Wednesday, October 10, 2007


The Battle of Life by Charles Dickens

The Battle of Life by Charles Dickens
CHAPTER I - Part The First
Once upon a time, it matters little when, and in stalwart England,
it matters little where, a fierce battle was fought. It was fought
upon a long summer day when the waving grass was green. Many a
wild flower formed by the Almighty Hand to be a perfumed goblet for
the dew, felt its enamelled cup filled high with blood that day,
and shrinking dropped. Many an insect deriving its delicate colour
from harmless leaves and herbs, was stained anew that day by dying
men, and marked its frightened way with an unnatural track. The
painted butterfly took blood into the air upon the edges of its
wings. The stream ran red. The trodden ground became a quagmire,
whence, from sullen pools collected in the prints of human feet and
horses' hoofs, the one prevailing hue still lowered and glimmered
at the sun.
Heaven keep us from a knowledge of the sights the moon beheld upon
that field, when, coming up above the black line of distant risingground,
softened and blurred at the edge by trees, she rose into
the sky and looked upon the plain, strewn with upturned faces that
had once at mothers' breasts sought mothers' eyes, or slumbered
happily. Heaven keep us from a knowledge of the secrets whispered
afterwards upon the tainted wind that blew across the scene of that
day's work and that night's death and suffering! Many a lonely
moon was bright upon the battle-ground, and many a star kept
mournful watch upon it, and many a wind from every quarter of the
earth blew over it, before the traces of the fight were worn away.
They lurked and lingered for a long time, but survived in little
things; for, Nature, far above the evil passions of men, soon
recovered Her serenity, and smiled upon the guilty battle-ground as
she had done before, when it was innocent. The larks sang high
above it; the swallows skimmed and dipped and flitted to and fro;
the shadows of the flying clouds pursued each other swiftly, over
grass and corn and turnip-field and wood, and over roof and churchspire
in the nestling town among the trees, away into the bright
distance on the borders of the sky and earth, where the red sunsets
faded. Crops were sown, and grew up, and were gathered in; the
stream that had been crimsoned, turned a watermill; men whistled at
the plough; gleaners and haymakers were seen in quiet groups at
work; sheep and oxen pastured; boys whooped and called, in fields,
to scare away the birds; smoke rose from cottage chimneys; sabbath
bells rang peacefully; old people lived and died; the timid
creatures of the field, the simple flowers of the bush and garden,
grew and withered in their destined terms: and all upon the fierce
and bloody battle-ground, where thousands upon thousands had been
killed in the great fight. But, there were deep green patches in
the growing corn at first, that people looked at awfully. Year
after year they re-appeared; and it was known that underneath those
fertile spots, heaps of men and horses lay buried,
indiscriminately, enriching the ground. The husbandmen who
ploughed those places, shrunk from the great worms abounding there;
and the sheaves they yielded, were, for many a long year, called
the Battle Sheaves, and set apart; and no one ever knew a Battle
Sheaf to be among the last load at a Harvest Home. For a long
time, every furrow that was turned, revealed some fragments of the
fight. For a long time, there were wounded trees upon the battleground;
and scraps of hacked and broken fence and wall, where
deadly struggles had been made; and trampled parts where not a leaf
or blade would grow. For a long time, no village girl would dress
her hair or bosom with the sweetest flower from that field of
death: and after many a year had come and gone, the berries
growing there, were still believed to leave too deep a stain upon
the hand that plucked them.
The Seasons in their course, however, though they passed as lightly
as the summer clouds themselves, obliterated, in the lapse of time,
even these remains of the old conflict; and wore away such
legendary traces of it as the neighbouring people carried in their
minds, until they dwindled into old wives' tales, dimly remembered
round the winter fire, and waning every year. Where the wild
flowers and berries had so long remained upon the stem untouched,
gardens arose, and houses were built, and children played at
battles on the turf. The wounded trees had long ago made Christmas
logs, and blazed and roared away. The deep green patches were no
greener now than the memory of those who lay in dust below. The
ploughshare still turned up from time to time some rusty bits of
metal, but it was hard to say what use they had ever served, and
those who found them wondered and disputed. An old dinted
corselet, and a helmet, had been hanging in the church so long,
that the same weak half-blind old man who tried in vain to make
them out above the whitewashed arch, had marvelled at them as a
baby. If the host slain upon the field, could have been for a
moment reanimated in the forms in which they fell, each upon the
spot that was the bed of his untimely death, gashed and ghastly
soldiers would have stared in, hundreds deep, at household door and
window; and would have risen on the hearths of quiet homes; and
would have been the garnered store of barns and granaries; and
would have started up between the cradled infant and its nurse; and
would have floated with the stream, and whirled round on the mill,
and crowded the orchard, and burdened the meadow, and piled the
rickyard high with dying men. So altered was the battle-ground,
where thousands upon thousands had been killed in the great fight.
Nowhere more altered, perhaps, about a hundred years ago, than in
one little orchard attached to an old stone house with a
honeysuckle porch; where, on a bright autumn morning, there were
sounds of music and laughter, and where two girls danced merrily
together on the grass, while some half-dozen peasant women standing
on ladders, gathering the apples from the trees, stopped in their
work to look down, and share their enjoyment. It was a pleasant,
lively, natural scene; a beautiful day, a retired spot; and the two
girls, quite unconstrained and careless, danced in the freedom and
gaiety of their hearts.
If there were no such thing as display in the world, my private
opinion is, and I hope you agree with me, that we might get on a
great deal better than we do, and might be infinitely more
agreeable company than we are. It was charming to see how these
girls danced. They had no spectators but the apple-pickers on the
ladders. They were very glad to please them, but they danced to
please themselves (or at least you would have supposed so); and you
could no more help admiring, than they could help dancing. How
they did dance!
Not like opera-dancers. Not at all. And not like Madame Anybody's
finished pupils. Not the least. It was not quadrille dancing, nor
minuet dancing, nor even country-dance dancing. It was neither in
the old style, nor the new style, nor the French style, nor the
English style: though it may have been, by accident, a trifle in
the Spanish style, which is a free and joyous one, I am told,
deriving a delightful air of off-hand inspiration, from the
chirping little castanets. As they danced among the orchard trees,
and down the groves of stems and back again, and twirled each other
lightly round and round, the influence of their airy motion seemed
to spread and spread, in the sun-lighted scene, like an expanding
circle in the water. Their streaming hair and fluttering skirts,
the elastic grass beneath their feet, the boughs that rustled in
the morning air - the flashing leaves, the speckled shadows on the
soft green ground - the balmy wind that swept along the landscape,
glad to turn the distant windmill, cheerily - everything between
the two girls, and the man and team at plough upon the ridge of
land, where they showed against the sky as if they were the last
things in the world - seemed dancing too.
At last, the younger of the dancing sisters, out of breath, and
laughing gaily, threw herself upon a bench to rest. The other
leaned against a tree hard by. The music, a wandering harp and
fiddle, left off with a flourish, as if it boasted of its
freshness; though the truth is, it had gone at such a pace, and
worked itself to such a pitch of competition with the dancing, that
it never could have held on, half a minute longer. The applepickers
on the ladders raised a hum and murmur of applause, and
then, in keeping with the sound, bestirred themselves to work again
like bees.
The more actively, perhaps, because an elderly gentleman, who was
no other than Doctor Jeddler himself - it was Doctor Jeddler's
house and orchard, you should know, and these were Doctor Jeddler's
daughters - came bustling out to see what was the matter, and who
the deuce played music on his property, before breakfast. For he
was a great philosopher, Doctor Jeddler, and not very musical.
'Music and dancing TO-DAY!' said the Doctor, stopping short, and
speaking to himself. 'I thought they dreaded to-day. But it's a
world of contradictions. Why, Grace, why, Marion!' he added,
aloud, 'is the world more mad than usual this morning?'
'Make some allowance for it, father, if it be,' replied his younger
daughter, Marion, going close to him, and looking into his face,
'for it's somebody's birth-day.'
'Somebody's birth-day, Puss!' replied the Doctor. 'Don't you know
it's always somebody's birth-day? Did you never hear how many new
performers enter on this - ha! ha! ha! - it's impossible to speak
gravely of it - on this preposterous and ridiculous business called
Life, every minute?'
'No, father!'
'No, not you, of course; you're a woman - almost,' said the Doctor.
'By-the-by,' and he looked into the pretty face, still close to
his, 'I suppose it's YOUR birth-day.'
'No! Do you really, father?' cried his pet daughter, pursing up
her red lips to be kissed.
'There! Take my love with it,' said the Doctor, imprinting his
upon them; 'and many happy returns of the - the idea! - of the day.
The notion of wishing happy returns in such a farce as this,' said
the Doctor to himself, 'is good! Ha! ha! ha!'
Doctor Jeddler was, as I have said, a great philosopher, and the
heart and mystery of his philosophy was, to look upon the world as
a gigantic practical joke; as something too absurd to be considered
seriously, by any rational man. His system of belief had been, in
the beginning, part and parcel of the battle-ground on which he
lived, as you shall presently understand.
'Well! But how did you get the music?' asked the Doctor.
'Poultry-stealers, of course! Where did the minstrels come from?'
'Alfred sent the music,' said his daughter Grace, adjusting a few
simple flowers in her sister's hair, with which, in her admiration
of that youthful beauty, she had herself adorned it half-an-hour
before, and which the dancing had disarranged.
'Oh! Alfred sent the music, did he?' returned the Doctor.
'Yes. He met it coming out of the town as he was entering early.
The men are travelling on foot, and rested there last night; and as
it was Marion's birth-day, and he thought it would please her, he
sent them on, with a pencilled note to me, saying that if I thought
so too, they had come to serenade her.'
'Ay, ay,' said the Doctor, carelessly, 'he always takes your
'And my opinion being favourable,' said Grace, good-humouredly; and
pausing for a moment to admire the pretty head she decorated, with
her own thrown back; 'and Marion being in high spirits, and
beginning to dance, I joined her. And so we danced to Alfred's
music till we were out of breath. And we thought the music all the
gayer for being sent by Alfred. Didn't we, dear Marion?'
'Oh, I don't know, Grace. How you tease me about Alfred.'
'Tease you by mentioning your lover?' said her sister.
'I am sure I don't much care to have him mentioned,' said the
wilful beauty, stripping the petals from some flowers she held, and
scattering them on the ground. 'I am almost tired of hearing of
him; and as to his being my lover - '
'Hush! Don't speak lightly of a true heart, which is all your own,
Marion,' cried her sister, 'even in jest. There is not a truer
heart than Alfred's in the world!'
'No-no,' said Marion, raising her eyebrows with a pleasant air of
careless consideration, 'perhaps not. But I don't know that
there's any great merit in that. I - I don't want him to be so
very true. I never asked him. If he expects that I - But, dear
Grace, why need we talk of him at all, just now!'
It was agreeable to see the graceful figures of the blooming
sisters, twined together, lingering among the trees, conversing
thus, with earnestness opposed to lightness, yet, with love
responding tenderly to love. And it was very curious indeed to see
the younger sister's eyes suffused with tears, and something
fervently and deeply felt, breaking through the wilfulness of what
she said, and striving with it painfully.
The difference between them, in respect of age, could not exceed
four years at most; but Grace, as often happens in such cases, when
no mother watches over both (the Doctor's wife was dead), seemed,
in her gentle care of her young sister, and in the steadiness of
her devotion to her, older than she was; and more removed, in
course of nature, from all competition with her, or participation,
otherwise than through her sympathy and true affection, in her
wayward fancies, than their ages seemed to warrant. Great
character of mother, that, even in this shadow and faint reflection
of it, purifies the heart, and raises the exalted nature nearer to
the angels!
The Doctor's reflections, as he looked after them, and heard the
purport of their discourse, were limited at first to certain merry
meditations on the folly of all loves and likings, and the idle
imposition practised on themselves by young people, who believed
for a moment, that there could be anything serious in such bubbles,
and were always undeceived - always!
But, the home-adorning, self-denying qualities of Grace, and her
sweet temper, so gentle and retiring, yet including so much
constancy and bravery of spirit, seemed all expressed to him in the
contrast between her quiet household figure and that of his younger
and more beautiful child; and he was sorry for her sake - sorry for
them both - that life should be such a very ridiculous business as
it was.
The Doctor never dreamed of inquiring whether his children, or
either of them, helped in any way to make the scheme a serious one.
But then he was a Philosopher.
A kind and generous man by nature, he had stumbled, by chance, over
that common Philosopher's stone (much more easily discovered than
the object of the alchemist's researches), which sometimes trips up
kind and generous men, and has the fatal property of turning gold
to dross and every precious thing to poor account.
'Britain!' cried the Doctor. 'Britain! Holloa!'
A small man, with an uncommonly sour and discontented face, emerged
from the house, and returned to this call the unceremonious
acknowledgment of 'Now then!'
'Where's the breakfast table?' said the Doctor.
'In the house,' returned Britain.
'Are you going to spread it out here, as you were told last night?'
said the Doctor. 'Don't you know that there are gentlemen coming?
That there's business to be done this morning, before the coach
comes by? That this is a very particular occasion?'
'I couldn't do anything, Dr. Jeddler, till the women had done
getting in the apples, could I?' said Britain, his voice rising
with his reasoning, so that it was very loud at last.
'Well, have they done now?' replied the Doctor, looking at his
watch, and clapping his hands. 'Come! make haste! where's
'Here am I, Mister,' said a voice from one of the ladders, which a
pair of clumsy feet descended briskly. 'It's all done now. Clear
away, gals. Everything shall be ready for you in half a minute,
With that she began to bustle about most vigorously; presenting, as
she did so, an appearance sufficiently peculiar to justify a word
of introduction.
She was about thirty years old, and had a sufficiently plump and
cheerful face, though it was twisted up into an odd expression of
tightness that made it comical. But, the extraordinary homeliness
of her gait and manner, would have superseded any face in the
world. To say that she had two left legs, and somebody else's
arms, and that all four limbs seemed to be out of joint, and to
start from perfectly wrong places when they were set in motion, is
to offer the mildest outline of the reality. To say that she was
perfectly content and satisfied with these arrangements, and
regarded them as being no business of hers, and that she took her
arms and legs as they came, and allowed them to dispose of
themselves just as it happened, is to render faint justice to her
equanimity. Her dress was a prodigious pair of self-willed shoes,
that never wanted to go where her feet went; blue stockings; a
printed gown of many colours, and the most hideous pattern
procurable for money; and a white apron. She always wore short
sleeves, and always had, by some accident, grazed elbows, in which
she took so lively an interest, that she was continually trying to
turn them round and get impossible views of them. In general, a
little cap placed somewhere on her head; though it was rarely to be
met with in the place usually occupied in other subjects, by that
article of dress; but, from head to foot she was scrupulously
clean, and maintained a kind of dislocated tidiness. Indeed, her
laudable anxiety to be tidy and compact in her own conscience as
well as in the public eye, gave rise to one of her most startling
evolutions, which was to grasp herself sometimes by a sort of
wooden handle (part of her clothing, and familiarly called a busk),
and wrestle as it were with her garments, until they fell into a
symmetrical arrangement.
Such, in outward form and garb, was Clemency Newcome; who was
supposed to have unconsciously originated a corruption of her own
Christian name, from Clementina (but nobody knew, for the deaf old
mother, a very phenomenon of age, whom she had supported almost
from a child, was dead, and she had no other relation); who now
busied herself in preparing the table, and who stood, at intervals,
with her bare red arms crossed, rubbing her grazed elbows with
opposite hands, and staring at it very composedly, until she
suddenly remembered something else she wanted, and jogged off to
fetch it.
'Here are them two lawyers a-coming, Mister!' said Clemency, in a
tone of no very great good-will.
'Ah!' cried the Doctor, advancing to the gate to meet them. 'Good
morning, good morning! Grace, my dear! Marion! Here are Messrs.
Snitchey and Craggs. Where's Alfred!'
'He'll be back directly, father, no doubt,' said Grace. 'He had so
much to do this morning in his preparations for departure, that he
was up and out by daybreak. Good morning, gentlemen.'
'Ladies!' said Mr. Snitchey, 'for Self and Craggs,' who bowed,
'good morning! Miss,' to Marion, 'I kiss your hand.' Which he
did. 'And I wish you' - which he might or might not, for he didn't
look, at first sight, like a gentleman troubled with many warm
outpourings of soul, in behalf of other people, 'a hundred happy
returns of this auspicious day.'
'Ha ha ha!' laughed the Doctor thoughtfully, with his hands in his
pockets. 'The great farce in a hundred acts!'
'You wouldn't, I am sure,' said Mr. Snitchey, standing a small
professional blue bag against one leg of the table, 'cut the great
farce short for this actress, at all events, Doctor Jeddler.'
'No,' returned the Doctor. 'God forbid! May she live to laugh at
it, as long as she CAN laugh, and then say, with the French wit,
"The farce is ended; draw the curtain."'
'The French wit,' said Mr. Snitchey, peeping sharply into his blue
bag, 'was wrong, Doctor Jeddler, and your philosophy is altogether
wrong, depend upon it, as I have often told you. Nothing serious
in life! What do you call law?'
'A joke,' replied the Doctor.
'Did you ever go to law?' asked Mr. Snitchey, looking out of the
blue bag.
'Never,' returned the Doctor.
'If you ever do,' said Mr. Snitchey, 'perhaps you'll alter that
Craggs, who seemed to be represented by Snitchey, and to be
conscious of little or no separate existence or personal
individuality, offered a remark of his own in this place. It
involved the only idea of which he did not stand seized and
possessed in equal moieties with Snitchey; but, he had some
partners in it among the wise men of the world.
'It's made a great deal too easy,' said Mr. Craggs.
'Law is?' asked the Doctor.
'Yes,' said Mr. Craggs, 'everything is. Everything appears to me
to be made too easy, now-a-days. It's the vice of these times. If
the world is a joke (I am not prepared to say it isn't), it ought
to be made a very difficult joke to crack. It ought to be as hard
a struggle, sir, as possible. That's the intention. But, it's
being made far too easy. We are oiling the gates of life. They
ought to be rusty. We shall have them beginning to turn, soon,
with a smooth sound. Whereas they ought to grate upon their
hinges, sir.'
