Master Humphrey's Clock
Part 3 out of 3
housekeeper's little sitting-room, which is at the back of the
house. I took no further notice of the circumstance at that time,
but it formed the subject of a conversation between me and my
friend Jack Redburn next morning, when I found that I had not been
deceived in my impression. Jack furnished me with the following
particulars; and as he appeared to take extraordinary pleasure in
relating them, I have begged him in future to jot down any such
domestic scenes or occurrences that may please his humour, in order
that they may be told in his own way. I must confess that, as Mr.
Pickwick and he are constantly together, I have been influenced, in
making this request, by a secret desire to know something of their
On the evening in question, the housekeeper's room was arranged
with particular care, and the housekeeper herself was very smartly
dressed. The preparations, however, were not confined to mere
showy demonstrations, as tea was prepared for three persons, with a
small display of preserves and jams and sweet cakes, which heralded
some uncommon occasion. Miss Benton (my housekeeper bears that
name) was in a state of great expectation, too, frequently going to
the front door and looking anxiously down the lane, and more than
once observing to the servant-girl that she expected company, and
hoped no accident had happened to delay them.
A modest ring at the bell at length allayed her fears, and Miss
Benton, hurrying into her own room and shutting herself up, in
order that she might preserve that appearance of being taken by
surprise which is so essential to the polite reception of visitors,
awaited their coming with a smiling countenance.
'Good ev'nin', mum,' said the older Mr. Weller, looking in at the
door after a prefatory tap. 'I'm afeerd we've come in rayther
arter the time, mum, but the young colt being full o' wice, has
been' a boltin' and shyin' and gettin' his leg over the traces to
sich a extent that if he an't wery soon broke in, he'll wex me into
a broken heart, and then he'll never be brought out no more except
to learn his letters from the writin' on his grandfather's
With these pathetic words, which were addressed to something
outside the door about two feet six from the ground, Mr. Weller
introduced a very small boy firmly set upon a couple of very sturdy
legs, who looked as if nothing could ever knock him down. Besides
having a very round face strongly resembling Mr. Weller's, and a
stout little body of exactly his build, this young gentleman,
standing with his little legs very wide apart, as if the top-boots
were familiar to them, actually winked upon the housekeeper with
his infant eye, in imitation of his grandfather.
'There's a naughty boy, mum,' said Mr. Weller, bursting with
delight, 'there's a immoral Tony. Wos there ever a little chap o'
four year and eight months old as vinked his eye at a strange lady
As little affected by this observation as by the former appeal to
his feelings, Master Weller elevated in the air a small model of a
coach whip which he carried in his hand, and addressing the
housekeeper with a shrill 'ya - hip!' inquired if she was 'going
down the road;' at which happy adaptation of a lesson he had been
taught from infancy, Mr. Weller could restrain his feelings no
longer, but gave him twopence on the spot.
'It's in wain to deny it, mum,' said Mr. Weller, 'this here is a
boy arter his grandfather's own heart, and beats out all the boys
as ever wos or will be. Though at the same time, mum,' added Mr.
Weller, trying to look gravely down upon his favourite, 'it was
wery wrong on him to want to - over all the posts as we come along,
and wery cruel on him to force poor grandfather to lift him cross-
legged over every vun of 'em. He wouldn't pass vun single blessed
post, mum, and at the top o' the lane there's seven-and-forty on
'em all in a row, and wery close together.'
Here Mr. Weller, whose feelings were in a perpetual conflict
between pride in his grandson's achievements and a sense of his own
responsibility, and the importance of impressing him with moral
truths, burst into a fit of laughter, and suddenly checking
himself, remarked in a severe tone that little boys as made their
grandfathers put 'em over posts never went to heaven at any price.
By this time the housekeeper had made tea, and little Tony, placed
on a chair beside her, with his eyes nearly on a level with the top
of the table, was provided with various delicacies which yielded
him extreme contentment. The housekeeper (who seemed rather afraid
of the child, notwithstanding her caresses) then patted him on the
head, and declared that he was the finest boy she had ever seen.
'Wy, mum,' said Mr. Weller, 'I don't think you'll see a many sich,
and that's the truth. But if my son Samivel vould give me my vay,
mum, and only dis-pense vith his - MIGHT I wenter to say the vurd?'
'What word, Mr. Weller?' said the housekeeper, blushing slightly.
'Petticuts, mum,' returned that gentleman, laying his hand upon the
garments of his grandson. 'If my son Samivel, mum, vould only dis-
pense vith these here, you'd see such a alteration in his
appearance, as the imagination can't depicter.'
