Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 63)

'"And who, then, is our fair and lawful prize?"

'To this inquiry the invisible chorus replied, in a strain thatsounded like the voices of many choristers singing to the mightyswell of the old church organ--a strain that seemed borne to thesexton's ears upon a wild wind, and to die away as it passedonward; but the burden of the reply was still the same, "GabrielGrub! Gabriel Grub!"

'The goblin grinned a broader grin than before, as he said,"Well, Gabriel, what do you say to this?"

'The sexton gasped for breath.'"What do you think of this, Gabriel?" said the goblin,kicking up his feet in the air on either side of the tombstone, andlooking at the turned-up points with as much complacency as ifhe had been contemplating the most fashionable pair ofWellingtons in all Bond Street.

'"It's--it's--very curious, Sir," replied the sexton, half deadwith fright; "very curious, and very pretty, but I think I'll goback and finish my work, Sir, if you please."

'"Work!" said the goblin, "what work?"

'"The grave, Sir; making the grave," stammered the sexton.

'"Oh, the grave, eh?" said the goblin; "who makes graves ata time when all other men are merry, and takes a pleasure in it?"

'Again the mysterious voices replied, "Gabriel Grub! Gabriel Grub!"

'"I am afraid my friends want you, Gabriel," said the goblin,thrusting his tongue farther into his cheek than ever--and a mostastonishing tongue it was--"I'm afraid my friends want you,Gabriel," said the goblin.

'"Under favour, Sir," replied the horror-stricken sexton, "Idon't think they can, Sir; they don't know me, Sir; I don't thinkthe gentlemen have ever seen me, Sir."

'"Oh, yes, they have," replied the goblin; "we know the manwith the sulky face and grim scowl, that came down the streetto-night, throwing his evil looks at the children, and graspinghis burying-spade the tighter. We know the man who struck theboy in the envious malice of his heart, because the boy could bemerry, and he could not. We know him, we know him."

'Here, the goblin gave a loud, shrill laugh, which the echoesreturned twentyfold; and throwing his legs up in the air, stoodupon his head, or rather upon the very point of his sugar-loafhat, on the narrow edge of the tombstone, whence he threw aSomerset with extraordinary agility, right to the sexton's feet, atwhich he planted himself in the attitude in which tailors generallysit upon the shop-board.

'"I--I--am afraid I must leave you, Sir," said the sexton,making an effort to move.

'"Leave us!" said the goblin, "Gabriel Grub going to leave us.Ho! ho! ho!"

'As the goblin laughed, the sexton observed, for one instant, abrilliant illumination within the windows of the church, as if thewhole building were lighted up; it disappeared, the organ pealedforth a lively air, and whole troops of goblins, the very counterpartof the first one, poured into the churchyard, and beganplaying at leap-frog with the tombstones, never stopping for aninstant to take breath, but "overing" the highest among them,one after the other, with the most marvellous dexterity. The firstgoblin was a most astonishing leaper, and none of the otherscould come near him; even in the extremity of his terror thesexton could not help observing, that while his friends werecontent to leap over the common-sized gravestones, the first onetook the family vaults, iron railings and all, with as much ease asif they had been so many street-posts.

'At last the game reached to a most exciting pitch; the organplayed quicker and quicker, and the goblins leaped faster andfaster, coiling themselves up, rolling head over heels upon theground, and bounding over the tombstones like footballs. Thesexton's brain whirled round with the rapidity of the motion hebeheld, and his legs reeled beneath him, as the spirits flew beforehis eyes; when the goblin king, suddenly darting towards him,laid his hand upon his collar, and sank with him through the earth.

'When Gabriel Grub had had time to fetch his breath, whichthe rapidity of his descent had for the moment taken away, hefound himself in what appeared to be a large cavern, surroundedon all sides by crowds of goblins, ugly and grim; in the centre ofthe room, on an elevated seat, was stationed his friend of thechurchyard; and close behind him stood Gabriel Grub himself,without power of motion.

'"Cold to-night," said the king of the goblins, "very cold. Aglass of something warm here!"

'At this command, half a dozen officious goblins, with aperpetual smile upon their faces, whom Gabriel Grub imaginedto be courtiers, on that account, hastily disappeared, and presentlyreturned with a goblet of liquid fire, which they presented to the king.

'"Ah!" cried the goblin, whose cheeks and throat were transparent,as he tossed down the flame, "this warms one, indeed!Bring a bumper of the same, for Mr. Grub."