Mr. Craggs seemed positively to grate upon his own hinges, as he
delivered this opinion; to which he communicated immense effect -
being a cold, hard, dry, man, dressed in grey and white, like a
flint; with small twinkles in his eyes, as if something struck
sparks out of them. The three natural kingdoms, indeed, had each a
fanciful representative among this brotherhood of disputants; for
Snitchey was like a magpie or raven (only not so sleek), and the
Doctor had a streaked face like a winter-pippin, with here and
there a dimple to express the peckings of the birds, and a very
little bit of pigtail behind that stood for the stalk.
As the active figure of a handsome young man, dressed for a
journey, and followed by a porter bearing several packages and
baskets, entered the orchard at a brisk pace, and with an air of
gaiety and hope that accorded well with the morning, these three
drew together, like the brothers of the sister Fates, or like the
Graces most effectually disguised, or like the three weird prophets
on the heath, and greeted him.
'Happy returns, Alf!' said the Doctor, lightly.
'A hundred happy returns of this auspicious day, Mr. Heathfield!'
said Snitchey, bowing low.
'Returns!' Craggs murmured in a deep voice, all alone.
'Why, what a battery!' exclaimed Alfred, stopping short, 'and one -
two - three - all foreboders of no good, in the great sea before
me. I am glad you are not the first I have met this morning: I
should have taken it for a bad omen. But, Grace was the first -
sweet, pleasant Grace - so I defy you all!'
'If you please, Mister, I was the first you know,' said Clemency
Newcome. 'She was walking out here, before sunrise, you remember.
I was in the house.'
'That's true! Clemency was the first,' said Alfred. 'So I defy
you with Clemency.'
'Ha, ha, ha, - for Self and Craggs,' said Snitchey. 'What a
'Not so bad a one as it appears, may be,' said Alfred, shaking
hands heartily with the Doctor, and also with Snitchey and Craggs,
and then looking round. 'Where are the - Good Heavens!'
With a start, productive for the moment of a closer partnership
between Jonathan Snitchey and Thomas Craggs than the subsisting
articles of agreement in that wise contemplated, he hastily betook
himself to where the sisters stood together, and - however, I
needn't more particularly explain his manner of saluting Marion
first, and Grace afterwards, than by hinting that Mr. Craggs may
possibly have considered it 'too easy.'
Perhaps to change the subject, Dr. Jeddler made a hasty move
towards the breakfast, and they all sat down at table. Grace
presided; but so discreetly stationed herself, as to cut off her
sister and Alfred from the rest of the company. Snitchey and
Craggs sat at opposite corners, with the blue bag between them for
safety; the Doctor took his usual position, opposite to Grace.
Clemency hovered galvanically about the table, as waitress; and the
melancholy Britain, at another and a smaller board, acted as Grand
Carver of a round of beef and a ham.
'Meat?' said Britain, approaching Mr. Snitchey, with the carving
knife and fork in his hands, and throwing the question at him like
a missile.
'Certainly,' returned the lawyer.
'Do YOU want any?' to Craggs.
'Lean and well done,' replied that gentleman.
Having executed these orders, and moderately supplied the Doctor
(he seemed to know that nobody else wanted anything to eat), he
lingered as near the Firm as he decently could, watching with an
austere eye their disposition of the viands, and but once relaxing
the severe expression of his face. This was on the occasion of Mr.
Craggs, whose teeth were not of the best, partially choking, when
he cried out with great animation, 'I thought he was gone!'
'Now, Alfred,' said the Doctor, 'for a word or two of business,
while we are yet at breakfast.'
'While we are yet at breakfast,' said Snitchey and Craggs, who
seemed to have no present idea of leaving off.
Although Alfred had not been breakfasting, and seemed to have quite
enough business on his hands as it was, he respectfully answered:
'If you please, sir.'
'If anything could be serious,' the Doctor began, 'in such a - '
'Farce as this, sir,' hinted Alfred.
'In such a farce as this,' observed the Doctor, 'it might be this
recurrence, on the eve of separation, of a double birthday, which
is connected with many associations pleasant to us four, and with
the recollection of a long and amicable intercourse. That's not to
the purpose.'
'Ah! yes, yes, Dr. Jeddler,' said the young man. 'It is to the
purpose. Much to the purpose, as my heart bears witness this
morning; and as yours does too, I know, if you would let it speak.
I leave your house to-day; I cease to be your ward to-day; we part
with tender relations stretching far behind us, that never can be
exactly renewed, and with others dawning - yet before us,' he
looked down at Marion beside him, 'fraught with such considerations
as I must not trust myself to speak of now. Come, come!' he added,
rallying his spirits and the Doctor at once, 'there's a serious
grain in this large foolish dust-heap, Doctor. Let us allow today,
that there is One.'
'To-day!' cried the Doctor. 'Hear him! Ha, ha, ha! Of all days
in the foolish year. Why, on this day, the great battle was fought
on this ground. On this ground where we now sit, where I saw my
two girls dance this morning, where the fruit has just been
gathered for our eating from these trees, the roots of which are
struck in Men, not earth, - so many lives were lost, that within my
recollection, generations afterwards, a churchyard full of bones,
and dust of bones, and chips of cloven skulls, has been dug up from
underneath our feet here. Yet not a hundred people in that battle
knew for what they fought, or why; not a hundred of the
inconsiderate rejoicers in the victory, why they rejoiced. Not
half a hundred people were the better for the gain or loss. Not
half-a-dozen men agree to this hour on the cause or merits; and
nobody, in short, ever knew anything distinct about it, but the
mourners of the slain. Serious, too!' said the Doctor, laughing.
'Such a system!'
'But, all this seems to me,' said Alfred, 'to be very serious.'
'Serious!' cried the Doctor. 'If you allowed such things to be
serious, you must go mad, or die, or climb up to the top of a
mountain, and turn hermit.'
'Besides - so long ago,' said Alfred.
'Long ago!' returned the Doctor. 'Do you know what the world has
been doing, ever since? Do you know what else it has been doing?
I don't!'
'It has gone to law a little,' observed Mr. Snitchey, stirring his
'Although the way out has been always made too easy,' said his
'And you'll excuse my saying, Doctor,' pursued Mr. Snitchey,
'having been already put a thousand times in possession of my
opinion, in the course of our discussions, that, in its having gone
to law, and in its legal system altogether, I do observe a serious
side - now, really, a something tangible, and with a purpose and
intention in it - '
Clemency Newcome made an angular tumble against the table,
occasioning a sounding clatter among the cups and saucers.
'Heyday! what's the matter there?' exclaimed the Doctor.
'It's this evil-inclined blue bag,' said Clemency, 'always tripping
up somebody!'
'With a purpose and intention in it, I was saying,' resumed
Snitchey, 'that commands respect. Life a farce, Dr. Jeddler? With
law in it?'
The Doctor laughed, and looked at Alfred.
'Granted, if you please, that war is foolish,' said Snitchey.
'There we agree. For example. Here's a smiling country,' pointing
it out with his fork, 'once overrun by soldiers - trespassers every
man of 'em - and laid waste by fire and sword. He, he, he! The
idea of any man exposing himself, voluntarily, to fire and sword!
Stupid, wasteful, positively ridiculous; you laugh at your fellowcreatures,
you know, when you think of it! But take this smiling
country as it stands. Think of the laws appertaining to real
property; to the bequest and devise of real property; to the
mortgage and redemption of real property; to leasehold, freehold,
and copyhold estate; think,' said Mr. Snitchey, with such great
emotion that he actually smacked his lips, 'of the complicated laws
relating to title and proof of title, with all the contradictory
precedents and numerous acts of parliament connected with them;
think of the infinite number of ingenious and interminable chancery
suits, to which this pleasant prospect may give rise; and
acknowledge, Dr. Jeddler, that there is a green spot in the scheme
about us! I believe,' said Mr. Snitchey, looking at his partner,
'that I speak for Self and Craggs?'
Mr. Craggs having signified assent, Mr. Snitchey, somewhat
freshened by his recent eloquence, observed that he would take a
little more beef and another cup of tea.
'I don't stand up for life in general,' he added, rubbing his hands
and chuckling, 'it's full of folly; full of something worse.
Professions of trust, and confidence, and unselfishness, and all
that! Bah, bah, bah! We see what they're worth. But, you mustn't
laugh at life; you've got a game to play; a very serious game
indeed! Everybody's playing against you, you know, and you're
playing against them. Oh! it's a very interesting thing. There
are deep moves upon the board. You must only laugh, Dr. Jeddler,
when you win - and then not much. He, he, he! And then not much,'
repeated Snitchey, rolling his head and winking his eye, as if he
would have added, 'you may do this instead!'
'Well, Alfred!' cried the Doctor, 'what do you say now?'
'I say, sir,' replied Alfred, 'that the greatest favour you could
do me, and yourself too, I am inclined to think, would be to try
sometimes to forget this battle-field and others like it in that
broader battle-field of Life, on which the sun looks every day.'
'Really, I'm afraid that wouldn't soften his opinions, Mr. Alfred,'
said Snitchey. 'The combatants are very eager and very bitter in
that same battle of Life. There's a great deal of cutting and
slashing, and firing into people's heads from behind. There is
terrible treading down, and trampling on. It is rather a bad
'I believe, Mr. Snitchey,' said Alfred, 'there are quiet victories
and struggles, great sacrifices of self, and noble acts of heroism,
in it - even in many of its apparent lightnesses and contradictions
- not the less difficult to achieve, because they have no earthly
chronicle or audience - done every day in nooks and corners, and in
little households, and in men's and women's hearts - any one of
which might reconcile the sternest man to such a world, and fill
him with belief and hope in it, though two-fourths of its people
were at war, and another fourth at law; and that's a bold word.'
Both the sisters listened keenly.
'Well, well!' said the Doctor, 'I am too old to be converted, even
by my friend Snitchey here, or my good spinster sister, Martha
Jeddler; who had what she calls her domestic trials ages ago, and
has led a sympathising life with all sorts of people ever since;
and who is so much of your opinion (only she's less reasonable and
more obstinate, being a woman), that we can't agree, and seldom
meet. I was born upon this battle-field. I began, as a boy, to
have my thoughts directed to the real history of a battle-field.
Sixty years have gone over my head, and I have never seen the
Christian world, including Heaven knows how many loving mothers and
good enough girls like mine here, anything but mad for a battlefield.
The same contradictions prevail in everything. One must
either laugh or cry at such stupendous inconsistencies; and I
prefer to laugh.'
Britain, who had been paying the profoundest and most melancholy
attention to each speaker in his turn, seemed suddenly to decide in
favour of the same preference, if a deep sepulchral sound that
escaped him might be construed into a demonstration of risibility.
His face, however, was so perfectly unaffected by it, both before
and afterwards, that although one or two of the breakfast party
looked round as being startled by a mysterious noise, nobody
connected the offender with it.
Except his partner in attendance, Clemency Newcome; who rousing him
with one of those favourite joints, her elbows, inquired, in a
reproachful whisper, what he laughed at.
'Not you!' said Britain.
'Who then?'
'Humanity,' said Britain. 'That's the joke!'
'What between master and them lawyers, he's getting more and more
addle-headed every day!' cried Clemency, giving him a lunge with
the other elbow, as a mental stimulant. 'Do you know where you
are? Do you want to get warning?'
'I don't know anything,' said Britain, with a leaden eye and an
immovable visage. 'I don't care for anything. I don't make out
anything. I don't believe anything. And I don't want anything.'
Although this forlorn summary of his general condition may have
been overcharged in an access of despondency, Benjamin Britain -
sometimes called Little Britain, to distinguish him from Great; as
we might say Young England, to express Old England with a decided
difference - had defined his real state more accurately than might
be supposed. For, serving as a sort of man Miles to the Doctor's
Friar Bacon, and listening day after day to innumerable orations
addressed by the Doctor to various people, all tending to show that
his very existence was at best a mistake and an absurdity, this
unfortunate servitor had fallen, by degrees, into such an abyss of
confused and contradictory suggestions from within and without,
that Truth at the bottom of her well, was on the level surface as
compared with Britain in the depths of his mystification. The only
point he clearly comprehended, was, that the new element usually
brought into these discussions by Snitchey and Craggs, never served
to make them clearer, and always seemed to give the Doctor a
species of advantage and confirmation. Therefore, he looked upon
the Firm as one of the proximate causes of his state of mind, and
held them in abhorrence accordingly.
'But, this is not our business, Alfred,' said the Doctor. 'Ceasing
to be my ward (as you have said) to-day; and leaving us full to the
brim of such learning as the Grammar School down here was able to
give you, and your studies in London could add to that, and such
practical knowledge as a dull old country Doctor like myself could
graft upon both; you are away, now, into the world. The first term
of probation appointed by your poor father, being over, away you go
now, your own master, to fulfil his second desire. And long before
your three years' tour among the foreign schools of medicine is
finished, you'll have forgotten us. Lord, you'll forget us easily
in six months!'
'If I do - But you know better; why should I speak to you!' said
Alfred, laughing.
'I don't know anything of the sort,' returned the Doctor. 'What do
you say, Marion?'
Marion, trifling with her teacup, seemed to say - but she didn't
say it - that he was welcome to forget, if he could. Grace pressed
the blooming face against her cheek, and smiled.
'I haven't been, I hope, a very unjust steward in the execution of
my trust,' pursued the Doctor; 'but I am to be, at any rate,
formally discharged, and released, and what not this morning; and
here are our good friends Snitchey and Craggs, with a bagful of
papers, and accounts, and documents, for the transfer of the
balance of the trust fund to you (I wish it was a more difficult
one to dispose of, Alfred, but you must get to be a great man and
make it so), and other drolleries of that sort, which are to be
signed, sealed, and delivered.'
'And duly witnessed as by law required,' said Snitchey, pushing
away his plate, and taking out the papers, which his partner
proceeded to spread upon the table; 'and Self and Crags having been
co-trustees with you, Doctor, in so far as the fund was concerned,
we shall want your two servants to attest the signatures - can you
read, Mrs. Newcome?'
'I an't married, Mister,' said Clemency.
'Oh! I beg your pardon. I should think not,' chuckled Snitchey,
casting his eyes over her extraordinary figure. 'You CAN read?'
'A little,' answered Clemency.
'The marriage service, night and morning, eh?' observed the lawyer,
'No,' said Clemency. 'Too hard. I only reads a thimble.'
'Read a thimble!' echoed Snitchey. 'What are you talking about,
young woman?'
Clemency nodded. 'And a nutmeg-grater.'
'Why, this is a lunatic! a subject for the Lord High Chancellor!'
said Snitchey, staring at her.
- 'If possessed of any property,' stipulated Craggs.
Grace, however, interposing, explained that each of the articles in
question bore an engraved motto, and so formed the pocket library
of Clemency Newcome, who was not much given to the study of books.
'Oh, that's it, is it, Miss Grace!' said Snitchey.
'Yes, yes. Ha, ha, ha! I thought our friend was an idiot. She
looks uncommonly like it,' he muttered, with a supercilious glance.
'And what does the thimble say, Mrs. Newcome?'
'I an't married, Mister,' observed Clemency.
'Well, Newcome. Will that do?' said the lawyer. 'What does the
thimble say, Newcome?'
How Clemency, before replying to this question, held one pocket
open, and looked down into its yawning depths for the thimble which
wasn't there, - and how she then held an opposite pocket open, and
seeming to descry it, like a pearl of great price, at the bottom,
cleared away such intervening obstacles as a handkerchief, an end
of wax candle, a flushed apple, an orange, a lucky penny, a cramp
bone, a padlock, a pair of scissors in a sheath more expressively
describable as promising young shears, a handful or so of loose
beads, several balls of cotton, a needle-case, a cabinet collection
of curl-papers, and a biscuit, all of which articles she entrusted
individually and separately to Britain to hold, - is of no
Nor how, in her determination to grasp this pocket by the throat
and keep it prisoner (for it had a tendency to swing, and twist
itself round the nearest corner), she assumed and calmly
maintained, an attitude apparently inconsistent with the human
anatomy and the laws of gravity. It is enough that at last she
triumphantly produced the thimble on her finger, and rattled the
nutmeg-grater: the literature of both those trinkets being
obviously in course of wearing out and wasting away, through
excessive friction.
'That's the thimble, is it, young woman?' said Mr. Snitchey,
diverting himself at her expense. 'And what does the thimble say?'
'It says,' replied Clemency, reading slowly round as if it were a
tower, 'For-get and For-give.'
Snitchey and Craggs laughed heartily. 'So new!' said Snitchey.
'So easy!' said Craggs. 'Such a knowledge of human nature in it!'
said Snitchey. 'So applicable to the affairs of life!' said
'And the nutmeg-grater?' inquired the head of the Firm.
'The grater says,' returned Clemency, 'Do as you - wold - be - done
'Do, or you'll be done brown, you mean,' said Mr. Snitchey.
'I don't understand,' retorted Clemency, shaking her head vaguely.
'I an't no lawyer.'
'I am afraid that if she was, Doctor,' said Mr. Snitchey, turning
to him suddenly, as if to anticipate any effect that might
otherwise be consequent on this retort, 'she'd find it to be the
golden rule of half her clients. They are serious enough in that -
whimsical as your world is - and lay the blame on us afterwards.
We, in our profession, are little else than mirrors after all, Mr.
Alfred; but, we are generally consulted by angry and quarrelsome
people who are not in their best looks, and it's rather hard to
quarrel with us if we reflect unpleasant aspects. I think,' said
Mr. Snitchey, 'that I speak for Self and Craggs?'
'Decidedly,' said Craggs.
'And so, if Mr. Britain will oblige us with a mouthful of ink,'
said Mr. Snitchey, returning to the papers, 'we'll sign, seal, and
deliver as soon as possible, or the coach will be coming past
before we know where we are.'