'But what would you have the child wear instead, Mr. Weller?' said
'I've offered my son Samivel, mum, agen and agen,' returned the old
gentleman, 'to purwide him at my own cost vith a suit o' clothes as
'ud be the makin' on him, and form his mind in infancy for those
pursuits as I hope the family o' the Vellers vill alvays dewote
themselves to. Tony, my boy, tell the lady wot them clothes are,
as grandfather says, father ought to let you vear.'
'A little white hat and a little sprig weskut and little knee cords
and little top-boots and a little green coat with little bright
buttons and a little welwet collar,' replied Tony, with great
readiness and no stops.
'That's the cos-toom, mum,' said Mr. Weller, looking proudly at the
housekeeper. 'Once make sich a model on him as that, and you'd say
he WOS an angel!'
Perhaps the housekeeper thought that in such a guise young Tony
would look more like the angel at Islington than anything else of
that name, or perhaps she was disconcerted to find her previously-
conceived ideas disturbed, as angels are not commonly represented
in top-boots and sprig waistcoats. She coughed doubtfully, but
'How many brothers and sisters have you, my dear?' she asked, after
a short silence.
'One brother and no sister at all,' replied Tony. 'Sam his name
is, and so's my father's. Do you know my father?'
'O yes, I know him,' said the housekeeper, graciously.
'Is my father fond of you?' pursued Tony.
'I hope so,' rejoined the smiling housekeeper.
Tony considered a moment, and then said, 'Is my grandfather fond of
This would seem a very easy question to answer, but instead of
replying to it, the housekeeper smiled in great confusion, and said
that really children did ask such extraordinary questions that it
was the most difficult thing in the world to talk to them. Mr.
Weller took upon himself to reply that he was very fond of the
lady; but the housekeeper entreating that he would not put such
things into the child's head, Mr. Weller shook his own while she
looked another way, and seemed to be troubled with a misgiving that
captivation was in progress. It was, perhaps, on this account that
he changed the subject precipitately.
'It's wery wrong in little boys to make game o' their grandfathers,
an't it, mum?' said Mr. Weller, shaking his head waggishly, until
Tony looked at him, when he counterfeited the deepest dejection and
'O, very sad!' assented the housekeeper. 'But I hope no little
boys do that?'
'There is vun young Turk, mum,' said Mr. Weller, 'as havin' seen
his grandfather a little overcome vith drink on the occasion of a
friend's birthday, goes a reelin' and staggerin' about the house,
and makin' believe that he's the old gen'lm'n.'
'O, quite shocking!' cried the housekeeper,
'Yes, mum,' said Mr. Weller; 'and previously to so doin', this here
young traitor that I'm a speakin' of, pinches his little nose to
make it red, and then he gives a hiccup and says, "I'm all right,"
he says; "give us another song!" Ha, ha! "Give us another song,"
he says. Ha, ha, ha!'
In his excessive delight, Mr. Weller was quite unmindful of his
moral responsibility, until little Tony kicked up his legs, and
laughing immoderately, cried, 'That was me, that was;' whereupon
the grandfather, by a great effort, became extremely solemn.
'No, Tony, not you,' said Mr. Weller. 'I hope it warn't you, Tony.
It must ha' been that 'ere naughty little chap as comes sometimes
out o' the empty watch-box round the corner, - that same little
chap as wos found standing on the table afore the looking-glass,
pretending to shave himself vith a oyster-knife.'
'He didn't hurt himself, I hope?' observed the housekeeper.
'Not he, mum,' said Mr. Weller proudly; 'bless your heart, you
might trust that 'ere boy vith a steam-engine a'most, he's such a
knowin' young' - but suddenly recollecting himself and observing
that Tony perfectly understood and appreciated the compliment, the
old gentleman groaned and observed that 'it wos all wery shockin' -
'O, he's a bad 'un,' said Mr. Weller, 'is that 'ere watch-box boy,
makin' such a noise and litter in the back yard, he does, waterin'
wooden horses and feedin' of 'em vith grass, and perpetivally
spillin' his little brother out of a veelbarrow and frightenin' his
mother out of her vits, at the wery moment wen she's expectin' to
increase his stock of happiness vith another play-feller, - O, he's
a bad one! He's even gone so far as to put on a pair of paper
spectacles as he got his father to make for him, and walk up and
down the garden vith his hands behind him in imitation of Mr.
Pickwick, - but Tony don't do sich things, O no!'
'O no!' echoed Tony.
'He knows better, he does,' said Mr. Weller. 'He knows that if he
wos to come sich games as these nobody wouldn't love him, and that
his grandfather in partickler couldn't abear the sight on him; for
vich reasons Tony's always good.'
