Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 23)

Mr. Pickwick looked round him. The attachment and fervourof his followers lighted up a glow of enthusiasm within him. Hewas their leader, and he felt it.

'Let us celebrate this happy meeting with a convivial glass,' saidhe. This proposition, like the other, was received with unanimousapplause. Having himself deposited the important stone in a smalldeal box, purchased from the landlady for the purpose, heplaced himself in an arm-chair, at the head of the table; and theevening was devoted to festivity and conversation.

It was past eleven o'clock--a late hour for the little village ofCobham--when Mr. Pickwick retired to the bedroom which hadbeen prepared for his reception. He threw open the latticewindow, and setting his light upon the table, fell into a train ofmeditation on the hurried events of the two preceding days.

The hour and the place were both favourable to contemplation;Mr. Pickwick was roused by the church clock strikingtwelve. The first stroke of the hour sounded solemnly in his ear,but when the bell ceased the stillness seemed insupportable--healmost felt as if he had lost a companion. He was nervous andexcited; and hastily undressing himself and placing his light inthe chimney, got into bed.

Every one has experienced that disagreeable state of mind, inwhich a sensation of bodily weariness in vain contends against aninability to sleep. It was Mr. Pickwick's condition at thismoment: he tossed first on one side and then on the other; andperseveringly closed his eyes as if to coax himself to slumber. Itwas of no use. Whether it was the unwonted exertion he hadundergone, or the heat, or the brandy-and-water, or the strangebed--whatever it was, his thoughts kept reverting veryuncomfortably to the grim pictures downstairs, and the old storiesto which they had given rise in the course of the evening. Afterhalf an hour's tumbling about, he came to the unsatisfactoryconclusion, that it was of no use trying to sleep; so he got up andpartially dressed himself. Anything, he thought, was better thanlying there fancying all kinds of horrors. He looked out of thewindow--it was very dark. He walked about the room--it wasvery lonely.

He had taken a few turns from the door to the window, andfrom the window to the door, when the clergyman's manuscriptfor the first time entered his head. It was a good thought. if itfailed to interest him, it might send him to sleep. He took it fromhis coat pocket, and drawing a small table towards his bedside,trimmed the light, put on his spectacles, and composed himselfto read. It was a strange handwriting, and the paper was muchsoiled and blotted. The title gave him a sudden start, too; and hecould not avoid casting a wistful glance round the room.Reflecting on the absurdity of giving way to such feelings,however, he trimmed the light again, and read as follows:--


'Yes!--a madman's! How that word would have struck to myheart, many years ago! How it would have roused the terror thatused to come upon me sometimes, sending the blood hissing andtingling through my veins, till the cold dew of fear stood in largedrops upon my skin, and my knees knocked together withfright! I like it now though. It's a fine name. Show me themonarch whose angry frown was ever feared like the glare of amadman's eye--whose cord and axe were ever half so sure asa madman's gripe. Ho! ho! It's a grand thing to be mad! to bepeeped at like a wild lion through the iron bars--to gnash one'steeth and howl, through the long still night, to the merry ring ofa heavy chain and to roll and twine among the straw, transportedwith such brave music. Hurrah for the madhouse! Oh, it'sa rare place!

'I remember days when I was afraid of being mad; when I usedto start from my sleep, and fall upon my knees, and pray to bespared from the curse of my race; when I rushed from the sight ofmerriment or happiness, to hide myself in some lonely place, andspend the weary hours in watching the progress of the fever thatwas to consume my brain. I knew that madness was mixed upwith my very blood, and the marrow of my bones! that onegeneration had passed away without the pestilence appearingamong them, and that I was the first in whom it would revive. Iknew it must be so: that so it always had been, and so it everwould be: and when I cowered in some obscure corner of acrowded room, and saw men whisper, and point, and turn theireyes towards me, I knew they were telling each other of thedoomed madman; and I slunk away again to mope in solitude.