If one might judge from his appearance, there was every probability
of the coach coming past before Mr. Britain knew where HE was; for
he stood in a state of abstraction, mentally balancing the Doctor
against the lawyers, and the lawyers against the Doctor, and their
clients against both, and engaged in feeble attempts to make the
thimble and nutmeg-grater (a new idea to him) square with anybody's
system of philosophy; and, in short, bewildering himself as much as
ever his great namesake has done with theories and schools. But,
Clemency, who was his good Genius - though he had the meanest
possible opinion of her understanding, by reason of her seldom
troubling herself with abstract speculations, and being always at
hand to do the right thing at the right time - having produced the
ink in a twinkling, tendered him the further service of recalling
him to himself by the application of her elbows; with which gentle
flappers she so jogged his memory, in a more literal construction
of that phrase than usual, that he soon became quite fresh and
How he laboured under an apprehension not uncommon to persons in
his degree, to whom the use of pen and ink is an event, that he
couldn't append his name to a document, not of his own writing,
without committing himself in some shadowy manner, or somehow
signing away vague and enormous sums of money; and how he
approached the deeds under protest, and by dint of the Doctor's
coercion, and insisted on pausing to look at them before writing
(the cramped hand, to say nothing of the phraseology, being so much
Chinese to him), and also on turning them round to see whether
there was anything fraudulent underneath; and how, having signed
his name, he became desolate as one who had parted with his
property and rights; I want the time to tell. Also, how the blue
bag containing his signature, afterwards had a mysterious interest
for him, and he couldn't leave it; also, how Clemency Newcome, in
an ecstasy of laughter at the idea of her own importance and
dignity, brooded over the whole table with her two elbows, like a
spread eagle, and reposed her head upon her left arm as a
preliminary to the formation of certain cabalistic characters,
which required a deal of ink, and imaginary counterparts whereof
she executed at the same time with her tongue. Also, how, having
once tasted ink, she became thirsty in that regard, as tame tigers
are said to be after tasting another sort of fluid, and wanted to
sign everything, and put her name in all kinds of places. In
brief, the Doctor was discharged of his trust and all its
responsibilities; and Alfred, taking it on himself, was fairly
started on the journey of life.
'Britain!' said the Doctor. 'Run to the gate, and watch for the
coach. Time flies, Alfred.'
'Yes, sir, yes,' returned the young man, hurriedly. 'Dear Grace! a
moment! Marion - so young and beautiful, so winning and so much
admired, dear to my heart as nothing else in life is - remember! I
leave Marion to you!'
'She has always been a sacred charge to me, Alfred. She is doubly
so, now. I will be faithful to my trust, believe me.'
'I do believe it, Grace. I know it well. Who could look upon your
face, and hear your voice, and not know it! Ah, Grace! If I had
your well-governed heart, and tranquil mind, how bravely I would
leave this place to-day!'
'Would you?' she answered with a quiet smile.
'And yet, Grace - Sister, seems the natural word.'
'Use it!' she said quickly. 'I am glad to hear it. Call me
nothing else.'
'And yet, sister, then,' said Alfred, 'Marion and I had better have
your true and steadfast qualities serving us here, and making us
both happier and better. I wouldn't carry them away, to sustain
myself, if I could!'
'Coach upon the hill-top!' exclaimed Britain.
'Time flies, Alfred,' said the Doctor.
Marion had stood apart, with her eyes fixed upon the ground; but,
this warning being given, her young lover brought her tenderly to
where her sister stood, and gave her into her embrace.
'I have been telling Grace, dear Marion,' he said, 'that you are
her charge; my precious trust at parting. And when I come back and
reclaim you, dearest, and the bright prospect of our married life
lies stretched before us, it shall be one of our chief pleasures to
consult how we can make Grace happy; how we can anticipate her
wishes; how we can show our gratitude and love to her; how we can
return her something of the debt she will have heaped upon us.'
The younger sister had one hand in his; the other rested on her
sister's neck. She looked into that sister's eyes, so calm,
serene, and cheerful, with a gaze in which affection, admiration,
sorrow, wonder, almost veneration, were blended. She looked into
that sister's face, as if it were the face of some bright angel.
Calm, serene, and cheerful, the face looked back on her and on her
'And when the time comes, as it must one day,' said Alfred, - 'I
wonder it has never come yet, but Grace knows best, for Grace is
always right - when SHE will want a friend to open her whole heart
to, and to be to her something of what she has been to us - then,
Marion, how faithful we will prove, and what delight to us to know
that she, our dear good sister, loves and is loved again, as we
would have her!'
Still the younger sister looked into her eyes, and turned not -
even towards him. And still those honest eyes looked back, so
calm, serene, and cheerful, on herself and on her lover.
'And when all that is past, and we are old, and living (as we
must!) together - close together - talking often of old times,'
said Alfred - 'these shall be our favourite times among them - this
day most of all; and, telling each other what we thought and felt,
and hoped and feared at parting; and how we couldn't bear to say
good bye - '
'Coach coming through the wood!' cried Britain.
'Yes! I am ready - and how we met again, so happily in spite of
all; we'll make this day the happiest in all the year, and keep it
as a treble birth-day. Shall we, dear?'
'Yes!' interposed the elder sister, eagerly, and with a radiant
smile. 'Yes! Alfred, don't linger. There's no time. Say good
bye to Marion. And Heaven be with you!'
He pressed the younger sister to his heart. Released from his
embrace, she again clung to her sister; and her eyes, with the same
blended look, again sought those so calm, serene, and cheerful.
'Farewell, my boy!' said the Doctor. 'To talk about any serious
correspondence or serious affections, and engagements and so forth,
in such a - ha ha ha! - you know what I mean - why that, of course,
would be sheer nonsense. All I can say is, that if you and Marion
should continue in the same foolish minds, I shall not object to
have you for a son-in-law one of these days.'
'Over the bridge!' cried Britain.
'Let it come!' said Alfred, wringing the Doctor's hand stoutly.
'Think of me sometimes, my old friend and guardian, as seriously as
you can! Adieu, Mr. Snitchey! Farewell, Mr. Craggs!'
'Coming down the road!' cried Britain.
'A kiss of Clemency Newcome for long acquaintance' sake! Shake
hands, Britain! Marion, dearest heart, good bye! Sister Grace!
The quiet household figure, and the face so beautiful in its
serenity, were turned towards him in reply; but Marion's look and
attitude remained unchanged.
The coach was at the gate. There was a bustle with the luggage.
The coach drove away. Marion never moved.
'He waves his hat to you, my love,' said Grace. 'Your chosen
husband, darling. Look!'
The younger sister raised her head, and, for a moment, turned it.
Then, turning back again, and fully meeting, for the first time,
those calm eyes, fell sobbing on her neck.
'Oh, Grace. God bless you! But I cannot bear to see it, Grace!
It breaks my heart.'
CHAPTER II - Part The Second
SNITCHEY AND CRAGGS had a snug little office on the old Battle
Ground, where they drove a snug little business, and fought a great
many small pitched battles for a great many contending parties.
Though it could hardly be said of these conflicts that they were
running fights - for in truth they generally proceeded at a snail's
pace - the part the Firm had in them came so far within the general
denomination, that now they took a shot at this Plaintiff, and now
aimed a chop at that Defendant, now made a heavy charge at an
estate in Chancery, and now had some light skirmishing among an
irregular body of small debtors, just as the occasion served, and
the enemy happened to present himself. The Gazette was an
important and profitable feature in some of their fields, as in
fields of greater renown; and in most of the Actions wherein they
showed their generalship, it was afterwards observed by the
combatants that they had had great difficulty in making each other
out, or in knowing with any degree of distinctness what they were
about, in consequence of the vast amount of smoke by which they
were surrounded.
The offices of Messrs. Snitchey and Craggs stood convenient, with
an open door down two smooth steps, in the market-place; so that
any angry farmer inclining towards hot water, might tumble into it
at once. Their special council-chamber and hall of conference was
an old back-room up-stairs, with a low dark ceiling, which seemed
to be knitting its brows gloomily in the consideration of tangled
points of law. It was furnished with some high-backed leathern
chairs, garnished with great goggle-eyed brass nails, of which,
every here and there, two or three had fallen out - or had been
picked out, perhaps, by the wandering thumbs and forefingers of
bewildered clients. There was a framed print of a great judge in
it, every curl in whose dreadful wig had made a man's hair stand on
end. Bales of papers filled the dusty closets, shelves, and
tables; and round the wainscot there were tiers of boxes, padlocked
and fireproof, with people's names painted outside, which anxious
visitors felt themselves, by a cruel enchantment, obliged to spell
backwards and forwards, and to make anagrams of, while they sat,
seeming to listen to Snitchey and Craggs, without comprehending one
word of what they said.
Snitchey and Craggs had each, in private life as in professional
existence, a partner of his own. Snitchey and Craggs were the best
friends in the world, and had a real confidence in one another; but
Mrs. Snitchey, by a dispensation not uncommon in the affairs of
life, was on principle suspicious of Mr. Craggs; and Mrs. Craggs
was on principle suspicious of Mr. Snitchey. 'Your Snitcheys
indeed,' the latter lady would observe, sometimes, to Mr. Craggs;
using that imaginative plural as if in disparagement of an
objectionable pair of pantaloons, or other articles not possessed
of a singular number; 'I don't see what you want with your
Snitcheys, for my part. You trust a great deal too much to your
Snitcheys, I think, and I hope you may never find my words come
true.' While Mrs. Snitchey would observe to Mr. Snitchey, of
Craggs, 'that if ever he was led away by man he was led away by
that man, and that if ever she read a double purpose in a mortal
eye, she read that purpose in Craggs's eye.' Notwithstanding this,
however, they were all very good friends in general: and Mrs.
Snitchey and Mrs. Craggs maintained a close bond of alliance
against 'the office,' which they both considered the Blue chamber,
and common enemy, full of dangerous (because unknown) machinations.
In this office, nevertheless, Snitchey and Craggs made honey for
their several hives. Here, sometimes, they would linger, of a fine
evening, at the window of their council-chamber overlooking the old
battle-ground, and wonder (but that was generally at assize time,
when much business had made them sentimental) at the folly of
mankind, who couldn't always be at peace with one another and go to
law comfortably. Here, days, and weeks, and months, and years,
passed over them: their calendar, the gradually diminishing number
of brass nails in the leathern chairs, and the increasing bulk of
papers on the tables. Here, nearly three years' flight had thinned
the one and swelled the other, since the breakfast in the orchard;
when they sat together in consultation at night.
Not alone; but, with a man of about thirty, or that time of life,
negligently dressed, and somewhat haggard in the face, but wellmade,
well-attired, and well-looking, who sat in the armchair of
state, with one hand in his breast, and the other in his
dishevelled hair, pondering moodily. Messrs. Snitchey and Craggs
sat opposite each other at a neighbouring desk. One of the
fireproof boxes, unpadlocked and opened, was upon it; a part of its
contents lay strewn upon the table, and the rest was then in course
of passing through the hands of Mr. Snitchey; who brought it to the
candle, document by document; looked at every paper singly, as he
produced it; shook his head, and handed it to Mr. Craggs; who
looked it over also, shook his head, and laid it down. Sometimes,
they would stop, and shaking their heads in concert, look towards
the abstracted client. And the name on the box being Michael
Warden, Esquire, we may conclude from these premises that the name
and the box were both his, and that the affairs of Michael Warden,
Esquire, were in a bad way.
'That's all,' said Mr. Snitchey, turning up the last paper.
'Really there's no other resource. No other resource.'
'All lost, spent, wasted, pawned, borrowed, and sold, eh?' said the
client, looking up.
'All,' returned Mr. Snitchey.
'Nothing else to be done, you say?'
'Nothing at all.'
The client bit his nails, and pondered again.
'And I am not even personally safe in England? You hold to that,
do you?'
'In no part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland,'
replied Mr. Snitchey.
'A mere prodigal son with no father to go back to, no swine to
keep, and no husks to share with them? Eh?' pursued the client,
rocking one leg over the other, and searching the ground with his
Mr. Snitchey coughed, as if to deprecate the being supposed to
participate in any figurative illustration of a legal position.
Mr. Craggs, as if to express that it was a partnership view of the
subject, also coughed.
'Ruined at thirty!' said the client. 'Humph!'
'Not ruined, Mr. Warden,' returned Snitchey. 'Not so bad as that.
You have done a good deal towards it, I must say, but you are not
ruined. A little nursing - '
'A little Devil,' said the client.
'Mr. Craggs,' said Snitchey, 'will you oblige me with a pinch of
snuff? Thank you, sir.'
As the imperturbable lawyer applied it to his nose with great
apparent relish and a perfect absorption of his attention in the
proceeding, the client gradually broke into a smile, and, looking
up, said:
'You talk of nursing. How long nursing?'
'How long nursing?' repeated Snitchey, dusting the snuff from his
fingers, and making a slow calculation in his mind. 'For your
involved estate, sir? In good hands? S. and C.'s, say? Six or
seven years.'
'To starve for six or seven years!' said the client with a fretful
laugh, and an impatient change of his position.
'To starve for six or seven years, Mr. Warden,' said Snitchey,
'would be very uncommon indeed. You might get another estate by
showing yourself, the while. But, we don't think you could do it -
speaking for Self and Craggs - and consequently don't advise it.'
'What DO you advise?'
'Nursing, I say,' repeated Snitchey. 'Some few years of nursing by
Self and Craggs would bring it round. But to enable us to make
terms, and hold terms, and you to keep terms, you must go away; you
must live abroad. As to starvation, we could ensure you some
hundreds a-year to starve upon, even in the beginning - I dare say,
Mr. Warden.'
'Hundreds,' said the client. 'And I have spent thousands!'
'That,' retorted Mr. Snitchey, putting the papers slowly back into
the cast-iron box, 'there is no doubt about. No doubt about,' he
repeated to himself, as he thoughtfully pursued his occupation.
The lawyer very likely knew HIS man; at any rate his dry, shrewd,
whimsical manner, had a favourable influence on the client's moody
state, and disposed him to be more free and unreserved. Or,
perhaps the client knew HIS man, and had elicited such
encouragement as he had received, to render some purpose he was
about to disclose the more defensible in appearance. Gradually
raising his head, he sat looking at his immovable adviser with a
smile, which presently broke into a laugh.
'After all,' he said, 'my iron-headed friend - '
Mr. Snitchey pointed out his partner. 'Self and - excuse me -
'I beg Mr. Craggs's pardon,' said the client. 'After all, my ironheaded
friends,' he leaned forward in his chair, and dropped his
voice a little, 'you don't know half my ruin yet.'
Mr. Snitchey stopped and stared at him. Mr. Craggs also stared.
'I am not only deep in debt,' said the client, 'but I am deep in -
'Not in love!' cried Snitchey.
'Yes!' said the client, falling back in his chair, and surveying
the Firm with his hands in his pockets. 'Deep in love.'
'And not with an heiress, sir?' said Snitchey.
'Not with an heiress.'
'Nor a rich lady?'
'Nor a rich lady that I know of - except in beauty and merit.'
'A single lady, I trust?' said Mr. Snitchey, with great expression.
'It's not one of Dr. Jeddler's daughters?' said Snitchey, suddenly
squaring his elbows on his knees, and advancing his face at least a
'Yes!' returned the client.
'Not his younger daughter?' said Snitchey.
'Yes!' returned the client.
'Mr. Craggs,' said Snitchey, much relieved, 'will you oblige me
with another pinch of snuff? Thank you! I am happy to say it
don't signify, Mr. Warden; she's engaged, sir, she's bespoke. My
partner can corroborate me. We know the fact.'
'We know the fact,' repeated Craggs.
'Why, so do I perhaps,' returned the client quietly. 'What of
that! Are you men of the world, and did you never hear of a woman
changing her mind?'
'There certainly have been actions for breach,' said Mr. Snitchey,
'brought against both spinsters and widows, but, in the majority of
cases - '
'Cases!' interposed the client, impatiently. 'Don't talk to me of
cases. The general precedent is in a much larger volume than any
of your law books. Besides, do you think I have lived six weeks in
the Doctor's house for nothing?'
'I think, sir,' observed Mr. Snitchey, gravely addressing himself
to his partner, 'that of all the scrapes Mr. Warden's horses have
brought him into at one time and another - and they have been
pretty numerous, and pretty expensive, as none know better than
himself, and you, and I - the worst scrape may turn out to be, if
he talks in this way, this having ever been left by one of them at
the Doctor's garden wall, with three broken ribs, a snapped collarbone,
and the Lord knows how many bruises. We didn't think so much
of it, at the time when we knew he was going on well under the
Doctor's hands and roof; but it looks bad now, sir. Bad? It looks
very bad. Doctor Jeddler too - our client, Mr. Craggs.'
'Mr. Alfred Heathfield too - a sort of client, Mr. Snitchey,' said
'Mr. Michael Warden too, a kind of client,' said the careless
visitor, 'and no bad one either: having played the fool for ten or
twelve years. However, Mr. Michael Warden has sown his wild oats
now - there's their crop, in that box; and he means to repent and
be wise. And in proof of it, Mr. Michael Warden means, if he can,
to marry Marion, the Doctor's lovely daughter, and to carry her
away with him.'
'Really, Mr. Craggs,' Snitchey began.
'Really, Mr. Snitchey, and Mr. Craggs, partners both,' said the
client, interrupting him; 'you know your duty to your clients, and
you know well enough, I am sure, that it is no part of it to
interfere in a mere love affair, which I am obliged to confide to
you. I am not going to carry the young lady off, without her own
consent. There's nothing illegal in it. I never was Mr.
Heathfield's bosom friend. I violate no confidence of his. I love
where he loves, and I mean to win where he would win, if I can.'
'He can't, Mr. Craggs,' said Snitchey, evidently anxious and
discomfited. 'He can't do it, sir. She dotes on Mr. Alfred.'
'Does she?' returned the client.
'Mr. Craggs, she dotes on him, sir,' persisted Snitchey.
'I didn't live six weeks, some few months ago, in the Doctor's
house for nothing; and I doubted that soon,' observed the client.
'She would have doted on him, if her sister could have brought it
about; but I watched them. Marion avoided his name, avoided the
subject: shrunk from the least allusion to it, with evident
'Why should she, Mr. Craggs, you know? Why should she, sir?'
inquired Snitchey.
'I don't know why she should, though there are many likely
reasons,' said the client, smiling at the attention and perplexity
expressed in Mr. Snitchey's shining eye, and at his cautious way of
carrying on the conversation, and making himself informed upon the
subject; 'but I know she does. She was very young when she made
the engagement - if it may be called one, I am not even sure of
that - and has repented of it, perhaps. Perhaps - it seems a
foppish thing to say, but upon my soul I don't mean it in that
light - she may have fallen in love with me, as I have fallen in
love with her.'
'He, he! Mr. Alfred, her old playfellow too, you remember, Mr.
Craggs,' said Snitchey, with a disconcerted laugh; 'knew her almost
from a baby!'
