat turned aside to
whisper somewhat mysteriously to his sister, and then looked
at nie more mysteriously still. He appeared to have something
on his mind, and after a nod of apparent acquiescence on the
part of the little blind girl, it soon came out what the some-
thing was.

" My sister and I," said this small person, "hope that you
will not be offended with us, but would you have any objection
to show us your tongue ?"

This ^as emphatically a startler. Could the little mnn be
a physician as well as a publican f I did as he asked me,
though I am afi*aid I looked very foolish, and shut my eyes
as I thrnst forth the member he desired to inspect. He ap
peared highly gratified with the sight of my tongue, communi

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eating the resalts of his observation thereof to his sister, wlo
clapped her hands and seemed much pleased. Then he gow)^
scended to explain.

"Ton see,'' said he, ''that yoa told as that joa cftme from
a distant country ; that is well seen, for though you speak
French like a little sheep, yoa do not speak it with the sum
tongue that we do."

My experience in the court-martial scene in Black-Ejed
Susan had taught me that it was possible to play the fiddle
like an angel ; but this was the first time I had ever heard of t
grown man talking like a little sheep. I took it as a compli-
menty howerer (whether I was right or wrong in doing so ii
questionable), and waited to hear more*

'' And my sister says that the reason why strangers from fitf
countries cannot speak as we do, is because they hare a daifc
line right down their tongues. Now you must have a line
down your tongue, though 1 am not tall enough to see it P

The creed of this valiant little fellow in respect to lioes aad
tongues had evidently been built long since upon a rock of agei
of loving faith in what his sister had told him. Besides, bow do
I know 7 I never saw my tongue except in a looking-glass, and
that may have been false* My tongue may have five hoadred
lines crossing it at every imaginable angle for aught I know.

So we three, oddly assorted trio, went chattering on, till the
shadows warned me that twilight was fast approaching, and
that I had two miles to walk to the town where I had appointed
to sleep. Remembering, then, that the little man had "doM
my affair for me," in an early stage of our interview, in the
way of bread and cheese and wine, and not choosing to Im
really the poor traveler I seemed, I drew out a five-franc piece
and proffered payment.

Both the children refused the coin, and the little maid said
gravely, ** Mamma said that we were always to take care of
poor travelers. What we have given you is pour Tamoor de
Dieu — for God's sake."

I tried to force some trifle on them as a gfift, but they would
have none of my coin. Seeing that I looked somewhat disap-
pointed, the little roan, like a profound diplomatist that he was,
smoothed awoj the difficulty in a moment

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" If you like to go as far as you can see to the right, toward
the town," he said, " you will find a blind old woman playing
upon a flageolet and sitting at a cake-stall by the way-side.
And if yon like to buy us some gingerbread, for three sous she
will give you — oh ! like that I" For the last time in this his-
tory he extended his arms in sign of measurement.

I went as far as I could see, which was not far, and found the
blind old woman playing on a flageolet, and not seeing at all.
Of her did I purchase gingerbread, with brave white almonds
in it, following my own notions of measurement, I may hint, in
respect to the number of sous worth.

Bringing it back to the children, I took them up and kissed
them and bade them good-by. Then I left them to the gin-
gerbread and the desolate cabaret, until mamma should return
from the fields, and that famous domestic institution, the
** soupe," of which frequent mention had already been made
during our intercourse, should be ready.

I have never seen them since ; I shall never see them again :
bat, if it ever be my lot to be no longer solitary, I pray that I
may have a boy and girl as wise and good and innocent, as I
am aure those little children were.

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Was the little widow. She had been sitting by herself in thi
darkest corner of the room all this time : her pale face oflei
tamed anxiooslj toward the door, and her hollow eyes watching
restlessly, as if she expected some one tq appear. She was
very quiet, very grateful for any little kindness, very meek io the
midst of her wildness. There was a strained expression in ber
eyes, and a certain excited air about her altogether, that wai
very near insanity ; it seemed as if she had onoe been terrified
by some sadden shock to the verge of madness.

