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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 62)


It was a pleasant thing to see Mr. Pickwick in the centre of thegroup, now pulled this way, and then that, and first kissed onthe chin, and then on the nose, and then on the spectacles, and tohear the peals of laughter which were raised on every side; butit was a still more pleasant thing to see Mr. Pickwick, blindedshortly afterwards with a silk handkerchief, falling up against thewall, and scrambling into corners, and going through all themysteries of blind-man's buff, with the utmost relish for thegame, until at last he caught one of the poor relations, and thenhad to evade the blind-man himself, which he did with a nimblenessand agility that elicited the admiration and applause of allbeholders. The poor relations caught the people who theythought would like it, and, when the game flagged, got caughtthemselves. When they all tired of blind-man's buff, there was agreat game at snap-dragon, and when fingers enough wereburned with that, and all the raisins were gone, they sat down bythe huge fire of blazing logs to a substantial supper, and a mightybowl of wassail, something smaller than an ordinary wash-house copper, in which the hot apples were hissing and bubblingwith a rich look, and a jolly sound, that were perfectly irresistible.

'This,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking round him, 'this is,indeed, comfort.''Our invariable custom,' replied Mr. Wardle. 'Everybody sitsdown with us on Christmas Eve, as you see them now--servantsand all; and here we wait, until the clock strikes twelve, to usherChristmas in, and beguile the time with forfeits and old stories.Trundle, my boy, rake up the fire.'

Up flew the bright sparks in myriads as the logs were stirred.The deep red blaze sent forth a rich glow, that penetrated intothe farthest corner of the room, and cast its cheerful tint onevery face.

'Come,' said Wardle, 'a song--a Christmas song! I'll give youone, in default of a better.'

'Bravo!' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Fill up,' cried Wardle. 'It will be two hours, good, before yousee the bottom of the bowl through the deep rich colour of thewassail; fill up all round, and now for the song.'

Thus saying, the merry old gentleman, in a good, round,sturdy voice, commenced without more ado--

A CHRISTMAS CAROL

'I care not for Spring; on his fickle wingLet the blossoms and buds be borne;He woos them amain with his treacherous rain,And he scatters them ere the morn.An inconstant elf, he knows not himself,Nor his own changing mind an hour,He'll smile in your face, and, with wry grimace,He'll wither your youngest flower.

'Let the Summer sun to his bright home run,He shall never be sought by me;When he's dimmed by a cloud I can laugh aloudAnd care not how sulky he be!For his darling child is the madness wildThat sports in fierce fever's train;And when love is too strong, it don't last long,As many have found to their pain.

'A mild harvest night, by the tranquil lightOf the modest and gentle moon,Has a far sweeter sheen for me, I ween,Than the broad and unblushing noon.But every leaf awakens my grief,As it lieth beneath the tree;So let Autumn air be never so fair,It by no means agrees with me.

'But my song I troll out, for CHRISTMAS Stout,The hearty, the true, and the bold;A bumper I drain, and with might and mainGive three cheers for this Christmas old!We'll usher him in with a merry dinThat shall gladden his joyous heart,And we'll keep him up, while there's bite or sup,And in fellowship good, we'll part.'In his fine honest pride, he scorns to hideOne jot of his hard-weather scars;They're no disgrace, for there's much the same traceOn the cheeks of our bravest tars.Then again I sing till the roof doth ringAnd it echoes from wall to wall--To the stout old wight, fair welcome to-night,As the King of the Seasons all!'

This song was tumultuously applauded--for friends anddependents make a capital audience--and the poor relations,especially, were in perfect ecstasies of rapture. Again was the firereplenished, and again went the wassail round.

'How it snows!' said one of the men, in a low tone.

'Snows, does it?' said Wardle.

'Rough, cold night, Sir,' replied the man; 'and there's a windgot up, that drifts it across the fields, in a thick white cloud.'

'What does Jem say?' inquired the old lady. 'There ain'tanything the matter, is there?'

'No, no, mother,' replied Wardle; 'he says there's a snowdrift,and a wind that's piercing cold. I should know that, by the wayit rumbles in the chimney.'