'Which makes it the more probable that she may be tired of his
idea,' calmly pursued the client, 'and not indisposed to exchange
it for the newer one of another lover, who presents himself (or is
presented by his horse) under romantic circumstances; has the not
unfavourable reputation - with a country girl - of having lived
thoughtlessly and gaily, without doing much harm to anybody; and
who, for his youth and figure, and so forth - this may seem foppish
again, but upon my soul I don't mean it in that light - might
perhaps pass muster in a crowd with Mr. Alfred himself.'
There was no gainsaying the last clause, certainly; and Mr.
Snitchey, glancing at him, thought so. There was something
naturally graceful and pleasant in the very carelessness of his
air. It seemed to suggest, of his comely face and well-knit
figure, that they might be greatly better if he chose: and that,
once roused and made earnest (but he never had been earnest yet),
he could be full of fire and purpose. 'A dangerous sort of
libertine,' thought the shrewd lawyer, 'to seem to catch the spark
he wants, from a young lady's eyes.'
'Now, observe, Snitchey,' he continued, rising and taking him by
the button, 'and Craggs,' taking him by the button also, and
placing one partner on either side of him, so that neither might
evade him. 'I don't ask you for any advice. You are right to keep
quite aloof from all parties in such a matter, which is not one in
which grave men like you could interfere, on any side. I am
briefly going to review in half-a-dozen words, my position and
intention, and then I shall leave it to you to do the best for me,
in money matters, that you can: seeing, that, if I run away with
the Doctor's beautiful daughter (as I hope to do, and to become
another man under her bright influence), it will be, for the
moment, more chargeable than running away alone. But I shall soon
make all that up in an altered life.'
'I think it will be better not to hear this, Mr. Craggs?' said
Snitchey, looking at him across the client.
'I think not,' said Craggs. - Both listened attentively.
'Well! You needn't hear it,' replied their client. 'I'll mention
it, however. I don't mean to ask the Doctor's consent, because he
wouldn't give it me. But I mean to do the Doctor no wrong or harm,
because (besides there being nothing serious in such trifles, as he
says) I hope to rescue his child, my Marion, from what I see - I
KNOW - she dreads, and contemplates with misery: that is, the
return of this old lover. If anything in the world is true, it is
true that she dreads his return. Nobody is injured so far. I am
so harried and worried here just now, that I lead the life of a
flying-fish. I skulk about in the dark, I am shut out of my own
house, and warned off my own grounds; but, that house, and those
grounds, and many an acre besides, will come back to me one day, as
you know and say; and Marion will probably be richer - on your
showing, who are never sanguine - ten years hence as my wife, than
as the wife of Alfred Heathfield, whose return she dreads (remember
that), and in whom or in any man, my passion is not surpassed. Who
is injured yet? It is a fair case throughout. My right is as good
as his, if she decide in my favour; and I will try my right by her
alone. You will like to know no more after this, and I will tell
you no more. Now you know my purpose, and wants. When must I
leave here?'
'In a week,' said Snitchey. 'Mr. Craggs?'
'In something less, I should say,' responded Craggs.
'In a month,' said the client, after attentively watching the two
faces. 'This day month. To-day is Thursday. Succeed or fail, on
this day month I go.'
'It's too long a delay,' said Snitchey; 'much too long. But let it
be so. I thought he'd have stipulated for three,' he murmured to
himself. 'Are you going? Good night, sir!'
'Good night!' returned the client, shaking hands with the Firm.
'You'll live to see me making a good use of riches yet. Henceforth
the star of my destiny is, Marion!'
'Take care of the stairs, sir,' replied Snitchey; 'for she don't
shine there. Good night!'
'Good night!'
So they both stood at the stair-head with a pair of office-candles,
watching him down. When he had gone away, they stood looking at
each other.
'What do you think of all this, Mr. Craggs?' said Snitchey.
Mr. Craggs shook his head.
'It was our opinion, on the day when that release was executed,
that there was something curious in the parting of that pair; I
recollect,' said Snitchey.
'It was,' said Mr. Craggs.
'Perhaps he deceives himself altogether,' pursued Mr. Snitchey,
locking up the fireproof box, and putting it away; 'or, if he
don't, a little bit of fickleness and perfidy is not a miracle, Mr.
Craggs. And yet I thought that pretty face was very true. I
thought,' said Mr. Snitchey, putting on his great-coat (for the
weather was very cold), drawing on his gloves, and snuffing out one
candle, 'that I had even seen her character becoming stronger and
more resolved of late. More like her sister's.'
'Mrs. Craggs was of the same opinion,' returned Craggs.
'I'd really give a trifle to-night,' observed Mr. Snitchey, who was
a good-natured man, 'if I could believe that Mr. Warden was
reckoning without his host; but, light-headed, capricious, and
unballasted as he is, he knows something of the world and its
people (he ought to, for he has bought what he does know, dear
enough); and I can't quite think that. We had better not
interfere: we can do nothing, Mr. Craggs, but keep quiet.'
'Nothing,' returned Craggs.
'Our friend the Doctor makes light of such things,' said Mr.
Snitchey, shaking his head. 'I hope he mayn't stand in need of his
philosophy. Our friend Alfred talks of the battle of life,' he
shook his head again, 'I hope he mayn't be cut down early in the
day. Have you got your hat, Mr. Craggs? I am going to put the
other candle out.' Mr. Craggs replying in the affirmative, Mr.
Snitchey suited the action to the word, and they groped their way
out of the council-chamber, now dark as the subject, or the law in
My story passes to a quiet little study, where, on that same night,
the sisters and the hale old Doctor sat by a cheerful fireside.
Grace was working at her needle. Marion read aloud from a book
before her. The Doctor, in his dressing-gown and slippers, with
his feet spread out upon the warm rug, leaned back in his easychair,
and listened to the book, and looked upon his daughters.
They were very beautiful to look upon. Two better faces for a
fireside, never made a fireside bright and sacred. Something of
the difference between them had been softened down in three years'
time; and enthroned upon the clear brow of the younger sister,
looking through her eyes, and thrilling in her voice, was the same
earnest nature that her own motherless youth had ripened in the
elder sister long ago. But she still appeared at once the lovelier
and weaker of the two; still seemed to rest her head upon her
sister's breast, and put her trust in her, and look into her eyes
for counsel and reliance. Those loving eyes, so calm, serene, and
cheerful, as of old.
'"And being in her own home,"' read Marion, from the book; '"her
home made exquisitely dear by these remembrances, she now began to
know that the great trial of her heart must soon come on, and could
not be delayed. O Home, our comforter and friend when others fall
away, to part with whom, at any step between the cradle and the
'Marion, my love!' said Grace.
'Why, Puss!' exclaimed her father, 'what's the matter?'
She put her hand upon the hand her sister stretched towards her,
and read on; her voice still faltering and trembling, though she
made an effort to command it when thus interrupted.
'"To part with whom, at any step between the cradle and the grave,
is always sorrowful. O Home, so true to us, so often slighted in
return, be lenient to them that turn away from thee, and do not
haunt their erring footsteps too reproachfully! Let no kind looks,
no well-remembered smiles, be seen upon thy phantom face. Let no
ray of affection, welcome, gentleness, forbearance, cordiality,
shine from thy white head. Let no old loving word, or tone, rise
up in judgment against thy deserter; but if thou canst look harshly
and severely, do, in mercy to the Penitent!"'
'Dear Marion, read no more to-night,' said Grace for she was
'I cannot,' she replied, and closed the book. 'The words seem all
on fire!'
The Doctor was amused at this; and laughed as he patted her on the
'What! overcome by a story-book!' said Doctor Jeddler. 'Print and
paper! Well, well, it's all one. It's as rational to make a
serious matter of print and paper as of anything else. But, dry
your eyes, love, dry your eyes. I dare say the heroine has got
home again long ago, and made it up all round - and if she hasn't,
a real home is only four walls; and a fictitious one, mere rags and
ink. What's the matter now?'
'It's only me, Mister,' said Clemency, putting in her head at the
'And what's the matter with YOU?' said the Doctor.
'Oh, bless you, nothing an't the matter with me,' returned Clemency
- and truly too, to judge from her well-soaped face, in which there
gleamed as usual the very soul of good-humour, which, ungainly as
she was, made her quite engaging. Abrasions on the elbows are not
generally understood, it is true, to range within that class of
personal charms called beauty-spots. But, it is better, going
through the world, to have the arms chafed in that narrow passage,
than the temper: and Clemency's was sound and whole as any
beauty's in the land.
'Nothing an't the matter with me,' said Clemency, entering, 'but -
come a little closer, Mister.'
The Doctor, in some astonishment, complied with this invitation.
'You said I wasn't to give you one before them, you know,' said
A novice in the family might have supposed, from her extraordinary
ogling as she said it, as well as from a singular rapture or
ecstasy which pervaded her elbows, as if she were embracing
herself, that 'one,' in its most favourable interpretation, meant a
chaste salute. Indeed the Doctor himself seemed alarmed, for the
moment; but quickly regained his composure, as Clemency, having had
recourse to both her pockets - beginning with the right one, going
away to the wrong one, and afterwards coming back to the right one
again - produced a letter from the Post-office.
'Britain was riding by on a errand,' she chuckled, handing it to
the Doctor, 'and see the mail come in, and waited for it. There's
A. H. in the corner. Mr. Alfred's on his journey home, I bet. We
shall have a wedding in the house - there was two spoons in my
saucer this morning. Oh Luck, how slow he opens it!'
All this she delivered, by way of soliloquy, gradually rising
higher and higher on tiptoe, in her impatience to hear the news,
and making a corkscrew of her apron, and a bottle of her mouth. At
last, arriving at a climax of suspense, and seeing the Doctor still
engaged in the perusal of the letter, she came down flat upon the
soles of her feet again, and cast her apron, as a veil, over her
head, in a mute despair, and inability to bear it any longer.
'Here! Girls!' cried the Doctor. 'I can't help it: I never could
keep a secret in my life. There are not many secrets, indeed,
worth being kept in such a - well! never mind that. Alfred's
coming home, my dears, directly.'
'Directly!' exclaimed Marion.
'What! The story-book is soon forgotten!' said the Doctor,
pinching her cheek. 'I thought the news would dry those tears.
Yes. "Let it be a surprise," he says, here. But I can't let it be
a surprise. He must have a welcome.'
'Directly!' repeated Marion.
'Why, perhaps not what your impatience calls "directly,"' returned
the doctor; 'but pretty soon too. Let us see. Let us see. To-day
is Thursday, is it not? Then he promises to be here, this day
'This day month!' repeated Marion, softly.
'A gay day and a holiday for us,' said the cheerful voice of her
sister Grace, kissing her in congratulation. 'Long looked forward
to, dearest, and come at last.'
She answered with a smile; a mournful smile, but full of sisterly
affection. As she looked in her sister's face, and listened to the
quiet music of her voice, picturing the happiness of this return,
her own face glowed with hope and joy.
And with a something else; a something shining more and more
through all the rest of its expression; for which I have no name.
It was not exultation, triumph, proud enthusiasm. They are not so
calmly shown. It was not love and gratitude alone, though love and
gratitude were part of it. It emanated from no sordid thought, for
sordid thoughts do not light up the brow, and hover on the lips,
and move the spirit like a fluttered light, until the sympathetic
figure trembles.
Dr. Jeddler, in spite of his system of philosophy - which he was
continually contradicting and denying in practice, but more famous
philosophers have done that - could not help having as much
interest in the return of his old ward and pupil as if it had been
a serious event. So he sat himself down in his easy-chair again,
stretched out his slippered feet once more upon the rug, read the
letter over and over a great many times, and talked it over more
times still.
'Ah! The day was,' said the Doctor, looking at the fire, 'when you
and he, Grace, used to trot about arm-in-arm, in his holiday time,
like a couple of walking dolls. You remember?'
'I remember,' she answered, with her pleasant laugh, and plying her
needle busily.
'This day month, indeed!' mused the Doctor. 'That hardly seems a
twelve month ago. And where was my little Marion then!'
'Never far from her sister,' said Marion, cheerily, 'however
little. Grace was everything to me, even when she was a young
child herself.'
'True, Puss, true,' returned the Doctor. 'She was a staid little
woman, was Grace, and a wise housekeeper, and a busy, quiet,
pleasant body; bearing with our humours and anticipating our
wishes, and always ready to forget her own, even in those times. I
never knew you positive or obstinate, Grace, my darling, even then,
on any subject but one.'
'I am afraid I have changed sadly for the worse, since,' laughed
Grace, still busy at her work. 'What was that one, father?'
'Alfred, of course,' said the Doctor. 'Nothing would serve you but
you must be called Alfred's wife; so we called you Alfred's wife;
and you liked it better, I believe (odd as it seems now), than
being called a Duchess, if we could have made you one.'
'Indeed?' said Grace, placidly.
'Why, don't you remember?' inquired the Doctor.
'I think I remember something of it,' she returned, 'but not much.
It's so long ago.' And as she sat at work, she hummed the burden
of an old song, which the Doctor liked.
'Alfred will find a real wife soon,' she said, breaking off; 'and
that will be a happy time indeed for all of us. My three years'
trust is nearly at an end, Marion. It has been a very easy one. I
shall tell Alfred, when I give you back to him, that you have loved
him dearly all the time, and that he has never once needed my good
services. May I tell him so, love?'
'Tell him, dear Grace,' replied Marion, 'that there never was a
trust so generously, nobly, steadfastly discharged; and that I have
loved YOU, all the time, dearer and dearer every day; and O! how
dearly now!'
'Nay,' said her cheerful sister, returning her embrace, 'I can
scarcely tell him that; we will leave my deserts to Alfred's
imagination. It will be liberal enough, dear Marion; like your
With that, she resumed the work she had for a moment laid down,
when her sister spoke so fervently: and with it the old song the
Doctor liked to hear. And the Doctor, still reposing in his easychair,
with his slippered feet stretched out before him on the rug,
listened to the tune, and beat time on his knee with Alfred's
letter, and looked at his two daughters, and thought that among the
many trifles of the trifling world, these trifles were agreeable
Clemency Newcome, in the meantime, having accomplished her mission
and lingered in the room until she had made herself a party to the
news, descended to the kitchen, where her coadjutor, Mr. Britain,
was regaling after supper, surrounded by such a plentiful
collection of bright pot-lids, well-scoured saucepans, burnished
dinner-covers, gleaming kettles, and other tokens of her
industrious habits, arranged upon the walls and shelves, that he
sat as in the centre of a hall of mirrors. The majority did not
give forth very flattering portraits of him, certainly; nor were
they by any means unanimous in their reflections; as some made him
very long-faced, others very broad-faced, some tolerably welllooking,
others vastly ill-looking, according to their several
manners of reflecting: which were as various, in respect of one
fact, as those of so many kinds of men. But they all agreed that
in the midst of them sat, quite at his ease, an individual with a
pipe in his mouth, and a jug of beer at his elbow, who nodded
condescendingly to Clemency, when she stationed herself at the same
'Well, Clemmy,' said Britain, 'how are you by this time, and what's
the news?'
Clemency told him the news, which he received very graciously. A
gracious change had come over Benjamin from head to foot. He was
much broader, much redder, much more cheerful, and much jollier in
all respects. It seemed as if his face had been tied up in a knot
before, and was now untwisted and smoothed out.
'There'll be another job for Snitchey and Craggs, I suppose,' he
observed, puffing slowly at his pipe. 'More witnessing for you and
me, perhaps, Clemmy!'
'Lor!' replied his fair companion, with her favourite twist of her
favourite joints. 'I wish it was me, Britain!'
'Wish what was you?'
'A-going to be married,' said Clemency.
Benjamin took his pipe out of his mouth and laughed heartily.
'Yes! you're a likely subject for that!' he said. 'Poor Clem!'
Clemency for her part laughed as heartily as he, and seemed as much
amused by the idea. 'Yes,' she assented, 'I'm a likely subject for
that; an't I?'
'YOU'LL never be married, you know,' said Mr. Britain, resuming his
'Don't you think I ever shall though?' said Clemency, in perfect
good faith.
Mr. Britain shook his head. 'Not a chance of it!'
'Only think!' said Clemency. 'Well! - I suppose you mean to,
Britain, one of these days; don't you?'
A question so abrupt, upon a subject so momentous, required
consideration. After blowing out a great cloud of smoke, and
looking at it with his head now on this side and now on that, as if
it were actually the question, and he were surveying it in various
aspects, Mr. Britain replied that he wasn't altogether clear about
it, but - ye-es - he thought he might come to that at last.
'I wish her joy, whoever she may be!' cried Clemency.
'Oh she'll have that,' said Benjamin, 'safe enough.'
'But she wouldn't have led quite such a joyful life as she will
lead, and wouldn't have had quite such a sociable sort of husband
as she will have,' said Clemency, spreading herself half over the
table, and staring retrospectively at the candle, 'if it hadn't
been for - not that I went to do it, for it was accidental, I am
sure - if it hadn't been for me; now would she, Britain?'
'Certainly not,' returned Mr. Britain, by this time in that high
state of appreciation of his pipe, when a man can open his mouth
but a very little way for speaking purposes; and sitting
luxuriously immovable in his chair, can afford to turn only his
eyes towards a companion, and that very passively and gravely.
'Oh! I'm greatly beholden to you, you know, Clem.'
'Lor, how nice that is to think of!' said Clemency.
At the same time, bringing her thoughts as well as her sight to
bear upon the candle-grease, and becoming abruptly reminiscent of
its healing qualities as a balsam, she anointed her left elbow with
a plentiful application of that remedy.
'You see I've made a good many investigations of one sort and
another in my time,' pursued Mr. Britain, with the profundity of a
sage, 'having been always of an inquiring turn of mind; and I've
read a good many books about the general Rights of things and
Wrongs of things, for I went into the literary line myself, when I
began life.'
'Did you though!' cried the admiring Clemency.
'Yes,' said Mr. Britain: 'I was hid for the best part of two years
behind a bookstall, ready to fly out if anybody pocketed a volume;
and after that, I was light porter to a stay and mantua maker, in
which capacity I was employed to carry about, in oilskin baskets,
nothing but deceptions - which soured my spirits and disturbed my
confidence in human nature; and after that, I heard a world of
discussions in this house, which soured my spirits fresh; and my
opinion after all is, that, as a safe and comfortable sweetener of
the same, and as a pleasant guide through life, there's nothing
like a nutmeg-grater.'
Clemency was about to offer a suggestion, but he stopped her by
anticipating it.