'It was in vain for the unfortunate sexton to protest that hewas not in the habit of taking anything warm at night; one ofthe goblins held him while another poured the blazing liquiddown his throat; the whole assembly screeched with laughter,as he coughed and choked, and wiped away the tears whichgushed plentifully from his eyes, after swallowing the burning draught.

'"And now," said the king, fantastically poking the tapercorner of his sugar-loaf hat into the sexton's eye, and therebyoccasioning him the most exquisite pain; "and now, show theman of misery and gloom, a few of the pictures from our owngreat storehouse!"

'As the goblin said this, a thick cloud which obscured theremoter end of the cavern rolled gradually away, and disclosed,apparently at a great distance, a small and scantily furnished, butneat and clean apartment. A crowd of little children weregathered round a bright fire, clinging to their mother's gown, andgambolling around her chair. The mother occasionally rose, anddrew aside the window-curtain, as if to look for some expectedobject; a frugal meal was ready spread upon the table; and anelbow chair was placed near the fire. A knock was heard at thedoor; the mother opened it, and the children crowded round her,and clapped their hands for joy, as their father entered. He waswet and weary, and shook the snow from his garments, as thechildren crowded round him, and seizing his cloak, hat, stick,and gloves, with busy zeal, ran with them from the room. Then,as he sat down to his meal before the fire, the children climbedabout his knee, and the mother sat by his side, and all seemedhappiness and comfort.

'But a change came upon the view, almost imperceptibly. Thescene was altered to a small bedroom, where the fairest andyoungest child lay dying; the roses had fled from his cheek, andthe light from his eye; and even as the sexton looked upon himwith an interest he had never felt or known before, he died. Hisyoung brothers and sisters crowded round his little bed, andseized his tiny hand, so cold and heavy; but they shrank backfrom its touch, and looked with awe on his infant face; for calmand tranquil as it was, and sleeping in rest and peace as thebeautiful child seemed to be, they saw that he was dead, and theyknew that he was an angel looking down upon, and blessingthem, from a bright and happy Heaven.

'Again the light cloud passed across the picture, and again thesubject changed. The father and mother were old and helplessnow, and the number of those about them was diminished morethan half; but content and cheerfulness sat on every face, andbeamed in every eye, as they crowded round the fireside, and toldand listened to old stories of earlier and bygone days. Slowlyand peacefully, the father sank into the grave, and, soon after,the sharer of all his cares and troubles followed him to a place ofrest. The few who yet survived them, kneeled by their tomb, andwatered the green turf which covered it with their tears; then rose,and turned away, sadly and mournfully, but not with bittercries, or despairing lamentations, for they knew that they shouldone day meet again; and once more they mixed with the busyworld, and their content and cheerfulness were restored. Thecloud settled upon the picture, and concealed it from the sexton's view.

'"What do you think of THAT?" said the goblin, turning hislarge face towards Gabriel Grub.

'Gabriel murmured out something about its being very pretty,and looked somewhat ashamed, as the goblin bent his fiery eyesupon him.

'" You miserable man!" said the goblin, in a tone of excessivecontempt. "You!" He appeared disposed to add more, butindignation choked his utterance, so he lifted up one of his verypliable legs, and, flourishing it above his head a little, to insurehis aim, administered a good sound kick to Gabriel Grub;immediately after which, all the goblins in waiting crowdedround the wretched sexton, and kicked him without mercy,according to the established and invariable custom of courtiersupon earth, who kick whom royalty kicks, and hug whomroyalty hugs.

'"Show him some more!" said the king of the goblins.

'At these words, the cloud was dispelled, and a rich andbeautiful landscape was disclosed to view--there is just suchanother, to this day, within half a mile of the old abbey town.The sun shone from out the clear blue sky, the water sparkledbeneath his rays, and the trees looked greener, and the flowersmore gay, beneath its cheering influence. The water rippled onwith a pleasant sound, the trees rustled in the light wind thatmurmured among their leaves, the birds sang upon the boughs,and the lark carolled on high her welcome to the morning. Yes,it was morning; the bright, balmy morning of summer; theminutest leaf, the smallest blade of grass, was instinct with life.The ant crept forth to her daily toil, the butterfly fluttered andbasked in the warm rays of the sun; myriads of insects spreadtheir transparent wings, and revelled in their brief but happyexistence. Man walked forth, elated with the scene; and all wasbrightness and splendour.