'Always good,' echoed Tony; and his grandfather immediately took
him on his knee and kissed him, at the same time, with many nods
and winks, slyly pointing at the child's head with his thumb, in
order that the housekeeper, otherwise deceived by the admirable
manner in which he (Mr. Weller) had sustained his character, might
not suppose that any other young gentleman was referred to, and
might clearly understand that the boy of the watch-box was but an
imaginary creation, and a fetch of Tony himself, invented for his
improvement and reformation.
Not confining himself to a mere verbal description of his
grandson's abilities, Mr. Weller, when tea was finished, invited
him by various gifts of pence and halfpence to smoke imaginary
pipes, drink visionary beer from real pots, imitate his grandfather
without reserve, and in particular to go through the drunken scene,
which threw the old gentleman into ecstasies and filled the
housekeeper with wonder. Nor was Mr. Weller's pride satisfied with
even this display, for when he took his leave he carried the child,
like some rare and astonishing curiosity, first to the barber's
house and afterwards to the tobacconist's, at each of which places
he repeated his performances with the utmost effect to applauding
and delighted audiences. It was half-past nine o'clock when Mr.
Weller was last seen carrying him home upon his shoulder, and it
has been whispered abroad that at that time the infant Tony was
I was musing the other evening upon the characters and incidents
with which I had been so long engaged; wondering how I could ever
have looked forward with pleasure to the completion of my tale, and
reproaching myself for having done so, as if it were a kind of
cruelty to those companions of my solitude whom I had now
dismissed, and could never again recall; when my clock struck ten.
Punctual to the hour, my friends appeared.
On our last night of meeting, we had finished the story which the
reader has just concluded. Our conversation took the same current
as the meditations which the entrance of my friends had
interrupted, and The Old Curiosity Shop was the staple of our
I may confide to the reader now, that in connection with this
little history I had something upon my mind; something to
communicate which I had all along with difficulty repressed;
something I had deemed it, during the progress of the story,
necessary to its interest to disguise, and which, now that it was
over, I wished, and was yet reluctant, to disclose.
To conceal anything from those to whom I am attached, is not in my
nature. I can never close my lips where I have opened my heart.
This temper, and the consciousness of having done some violence to
it in my narrative, laid me under a restraint which I should have
had great difficulty in overcoming, but for a timely remark from
Mr. Miles, who, as I hinted in a former paper, is a gentleman of
business habits, and of great exactness and propriety in all his
'I could have wished,' my friend objected, 'that we had been made
acquainted with the single gentleman's name. I don't like his
withholding his name. It made me look upon him at first with
suspicion, and caused me to doubt his moral character, I assure
you. I am fully satisfied by this time of his being a worthy
creature; but in this respect he certainly would not appear to have
acted at all like a man of business.'
'My friends,' said I, drawing to the table, at which they were by
this time seated in their usual chairs, 'do you remember that this
story bore another title besides that one we have so often heard of
Mr. Miles had his pocket-book out in an instant, and referring to
an entry therein, rejoined, 'Certainly. Personal Adventures of
Master Humphrey. Here it is. I made a note of it at the time.'
I was about to resume what I had to tell them, when the same Mr.
Miles again interrupted me, observing that the narrative originated
in a personal adventure of my own, and that was no doubt the reason
for its being thus designated.
This led me to the point at once.
'You will one and all forgive me,' I returned, 'if for the greater
convenience of the story, and for its better introduction, that
adventure was fictitious. I had my share, indeed, - no light or
trivial one, - in the pages we have read, but it was not the share
I feigned to have at first. The younger brother, the single
gentleman, the nameless actor in this little drama, stands before
It was easy to see they had not expected this disclosure.
'Yes,' I pursued. 'I can look back upon my part in it with a calm,
half-smiling pity for myself as for some other man. But I am he,
indeed; and now the chief sorrows of my life are yours.'
I need not say what true gratification I derived from the sympathy
and kindness with which this acknowledgment was received; nor how
often it had risen to my lips before; nor how difficult I had found
it - how impossible, when I came to those passages which touched me
most, and most nearly concerned me - to sustain the character I had
assumed. It is enough to say that I replaced in the clock-case the
record of so many trials, - sorrowfully, it is true, but with a
softened sorrow which was almost pleasure; and felt that in living
through the past again, and communicating to others the lesson it
had helped to teach me, I had been a happier man.
We lingered so long over the leaves from which I had read, that as
I consigned them to their former resting-place, the hand of my
trusty clock pointed to twelve, and there came towards us upon the
wind the voice of the deep and distant bell of St. Paul's as it
struck the hour of midnight.
'This,' said I, returning with a manuscript I had taken at the
moment, from the same repository, 'to be opened to such music,
should be a tale where London's face by night is darkly seen, and
where some deed of such a time as this is dimly shadowed out.