'Ah!' said the old lady, 'there was just such a wind, and justsuch a fall of snow, a good many years back, I recollect--just fiveyears before your poor father died. It was a Christmas Eve,too; and I remember that on that very night he told us the storyabout the goblins that carried away old Gabriel Grub.'

'The story about what?' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Oh, nothing, nothing,' replied Wardle. 'About an old sexton,that the good people down here suppose to have been carriedaway by goblins.'

'Suppose!' ejaculated the old lady. 'Is there anybody hardyenough to disbelieve it? Suppose! Haven't you heard ever sinceyou were a child, that he WAS carried away by the goblins, anddon't you know he was?'

'Very well, mother, he was, if you like,' said Wardle laughing.'He WAS carried away by goblins, Pickwick; and there's an endof the matter.'

'No, no,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'not an end of it, I assure you; forI must hear how, and why, and all about it.'

Wardle smiled, as every head was bent forward to hear, andfilling out the wassail with no stinted hand, nodded a health toMr. Pickwick, and began as follows--

But bless our editorial heart, what a long chapter we have beenbetrayed into! We had quite forgotten all such petty restrictionsas chapters, we solemnly declare. So here goes, to give the goblina fair start in a new one. A clear stage and no favour for thegoblins, ladies and gentlemen, if you please.

CHAPTER XXIXTHE STORY OF THE GOBLINS WHO STOLE A SEXTON

In an old abbey town, down in this part of the country, a long, longwhile ago--so long, that the story must be a true one, because ourgreat-grandfathers implicitly believed it--there officiated as sextonand grave-digger in the churchyard, one Gabriel Grub. It by nomeans follows that because a man is a sexton, and constantlysurrounded by the emblems of mortality, therefore he should be amorose and melancholy man; your undertakers are the merriest fellowsin the world; and I once had the honour of being on intimate termswith a mute, who in private life, and off duty, was as comical andjocose a little fellow as ever chirped out a devil-may-care song,without a hitch in his memory, or drained off a good stiff glasswithout stopping for breath. But notwithstanding these precedentsto the contrary, Gabriel Grub was an ill-conditioned, cross-grained,surly fellow--a morose and lonely man, who consorted with nobodybut himself, and an old wicker bottle which fitted into his large deepwaistcoat pocket--and who eyed each merry face, as it passedhim by, with such a deep scowl of malice and ill-humour,as it was difficult to meet without feeling something the worse for.

'A little before twilight, one Christmas Eve, Gabriel shoulderedhis spade, lighted his lantern, and betook himself towards the oldchurchyard; for he had got a grave to finish by next morning,and, feeling very low, he thought it might raise his spirits,perhaps, if he went on with his work at once. As he went his way,up the ancient street, he saw the cheerful light of the blazingfires gleam through the old casements, and heard the loud laughand the cheerful shouts of those who were assembled aroundthem; he marked the bustling preparations for next day's cheer,and smelled the numerous savoury odours consequent thereupon,as they steamed up from the kitchen windows in clouds. All thiswas gall and wormwood to the heart of Gabriel Grub; andwhen groups of children bounded out of the houses, trippedacross the road, and were met, before they could knock at theopposite door, by half a dozen curly-headed little rascals whocrowded round them as they flocked upstairs to spend theevening in their Christmas games, Gabriel smiled grimly, andclutched the handle of his spade with a firmer grasp, as hethought of measles, scarlet fever, thrush, whooping-cough, anda good many other sources of consolation besides.

'In this happy frame of mind, Gabriel strode along, returninga short, sullen growl to the good-humoured greetings of such ofhis neighbours as now and then passed him, until he turned intothe dark lane which led to the churchyard. Now, Gabriel hadbeen looking forward to reaching the dark lane, because it was,generally speaking, a nice, gloomy, mournful place, into whichthe townspeople did not much care to go, except in broaddaylight, and when the sun was shining; consequently, he wasnot a little indignant to hear a young urchin roaring outsome jolly song about a merry Christmas, in this very sanctuarywhich had been called Coffin Lane ever since the days of the oldabbey, and the time of the shaven-headed monks. As Gabrielwalked on, and the voice drew nearer, he found it proceededfrom a small boy, who was hurrying along, to join one of thelittle parties in the old street, and who, partly to keep himselfcompany, and partly to prepare himself for the occasion, wasshouting out the song at the highest pitch of his lungs. So Gabrielwaited until the boy came up, and then dodged him into a corner,and rapped him over the head with his lantern five or six times,just to teach him to modulate his voice. And as the boy hurriedaway with his hand to his head, singing quite a different sort oftune, Gabriel Grub chuckled very heartily to himself, andentered the churchyard, locking the gate behind him.