'Com-bined,' he added gravely, 'with a thimble.'
'Do as you wold, you know, and cetrer, eh!' observed Clemency,
folding her arms comfortably in her delight at this avowal, and
patting her elbows. 'Such a short cut, an't it?'
'I'm not sure,' said Mr. Britain, 'that it's what would be
considered good philosophy. I've my doubts about that; but it
wears well, and saves a quantity of snarling, which the genuine
article don't always.'
'See how you used to go on once, yourself, you know!' said
'Ah!' said Mr. Britain. 'But the most extraordinary thing, Clemmy,
is that I should live to be brought round, through you. That's the
strange part of it. Through you! Why, I suppose you haven't so
much as half an idea in your head.'
Clemency, without taking the least offence, shook it, and laughed
and hugged herself, and said, 'No, she didn't suppose she had.'
'I'm pretty sure of it,' said Mr. Britain.
'Oh! I dare say you're right,' said Clemency. 'I don't pretend to
none. I don't want any.'
Benjamin took his pipe from his lips, and laughed till the tears
ran down his face. 'What a natural you are, Clemmy!' he said,
shaking his head, with an infinite relish of the joke, and wiping
his eyes. Clemency, without the smallest inclination to dispute
it, did the like, and laughed as heartily as he.
'I can't help liking you,' said Mr. Britain; 'you're a regular good
creature in your way, so shake hands, Clem. Whatever happens, I'll
always take notice of you, and be a friend to you.'
'Will you?' returned Clemency. 'Well! that's very good of you.'
'Yes, yes,' said Mr. Britain, giving her his pipe to knock the
ashes out of it; 'I'll stand by you. Hark! That's a curious
'Noise!' repeated Clemency.
'A footstep outside. Somebody dropping from the wall, it sounded
like,' said Britain. 'Are they all abed up-stairs?'
'Yes, all abed by this time,' she replied.
'Didn't you hear anything?'
They both listened, but heard nothing.
'I tell you what,' said Benjamin, taking down a lantern. 'I'll
have a look round, before I go to bed myself, for satisfaction's
sake. Undo the door while I light this, Clemmy.'
Clemency complied briskly; but observed as she did so, that he
would only have his walk for his pains, that it was all his fancy,
and so forth. Mr. Britain said 'very likely;' but sallied out,
nevertheless, armed with the poker, and casting the light of the
lantern far and near in all directions.
'It's as quiet as a churchyard,' said Clemency, looking after him;
'and almost as ghostly too!'
Glancing back into the kitchen, she cried fearfully, as a light
figure stole into her view, 'What's that!'
'Hush!' said Marion in an agitated whisper. 'You have always loved
me, have you not!'
'Loved you, child! You may be sure I have.'
'I am sure. And I may trust you, may I not? There is no one else
just now, in whom I CAN trust.'
'Yes,' said Clemency, with all her heart.
'There is some one out there,' pointing to the door, 'whom I must
see, and speak with, to-night. Michael Warden, for God's sake
retire! Not now!'
Clemency started with surprise and trouble as, following the
direction of the speaker's eyes, she saw a dark figure standing in
the doorway.
'In another moment you may be discovered,' said Marion. 'Not now!
Wait, if you can, in some concealment. I will come presently.'
He waved his hand to her, and was gone. 'Don't go to bed. Wait
here for me!' said Marion, hurriedly. 'I have been seeking to
speak to you for an hour past. Oh, be true to me!'
Eagerly seizing her bewildered hand, and pressing it with both her
own to her breast - an action more expressive, in its passion of
entreaty, than the most eloquent appeal in words, - Marion
withdrew; as the light of the returning lantern flashed into the
'All still and peaceable. Nobody there. Fancy, I suppose,' said
Mr. Britain, as he locked and barred the door. 'One of the effects
of having a lively imagination. Halloa! Why, what's the matter?'
Clemency, who could not conceal the effects of her surprise and
concern, was sitting in a chair: pale, and trembling from head to
'Matter!' she repeated, chafing her hands and elbows, nervously,
and looking anywhere but at him. 'That's good in you, Britain,
that is! After going and frightening one out of one's life with
noises and lanterns, and I don't know what all. Matter! Oh, yes!'
'If you're frightened out of your life by a lantern, Clemmy,' said
Mr. Britain, composedly blowing it out and hanging it up again,
'that apparition's very soon got rid of. But you're as bold as
brass in general,' he said, stopping to observe her; 'and were,
after the noise and the lantern too. What have you taken into your
head? Not an idea, eh?'
But, as Clemency bade him good night very much after her usual
fashion, and began to bustle about with a show of going to bed
herself immediately, Little Britain, after giving utterance to the
original remark that it was impossible to account for a woman's
whims, bade her good night in return, and taking up his candle
strolled drowsily away to bed.
When all was quiet, Marion returned.
'Open the door,' she said; 'and stand there close beside me, while
I speak to him, outside.'
Timid as her manner was, it still evinced a resolute and settled
purpose, such as Clemency could not resist. She softly unbarred
the door: but before turning the key, looked round on the young
creature waiting to issue forth when she should open it.
The face was not averted or cast down, but looking full upon her,
in its pride of youth and beauty. Some simple sense of the
slightness of the barrier that interposed itself between the happy
home and honoured love of the fair girl, and what might be the
desolation of that home, and shipwreck of its dearest treasure,
smote so keenly on the tender heart of Clemency, and so filled it
to overflowing with sorrow and compassion, that, bursting into
tears, she threw her arms round Marion's neck.
'It's little that I know, my dear,' cried Clemency, 'very little;
but I know that this should not be. Think of what you do!'
'I have thought of it many times,' said Marion, gently.
'Once more,' urged Clemency. 'Till to-morrow.' Marion shook her
'For Mr. Alfred's sake,' said Clemency, with homely earnestness.
'Him that you used to love so dearly, once!'
She hid her face, upon the instant, in her hands, repeating 'Once!'
as if it rent her heart.
'Let me go out,' said Clemency, soothing her. 'I'll tell him what
you like. Don't cross the door-step to-night. I'm sure no good
will come of it. Oh, it was an unhappy day when Mr. Warden was
ever brought here! Think of your good father, darling - of your
'I have,' said Marion, hastily raising her head. 'You don't know
what I do. I MUST speak to him. You are the best and truest
friend in all the world for what you have said to me, but I must
take this step. Will you go with me, Clemency,' she kissed her on
her friendly face, 'or shall I go alone?'
Sorrowing and wondering, Clemency turned the key, and opened the
door. Into the dark and doubtful night that lay beyond the
threshold, Marion passed quickly, holding by her hand.
In the dark night he joined her, and they spoke together earnestly
and long; and the hand that held so fast by Clemeney's, now
trembled, now turned deadly cold, now clasped and closed on hers,
in the strong feeling of the speech it emphasised unconsciously.
When they returned, he followed to the door, and pausing there a
moment, seized the other hand, and pressed it to his lips. Then,
stealthily withdrew.
The door was barred and locked again, and once again she stood
beneath her father's roof. Not bowed down by the secret that she
brought there, though so young; but, with that same expression on
her face for which I had no name before, and shining through her
Again she thanked and thanked her humble friend, and trusted to
her, as she said, with confidence, implicitly. Her chamber safely
reached, she fell upon her knees; and with her secret weighing on
her heart, could pray!
Could rise up from her prayers, so tranquil and serene, and bending
over her fond sister in her slumber, look upon her face and smile -
though sadly: murmuring as she kissed her forehead, how that Grace
had been a mother to her, ever, and she loved her as a child!
Could draw the passive arm about her neck when lying down to rest -
it seemed to cling there, of its own will, protectingly and
tenderly even in sleep - and breathe upon the parted lips, God
bless her!
Could sink into a peaceful sleep, herself; but for one dream, in
which she cried out, in her innocent and touching voice, that she
was quite alone, and they had all forgotten her.
A month soon passes, even at its tardiest pace. The month
appointed to elapse between that night and the return, was quick of
foot, and went by, like a vapour.
The day arrived. A raging winter day, that shook the old house,
sometimes, as if it shivered in the blast. A day to make home
doubly home. To give the chimney-corner new delights. To shed a
ruddier glow upon the faces gathered round the hearth, and draw
each fireside group into a closer and more social league, against
the roaring elements without. Such a wild winter day as best
prepares the way for shut-out night; for curtained rooms, and
cheerful looks; for music, laughter, dancing, light, and jovial
All these the Doctor had in store to welcome Alfred back. They
knew that he could not arrive till night; and they would make the
night air ring, he said, as he approached. All his old friends
should congregate about him. He should not miss a face that he had
known and liked. No! They should every one be there!
So, guests were bidden, and musicians were engaged, and tables
spread, and floors prepared for active feet, and bountiful
provision made, of every hospitable kind. Because it was the
Christmas season, and his eyes were all unused to English holly and
its sturdy green, the dancing-room was garlanded and hung with it;
and the red berries gleamed an English welcome to him, peeping from
among the leaves.
It was a busy day for all of them: a busier day for none of them
than Grace, who noiselessly presided everywhere, and was the
cheerful mind of all the preparations. Many a time that day (as
well as many a time within the fleeting month preceding it), did
Clemency glance anxiously, and almost fearfully, at Marion. She
saw her paler, perhaps, than usual; but there was a sweet composure
on her face that made it lovelier than ever.
At night when she was dressed, and wore upon her head a wreath that
Grace had proudly twined about it - its mimic flowers were Alfred's
favourites, as Grace remembered when she chose them - that old
expression, pensive, almost sorrowful, and yet so spiritual, high,
and stirring, sat again upon her brow, enhanced a hundred-fold.
'The next wreath I adjust on this fair head, will be a marriage
wreath,' said Grace; 'or I am no true prophet, dear.'
Her sister smiled, and held her in her arms.
'A moment, Grace. Don't leave me yet. Are you sure that I want
nothing more?'
Her care was not for that. It was her sister's face she thought
of, and her eyes were fixed upon it, tenderly.
'My art,' said Grace, 'can go no farther, dear girl; nor your
beauty. I never saw you look so beautiful as now.'
'I never was so happy,' she returned.
'Ay, but there is a greater happiness in store. In such another
home, as cheerful and as bright as this looks now,' said Grace,
'Alfred and his young wife will soon be living.'
She smiled again. 'It is a happy home, Grace, in your fancy. I
can see it in your eyes. I know it WILL be happy, dear. How glad
I am to know it.'
'Well,' cried the Doctor, bustling in. 'Here we are, all ready for
Alfred, eh? He can't be here until pretty late - an hour or so
before midnight - so there'll be plenty of time for making merry
before he comes. He'll not find us with the ice unbroken. Pile up
the fire here, Britain! Let it shine upon the holly till it winks
again. It's a world of nonsense, Puss; true lovers and all the
rest of it - all nonsense; but we'll be nonsensical with the rest
of 'em, and give our true lover a mad welcome. Upon my word!' said
the old Doctor, looking at his daughters proudly, 'I'm not clear
to-night, among other absurdities, but that I'm the father of two
handsome girls.'
'All that one of them has ever done, or may do - may do, dearest
father - to cause you pain or grief, forgive her,' said Marion,
'forgive her now, when her heart is full. Say that you forgive
her. That you will forgive her. That she shall always share your
love, and -,' and the rest was not said, for her face was hidden on
the old man's shoulder.
'Tut, tut, tut,' said the Doctor gently. 'Forgive! What have I to
forgive? Heyday, if our true lovers come back to flurry us like
this, we must hold 'em at a distance; we must send expresses out to
stop 'em short upon the road, and bring 'em on a mile or two a day,
until we're properly prepared to meet 'em. Kiss me, Puss.
Forgive! Why, what a silly child you are! If you had vexed and
crossed me fifty times a day, instead of not at all, I'd forgive
you everything, but such a supplication. Kiss me again, Puss.
There! Prospective and retrospective - a clear score between us.
Pile up the fire here! Would you freeze the people on this bleak
December night! Let us be light, and warm, and merry, or I'll not
forgive some of you!'
So gaily the old Doctor carried it! And the fire was piled up, and
the lights were bright, and company arrived, and a murmuring of
lively tongues began, and already there was a pleasant air of
cheerful excitement stirring through all the house.
More and more company came flocking in. Bright eyes sparkled upon
Marion; smiling lips gave her joy of his return; sage mothers
fanned themselves, and hoped she mightn't be too youthful and
inconstant for the quiet round of home; impetuous fathers fell into
disgrace for too much exaltation of her beauty; daughters envied
her; sons envied him; innumerable pairs of lovers profited by the
occasion; all were interested, animated, and expectant.
Mr. and Mrs. Craggs came arm in arm, but Mrs. Snitchey came alone.
'Why, what's become of HIM?' inquired the Doctor.
The feather of a Bird of Paradise in Mrs. Snitchey's turban,
trembled as if the Bird of Paradise were alive again, when she said
that doubtless Mr. Craggs knew. SHE was never told.
'That nasty office,' said Mrs. Craggs.
'I wish it was burnt down,' said Mrs. Snitchey.
'He's - he's - there's a little matter of business that keeps my
partner rather late,' said Mr. Craggs, looking uneasily about him.
'Oh-h! Business. Don't tell me!' said Mrs. Snitchey.
'WE know what business means,' said Mrs. Craggs.
But their not knowing what it meant, was perhaps the reason why
Mrs. Snitchey's Bird of Paradise feather quivered so portentously,
and why all the pendant bits on Mrs. Craggs's ear-rings shook like
little bells.
'I wonder YOU could come away, Mr. Craggs,' said his wife.
'Mr. Craggs is fortunate, I'm sure!' said Mrs. Snitchey.
'That office so engrosses 'em,' said Mrs. Craggs.
'A person with an office has no business to be married at all,'
said Mrs. Snitchey.
Then, Mrs. Snitchey said, within herself, that that look of hers
had pierced to Craggs's soul, and he knew it; and Mrs. Craggs
observed to Craggs, that 'his Snitcheys' were deceiving him behind
his back, and he would find it out when it was too late.
Still, Mr. Craggs, without much heeding these remarks, looked
uneasily about until his eye rested on Grace, to whom he
immediately presented himself.
'Good evening, ma'am,' said Craggs. 'You look charmingly. Your -
Miss - your sister, Miss Marion, is she - '
'Oh, she's quite well, Mr. Craggs.'
'Yes - I - is she here?' asked Craggs.
'Here! Don't you see her yonder? Going to dance?' said Grace.
Mr. Craggs put on his spectacles to see the better; looked at her
through them, for some time; coughed; and put them, with an air of
satisfaction, in their sheath again, and in his pocket.
Now the music struck up, and the dance commenced. The bright fire
crackled and sparkled, rose and fell, as though it joined the dance
itself, in right good fellowship. Sometimes, it roared as if it
would make music too. Sometimes, it flashed and beamed as if it
were the eye of the old room: it winked too, sometimes, like a
knowing patriarch, upon the youthful whisperers in corners.
Sometimes, it sported with the holly-boughs; and, shining on the
leaves by fits and starts, made them look as if they were in the
cold winter night again, and fluttering in the wind. Sometimes its
genial humour grew obstreperous, and passed all bounds; and then it
cast into the room, among the twinkling feet, with a loud burst, a
shower of harmless little sparks, and in its exultation leaped and
bounded, like a mad thing, up the broad old chimney.
Another dance was near its close, when Mr. Snitchey touched his
partner, who was looking on, upon the arm.
Mr. Craggs started, as if his familiar had been a spectre.
'Is he gone?' he asked.
'Hush! He has been with me,' said Snitchey, 'for three hours and
more. He went over everything. He looked into all our
arrangements for him, and was very particular indeed. He - Humph!'
The dance was finished. Marion passed close before him, as he
spoke. She did not observe him, or his partner; but, looked over
her shoulder towards her sister in the distance, as she slowly made
her way into the crowd, and passed out of their view.
'You see! All safe and well,' said Mr. Craggs. 'He didn't recur
to that subject, I suppose?'
'Not a word.'
'And is he really gone? Is he safe away?'
'He keeps to his word. He drops down the river with the tide in
that shell of a boat of his, and so goes out to sea on this dark
night! - a dare-devil he is - before the wind. There's no such
lonely road anywhere else. That's one thing. The tide flows, he
says, an hour before midnight - about this time. I'm glad it's
over.' Mr. Snitchey wiped his forehead, which looked hot and
'What do you think,' said Mr. Craggs, 'about - '
'Hush!' replied his cautious partner, looking straight before him.
'I understand you. Don't mention names, and don't let us, seem to
be talking secrets. I don't know what to think; and to tell you
the truth, I don't care now. It's a great relief. His self-love
deceived him, I suppose. Perhaps the young lady coquetted a
little. The evidence would seem to point that way. Alfred not
'Not yet,' said Mr. Craggs. 'Expected every minute.'
'Good.' Mr. Snitchey wiped his forehead again. 'It's a great
relief. I haven't been so nervous since we've been in partnership.
I intend to spend the evening now, Mr. Craggs.'
Mrs. Craggs and Mrs. Snitchey joined them as he announced this
intention. The Bird of Paradise was in a state of extreme
vibration, and the little bells were ringing quite audibly.
'It has been the theme of general comment, Mr. Snitchey,' said Mrs.
Snitchey. 'I hope the office is satisfied.'
'Satisfied with what, my dear?' asked Mr. Snitchey.
'With the exposure of a defenceless woman to ridicule and remark,'
returned his wife. 'That is quite in the way of the office, THAT
'I really, myself,' said Mrs. Craggs, 'have been so long accustomed
to connect the office with everything opposed to domesticity, that
I am glad to know it as the avowed enemy of my peace. There is
something honest in that, at all events.'
'My dear,' urged Mr. Craggs, 'your good opinion is invaluable, but
I never avowed that the office was the enemy of your peace.'
'No,' said Mrs. Craggs, ringing a perfect peal upon the little
bells. 'Not you, indeed. You wouldn't be worthy of the office, if
you had the candour to.'
'As to my having been away to-night, my dear,' said Mr. Snitchey,
giving her his arm, 'the deprivation has been mine, I'm sure; but,
as Mr. Craggs knows - '
Mrs. Snitchey cut this reference very short by hitching her husband
to a distance, and asking him to look at that man. To do her the
favour to look at him!
'At which man, my dear?' said Mr. Snitchey.
'Your chosen companion; I'M no companion to you, Mr. Snitchey.'