Which of us here has seen the working of that great machine whose
voice has just now ceased?'
Mr. Pickwick had, of course, and so had Mr. Miles. Jack and my
deaf friend were in the minority.
I had seen it but a few days before, and could not help telling
them of the fancy I had about it.
I paid my fee of twopence upon entering, to one of the money-
changers who sit within the Temple; and falling, after a few turns
up and down, into the quiet train of thought which such a place
awakens, paced the echoing stones like some old monk whose present
world lay all within its walls. As I looked afar up into the lofty
dome, I could not help wondering what were his reflections whose
genius reared that mighty pile, when, the last small wedge of
timber fixed, the last nail driven into its home for many
centuries, the clang of hammers, and the hum of busy voices gone,
and the Great Silence whole years of noise had helped to make,
reigning undisturbed around, he mused, as I did now, upon his work,
and lost himself amid its vast extent. I could not quite determine
whether the contemplation of it would impress him with a sense of
greatness or of insignificance; but when I remembered how long a
time it had taken to erect, in how short a space it might be
traversed even to its remotest parts, for how brief a term he, or
any of those who cared to bear his name, would live to see it, or
know of its existence, I imagined him far more melancholy than
proud, and looking with regret upon his labour done. With these
thoughts in my mind, I began to ascend, almost unconsciously, the
flight of steps leading to the several wonders of the building, and
found myself before a barrier where another money-taker sat, who
demanded which among them I would choose to see. There were the
stone gallery, he said, and the whispering gallery, the geometrical
staircase, the room of models, the clock - the clock being quite in
my way, I stopped him there, and chose that sight from all the
I groped my way into the Turret which it occupies, and saw before
me, in a kind of loft, what seemed to be a great, old oaken press
with folding doors. These being thrown back by the attendant (who
was sleeping when I came upon him, and looked a drowsy fellow, as
though his close companionship with Time had made him quite
indifferent to it), disclosed a complicated crowd of wheels and
chains in iron and brass, - great, sturdy, rattling engines, -
suggestive of breaking a finger put in here or there, and grinding
the bone to powder, - and these were the Clock! Its very pulse, if
I may use the word, was like no other clock. It did not mark the
flight of every moment with a gentle second stroke, as though it
would check old Time, and have him stay his pace in pity, but
measured it with one sledge-hammer beat, as if its business were to
crush the seconds as they came trooping on, and remorselessly to
clear a path before the Day of Judgment.
I sat down opposite to it, and hearing its regular and never-
changing voice, that one deep constant note, uppermost amongst all
the noise and clatter in the streets below, - marking that, let
that tumult rise or fall, go on or stop, - let it be night or noon,
to-morrow or to-day, this year or next, - it still performed its
functions with the same dull constancy, and regulated the progress
of the life around, the fancy came upon me that this was London's
Heart, - and that when it should cease to beat, the City would be
It is night. Calm and unmoved amidst the scenes that darkness
favours, the great heart of London throbs in its Giant breast.
Wealth and beggary, vice and virtue, guilt and innocence, repletion
and the direst hunger, all treading on each other and crowding
together, are gathered round it. Draw but a little circle above
the clustering housetops, and you shall have within its space
everything, with its opposite extreme and contradiction, close
beside. Where yonder feeble light is shining, a man is but this
moment dead. The taper at a few yards' distance is seen by eyes
that have this instant opened on the world. There are two houses
separated by but an inch or two of wall. In one, there are quiet
minds at rest; in the other, a waking conscience that one might
think would trouble the very air. In that close corner where the
roofs shrink down and cower together as if to hide their secrets
from the handsome street hard by, there are such dark crimes, such
miseries and horrors, as could be hardly told in whispers. In the
handsome street, there are folks asleep who have dwelt there all
their lives, and have no more knowledge of these things than if
they had never been, or were transacted at the remotest limits of
the world, - who, if they were hinted at, would shake their heads,
look wise, and frown, and say they were impossible, and out of
Nature, - as if all great towns were not. Does not this Heart of
London, that nothing moves, nor stops, nor quickens, - that goes on
the same let what will be done, does it not express the City's
The day begins to break, and soon there is the hum and noise of
life. Those who have spent the night on doorsteps and cold stones
crawl off to beg; they who have slept in beds come forth to their
occupation, too, and business is astir. The fog of sleep rolls
slowly off, and London shines awake. The streets are filled with
carriages and people gaily clad. The jails are full, too, to the
throat, nor have the workhouses or hospitals much room to spare.
The courts of law are crowded. Taverns have their regular
frequenters by this time, and every mart of traffic has its throng.
