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turned her wedding-ring round and round upon her finger.

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

Master Adolphus, needing no second summons, received his
portion with eyes rendered moist by appetite, and withdrawing
to his particular stool, fell upon his supper tooth and naiL
Johnny was not forgotten, but received his rations on bread,
lest he should in a flush of gravy, trickle any on the baby.



34^ THE HAUNTED MAN.

He was required, for similar reasons, to keep his pudding,
when not on active service, in his pocket.

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

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

" My little woman," said Mr. Tetterby, " if the world -goes
that way, it appears to go the wrong way, and to choke you."

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

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



THE GIFT DIFFUSED. ^^o

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

" Oh ! " said Mr. Tetterby.

" 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 hus-
band, 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 consideration for Mrs. Tetterby's fairy-
like stature ; and if Mrs. Tetterby had been two feet high, she
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 hoHday, and
when all people who have got money, like to spend some, I
did, somehow, 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 calculating necessary, before I durst lay out a sixpence
for the commonest thing ; and the basket was so large, and
wanted so much in it ; and my stock of money was so small,



35°



THE HAUNTED MAN.



and would go such a little way ; — you hate me, don't you
'Dolphus ! "

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

" Well ! I'll tell you the whole truth," pursued his wife,
penitently, " and then perhaps you will. I felt all this, so
much, when I was trudging 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 mar-
ried at all, or if you had married somebody else ? "

" Yes," sobbed Mrs. Tetterby.—" That's really what I
thought. Do you hate me now, 'Dolphus ? "

" 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 sd
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, well, my dear," said Mr. Tetterby, shaking her
hand encouragingly, " that's truth after all. We are poor,
and there are 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,



THE GIFT DIFFUSED. 35 1

got to be so precious to me — Oh so priceless, and dear !—
tliat I couldn't bear to think how much I had wronged 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 ten-
derness and remorse, was weeping wdth 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 theii
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 unsteady 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 strange-
ness of her manner did not tend to reassure, addressed him-
self to the pale visitor in the black cloak, who stood still, and
whose eyes were bent upon the ground.

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

" I fear that my coming in unperceived," returned 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 t "

'' I am sorry for it. I remember to have observed her, for



352



THE HAUNTED MAN,



a few moments only, in the street. I had no intention ol
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 gentleman who is a student there^
lodges in your house, does he not ? "

" Mr. Denham ? " said Tette^by.

"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 forehead, and looked quickly round the
room, as though he were sensible of some change in its at-
mosphere. The Chemist, instantly transferring to him the
look of dread he had directed towards the wife, stepped
back, and his face turned paler.

" The gentleman's room," said Tetterby, " is up stairs, sir.
There's a more convenient private 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 communicating
directly with the parlor, "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 inexpli-
cable distrust that darkened it, seemed to trouble Mr. Tet*
terby. He paused ; and looking fixedly at him in return,
stood for a minute or so, like a man stupefied, or fascinated.

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

"No," replied the 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 quick^ss of his expression of this desire, and in
taking the candle from the newsman, he touched him on the
breast. Withdrawing his hand hastily, almost as though he
had wounded him by accident (for he did not krow in what
part of himself his new power resided, or how it was com-
municated, or how the manner of its reception varied in
different persons), he turned and ascended the stair.

But when he reached the top. he stopped and looked
down. The wife was standing in the same place, twisting her



THE GIFT DIFFUSED. 353

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-cor-
ner, and impatiently raking the small fire together, bent over
it as if he would monopolize 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 parlor from his view, he
went on, directing his eyes before him at the way he went.

" It is only since last night," he muttered, gloomil}^, "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 ? My mind is going blind ! "

' There was a door before him, and he knocked at it. Be-
ing 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 at-
tracted 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 hallowed like a sick man's
cheeks, and bricked into the centre of a hearth that it could
scarcely warm, contained the fire, to which his face was



354



THE HAUNTED MAN.



turned. Being so near the windy house-top, 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, be-
ing 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 soli-
tary scenes, the little miniatures upon the chimney-piece, and
the drawing of home ; — at that token of his emulation, per-
haps, in some sort, of his personal attachment too, the framed
engraving of himself, the lookers-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 Redlaw. Now, they were but objects ; or,
if any gleam of such connection shot upon him, it perplexed,
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 nearer to me. I 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 leaning 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 solitary. I received no other
description of him, than that he lived in this street. Begin-
ning my inquiries at the first house in it, I have found him."



THE GIFT DIFFUSED.



355



"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 be-
lieve — 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 near me."

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

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

The Chemist, in w^hom 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 men-
tioned to me down stairs, just now ; and I recollect your face.
We have held but ver}' little personal communication tO'
gether } "

" 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 expres-
sion of interest, but with a moody, w-ayward kind of curiosity.
^' Why } How comes it that you have sought to keep espe-
cially from me, the knowledge of your remaining here, at this
season, when all the rest have dispersed, and of your being
ill ? I w-ant to know w^hv this is ? "

The young man, w^ho had heard him with increasing agita-
tion, raised his downcast eyes to his face, and clasping his
hands together, cried with sudden earnestness and with trem-
bling 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 know.s I need none 1) of your natural kindness, and
oi the bar there is between us.''



356 ^-^^^ HAUNTED MAN.

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

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

" For Heaven's sake," entreated the shrinking student,
" do not let the mere interchange of a few words with me
change you like 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 Long-
ford—"

" Longford ! " 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 honored. Mr. Redlaw," hesitating, " I be-
lieve 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 honor and respect — with
something that was almost reverence. I have heard of such
devotion, of such fortitude and tenderness, 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 try 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^



THE GIFT DIFFUSED. 357

on that theme. But to one who — I may say, who felt no
common interest in my mother once — it may be something
to hear, now that is all past, with what indescribable feelings
of affection I have, in my obscurity, regarded him ; with what
pain and reluctance I have kept aloof from his encouragement,
when a word of it would have made me rich ; yet how I have
felt it fit that I should hold 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 anything 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, thoughtfully, 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
hands. " There can 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 offer.

" 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,



358



THE HAUNTED MAN.



with a wild unearthly exultation. " All best forgotten, are
they not ? " ,

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

" I can see very well now," she said, " thank you, Doll
Don't cry, dear. Father and mother will be comfortable
again, to-morrow, and home will be comfortable too. A gen-
tleman witvA 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 a steady quality of goodness
in her, that I dread to influence. I may be the murderer of
what is tenderest and best within her bosom."



Online LibraryCharles DickensChristmas stories → online text (page 32 of 36)