'Yes, yes, you are, my dear,' he interposed.
'No, no, I'm not,' said Mrs. Snitchey with a majestic smile. 'I
know my station. Will you look at your chosen companion, Mr.
Snitchey; at your referee, at the keeper of your secrets, at the
man you trust; at your other self, in short?'
The habitual association of Self with Craggs, occasioned Mr.
Snitchey to look in that direction.
'If you can look that man in the eye this night,' said Mrs.
Snitchey, 'and not know that you are deluded, practised upon, made
the victim of his arts, and bent down prostrate to his will by some
unaccountable fascination which it is impossible to explain and
against which no warning of mine is of the least avail, all I can
say is - I pity you!'
At the very same moment Mrs. Craggs was oracular on the cross
subject. Was it possible, she said, that Craggs could so blind
himself to his Snitcheys, as not to feel his true position? Did he
mean to say that he had seen his Snitcheys come into that room, and
didn't plainly see that there was reservation, cunning, treachery,
in the man? Would he tell her that his very action, when he wiped
his forehead and looked so stealthily about him, didn't show that
there was something weighing on the conscience of his precious
Snitcheys (if he had a conscience), that wouldn't bear the light?
Did anybody but his Snitcheys come to festive entertainments like a
burglar? - which, by the way, was hardly a clear illustration of
the case, as he had walked in very mildly at the door. And would
he still assert to her at noon-day (it being nearly midnight), that
his Snitcheys were to be justified through thick and thin, against
all facts, and reason, and experience?
Neither Snitchey nor Craggs openly attempted to stem the current
which had thus set in, but, both were content to be carried gently
along it, until its force abated. This happened at about the same
time as a general movement for a country dance; when Mr. Snitchey
proposed himself as a partner to Mrs. Craggs, and Mr. Craggs
gallantly offered himself to Mrs. Snitchey; and after some such
slight evasions as 'why don't you ask somebody else?' and 'you'll
be glad, I know, if I decline,' and 'I wonder you can dance out of
the office' (but this jocosely now), each lady graciously accepted,
and took her place.
It was an old custom among them, indeed, to do so, and to pair off,
in like manner, at dinners and suppers; for they were excellent
friends, and on a footing of easy familiarity. Perhaps the false
Craggs and the wicked Snitchey were a recognised fiction with the
two wives, as Doe and Roe, incessantly running up and down
bailiwicks, were with the two husbands: or, perhaps the ladies had
instituted, and taken upon themselves, these two shares in the
business, rather than be left out of it altogether. But, certain
it is, that each wife went as gravely and steadily to work in her
vocation as her husband did in his, and would have considered it
almost impossible for the Firm to maintain a successful and
respectable existence, without her laudable exertions.
But, now, the Bird of Paradise was seen to flutter down the middle;
and the little bells began to bounce and jingle in poussette; and
the Doctor's rosy face spun round and round, like an expressive
pegtop highly varnished; and breathless Mr. Craggs began to doubt
already, whether country dancing had been made 'too easy,' like the
rest of life; and Mr. Snitchey, with his nimble cuts and capers,
footed it for Self and Craggs, and half-a-dozen more.
Now, too, the fire took fresh courage, favoured by the lively wind
the dance awakened, and burnt clear and high. It was the Genius of
the room, and present everywhere. It shone in people's eyes, it
sparkled in the jewels on the snowy necks of girls, it twinkled at
their ears as if it whispered to them slyly, it flashed about their
waists, it flickered on the ground and made it rosy for their feet,
it bloomed upon the ceiling that its glow might set off their
bright faces, and it kindled up a general illumination in Mrs.
Craggs's little belfry.
Now, too, the lively air that fanned it, grew less gentle as the
music quickened and the dance proceeded with new spirit; and a
breeze arose that made the leaves and berries dance upon the wall,
as they had often done upon the trees; and the breeze rustled in
the room as if an invisible company of fairies, treading in the
foot-steps of the good substantial revellers, were whirling after
them. Now, too, no feature of the Doctor's face could be
distinguished as he spun and spun; and now there seemed a dozen
Birds of Paradise in fitful flight; and now there were a thousand
little bells at work; and now a fleet of flying skirts was ruffled
by a little tempest, when the music gave in, and the dance was
Hot and breathless as the Doctor was, it only made him the more
impatient for Alfred's coming.
'Anything been seen, Britain? Anything been heard?'
'Too dark to see far, sir. Too much noise inside the house to
'That's right! The gayer welcome for him. How goes the time?'
'Just twelve, sir. He can't be long, sir.'
'Stir up the fire, and throw another log upon it,' said the Doctor.
'Let him see his welcome blazing out upon the night - good boy! -
as he comes along!'
He saw it - Yes! From the chaise he caught the light, as he turned
the corner by the old church. He knew the room from which it
shone. He saw the wintry branches of the old trees between the
light and him. He knew that one of those trees rustled musically
in the summer time at the window of Marion's chamber.
The tears were in his eyes. His heart throbbed so violently that
he could hardly bear his happiness. How often he had thought of
this time - pictured it under all circumstances - feared that it
might never come - yearned, and wearied for it - far away!
Again the light! Distinct and ruddy; kindled, he knew, to give him
welcome, and to speed him home. He beckoned with his hand, and
waved his hat, and cheered out, loud, as if the light were they,
and they could see and hear him, as he dashed towards them through
the mud and mire, triumphantly.
Stop! He knew the Doctor, and understood what he had done. He
would not let it be a surprise to them. But he could make it one,
yet, by going forward on foot. If the orchard-gate were open, he
could enter there; if not, the wall was easily climbed, as he knew
of old; and he would be among them in an instant.
He dismounted from the chaise, and telling the driver - even that
was not easy in his agitation - to remain behind for a few minutes,
and then to follow slowly, ran on with exceeding swiftness, tried
the gate, scaled the wall, jumped down on the other side, and stood
panting in the old orchard.
There was a frosty rime upon the trees, which, in the faint light
of the clouded moon, hung upon the smaller branches like dead
garlands. Withered leaves crackled and snapped beneath his feet,
as he crept softly on towards the house. The desolation of a
winter night sat brooding on the earth, and in the sky. But, the
red light came cheerily towards him from the windows; figures
passed and repassed there; and the hum and murmur of voices greeted
his ear sweetly.
Listening for hers: attempting, as he crept on, to detach it from
the rest, and half believing that he heard it: he had nearly
reached the door, when it was abruptly opened, and a figure coming
out encountered his. It instantly recoiled with a half-suppressed
'Clemency,' he said, 'don't you know me?'
'Don't come in!' she answered, pushing him back. 'Go away. Don't
ask me why. Don't come in.'
'What is the matter?' he exclaimed.
'I don't know. I - I am afraid to think. Go back. Hark!'
There was a sudden tumult in the house. She put her hands upon her
ears. A wild scream, such as no hands could shut out, was heard;
and Grace - distraction in her looks and manner - rushed out at the
'Grace!' He caught her in his arms. 'What is it! Is she dead!'
She disengaged herself, as if to recognise his face, and fell down
at his feet.
A crowd of figures came about them from the house. Among them was
her father, with a paper in his hand.
'What is it!' cried Alfred, grasping his hair with his hands, and
looking in an agony from face to face, as he bent upon his knee
beside the insensible girl. 'Will no one look at me? Will no one
speak to me? Does no one know me? Is there no voice among you
all, to tell me what it is!'
There was a murmur among them. 'She is gone.'
'Gone!' he echoed.
'Fled, my dear Alfred!' said the Doctor, in a broken voice, and
with his hands before his face. 'Gone from her home and us. Tonight!
She writes that she has made her innocent and blameless
choice - entreats that we will forgive her - prays that we will not
forget her - and is gone.'
'With whom? Where?'
He started up, as if to follow in pursuit; but, when they gave way
to let him pass, looked wildly round upon them, staggered back, and
sunk down in his former attitude, clasping one of Grace's cold
hands in his own.
There was a hurried running to and fro, confusion, noise, disorder,
and no purpose. Some proceeded to disperse themselves about the
roads, and some took horse, and some got lights, and some conversed
together, urging that there was no trace or track to follow. Some
approached him kindly, with the view of offering consolation; some
admonished him that Grace must be removed into the house, and that
he prevented it. He never heard them, and he never moved.
The snow fell fast and thick. He looked up for a moment in the
air, and thought that those white ashes strewn upon his hopes and
misery, were suited to them well. He looked round on the whitening
ground, and thought how Marion's foot-prints would be hushed and
covered up, as soon as made, and even that remembrance of her
blotted out. But he never felt the weather and he never stirred.
CHAPTER III - Part The Third
THE world had grown six years older since that night of the return.
It was a warm autumn afternoon, and there had been heavy rain. The
sun burst suddenly from among the clouds; and the old battleground,
sparkling brilliantly and cheerfully at sight of it in one
green place, flashed a responsive welcome there, which spread along
the country side as if a joyful beacon had been lighted up, and
answered from a thousand stations.
How beautiful the landscape kindling in the light, and that
luxuriant influence passing on like a celestial presence,
brightening everything! The wood, a sombre mass before, revealed
its varied tints of yellow, green, brown, red: its different forms
of trees, with raindrops glittering on their leaves and twinkling
as they fell. The verdant meadow-land, bright and glowing, seemed
as if it had been blind, a minute since, and now had found a sense
of sight where-with to look up at the shining sky. Corn-fields,
hedge-rows, fences, homesteads, and clustered roofs, the steeple of
the church, the stream, the water-mill, all sprang out of the
gloomy darkness smiling. Birds sang sweetly, flowers raised their
drooping heads, fresh scents arose from the invigorated ground; the
blue expanse above extended and diffused itself; already the sun's
slanting rays pierced mortally the sullen bank of cloud that
lingered in its flight; and a rainbow, spirit of all the colours
that adorned the earth and sky, spanned the whole arch with its
triumphant glory.
At such a time, one little roadside Inn, snugly sheltered behind a
great elm-tree with a rare seat for idlers encircling its capacious
bole, addressed a cheerful front towards the traveller, as a house
of entertainment ought, and tempted him with many mute but
significant assurances of a comfortable welcome. The ruddy signboard
perched up in the tree, with its golden letters winking in
the sun, ogled the passer-by, from among the green leaves, like a
jolly face, and promised good cheer. The horse-trough, full of
clear fresh water, and the ground below it sprinkled with droppings
of fragrant hay, made every horse that passed, prick up his ears.
The crimson curtains in the lower rooms, and the pure white
hangings in the little bed-chambers above, beckoned, Come in! with
every breath of air. Upon the bright green shutters, there were
golden legends about beer and ale, and neat wines, and good beds;
and an affecting picture of a brown jug frothing over at the top.
Upon the window-sills were flowering plants in bright red pots,
which made a lively show against the white front of the house; and
in the darkness of the doorway there were streaks of light, which
glanced off from the surfaces of bottles and tankards.
On the door-step, appeared a proper figure of a landlord, too; for,
though he was a short man, he was round and broad, and stood with
his hands in his pockets, and his legs just wide enough apart to
express a mind at rest upon the subject of the cellar, and an easy
confidence - too calm and virtuous to become a swagger - in the
general resources of the Inn. The superabundant moisture,
trickling from everything after the late rain, set him off well.
Nothing near him was thirsty. Certain top-heavy dahlias, looking
over the palings of his neat well-ordered garden, had swilled as
much as they could carry - perhaps a trifle more - and may have
been the worse for liquor; but the sweet-briar, roses, wallflowers,
the plants at the windows, and the leaves on the old tree,
were in the beaming state of moderate company that had taken no
more than was wholesome for them, and had served to develop their
best qualities. Sprinkling dewy drops about them on the ground,
they seemed profuse of innocent and sparkling mirth, that did good
where it lighted, softening neglected corners which the steady rain
could seldom reach, and hurting nothing.
This village Inn had assumed, on being established, an uncommon
sign. It was called The Nutmeg-Grater. And underneath that
household word, was inscribed, up in the tree, on the same flaming
board, and in the like golden characters, By Benjamin Britain.
At a second glance, and on a more minute examination of his face,
you might have known that it was no other than Benjamin Britain
himself who stood in the doorway - reasonably changed by time, but
for the better; a very comfortable host indeed.
'Mrs. B.,' said Mr. Britain, looking down the road, 'is rather
late. It's tea-time.'
As there was no Mrs. Britain coming, he strolled leisurely out into
the road and looked up at the house, very much to his satisfaction.
'It's just the sort of house,' said Benjamin, 'I should wish to
stop at, if I didn't keep it.'
Then, he strolled towards the garden-paling, and took a look at the
dahlias. They looked over at him, with a helpless drowsy hanging
of their heads: which bobbed again, as the heavy drops of wet
dripped off them.
'You must be looked after,' said Benjamin. 'Memorandum, not to
forget to tell her so. She's a long time coming!'
Mr. Britain's better half seemed to be by so very much his better
half, that his own moiety of himself was utterly cast away and
helpless without her.
'She hadn't much to do, I think,' said Ben. 'There were a few
little matters of business after market, but not many. Oh! here we
are at last!'
A chaise-cart, driven by a boy, came clattering along the road:
and seated in it, in a chair, with a large well-saturated umbrella
spread out to dry behind her, was the plump figure of a matronly
woman, with her bare arms folded across a basket which she carried
on her knee, several other baskets and parcels lying crowded around
her, and a certain bright good nature in her face and contented
awkwardness in her manner, as she jogged to and fro with the motion
of her carriage, which smacked of old times, even in the distance.
Upon her nearer approach, this relish of by-gone days was not
diminished; and when the cart stopped at the Nutmeg-Grater door, a
pair of shoes, alighting from it, slipped nimbly through Mr.
Britain's open arms, and came down with a substantial weight upon
the pathway, which shoes could hardly have belonged to any one but
Clemency Newcome.
In fact they did belong to her, and she stood in them, and a rosy
comfortable-looking soul she was: with as much soap on her glossy
face as in times of yore, but with whole elbows now, that had grown
quite dimpled in her improved condition.
'You're late, Clemmy!' said Mr. Britain.
'Why, you see, Ben, I've had a deal to do!' she replied, looking
busily after the safe removal into the house of all the packages
and baskets: 'eight, nine, ten - where's eleven? Oh! my basket's
eleven! It's all right. Put the horse up, Harry, and if he coughs
again give him a warm mash to-night. Eight, nine, ten. Why,
where's eleven? Oh! forgot, it's all right. How's the children,
'Hearty, Clemmy, hearty.'
'Bless their precious faces!' said Mrs. Britain, unbonneting her
own round countenance (for she and her husband were by this time in
the bar), and smoothing her hair with her open hands. 'Give us a
kiss, old man!'
Mr. Britain promptly complied.
'I think,' said Mrs. Britain, applying herself to her pockets and
drawing forth an immense bulk of thin books and crumpled papers: a
very kennel of dogs'-ears: 'I've done everything. Bills all
settled - turnips sold - brewer's account looked into and paid -
'bacco pipes ordered - seventeen pound four, paid into the Bank -
Doctor Heathfield's charge for little Clem - you'll guess what that
is - Doctor Heathfield won't take nothing again, Ben.'
'I thought he wouldn't,' returned Ben.
'No. He says whatever family you was to have, Ben, he'd never put
you to the cost of a halfpenny. Not if you was to have twenty.'
Mr. Britain's face assumed a serious expression, and he looked hard
at the wall.
'An't it kind of him?' said Clemency.
'Very,' returned Mr. Britain. 'It's the sort of kindness that I
wouldn't presume upon, on any account.'
'No,' retorted Clemency. 'Of course not. Then there's the pony -
he fetched eight pound two; and that an't bad, is it?'
'It's very good,' said Ben.
'I'm glad you're pleased!' exclaimed his wife. 'I thought you
would be; and I think that's all, and so no more at present from
yours and cetrer, C. Britain. Ha ha ha! There! Take all the
papers, and lock 'em up. Oh! Wait a minute. Here's a printed
bill to stick on the wall. Wet from the printer's. How nice it
'What's this?' said Ben, looking over the document.
'I don't know,' replied his wife. 'I haven't read a word of it.'
'"To be sold by Auction,"' read the host of the Nutmeg-Grater,
'"unless previously disposed of by private contract."'
'They always put that,' said Clemency.
'Yes, but they don't always put this,' he returned. 'Look here,
"Mansion," &c. - "offices," &c., "shrubberies," &c., "ring fence,"
&c. "Messrs. Snitchey and Craggs," &c., "ornamental portion of the
unencumbered freehold property of Michael Warden, Esquire,
intending to continue to reside abroad"!'
'Intending to continue to reside abroad!' repeated Clemency.
'Here it is,' said Britain. 'Look!'
'And it was only this very day that I heard it whispered at the old
house, that better and plainer news had been half promised of her,
soon!' said Clemency, shaking her head sorrowfully, and patting her
elbows as if the recollection of old times unconsciously awakened
her old habits. 'Dear, dear, dear! There'll be heavy hearts, Ben,
Mr. Britain heaved a sigh, and shook his head, and said he couldn't
make it out: he had left off trying long ago. With that remark,
he applied himself to putting up the bill just inside the bar
window. Clemency, after meditating in silence for a few moments,
roused herself, cleared her thoughtful brow, and bustled off to
look after the children.
Though the host of the Nutmeg-Grater had a lively regard for his
good-wife, it was of the old patronising kind, and she amused him
mightily. Nothing would have astonished him so much, as to have
known for certain from any third party, that it was she who managed
the whole house, and made him, by her plain straightforward thrift,
good-humour, honesty, and industry, a thriving man. So easy it is,
in any degree of life (as the world very often finds it), to take
those cheerful natures that never assert their merit, at their own
modest valuation; and to conceive a flippant liking of people for
their outward oddities and eccentricities, whose innate worth, if
we would look so far, might make us blush in the comparison!
It was comfortable to Mr. Britain, to think of his own
condescension in having married Clemency. She was a perpetual
testimony to him of the goodness of his heart, and the kindness of
his disposition; and he felt that her being an excellent wife was
an illustration of the old precept that virtue is its own reward.
He had finished wafering up the bill, and had locked the vouchers
for her day's proceedings in the cupboard - chuckling all the time,
over her capacity for business - when, returning with the news that
the two Master Britains were playing in the coach-house under the
superintendence of one Betsey, and that little Clem was sleeping
'like a picture,' she sat down to tea, which had awaited her
arrival, on a little table. It was a very neat little bar, with
the usual display of bottles and glasses; a sedate clock, right to
the minute (it was half-past five); everything in its place, and
everything furbished and polished up to the very utmost.