Each of these places is a world, and has its own inhabitants; each
is distinct from, and almost unconscious of the existence of any
other. There are some few people well to do, who remember to have
heard it said, that numbers of men and women - thousands, they
think it was - get up in London every day, unknowing where to lay
their heads at night; and that there are quarters of the town where
misery and famine always are. They don't believe it quite, - there
may be some truth in it, but it is exaggerated, of course. So,
each of these thousand worlds goes on, intent upon itself, until
night comes again, - first with its lights and pleasures, and its
cheerful streets; then with its guilt and darkness.
Heart of London, there is a moral in thy every stroke! as I look on
at thy indomitable working, which neither death, nor press of life,
nor grief, nor gladness out of doors will influence one jot, I seem
to hear a voice within thee which sinks into my heart, bidding me,
as I elbow my way among the crowd, have some thought for the
meanest wretch that passes, and, being a man, to turn away with
scorn and pride from none that bear the human shape.
I am by no means sure that I might not have been tempted to enlarge
upon the subject, had not the papers that lay before me on the
table been a silent reproach for even this digression. I took them
up again when I had got thus far, and seriously prepared to read.
The handwriting was strange to me, for the manuscript had been
fairly copied. As it is against our rules, in such a case, to
inquire into the authorship until the reading is concluded, I could
only glance at the different faces round me, in search of some
expression which should betray the writer. Whoever he might be, he
was prepared for this, and gave no sign for my enlightenment.
I had the papers in my hand, when my deaf friend interposed with a
'It has occurred to me,' he said, 'bearing in mind your sequel to
the tale we have finished, that if such of us as have anything to
relate of our own lives could interweave it with our contribution
to the Clock, it would be well to do so. This need be no restraint
upon us, either as to time, or place, or incident, since any real
passage of this kind may be surrounded by fictitious circumstances,
and represented by fictitious characters. What if we make this an
article of agreement among ourselves?'
The proposition was cordially received, but the difficulty appeared
to be that here was a long story written before we had thought of
'Unless,' said I, 'it should have happened that the writer of this
tale - which is not impossible, for men are apt to do so when they
write - has actually mingled with it something of his own endurance
Nobody spoke, but I thought I detected in one quarter that this was
really the case.
'If I have no assurance to the contrary,' I added, therefore, 'I
shall take it for granted that he has done so, and that even these
papers come within our new agreement. Everybody being mute, we
hold that understanding if you please.'
And here I was about to begin again, when Jack informed us softly,
that during the progress of our last narrative, Mr. Weller's Watch
had adjourned its sittings from the kitchen, and regularly met
outside our door, where he had no doubt that august body would be
found at the present moment. As this was for the convenience of
listening to our stories, he submitted that they might be suffered
to come in, and hear them more pleasantly.
To this we one and all yielded a ready assent, and the party being
discovered, as Jack had supposed, and invited to walk in, entered
(though not without great confusion at having been detected), and
were accommodated with chairs at a little distance.
Then, the lamp being trimmed, the fire well stirred and burning
brightly, the hearth clean swept, the curtains closely drawn, the
clock wound up, we entered on our new story.
It is again midnight. My fire burns cheerfully; the room is filled
with my old friend's sober voice; and I am left to muse upon the
story we have just now finished.
It makes me smile, at such a time as this, to think if there were
any one to see me sitting in my easy-chair, my gray head hanging
down, my eyes bent thoughtfully upon the glowing embers, and my
crutch - emblem of my helplessness - lying upon the hearth at my
feet, how solitary I should seem. Yet though I am the sole tenant
of this chimney-corner, though I am childless and old, I have no
sense of loneliness at this hour; but am the centre of a silent
group whose company I love.
Thus, even age and weakness have their consolations. If I were a
younger man, if I were more active, more strongly bound and tied to
life, these visionary friends would shun me, or I should desire to
fly from them. Being what I am, I can court their society, and
delight in it; and pass whole hours in picturing to myself the
shadows that perchance flock every night into this chamber, and in
imagining with pleasure what kind of interest they have in the
frail, feeble mortal who is its sole inhabitant.
All the friends I have ever lost I find again among these visitors.
I love to fancy their spirits hovering about me, feeling still some
earthly kindness for their old companion, and watching his decay.
'He is weaker, he declines apace, he draws nearer and nearer to us,
and will soon be conscious of our existence.' What is there to
alarm me in this? It is encouragement and hope.
These thoughts have never crowded on me half so fast as they have
done to-night. Faces I had long forgotten have become familiar to
me once again; traits I had endeavoured to recall for years have
come before me in an instant; nothing is changed but me; and even I
can be my former self at will.