'I did this for years; long, long years they were. The nights hereare long sometimes--very long; but they are nothing to therestless nights, and dreadful dreams I had at that time. It makesme cold to remember them. Large dusky forms with sly andjeering faces crouched in the corners of the room, and bent overmy bed at night, tempting me to madness. They told me in lowwhispers, that the floor of the old house in which my father died,was stained with his own blood, shed by his own hand in ragingmadness. I drove my fingers into my ears, but they screamed intomy head till the room rang with it, that in one generation beforehim the madness slumbered, but that his grandfather had livedfor years with his hands fettered to the ground, to prevent histearing himself to pieces. I knew they told the truth--I knew itwell. I had found it out years before, though they had tried tokeep it from me. Ha! ha! I was too cunning for them, madmanas they thought me.

'At last it came upon me, and I wondered how I could everhave feared it. I could go into the world now, and laugh andshout with the best among them. I knew I was mad, but they didnot even suspect it. How I used to hug myself with delight, whenI thought of the fine trick I was playing them after their oldpointing and leering, when I was not mad, but only dreading thatI might one day become so! And how I used to laugh for joy,when I was alone, and thought how well I kept my secret, andhow quickly my kind friends would have fallen from me, if theyhad known the truth. I could have screamed with ecstasy when Idined alone with some fine roaring fellow, to think how pale hewould have turned, and how fast he would have run, if he hadknown that the dear friend who sat close to him, sharpening abright, glittering knife, was a madman with all the power, andhalf the will, to plunge it in his heart. Oh, it was a merry life!

'Riches became mine, wealth poured in upon me, and I riotedin pleasures enhanced a thousandfold to me by the consciousnessof my well-kept secret. I inherited an estate. The law--the eagle-eyed law itself--had been deceived, and had handed over disputedthousands to a madman's hands. Where was the wit of the sharp-sighted men of sound mind? Where the dexterity of the lawyers,eager to discover a flaw? The madman's cunning had overreachedthem all.

'I had money. How I was courted! I spent it profusely. How Iwas praised! How those three proud, overbearing brothershumbled themselves before me! The old, white-headed father,too--such deference--such respect--such devoted friendship--he worshipped me! The old man had a daughter, and the youngmen a sister; and all the five were poor. I was rich; and when Imarried the girl, I saw a smile of triumph play upon the faces ofher needy relatives, as they thought of their well-planned scheme,and their fine prize. It was for me to smile. To smile! To laughoutright, and tear my hair, and roll upon the ground with shrieksof merriment. They little thought they had married her to a madman.

'Stay. If they had known it, would they have saved her? Asister's happiness against her husband's gold. The lightest featherI blow into the air, against the gay chain that ornaments my body!

'In one thing I was deceived with all my cunning. If I had notbeen mad--for though we madmen are sharp-witted enough, weget bewildered sometimes--I should have known that the girlwould rather have been placed, stiff and cold in a dull leadencoffin, than borne an envied bride to my rich, glittering house. Ishould have known that her heart was with the dark-eyed boywhose name I once heard her breathe in her troubled sleep; andthat she had been sacrificed to me, to relieve the poverty of theold, white-headed man and the haughty brothers.

'I don't remember forms or faces now, but I know the girl wasbeautiful. I know she was; for in the bright moonlight nights,when I start up from my sleep, and all is quiet about me, I see,standing still and motionless in one corner of this cell, a slightand wasted figure with long black hair, which, streaming downher back, stirs with no earthly wind, and eyes that fix their gazeon me, and never wink or close. Hush! the blood chills at myheart as I write it down--that form is HERS; the face is very pale,and the eyes are glassy bright; but I know them well. That figurenever moves; it never frowns and mouths as others do, that fillthis place sometimes; but it is much more dreadful to me, eventhan the spirits that tempted me many years ago--it comes freshfrom the grave; and is so very death-like.

'For nearly a year I saw that face grow paler; for nearly a yearI saw the tears steal down the mournful cheeks, and never knewthe cause. I found it out at last though. They could not keep itfrom me long. She had never liked me; I had never thought shedid: she despised my wealth, and hated the splendour in whichshe lived; but I had not expected that. She loved another. This Ihad never thought of. Strange feelings came over me, andthoughts, forced upon me by some secret power, whirled roundand round my brain. I did not hate her, though I hated the boyshe still wept for. I pitied--yes, I pitied--the wretched life towhich her cold and selfish relations had doomed her. I knew thatshe could not live long; but the thought that before her death shemight give birth to some ill-fated being, destined to hand downmadness to its offspring, determined me. I resolved to kill her.