'It's the first time I've sat down quietly to-day, I declare,' said
Mrs. Britain, taking a long breath, as if she had sat down for the
night; but getting up again immediately to hand her husband his
tea, and cut him his bread-and-butter; 'how that bill does set me
thinking of old times!'
'Ah!' said Mr. Britain, handling his saucer like an oyster, and
disposing of its contents on the same principle.
'That same Mr. Michael Warden,' said Clemency, shaking her head at
the notice of sale, 'lost me my old place.'
'And got you your husband,' said Mr. Britain.
'Well! So he did,' retorted Clemency, 'and many thanks to him.'
'Man's the creature of habit,' said Mr. Britain, surveying her,
over his saucer. 'I had somehow got used to you, Clem; and I found
I shouldn't be able to get on without you. So we went and got made
man and wife. Ha! ha! We! Who'd have thought it!'
'Who indeed!' cried Clemency. 'It was very good of you, Ben.'
'No, no, no,' replied Mr. Britain, with an air of self-denial.
'Nothing worth mentioning.'
'Oh yes it was, Ben,' said his wife, with great simplicity; 'I'm
sure I think so, and am very much obliged to you. Ah!' looking
again at the bill; 'when she was known to be gone, and out of
reach, dear girl, I couldn't help telling - for her sake quite as
much as theirs - what I knew, could I?'
'You told it, anyhow,' observed her husband.
'And Dr. Jeddler,' pursued Clemency, putting down her tea-cup, and
looking thoughtfully at the bill, 'in his grief and passion turned
me out of house and home! I never have been so glad of anything in
all my life, as that I didn't say an angry word to him, and hadn't
any angry feeling towards him, even then; for he repented that
truly, afterwards. How often he has sat in this room, and told me
over and over again he was sorry for it! - the last time, only
yesterday, when you were out. How often he has sat in this room,
and talked to me, hour after hour, about one thing and another, in
which he made believe to be interested! - but only for the sake of
the days that are gone by, and because he knows she used to like
me, Ben!'
'Why, how did you ever come to catch a glimpse of that, Clem?'
asked her husband: astonished that she should have a distinct
perception of a truth which had only dimly suggested itself to his
inquiring mind.
'I don't know, I'm sure,' said Clemency, blowing her tea, to cool
it. 'Bless you, I couldn't tell you, if you was to offer me a
reward of a hundred pound.'
He might have pursued this metaphysical subject but for her
catching a glimpse of a substantial fact behind him, in the shape
of a gentleman attired in mourning, and cloaked and booted like a
rider on horseback, who stood at the bar-door. He seemed attentive
to their conversation, and not at all impatient to interrupt it.
Clemency hastily rose at this sight. Mr. Britain also rose and
saluted the guest. 'Will you please to walk up-stairs, sir?
There's a very nice room up-stairs, sir.'
'Thank you,' said the stranger, looking earnestly at Mr. Britain's
wife. 'May I come in here?'
'Oh, surely, if you like, sir,' returned Clemency, admitting him.
'What would you please to want, sir?'
The bill had caught his eye, and he was reading it.
'Excellent property that, sir,' observed Mr. Britain.
He made no answer; but, turning round, when he had finished
reading, looked at Clemency with the same observant curiosity as
before. 'You were asking me,' - he said, still looking at her, -
'What you would please to take, sir,' answered Clemency, stealing a
glance at him in return.
'If you will let me have a draught of ale,' he said, moving to a
table by the window, 'and will let me have it here, without being
any interruption to your meal, I shall be much obliged to you.' He
sat down as he spoke, without any further parley, and looked out at
the prospect. He was an easy, well-knit figure of a man in the
prime of life. His face, much browned by the sun, was shaded by a
quantity of dark hair; and he wore a moustache. His beer being set
before him, he filled out a glass, and drank, good-humouredly, to
the house; adding, as he put the tumbler down again:
'It's a new house, is it not?'
'Not particularly new, sir,' replied Mr. Britain.
'Between five and six years old,' said Clemency; speaking very
'I think I heard you mention Dr. Jeddler's name, as I came in,'
inquired the stranger. 'That bill reminds me of him; for I happen
to know something of that story, by hearsay, and through certain
connexions of mine. - Is the old man living?'
'Yes, he's living, sir,' said Clemency.
'Much changed?'
'Since when, sir?' returned Clemency, with remarkable emphasis and
'Since his daughter - went away.'
'Yes! he's greatly changed since then,' said Clemency. 'He's grey
and old, and hasn't the same way with him at all; but, I think he's
happy now. He has taken on with his sister since then, and goes to
see her very often. That did him good, directly. At first, he was
sadly broken down; and it was enough to make one's heart bleed, to
see him wandering about, railing at the world; but a great change
for the better came over him after a year or two, and then he began
to like to talk about his lost daughter, and to praise her, ay and
the world too! and was never tired of saying, with the tears in his
poor eyes, how beautiful and good she was. He had forgiven her
then. That was about the same time as Miss Grace's marriage.
Britain, you remember?'
Mr. Britain remembered very well.
'The sister is married then,' returned the stranger. He paused for
some time before he asked, 'To whom?'
Clemency narrowly escaped oversetting the tea-board, in her emotion
at this question.
'Did YOU never hear?' she said.
'I should like to hear,' he replied, as he filled his glass again,
and raised it to his lips.
'Ah! It would be a long story, if it was properly told,' said
Clemency, resting her chin on the palm of her left hand, and
supporting that elbow on her right hand, as she shook her head, and
looked back through the intervening years, as if she were looking
at a fire. 'It would be a long story, I am sure.'
'But told as a short one,' suggested the stranger.
Told as a short one,' repeated Clemency in the same thoughtful
tone, and without any apparent reference to him, or consciousness
of having auditors, 'what would there be to tell? That they
grieved together, and remembered her together, like a person dead;
that they were so tender of her, never would reproach her, called
her back to one another as she used to be, and found excuses for
her! Every one knows that. I'm sure I do. No one better,' added
Clemency, wiping her eyes with her hand.
'And so,' suggested the stranger.
'And so,' said Clemency, taking him up mechanically, and without
any change in her attitude or manner, 'they at last were married.
They were married on her birth-day - it comes round again to-morrow
- very quiet, very humble like, but very happy. Mr. Alfred said,
one night when they were walking in the orchard, "Grace, shall our
wedding-day be Marion's birth-day?" And it was.'
'And they have lived happily together?' said the stranger.
'Ay,' said Clemency. 'No two people ever more so. They have had
no sorrow but this.'
She raised her head as with a sudden attention to the circumstances
under which she was recalling these events, and looked quickly at
the stranger. Seeing that his face was turned toward the window,
and that he seemed intent upon the prospect, she made some eager
signs to her husband, and pointed to the bill, and moved her mouth
as if she were repeating with great energy, one word or phrase to
him over and over again. As she uttered no sound, and as her dumb
motions like most of her gestures were of a very extraordinary
kind, this unintelligible conduct reduced Mr. Britain to the
confines of despair. He stared at the table, at the stranger, at
the spoons, at his wife - followed her pantomime with looks of deep
amazement and perplexity - asked in the same language, was it
property in danger, was it he in danger, was it she - answered her
signals with other signals expressive of the deepest distress and
confusion - followed the motions of her lips - guessed half aloud
'milk and water,' 'monthly warning,' 'mice and walnuts' - and
couldn't approach her meaning.
Clemency gave it up at last, as a hopeless attempt; and moving her
chair by very slow degrees a little nearer to the stranger, sat
with her eyes apparently cast down but glancing sharply at him now
and then, waiting until he should ask some other question. She had
not to wait long; for he said, presently:
'And what is the after history of the young lady who went away?
They know it, I suppose?'
Clemency shook her head. 'I've heard,' she said, 'that Doctor
Jeddler is thought to know more of it than he tells. Miss Grace
has had letters from her sister, saying that she was well and
happy, and made much happier by her being married to Mr. Alfred:
and has written letters back. But there's a mystery about her life
and fortunes, altogether, which nothing has cleared up to this
hour, and which - '
She faltered here, and stopped.
'And which' - repeated the stranger.
'Which only one other person, I believe, could explain,' said
Clemency, drawing her breath quickly.
'Who may that be?' asked the stranger.
'Mr. Michael Warden!' answered Clemency, almost in a shriek: at
once conveying to her husband what she would have had him
understand before, and letting Michael Warden know that he was
'You remember me, sir?' said Clemency, trembling with emotion; 'I
saw just now you did! You remember me, that night in the garden.
I was with her!'
'Yes. You were,' he said.
'Yes, sir,' returned Clemency. 'Yes, to be sure. This is my
husband, if you please. Ben, my dear Ben, run to Miss Grace - run
to Mr. Alfred - run somewhere, Ben! Bring somebody here,
'Stay!' said Michael Warden, quietly interposing himself between
the door and Britain. 'What would you do?'
'Let them know that you are here, sir,' answered Clemency, clapping
her hands in sheer agitation. 'Let them know that they may hear of
her, from your own lips; let them know that she is not quite lost
to them, but that she will come home again yet, to bless her father
and her loving sister - even her old servant, even me,' she struck
herself upon the breast with both hands, 'with a sight of her sweet
face. Run, Ben, run!' And still she pressed him on towards the
door, and still Mr. Warden stood before it, with his hand stretched
out, not angrily, but sorrowfully.
'Or perhaps,' said Clemency, running past her husband, and catching
in her emotion at Mr. Warden's cloak, 'perhaps she's here now;
perhaps she's close by. I think from your manner she is. Let me
see her, sir, if you please. I waited on her when she was a little
child. I saw her grow to be the pride of all this place. I knew
her when she was Mr. Alfred's promised wife. I tried to warn her
when you tempted her away. I know what her old home was when she
was like the soul of it, and how it changed when she was gone and
lost. Let me speak to her, if you please!'
He gazed at her with compassion, not unmixed with wonder: but, he
made no gesture of assent.
'I don't think she CAN know,' pursued Clemency, 'how truly they
forgive her; how they love her; what joy it would be to them, to
see her once more. She may be timorous of going home. Perhaps if
she sees me, it may give her new heart. Only tell me truly, Mr.
Warden, is she with you?'
'She is not,' he answered, shaking his head.
This answer, and his manner, and his black dress, and his coming
back so quietly, and his announced intention of continuing to live
abroad, explained it all. Marion was dead.
He didn't contradict her; yes, she was dead! Clemency sat down,
hid her face upon the table, and cried.
At that moment, a grey-headed old gentleman came running in: quite
out of breath, and panting so much that his voice was scarcely to
be recognised as the voice of Mr. Snitchey.
'Good Heaven, Mr. Warden!' said the lawyer, taking him aside, 'what
wind has blown - ' He was so blown himself, that he couldn't get
on any further until after a pause, when he added, feebly, 'you
'An ill-wind, I am afraid,' he answered. 'If you could have heard
what has just passed - how I have been besought and entreated to
perform impossibilities - what confusion and affliction I carry
with me!'
'I can guess it all. But why did you ever come here, my good sir?'
retorted Snitchey.
'Come! How should I know who kept the house? When I sent my
servant on to you, I strolled in here because the place was new to
me; and I had a natural curiosity in everything new and old, in
these old scenes; and it was outside the town. I wanted to
communicate with you, first, before appearing there. I wanted to
know what people would say to me. I see by your manner that you
can tell me. If it were not for your confounded caution, I should
have been possessed of everything long ago.'
'Our caution!' returned the lawyer, 'speaking for Self and Craggs -
deceased,' here Mr. Snitchey, glancing at his hat-band, shook his
head, 'how can you reasonably blame us, Mr. Warden? It was
understood between us that the subject was never to be renewed, and
that it wasn't a subject on which grave and sober men like us (I
made a note of your observations at the time) could interfere. Our
caution too! When Mr. Craggs, sir, went down to his respected
grave in the full belief - '
'I had given a solemn promise of silence until I should return,
whenever that might be,' interrupted Mr. Warden; 'and I have kept
'Well, sir, and I repeat it,' returned Mr. Snitchey, 'we were bound
to silence too. We were bound to silence in our duty towards
ourselves, and in our duty towards a variety of clients, you among
them, who were as close as wax. It was not our place to make
inquiries of you on such a delicate subject. I had my suspicions,
sir; but, it is not six months since I have known the truth, and
been assured that you lost her.'
'By whom?' inquired his client.
'By Doctor Jeddler himself, sir, who at last reposed that
confidence in me voluntarily. He, and only he, has known the whole
truth, years and years.'
'And you know it?' said his client.
'I do, sir!' replied Snitchey; 'and I have also reason to know that
it will be broken to her sister to-morrow evening. They have given
her that promise. In the meantime, perhaps you'll give me the
honour of your company at my house; being unexpected at your own.
But, not to run the chance of any more such difficulties as you
have had here, in case you should be recognised - though you're a
good deal changed; I think I might have passed you myself, Mr.
Warden - we had better dine here, and walk on in the evening. It's
a very good place to dine at, Mr. Warden: your own property, bythe-
bye. Self and Craggs (deceased) took a chop here sometimes,
and had it very comfortably served. Mr. Craggs, sir,' said
Snitchey, shutting his eyes tight for an instant, and opening them
again, 'was struck off the roll of life too soon.'
'Heaven forgive me for not condoling with you,' returned Michael
Warden, passing his hand across his forehead, 'but I'm like a man
in a dream at present. I seem to want my wits. Mr. Craggs - yes -
I am very sorry we have lost Mr. Craggs.' But he looked at
Clemency as he said it, and seemed to sympathise with Ben,
consoling her.
'Mr. Craggs, sir,' observed Snitchey, 'didn't find life, I regret
to say, as easy to have and to hold as his theory made it out, or
he would have been among us now. It's a great loss to me. He was
my right arm, my right leg, my right ear, my right eye, was Mr.
Craggs. I am paralytic without him. He bequeathed his share of
the business to Mrs. Craggs, her executors, administrators, and
assigns. His name remains in the Firm to this hour. I try, in a
childish sort of a way, to make believe, sometimes, he's alive.
You may observe that I speak for Self and Craggs - deceased, sir -
deceased,' said the tender-hearted attorney, waving his pockethandkerchief.
Michael Warden, who had still been observant of Clemency, turned to
Mr. Snitchey when he ceased to speak, and whispered in his ear.
'Ah, poor thing!' said Snitchey, shaking his head. 'Yes. She was
always very faithful to Marion. She was always very fond of her.
Pretty Marion! Poor Marion! Cheer up, Mistress - you are married
now, you know, Clemency.'
Clemency only sighed, and shook her head.
'Well, well! Wait till to-morrow,' said the lawyer, kindly.
'To-morrow can't bring back' the dead to life, Mister,' said
Clemency, sobbing.
'No. It can't do that, or it would bring back Mr. Craggs,
deceased,' returned the lawyer. 'But it may bring some soothing
circumstances; it may bring some comfort. Wait till to-morrow!'
So Clemency, shaking his proffered hand, said she would; and
Britain, who had been terribly cast down at sight of his despondent
wife (which was like the business hanging its head), said that was
right; and Mr. Snitchey and Michael Warden went up-stairs; and
there they were soon engaged in a conversation so cautiously
conducted, that no murmur of it was audible above the clatter of
plates and dishes, the hissing of the frying-pan, the bubbling of
saucepans, the low monotonous waltzing of the jack - with a
dreadful click every now and then as if it had met with some mortal
accident to its head, in a fit of giddiness - and all the other
preparations in the kitchen for their dinner.
To-morrow was a bright and peaceful day; and nowhere were the
autumn tints more beautifully seen, than from the quiet orchard of
the Doctor's house. The snows of many winter nights had melted
from that ground, the withered leaves of many summer times had
rustled there, since she had fled. The honey-suckle porch was
green again, the trees cast bountiful and changing shadows on the
grass, the landscape was as tranquil and serene as it had ever
been; but where was she!
Not there. Not there. She would have been a stranger sight in her
old home now, even than that home had been at first, without her.
But, a lady sat in the familiar place, from whose heart she had
never passed away; in whose true memory she lived, unchanging,
youthful, radiant with all promise and all hope; in whose affection
- and it was a mother's now, there was a cherished little daughter
playing by her side - she had no rival, no successor; upon whose
gentle lips her name was trembling then.
The spirit of the lost girl looked out of those eyes. Those eyes
of Grace, her sister, sitting with her husband in the orchard, on
their wedding-day, and his and Marion's birth-day.
He had not become a great man; he had not grown rich; he had not
forgotten the scenes and friends of his youth; he had not fulfilled
any one of the Doctor's old predictions. But, in his useful,
patient, unknown visiting of poor men's homes; and in his watching
of sick beds; and in his daily knowledge of the gentleness and
goodness flowering the by-paths of this world, not to be trodden
down beneath the heavy foot of poverty, but springing up, elastic,
in its track, and making its way beautiful; he had better learned
and proved, in each succeeding year, the truth of his old faith.
The manner of his life, though quiet and remote, had shown him how
often men still entertained angels, unawares, as in the olden time;
and how the most unlikely forms - even some that were mean and ugly
to the view, and poorly clad - became irradiated by the couch of
sorrow, want, and pain, and changed to ministering spirits with a
glory round their heads.
He lived to better purpose on the altered battle-ground, perhaps,
than if he had contended restlessly in more ambitious lists; and he
was happy with his wife, dear Grace.
And Marion. Had HE forgotten her?
'The time has flown, dear Grace,' he said, 'since then;' they had
been talking of that night; 'and yet it seems a long long while
ago. We count by changes and events within us. Not by years.'
'Yet we have years to count by, too, since Marion was with us,'
returned Grace. 'Six times, dear husband, counting to-night as
one, we have sat here on her birth-day, and spoken together of that
happy return, so eagerly expected and so long deferred. Ah when
will it be! When will it be!'
Her husband attentively observed her, as the tears collected in her
eyes; and drawing nearer, said:
'But, Marion told you, in that farewell letter which she left for
you upon your table, love, and which you read so often, that years
must pass away before it COULD be. Did she not?'
She took a letter from her breast, and kissed it, and said 'Yes.'