Raising my eyes but now to the face of my old clock, I remember,
quite involuntarily, the veneration, not unmixed with a sort of
childish awe, with which I used to sit and watch it as it ticked,
unheeded in a dark staircase corner. I recollect looking more
grave and steady when I met its dusty face, as if, having that
strange kind of life within it, and being free from all excess of
vulgar appetite, and warning all the house by night and day, it
were a sage. How often have I listened to it as it told the beads
of time, and wondered at its constancy! How often watched it
slowly pointing round the dial, and, while I panted for the eagerly
expected hour to come, admired, despite myself, its steadiness of
purpose and lofty freedom from all human strife, impatience, and
I thought it cruel once. It was very hard of heart, to my mind, I
remember. It was an old servant even then; and I felt as though it
ought to show some sorrow; as though it wanted sympathy with us in
our distress, and were a dull, heartless, mercenary creature. Ah!
how soon I learnt to know that in its ceaseless going on, and in
its being checked or stayed by nothing, lay its greatest kindness,
and the only balm for grief and wounded peace of mind.
To-night, to-night, when this tranquillity and calm are on my
spirits, and memory presents so many shifting scenes before me, I
take my quiet stand at will by many a fire that has been long
extinguished, and mingle with the cheerful group that cluster round
it. If I could be sorrowful in such a mood, I should grow sad to
think what a poor blot I was upon their youth and beauty once, and
now how few remain to put me to the blush; I should grow sad to
think that such among them as I sometimes meet with in my daily
walks are scarcely less infirm than I; that time has brought us to
a level; and that all distinctions fade and vanish as we take our
trembling steps towards the grave.
But memory was given us for better purposes than this, and mine is
not a torment, but a source of pleasure. To muse upon the gaiety
and youth I have known suggests to me glad scenes of harmless mirth
that may be passing now. From contemplating them apart, I soon
become an actor in these little dramas, and humouring my fancy,
lose myself among the beings it invokes.
When my fire is bright and high, and a warm blush mantles in the
walls and ceiling of this ancient room; when my clock makes
cheerful music, like one of those chirping insects who delight in
the warm hearth, and are sometimes, by a good superstition, looked
upon as the harbingers of fortune and plenty to that household in
whose mercies they put their humble trust; when everything is in a
ruddy genial glow, and there are voices in the crackling flame, and
smiles in its flashing light, other smiles and other voices
congregate around me, invading, with their pleasant harmony, the
silence of the time.
For then a knot of youthful creatures gather round my fireside, and
the room re-echoes to their merry voices. My solitary chair no
longer holds its ample place before the fire, but is wheeled into a
smaller corner, to leave more room for the broad circle formed
about the cheerful hearth. I have sons, and daughters, and
grandchildren, and we are assembled on some occasion of rejoicing
common to us all. It is a birthday, perhaps, or perhaps it may be
Christmas time; but be it what it may, there is rare holiday among
us; we are full of glee.
In the chimney-comer, opposite myself, sits one who has grown old
beside me. She is changed, of course; much changed; and yet I
recognise the girl even in that gray hair and wrinkled brow.
Glancing from the laughing child who half hides in her ample
skirts, and half peeps out, - and from her to the little matron of
twelve years old, who sits so womanly and so demure at no great
distance from me, - and from her again, to a fair girl in the full
bloom of early womanhood, the centre of the group, who has glanced
more than once towards the opening door, and by whom the children,
whispering and tittering among themselves, WILL leave a vacant
chair, although she bids them not, - I see her image thrice
repeated, and feel how long it is before one form and set of
features wholly pass away, if ever, from among the living. While I
am dwelling upon this, and tracing out the gradual change from
infancy to youth, from youth to perfect growth, from that to age,
and thinking, with an old man's pride, that she is comely yet, I
feel a slight thin hand upon my arm, and, looking down, see seated
at my feet a crippled boy, - a gentle, patient child, - whose
aspect I know well. He rests upon a little crutch, - I know it
too, - and leaning on it as he climbs my footstool, whispers in my
ear, 'I am hardly one of these, dear grandfather, although I love
them dearly. They are very kind to me, but you will be kinder
still, I know.'
I have my hand upon his neck, and stoop to kiss him, when my clock
strikes, my chair is in its old spot, and I am alone.
What if I be? What if this fireside be tenantless, save for the
presence of one weak old man? From my house-top I can look upon a
hundred homes, in every one of which these social companions are
matters of reality. In my daily walks I pass a thousand men whose
cares are all forgotten, whose labours are made light, whose dull
routine of work from day to day is cheered and brightened by their
glimpses of domestic joy at home. Amid the struggles of this
struggling town what cheerful sacrifices are made; what toil
endured with readiness; what patience shown and fortitude displayed
for the mere sake of home and its affections! Let me thank Heaven
that I can people my fireside with shadows such as these; with
shadows of bright objects that exist in crowds about me; and let me
say, 'I am alone no more.'