'For many weeks I thought of poison, and then of drowning,and then of fire. A fine sight, the grand house in flames, and themadman's wife smouldering away to cinders. Think of the jest ofa large reward, too, and of some sane man swinging in the windfor a deed he never did, and all through a madman's cunning!I thought often of this, but I gave it up at last. Oh! the pleasureof stropping the razor day after day, feeling the sharp edge, andthinking of the gash one stroke of its thin, bright edge would make!'At last the old spirits who had been with me so often beforewhispered in my ear that the time was come, and thrust the openrazor into my hand. I grasped it firmly, rose softly from the bed,and leaned over my sleeping wife. Her face was buried in herhands. I withdrew them softly, and they fell listlessly on herbosom. She had been weeping; for the traces of the tears werestill wet upon her cheek. Her face was calm and placid; and evenas I looked upon it, a tranquil smile lighted up her pale features.I laid my hand softly on her shoulder. She started--it was only apassing dream. I leaned forward again. She screamed, and woke.

'One motion of my hand, and she would never again haveuttered cry or sound. But I was startled, and drew back. Her eyeswere fixed on mine. I knew not how it was, but they cowed andfrightened me; and I quailed beneath them. She rose from the bed,still gazing fixedly and steadily on me. I trembled; the razor wasin my hand, but I could not move. She made towards the door.As she neared it, she turned, and withdrew her eyes from my face.The spell was broken. I bounded forward, and clutched her bythe arm. Uttering shriek upon shriek, she sank upon the ground.

'Now I could have killed her without a struggle; but the housewas alarmed. I heard the tread of footsteps on the stairs. Ireplaced the razor in its usual drawer, unfastened the door, andcalled loudly for assistance.

'They came, and raised her, and placed her on the bed. She lay bereftof animation for hours; and when life, look, and speech returned,her senses had deserted her, and she raved wildly and furiously.

'Doctors were called in--great men who rolled up to my doorin easy carriages, with fine horses and gaudy servants. They wereat her bedside for weeks. They had a great meeting and consultedtogether in low and solemn voices in another room. One, thecleverest and most celebrated among them, took me aside, andbidding me prepare for the worst, told me--me, the madman!--that my wife was mad. He stood close beside me at an openwindow, his eyes looking in my face, and his hand laid upon myarm. With one effort, I could have hurled him into the streetbeneath. It would have been rare sport to have done it; but mysecret was at stake, and I let him go. A few days after, they toldme I must place her under some restraint: I must provide akeeper for her. I! I went into the open fields where none couldhear me, and laughed till the air resounded with my shouts!

'She died next day. The white-headed old man followed her tothe grave, and the proud brothers dropped a tear over theinsensible corpse of her whose sufferings they had regarded in herlifetime with muscles of iron. All this was food for my secretmirth, and I laughed behind the white handkerchief which I heldup to my face, as we rode home, till the tears Came into my eyes.

'But though I had carried my object and killed her, I wasrestless and disturbed, and I felt that before long my secret mustbe known. I could not hide the wild mirth and joy which boiledwithin me, and made me when I was alone, at home, jump up andbeat my hands together, and dance round and round, and roaraloud. When I went out, and saw the busy crowds hurryingabout the streets; or to the theatre, and heard the sound ofmusic, and beheld the people dancing, I felt such glee, that Icould have rushed among them, and torn them to pieces limbfrom limb, and howled in transport. But I ground my teeth, andstruck my feet upon the floor, and drove my sharp nails into myhands. I kept it down; and no one knew I was a madman yet.

'I remember--though it's one of the last things I can remember:for now I mix up realities with my dreams, and having so muchto do, and being always hurried here, have no time to separatethe two, from some strange confusion in which they get involved--I remember how I let it out at last. Ha! ha! I think I see theirfrightened looks now, and feel the ease with which I flung themfrom me, and dashed my clenched fist into their white faces, andthen flew like the wind, and left them screaming and shoutingfar behind. The strength of a giant comes upon me when I thinkof it. There--see how this iron bar bends beneath my furiouswrench. I could snap it like a twig, only there are long gallerieshere with many doors--I don't think I could find my way alongthem; and even if I could, I know there are iron gates belowwhich they keep locked and barred. They know what a clevermadman I have been, and they are proud to have me here, to show.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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