'That through these intervening years, however happy she might be,
she would look forward to the time when you would meet again, and
all would be made clear; and that she prayed you, trustfully and
hopefully to do the same. The letter runs so, does it not, my
'Yes, Alfred.'
'And every other letter she has written since?'
'Except the last - some months ago - in which she spoke of you, and
what you then knew, and what I was to learn to-night.'
He looked towards the sun, then fast declining, and said that the
appointed time was sunset.
'Alfred!' said Grace, laying her hand upon his shoulder earnestly,
'there is something in this letter - this old letter, which you say
I read so often - that I have never told you. But, to-night, dear
husband, with that sunset drawing near, and all our life seeming to
soften and become hushed with the departing day, I cannot keep it
'What is it, love?'
'When Marion went away, she wrote me, here, that you had once left
her a sacred trust to me, and that now she left you, Alfred, such a
trust in my hands: praying and beseeching me, as I loved her, and
as I loved you, not to reject the affection she believed (she knew,
she said) you would transfer to me when the new wound was healed,
but to encourage and return it.'
' - And make me a proud, and happy man again, Grace. Did she say
'She meant, to make myself so blest and honoured in your love,' was
his wife's answer, as he held her in his arms.
'Hear me, my dear!' he said. - 'No. Hear me so!' - and as he
spoke, he gently laid the head she had raised, again upon his
shoulder. 'I know why I have never heard this passage in the
letter, until now. I know why no trace of it ever showed itself in
any word or look of yours at that time. I know why Grace, although
so true a friend to me, was hard to win to be my wife. And knowing
it, my own! I know the priceless value of the heart I gird within
my arms, and thank GOD for the rich possession!'
She wept, but not for sorrow, as he pressed her to his heart.
After a brief space, he looked down at the child, who was sitting
at their feet playing with a little basket of flowers, and bade her
look how golden and how red the sun was.
'Alfred,' said Grace, raising her head quickly at these words.
'The sun is going down. You have not forgotten what I am to know
before it sets.'
'You are to know the truth of Marion's history, my love,' he
'All the truth,' she said, imploringly. 'Nothing veiled from me,
any more. That was the promise. Was it not?'
'It was,' he answered.
'Before the sun went down on Marion's birth-day. And you see it,
Alfred? It is sinking fast.'
He put his arm about her waist, and, looking steadily into her
eyes, rejoined:
'That truth is not reserved so long for me to tell, dear Grace. It
is to come from other lips.'
'From other lips!' she faintly echoed.
'Yes. I know your constant heart, I know how brave you are, I know
that to you a word of preparation is enough. You have said, truly,
that the time is come. It is. Tell me that you have present
fortitude to bear a trial - a surprise - a shock: and the
messenger is waiting at the gate.'
'What messenger?' she said. 'And what intelligence does he bring?'
'I am pledged,' he answered her, preserving his steady look, 'to
say no more. Do you think you understand me?'
'I am afraid to think,' she said.
There was that emotion in his face, despite its steady gaze, which
frightened her. Again she hid her own face on his shoulder,
trembling, and entreated him to pause - a moment.
'Courage, my wife! When you have firmness to receive the
messenger, the messenger is waiting at the gate. The sun is
setting on Marion's birth-day. Courage, courage, Grace!'
She raised her head, and, looking at him, told him she was ready.
As she stood, and looked upon him going away, her face was so like
Marion's as it had been in her later days at home, that it was
wonderful to see. He took the child with him. She called her back
- she bore the lost girl's name - and pressed her to her bosom.
The little creature, being released again, sped after him, and
Grace was left alone.
She knew not what she dreaded, or what hoped; but remained there,
motionless, looking at the porch by which they had disappeared.
Ah! what was that, emerging from its shadow; standing on its
threshold! That figure, with its white garments rustling in the
evening air; its head laid down upon her father's breast, and
pressed against it to his loving heart! O God! was it a vision
that came bursting from the old man's arms, and with a cry, and
with a waving of its hands, and with a wild precipitation of itself
upon her in its boundless love, sank down in her embrace!
'Oh, Marion, Marion! Oh, my sister! Oh, my heart's dear love!
Oh, joy and happiness unutterable, so to meet again!'
It was no dream, no phantom conjured up by hope and fear, but
Marion, sweet Marion! So beautiful, so happy, so unalloyed by care
and trial, so elevated and exalted in her loveliness, that as the
setting sun shone brightly on her upturned face, she might have
been a spirit visiting the earth upon some healing mission.
Clinging to her sister, who had dropped upon a seat and bent down
over her - and smiling through her tears - and kneeling, close
before her, with both arms twining round her, and never turning for
an instant from her face - and with the glory of the setting sun
upon her brow, and with the soft tranquillity of evening gathering
around them - Marion at length broke silence; her voice, so calm,
low, clear, and pleasant, well-tuned to the time.
'When this was my dear home, Grace, as it will be now again - '
'Stay, my sweet love! A moment! O Marion, to hear you speak
She could not bear the voice she loved so well, at first.
'When this was my dear home, Grace, as it will be now again, I
loved him from my soul. I loved him most devotedly. I would have
died for him, though I was so young. I never slighted his
affection in my secret breast for one brief instant. It was far
beyond all price to me. Although it is so long ago, and past, and
gone, and everything is wholly changed, I could not bear to think
that you, who love so well, should think I did not truly love him
once. I never loved him better, Grace, than when he left this very
scene upon this very day. I never loved him better, dear one, than
I did that night when I left here.'
Her sister, bending over her, could look into her face, and hold
her fast.
'But he had gained, unconsciously,' said Marion, with a gentle
smile, 'another heart, before I knew that I had one to give him.
That heart - yours, my sister! - was so yielded up, in all its
other tenderness, to me; was so devoted, and so noble; that it
plucked its love away, and kept its secret from all eyes but mine -
Ah! what other eyes were quickened by such tenderness and
gratitude! - and was content to sacrifice itself to me. But, I
knew something of its depths. I knew the struggle it had made. I
knew its high, inestimable worth to him, and his appreciation of
it, let him love me as he would. I knew the debt I owed it. I had
its great example every day before me. What you had done for me, I
knew that I could do, Grace, if I would, for you. I never laid my
head down on my pillow, but I prayed with tears to do it. I never
laid my head down on my pillow, but I thought of Alfred's own words
on the day of his departure, and how truly he had said (for I knew
that, knowing you) that there were victories gained every day, in
struggling hearts, to which these fields of battle were nothing.
Thinking more and more upon the great endurance cheerfully
sustained, and never known or cared for, that there must be, every
day and hour, in that great strife of which he spoke, my trial
seemed to grow light and easy. And He who knows our hearts, my
dearest, at this moment, and who knows there is no drop of
bitterness or grief - of anything but unmixed happiness - in mine,
enabled me to make the resolution that I never would be Alfred's
wife. That he should be my brother, and your husband, if the
course I took could bring that happy end to pass; but that I never
would (Grace, I then loved him dearly, dearly!) be his wife!'
'O Marion! O Marion!'
'I had tried to seem indifferent to him;' and she pressed her
sister's face against her own; 'but that was hard, and you were
always his true advocate. I had tried to tell you of my
resolution, but you would never hear me; you would never understand
me. The time was drawing near for his return. I felt that I must
act, before the daily intercourse between us was renewed. I knew
that one great pang, undergone at that time, would save a
lengthened agony to all of us. I knew that if I went away then,
that end must follow which HAS followed, and which has made us both
so happy, Grace! I wrote to good Aunt Martha, for a refuge in her
house: I did not then tell her all, but something of my story, and
she freely promised it. While I was contesting that step with
myself, and with my love of you, and home, Mr. Warden, brought here
by an accident, became, for some time, our companion.'
'I have sometimes feared of late years, that this might have been,'
exclaimed her sister; and her countenance was ashy-pale. 'You
never loved him - and you married him in your self-sacrifice to
'He was then,' said Marion, drawing her sister closer to her, 'on
the eve of going secretly away for a long time. He wrote to me,
after leaving here; told me what his condition and prospects really
were; and offered me his hand. He told me he had seen I was not
happy in the prospect of Alfred's return. I believe he thought my
heart had no part in that contract; perhaps thought I might have
loved him once, and did not then; perhaps thought that when I tried
to seem indifferent, I tried to hide indifference - I cannot tell.
But I wished that you should feel me wholly lost to Alfred -
hopeless to him - dead. Do you understand me, love?'
Her sister looked into her face, attentively. She seemed in doubt.
'I saw Mr. Warden, and confided in his honour; charged him with my
secret, on the eve of his and my departure. He kept it. Do you
understand me, dear?'
Grace looked confusedly upon her. She scarcely seemed to hear.
'My love, my sister!' said Marion, 'recall your thoughts a moment;
listen to me. Do not look so strangely on me. There are
countries, dearest, where those who would abjure a misplaced
passion, or would strive, against some cherished feeling of their
hearts and conquer it, retire into a hopeless solitude, and close
the world against themselves and worldly loves and hopes for ever.
When women do so, they assume that name which is so dear to you and
me, and call each other Sisters. But, there may be sisters, Grace,
who, in the broad world out of doors, and underneath its free sky,
and in its crowded places, and among its busy life, and trying to
assist and cheer it and to do some good, - learn the same lesson;
and who, with hearts still fresh and young, and open to all
happiness and means of happiness, can say the battle is long past,
the victory long won. And such a one am I! You understand me
Still she looked fixedly upon her, and made no reply.
'Oh Grace, dear Grace,' said Marion, clinging yet more tenderly and
fondly to that breast from which she had been so long exiled, 'if
you were not a happy wife and mother - if I had no little namesake
here - if Alfred, my kind brother, were not your own fond husband -
from whence could I derive the ecstasy I feel to-night! But, as I
left here, so I have returned. My heart has known no other love,
my hand has never been bestowed apart from it. I am still your
maiden sister, unmarried, unbetrothed: your own loving old Marion,
in whose affection you exist alone and have no partner, Grace!'
She understood her now. Her face relaxed: sobs came to her
relief; and falling on her neck, she wept and wept, and fondled her
as if she were a child again.
When they were more composed, they found that the Doctor, and his
sister good Aunt Martha, were standing near at hand, with Alfred.
'This is a weary day for me,' said good Aunt Martha, smiling
through her tears, as she embraced her nieces; 'for I lose my dear
companion in making you all happy; and what can you give me, in
return for my Marion?'
'A converted brother,' said the Doctor.
'That's something, to be sure,' retorted Aunt Martha, 'in such a
farce as - '
'No, pray don't,' said the doctor penitently.
'Well, I won't,' replied Aunt Martha. 'But, I consider myself ill
used. I don't know what's to become of me without my Marion, after
we have lived together half-a-dozen years.'
'You must come and live here, I suppose,' replied the Doctor. 'We
shan't quarrel now, Martha.'
'Or you must get married, Aunt,' said Alfred.
'Indeed,' returned the old lady, 'I think it might be a good
speculation if I were to set my cap at Michael Warden, who, I hear,
is come home much the better for his absence in all respects. But
as I knew him when he was a boy, and I was not a very young woman
then, perhaps he mightn't respond. So I'll make up my mind to go
and live with Marion, when she marries, and until then (it will not
be very long, I dare say) to live alone. What do YOU say,
'I've a great mind to say it's a ridiculous world altogether, and
there's nothing serious in it,' observed the poor old Doctor.
'You might take twenty affidavits of it if you chose, Anthony,'
said his sister; 'but nobody would believe you with such eyes as
'It's a world full of hearts,' said the Doctor, hugging his
youngest daughter, and bending across her to hug Grace - for he
couldn't separate the sisters; 'and a serious world, with all its
folly - even with mine, which was enough to have swamped the whole
globe; and it is a world on which the sun never rises, but it looks
upon a thousand bloodless battles that are some set-off against the
miseries and wickedness of Battle-Fields; and it is a world we need
be careful how we libel, Heaven forgive us, for it is a world of
sacred mysteries, and its Creator only knows what lies beneath the
surface of His lightest image!'
You would not be the better pleased with my rude pen, if it
dissected and laid open to your view the transports of this family,
long severed and now reunited. Therefore, I will not follow the
poor Doctor through his humbled recollection of the sorrow he had
had, when Marion was lost to him; nor, will I tell how serious he
had found that world to be, in which some love, deep-anchored, is
the portion of all human creatures; nor, how such a trifle as the
absence of one little unit in the great absurd account, had
stricken him to the ground. Nor, how, in compassion for his
distress, his sister had, long ago, revealed the truth to him by
slow degrees, and brought him to the knowledge of the heart of his
self-banished daughter, and to that daughter's side.
Nor, how Alfred Heathfield had been told the truth, too, in the
course of that then current year; and Marion had seen him, and had
promised him, as her brother, that on her birth-day, in the
evening, Grace should know it from her lips at last.
'I beg your pardon, Doctor,' said Mr. Snitchey, looking into the
orchard, 'but have I liberty to come in?'
Without waiting for permission, he came straight to Marion, and
kissed her hand, quite joyfully.
'If Mr. Craggs had been alive, my dear Miss Marion,' said Mr.
Snitchey, 'he would have had great interest in this occasion. It
might have suggested to him, Mr. Alfred, that our life is not too
easy perhaps: that, taken altogether, it will bear any little
smoothing we can give it; but Mr. Craggs was a man who could endure
to be convinced, sir. He was always open to conviction. If he
were open to conviction, now, I - this is weakness. Mrs. Snitchey,
my dear,' - at his summons that lady appeared from behind the door,
'you are among old friends.'
Mrs. Snitchey having delivered her congratulations, took her
husband aside.
'One moment, Mr. Snitchey,' said that lady. 'It is not in my
nature to rake up the ashes of the departed.'
'No, my dear,' returned her husband.
'Mr. Craggs is - '
'Yes, my dear, he is deceased,' said Snitchey.
'But I ask you if you recollect,' pursued his wife, 'that evening
of the ball? I only ask you that. If you do; and if your memory
has not entirely failed you, Mr. Snitchey; and if you are not
absolutely in your dotage; I ask you to connect this time with that
- to remember how I begged and prayed you, on my knees - '
'Upon your knees, my dear?' said Mr. Snitchey.
'Yes,' said Mrs. Snitchey, confidently, 'and you know it - to
beware of that man - to observe his eye - and now to tell me
whether I was right, and whether at that moment he knew secrets
which he didn't choose to tell.'
'Mrs. Snitchey,' returned her husband, in her ear, 'Madam. Did you
ever observe anything in MY eye?'
'No,' said Mrs. Snitchey, sharply. 'Don't flatter yourself.'
'Because, Madam, that night,' he continued, twitching her by the
sleeve, 'it happens that we both knew secrets which we didn't
choose to tell, and both knew just the same professionally. And so
the less you say about such things the better, Mrs. Snitchey; and
take this as a warning to have wiser and more charitable eyes
another time. Miss Marion, I brought a friend of yours along with
me. Here! Mistress!'
Poor Clemency, with her apron to her eyes, came slowly in, escorted
by her husband; the latter doleful with the presentiment, that if
she abandoned herself to grief, the Nutmeg-Grater was done for.
'Now, Mistress,' said the lawyer, checking Marion as she ran
towards her, and interposing himself between them, 'what's the
matter with YOU?'
'The matter!' cried poor Clemency. - When, looking up in wonder,
and in indignant remonstrance, and in the added emotion of a great
roar from Mr. Britain, and seeing that sweet face so well
remembered close before her, she stared, sobbed, laughed, cried,
screamed, embraced her, held her fast, released her, fell on Mr.
Snitchey and embraced him (much to Mrs. Snitchey's indignation),
fell on the Doctor and embraced him, fell on Mr. Britain and
embraced him, and concluded by embracing herself, throwing her
apron over her head, and going into hysterics behind it.
A stranger had come into the orchard, after Mr. Snitchey, and had
remained apart, near the gate, without being observed by any of the
group; for they had little spare attention to bestow, and that had
been monopolised by the ecstasies of Clemency. He did not appear
to wish to be observed, but stood alone, with downcast eyes; and
there was an air of dejection about him (though he was a gentleman
of a gallant appearance) which the general happiness rendered more
None but the quick eyes of Aunt Martha, however, remarked him at
all; but, almost as soon as she espied him, she was in conversation
with him. Presently, going to where Marion stood with Grace and
her little namesake, she whispered something in Marion's ear, at
which she started, and appeared surprised; but soon recovering from
her confusion, she timidly approached the stranger, in Aunt
Martha's company, and engaged in conversation with him too.
'Mr. Britain,' said the lawyer, putting his hand in his pocket, and
bringing out a legal-looking document, while this was going on, 'I
congratulate you. You are now the whole and sole proprietor of
that freehold tenement, at present occupied and held by yourself as
a licensed tavern, or house of public entertainment, and commonly
called or known by the sign of the Nutmeg-Grater. Your wife lost
one house, through my client Mr. Michael Warden; and now gains
another. I shall have the pleasure of canvassing you for the
county, one of these fine mornings.'
'Would it make any difference in the vote if the sign was altered,
sir?' asked Britain.
'Not in the least,' replied the lawyer.
'Then,' said Mr. Britain, handing him back the conveyance, 'just
clap in the words, "and Thimble," will you be so good; and I'll
have the two mottoes painted up in the parlour instead of my wife's
'And let me,' said a voice behind them; it was the stranger's -
Michael Warden's; 'let me claim the benefit of those inscriptions.
Mr. Heathfield and Dr. Jeddler, I might have deeply wronged you
both. That I did not, is no virtue of my own. I will not say that
I am six years wiser than I was, or better. But I have known, at
any rate, that term of self-reproach. I can urge no reason why you
should deal gently with me. I abused the hospitality of this
house; and learnt by my own demerits, with a shame I never have
forgotten, yet with some profit too, I would fain hope, from one,'
he glanced at Marion, 'to whom I made my humble supplication for
forgiveness, when I knew her merit and my deep unworthiness. In a
few days I shall quit this place for ever. I entreat your pardon.
Do as you would be done by! Forget and Forgive!'
TIME - from whom I had the latter portion of this story, and with
whom I have the pleasure of a personal acquaintance of some fiveand-
thirty years' duration - informed me, leaning easily upon his
scythe, that Michael Warden never went away again, and never sold
his house, but opened it afresh, maintained a golden means of
hospitality, and had a wife, the pride and honour of that
countryside, whose name was Marion. But, as I have observed that
Time confuses facts occasionally, I hardly know what weight to give
to his authority.

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