'"YOU a miserable man!" said the king of the goblins, in amore contemptuous tone than before. And again the king of thegoblins gave his leg a flourish; again it descended on the shouldersof the sexton; and again the attendant goblins imitated theexample of their chief.

'Many a time the cloud went and came, and many a lesson ittaught to Gabriel Grub, who, although his shoulders smartedwith pain from the frequent applications of the goblins' feetthereunto, looked on with an interest that nothing could diminish.He saw that men who worked hard, and earned their scantybread with lives of labour, were cheerful and happy; and that tothe most ignorant, the sweet face of Nature was a never-failingsource of cheerfulness and joy. He saw those who had beendelicately nurtured, and tenderly brought up, cheerful underprivations, and superior to suffering, that would have crushedmany of a rougher grain, because they bore within their ownbosoms the materials of happiness, contentment, and peace. Hesaw that women, the tenderest and most fragile of all God'screatures, were the oftenest superior to sorrow, adversity, anddistress; and he saw that it was because they bore, in their ownhearts, an inexhaustible well-spring of affection and devotion.Above all, he saw that men like himself, who snarled at the mirthand cheerfulness of others, were the foulest weeds on the fairsurface of the earth; and setting all the good of the world againstthe evil, he came to the conclusion that it was a very decent andrespectable sort of world after all. No sooner had he formed it,than the cloud which had closed over the last picture, seemed tosettle on his senses, and lull him to repose. One by one, thegoblins faded from his sight; and, as the last one disappeared, hesank to sleep.

'The day had broken when Gabriel Grub awoke, and foundhimself lying at full length on the flat gravestone in the churchyard,with the wicker bottle lying empty by his side, and his coat,spade, and lantern, all well whitened by the last night's frost,scattered on the ground. The stone on which he had first seenthe goblin seated, stood bolt upright before him, and the graveat which he had worked, the night before, was not far off. Atfirst, he began to doubt the reality of his adventures, but theacute pain in his shoulders when he attempted to rise, assuredhim that the kicking of the goblins was certainly not ideal. Hewas staggered again, by observing no traces of footsteps in thesnow on which the goblins had played at leap-frog with thegravestones, but he speedily accounted for this circumstancewhen he remembered that, being spirits, they would leave novisible impression behind them. So, Gabriel Grub got on his feetas well as he could, for the pain in his back; and, brushingthe frost off his coat, put it on, and turned his face towards the town.

'But he was an altered man, and he could not bear the thoughtof returning to a place where his repentance would be scoffed at,and his reformation disbelieved. He hesitated for a few moments;and then turned away to wander where he might, and seek hisbread elsewhere.

'The lantern, the spade, and the wicker bottle were found, thatday, in the churchyard. There were a great many speculationsabout the sexton's fate, at first, but it was speedily determinedthat he had been carried away by the goblins; and there were notwanting some very credible witnesses who had distinctly seenhim whisked through the air on the back of a chestnut horseblind of one eye, with the hind-quarters of a lion, and the tail of abear. At length all this was devoutly believed; and the new sextonused to exhibit to the curious, for a trifling emolument, a good-sized piece of the church weathercock which had been accidentallykicked off by the aforesaid horse in his aerial flight, and pickedup by himself in the churchyard, a year or two afterwards.

'Unfortunately, these stories were somewhat disturbed by theunlooked-for reappearance of Gabriel Grub himself, some tenyears afterwards, a ragged, contented, rheumatic old man. Hetold his story to the clergyman, and also to the mayor; and incourse of time it began to be received as a matter of history, inwhich form it has continued down to this very day. Thebelievers in the weathercock tale, having misplaced their confidenceonce, were not easily prevailed upon to part with itagain, so they looked as wise as they could, shrugged theirshoulders, touched their foreheads, and murmured somethingabout Gabriel Grub having drunk all the Hollands, and thenfallen asleep on the flat tombstone; and they affected to explainwhat he supposed he had witnessed in the goblin's cavern, bysaying that he had seen the world, and grown wiser. But thisopinion, which was by no means a popular one at any time,gradually died off; and be the matter how it may, as GabrielGrub was afflicted with rheumatism to the end of his days, thisstory has at least one moral, if it teach no better one--and that is,that if a man turn sulky and drink by himself at Christmas time,he may make up his mind to be not a bit the better for it: let thespirits be never so good, or let them be even as many degreesbeyond proof, as those which Gabriel Grub saw in the goblin's cavern.'

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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