I never was less so - I write it with a grateful heart - than I am
to-night. Recollections of the past and visions of the present
come to bear me company; the meanest man to whom I have ever given
alms appears, to add his mite of peace and comfort to my stock; and
whenever the fire within me shall grow cold, to light my path upon
this earth no more, I pray that it may be at such an hour as this,
and when I love the world as well as I do now.
THE DEAF GENTLEMAN FROM HIS OWN APARTMENT
Our dear friend laid down his pen at the end of the foregoing
paragraph, to take it up no more. I little thought ever to employ
mine upon so sorrowful a task as that which he has left me, and to
which I now devote it.
As he did not appear among us at his usual hour next morning, we
knocked gently at his door. No answer being given, it was softly
opened; and then, to our surprise, we saw him seated before the
ashes of his fire, with a little table I was accustomed to set at
his elbow when I left him for the night at a short distance from
him, as though he had pushed it away with the idea of rising and
retiring to his bed. His crutch and footstool lay at his feet as
usual, and he was dressed in his chamber-gown, which he had put on
before I left him. He was reclining in his chair, in his
accustomed posture, with his face towards the fire, and seemed
absorbed in meditation, - indeed, at first, we almost hoped he was.
Going up to him, we found him dead. I have often, very often, seen
him sleeping, and always peacefully, but I never saw him look so
calm and tranquil. His face wore a serene, benign expression,
which had impressed me very strongly when we last shook hands; not
that he had ever had any other look, God knows; but there was
something in this so very spiritual, so strangely and indefinably
allied to youth, although his head was gray and venerable, that it
was new even in him. It came upon me all at once when on some
slight pretence he called me back upon the previous night to take
me by the hand again, and once more say, 'God bless you.'
A bell-rope hung within his reach, but he had not moved towards it;
nor had he stirred, we all agreed, except, as I have said, to push
away his table, which he could have done, and no doubt did, with a
very slight motion of his hand. He had relapsed for a moment into
his late train of meditation, and, with a thoughtful smile upon his
face, had died.
I had long known it to be his wish that whenever this event should
come to pass we might be all assembled in the house. I therefore
lost no time in sending for Mr. Pickwick and for Mr. Miles, both of
whom arrived before the messenger's return.
It is not my purpose to dilate upon the sorrow and affectionate
emotions of which I was at once the witness and the sharer. But I
may say, of the humbler mourners, that his faithful housekeeper was
fairly heart-broken; that the poor barber would not be comforted;
and that I shall respect the homely truth and warmth of heart of
Mr. Weller and his son to the last moment of my life.
'And the sweet old creetur, sir,' said the elder Mr. Weller to me
in the afternoon, 'has bolted. Him as had no wice, and was so free
from temper that a infant might ha' drove him, has been took at
last with that 'ere unawoidable fit o' staggers as we all must come
to, and gone off his feed for ever! I see him,' said the old
gentleman, with a moisture in his eye, which could not be mistaken,
- 'I see him gettin', every journey, more and more groggy; I says
to Samivel, "My boy! the Grey's a-goin' at the knees;" and now my
predilictions is fatally werified, and him as I could never do
enough to serve or show my likin' for, is up the great uniwersal
spout o' natur'.'
I was not the less sensible of the old man's attachment because he
expressed it in his peculiar manner. Indeed, I can truly assert of
both him and his son, that notwithstanding the extraordinary
dialogues they held together, and the strange commentaries and
corrections with which each of them illustrated the other's speech,
I do not think it possible to exceed the sincerity of their regret;
and that I am sure their thoughtfulness and anxiety in anticipating
the discharge of many little offices of sympathy would have done
honour to the most delicate-minded persons.
Our friend had frequently told us that his will would be found in a
box in the Clock-case, the key of which was in his writing-desk.
As he had told us also that he desired it to be opened immediately
after his death, whenever that should happen, we met together that
night for the fulfilment of his request.
We found it where he had told us, wrapped in a sealed paper, and
with it a codicil of recent date, in which he named Mr. Miles and
Mr. Pickwick his executors, - as having no need of any greater
benefit from his estate than a generous token (which he bequeathed
to them) of his friendship and remembrance.
After pointing out the spot in which he wished his ashes to repose,
he gave to 'his dear old friends,' Jack Redburn and myself, his
house, his books, his furniture, - in short, all that his house
contained; and with this legacy more ample means of maintaining it
in its present state than we, with our habits and at our terms of
life, can ever exhaust. Besides these gifts, he left to us, in
trust, an annual sum of no insignificant amount, to be distributed
in charity among his accustomed pensioners - they are a long list -
and such other claimants on his bounty as might, from time to time,
present themselves. And as true charity not only covers a
multitude of sins, but includes a multitude of virtues, such as
forgiveness, liberal construction, gentleness and mercy to the
faults of others, and the remembrance of our own imperfections and
advantages, he bade us not inquire too closely into the venial
errors of the poor, but finding that they WERE poor, first to
relieve and then endeavour - at an advantage - to reclaim them.