When her turn came to speak, she began in a low voice—
her eyes still glancing to the door — and spoke as if to herself
rather than to the rest of us : speaking low but rapidly — some-
what a like a somnambule repeating a leeson.

They advised me not to marry him {she began). They told
me he was wild — unprincipled — bad ; but I did not care for
what they said. I loved him and I disbelieved them. I never
thought about his goodness — I only knew that he was beautiful
and' gifted beyond all that I had ever met with in our narrow
society. I loved him with no passing school-girl fancy, bat
with my whole heart — my whole soul. I had no life, no joy,
no hope without him, and heaven would have been no bearen to
me if he had not been there. I say all this, simply to show
what a madness of devotion mine was.

My dear mother was very kind to me tbroogbout She bid
loved my father, I believe, almost to the same extent; so that
she could sympathize with me even while discouraging. Sho
told me that I was wrong and foolish, and that I should repeat;
but I kissed away the painful lines between her eyes, and made
her smile when I tried to prove to ber that love was t>etter than
prudence. So we married ; not so much without the consent
as against the wish of my family ; and even that wish withheld
in soiTow and in love. I remember all this now, and see the

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true proportions of every thing : then I was blinded by my pas-
sions, and understood nothing.

We went away to our pretty, bright home in one of the
neighborhoods of London, neat* a park. We lived there for
maoy months — I in a state of intoxication rather than of earthly
happiness ; and he was happy, too, then, for I am sure he was
innocent, and I know he loved me. Oh, dreams — dreams 1

I did not know my husband's profession. He was -always
bnsj and often absent; but he never told me what he did.
There had been no settlements either when I married. Ho
said he had a conscientious scmple against them ; that they
were insulting to a man's honor and degrading to any husband.
Tills was one of the reasons why, at home, they did not wish
rae to marry him. But I was only glad to be able to show him
how I tmsted him, by meeting his wishes and refusing, on my own
account, to accept the legal protection of settlements. It was
such a pride to me to sacrifice all to him. Thus I knew no-
thing of his real life — his pursuits or his fortunes. I never
asked him any questions, as much from indifference to every
thing but his love as from a wifely blindness of trust. When
be came home at night, sometimes very gay, singing opora songs
and calling me his little Medora, as he used when in a good
hamor, I was gay too, and gratefnl. And when he came home
moody and irritable — which he used to do, often, after we had
been married about three months, once even threatening to
strike me, with that fearful glare in his eyes I remember so well,
and used to see so often afterward — then I was patient and
silent, and never attempted even to take his hand or kiss his
forehead when he bade me be still and not interrupt him. He was
ray law, and his approbation the sunshine of my life ; so that
my very obedience was selfishness ; for my only joy was to see
him happy, and my only duty to obey him.

My sister came to visit us. My husband had seen very little
of her before our marriage ; for she had often been from home
when he was with us down at Hurst Farm — that was the name
of my dear mother's place-*— and I had always fancied they had
not liked even the little they had seen of each other. Ellen
was never loud or importunate in her opposition. I knew that
•ho did not like the marriage, but she did not interfere. I

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remember qnite well the only time she spoke openlj to me oa
the subject, how she flung herself at my knees, with a passion
very rare in her, beseeching me to pause and reflect, as if 1 had
sold myself to my ruin when I promised to be Harry's wife.
How she prayed I Poor Ellen I I can see her now, with her
heayy, uncurled hair falling on her neck as she knelt half un-
dressed, her large eyes full of agony and supplicatiou, like a
mart}Ted saint praying. Poor Ellen I I thought her prejudiced
then ; and this unspoken injustice has lain like a heavy crime
on my heart ever since ; for I know that I judged her wnwg-
fully, and that I was ungrateful for her love.

She came to see us. This was about a year and a half after
I married. She was more beautiful than ever, bat somewhat
sterner, as well as sadder. She was tall, strong in person, and
dignified in manner. There was a certain manly character io her
beauty, as well as in her mind, that made one respect and fear
her too a little. I do not mean that she was masculine, or

Online LibraryCharles DickensCharles Dickens' complete works → online text (page 55 of 84)