'He took off his coat, set down his lantern, and getting into theunfinished grave, worked at it for an hour or so with right good-will. But the earth was hardened with the frost, and it was novery easy matter to break it up, and shovel it out; and althoughthere was a moon, it was a very young one, and shed little lightupon the grave, which was in the shadow of the church. At anyother time, these obstacles would have made Gabriel Grub verymoody and miserable, but he was so well pleased with havingstopped the small boy's singing, that he took little heed of thescanty progress he had made, and looked down into the grave,when he had finished work for the night, with grim satisfaction,murmuring as he gathered up his things--

Brave lodgings for one, brave lodgings for one,A few feet of cold earth, when life is done;A stone at the head, a stone at the feet,A rich, juicy meal for the worms to eat;Rank grass overhead, and damp clay around,Brave lodgings for one, these, in holy ground!

'"Ho! ho!" laughed Gabriel Grub, as he sat himself down ona flat tombstone which was a favourite resting-place of his, anddrew forth his wicker bottle. "A coffin at Christmas! A Christmasbox! Ho! ho! ho!"

'"Ho! ho! ho!" repeated a voice which sounded close behind him.

'Gabriel paused, in some alarm, in the act of raising the wickerbottle to his lips, and looked round. The bottom of the oldestgrave about him was not more still and quiet than the churchyardin the pale moonlight. The cold hoar frost glistened on thetombstones, and sparkled like rows of gems, among the stonecarvings of the old church. The snow lay hard and crisp uponthe ground; and spread over the thickly-strewn mounds of earth,so white and smooth a cover that it seemed as if corpses laythere, hidden only by their winding sheets. Not the faintest rustlebroke the profound tranquillity of the solemn scene. Sound itselfappeared to be frozen up, all was so cold and still.

'"It was the echoes," said Gabriel Grub, raising the bottle tohis lips again.

'"It was NOT," said a deep voice.

'Gabriel started up, and stood rooted to the spot withastonishment and terror; for his eyes rested on a form that madehis blood run cold.

'Seated on an upright tombstone, close to him, was a strange,unearthly figure, whom Gabriel felt at once, was no being of thisworld. His long, fantastic legs which might have reached theground, were cocked up, and crossed after a quaint, fantasticfashion; his sinewy arms were bare; and his hands rested on hisknees. On his short, round body, he wore a close covering,ornamented with small slashes; a short cloak dangled at hisback; the collar was cut into curious peaks, which served thegoblin in lieu of ruff or neckerchief; and his shoes curled up athis toes into long points. On his head, he wore a broad-brimmedsugar-loaf hat, garnished with a single feather. The hat wascovered with the white frost; and the goblin looked as if he hadsat on the same tombstone very comfortably, for two or threehundred years. He was sitting perfectly still; his tongue was putout, as if in derision; and he was grinning at Gabriel Grub withsuch a grin as only a goblin could call up.

'"It was NOT the echoes," said the goblin.

'Gabriel Grub was paralysed, and could make no reply.

'"What do you do here on Christmas Eve?" said the goblin sternly.'"I came to dig a grave, Sir," stammered Gabriel Grub.

'"What man wanders among graves and churchyards on sucha night as this?" cried the goblin.

'"Gabriel Grub! Gabriel Grub!" screamed a wild chorus ofvoices that seemed to fill the churchyard. Gabriel looked fearfullyround--nothing was to be seen.

'"What have you got in that bottle?" said the goblin.

'"Hollands, sir," replied the sexton, trembling more than ever;for he had bought it of the smugglers, and he thought thatperhaps his questioner might be in the excise department of the goblins.

'"Who drinks Hollands alone, and in a churchyard, on such anight as this?" said the goblin.

'"Gabriel Grub! Gabriel Grub!" exclaimed the wild voices again.

'The goblin leered maliciously at the terrified sexton, and thenraising his voice, exclaimed--

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
Viewed 153434 times

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