To the housekeeper he left an annuity, sufficient for her
comfortable maintenance and support through life. For the barber,
who had attended him many years, he made a similar provision. And
I may make two remarks in this place: first, that I think this
pair are very likely to club their means together and make a match
of it; and secondly, that I think my friend had this result in his
mind, for I have heard him say, more than once, that he could not
concur with the generality of mankind in censuring equal marriages
made in later life, since there were many cases in which such
unions could not fail to be a wise and rational source of happiness
to both parties.
The elder Mr. Weller is so far from viewing this prospect with any
feelings of jealousy, that he appears to be very much relieved by
its contemplation; and his son, if I am not mistaken, participates
in this feeling. We are all of opinion, however, that the old
gentleman's danger, even at its crisis, was very slight, and that
he merely laboured under one of those transitory weaknesses to
which persons of his temperament are now and then liable, and which
become less and less alarming at every return, until they wholly
subside. I have no doubt he will remain a jolly old widower for
the rest of his life, as he has already inquired of me, with much
gravity, whether a writ of habeas corpus would enable him to settle
his property upon Tony beyond the possibility of recall; and has,
in my presence, conjured his son, with tears in his eyes, that in
the event of his ever becoming amorous again, he will put him in a
strait-waistcoat until the fit is past, and distinctly inform the
lady that his property is 'made over.'
Although I have very little doubt that Sam would dutifully comply
with these injunctions in a case of extreme necessity, and that he
would do so with perfect composure and coolness, I do not apprehend
things will ever come to that pass, as the old gentleman seems
perfectly happy in the society of his son, his pretty daughter-in-
law, and his grandchildren, and has solemnly announced his
determination to 'take arter the old 'un in all respects;' from
which I infer that it is his intention to regulate his conduct by
the model of Mr. Pickwick, who will certainly set him the example
of a single life.
I have diverged for a moment from the subject with which I set out,
for I know that my friend was interested in these little matters,
and I have a natural tendency to linger upon any topic that
occupied his thoughts or gave him pleasure and amusement. His
remaining wishes are very briefly told. He desired that we would
make him the frequent subject of our conversation; at the same
time, that we would never speak of him with an air of gloom or
restraint, but frankly, and as one whom we still loved and hoped to
meet again. He trusted that the old house would wear no aspect of
mourning, but that it would be lively and cheerful; and that we
would not remove or cover up his picture, which hangs in our
dining-room, but make it our companion as he had been. His own
room, our place of meeting, remains, at his desire, in its
accustomed state; our seats are placed about the table as of old;
his easy-chair, his desk, his crutch, his footstool, hold their
accustomed places, and the clock stands in its familiar corner. We
go into the chamber at stated times to see that all is as it should
be, and to take care that the light and air are not shut out, for
on that point he expressed a strong solicitude. But it was his
fancy that the apartment should not be inhabited; that it should be
religiously preserved in this condition, and that the voice of his
old companion should be heard no more.
My own history may be summed up in very few words; and even those I
should have spared the reader but for my friend's allusion to me
some time since. I have no deeper sorrow than the loss of a child,
- an only daughter, who is living, and who fled from her father's
house but a few weeks before our friend and I first met. I had
never spoken of this even to him, because I have always loved her,
and I could not bear to tell him of her error until I could tell
him also of her sorrow and regret. Happily I was enabled to do so
some time ago. And it will not be long, with Heaven's leave,
before she is restored to me; before I find in her and her husband
the support of my declining years.
For my pipe, it is an old relic of home, a thing of no great worth,
a poor trifle, but sacred to me for her sake.
Thus, since the death of our venerable friend, Jack Redburn and I
have been the sole tenants of the old house; and, day by day, have
lounged together in his favourite walks. Mindful of his
injunctions, we have long been able to speak of him with ease and
cheerfulness, and to remember him as he would be remembered. From
certain allusions which Jack has dropped, to his having been
deserted and cast off in early life, I am inclined to believe that
some passages of his youth may possibly be shadowed out in the
history of Mr. Chester and his son, but seeing that he avoids the
subject, I have not pursued it.
My task is done. The chamber in which we have whiled away so many
hours, not, I hope, without some pleasure and some profit, is
deserted; our happy hour of meeting strikes no more; the chimney-
corner has grown cold; and MASTER HUMPHREY'S CLOCK has stopped for
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