Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 26
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 26 Post by :screak Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dickens Date :June 2011 Read :2293

Click below to download : The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 26 (Format : PDF)

The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 26

CHAPTER 26


Almost broken-hearted, Nell withdrew with the schoolmaster from the
bedside and returned to his cottage. In the midst of her grief and
tears she was yet careful to conceal their real cause from the old
man, for the dead boy had been a grandchild, and left but one aged
relative to mourn his premature decay.

She stole away to bed as quickly as she could, and when she was
alone, gave free vent to the sorrow with which her breast was
overcharged. But the sad scene she had witnessed, was not without
its lesson of content and gratitude; of content with the lot which
left her health and freedom; and gratitude that she was spared to
the one relative and friend she loved, and to live and move in a
beautiful world, when so many young creatures--as young and full
of hope as she--were stricken down and gathered to their graves.
How many of the mounds in that old churchyard where she had lately
strayed, grew green above the graves of children! And though she
thought as a child herself, and did not perhaps sufficiently
consider to what a bright and happy existence those who die young
are borne, and how in death they lose the pain of seeing others die
around them, bearing to the tomb some strong affection of their
hearts (which makes the old die many times in one long life), still
she thought wisely enough, to draw a plain and easy moral from what
she had seen that night, and to store it, deep in her mind.

Her dreams were of the little scholar: not coffined and covered up,
but mingling with angels, and smiling happily. The sun darting his
cheerful rays into the room, awoke her; and now there remained but
to take leave of the poor schoolmaster and wander forth once more.

By the time they were ready to depart, school had begun. In the
darkened room, the din of yesterday was going on again: a little
sobered and softened down, perhaps, but only a very little, if at
all. The schoolmaster rose from his desk and walked with them to
the gate.

It was with a trembling and reluctant hand, that the child held out
to him the money which the lady had given her at the races for her
flowers: faltering in her thanks as she thought how small the sum
was, and blushing as she offered it. But he bade her put it up,
and stooping to kiss her cheek, turned back into his house.

They had not gone half-a-dozen paces when he was at the door again;
the old man retraced his steps to shake hands, and the child did
the same.

'Good fortune and happiness go with you!' said the poor
schoolmaster. 'I am quite a solitary man now. If you ever pass
this way again, you'll not forget the little village-school.'

'We shall never forget it, sir,' rejoined Nell; 'nor ever forget to
be grateful to you for your kindness to us.'

'I have heard such words from the lips of children very often,'
said the schoolmaster, shaking his head, and smiling thoughtfully,
'but they were soon forgotten. I had attached one young friend to
me, the better friend for being young--but that's over--God bless
you!'

They bade him farewell very many times, and turned away, walking
slowly and often looking back, until they could see him no more.
At length they had left the village far behind, and even lost sight
of the smoke among the trees. They trudged onward now, at a
quicker pace, resolving to keep the main road, and go wherever it
might lead them.

But main roads stretch a long, long way. With the exception of two
or three inconsiderable clusters of cottages which they passed,
without stopping, and one lonely road-side public-house where they
had some bread and cheese, this highway had led them to nothing--
late in the afternoon--and still lengthened out, far in the
distance, the same dull, tedious, winding course, that they had
been pursuing all day. As they had no resource, however, but to go
forward, they still kept on, though at a much slower pace, being
very weary and fatigued.

The afternoon had worn away into a beautiful evening, when they
arrived at a point where the road made a sharp turn and struck
across a common. On the border of this common, and close to the
hedge which divided it from the cultivated fields, a caravan was
drawn up to rest; upon which, by reason of its situation, they came
so suddenly that they could not have avoided it if they would.

It was not a shabby, dingy, dusty cart, but a smart little house
upon wheels, with white dimity curtains festooning the windows, and
window-shutters of green picked out with panels of a staring red,
in which happily-contrasted colours the whole concern shone
brilliant. Neither was it a poor caravan drawn by a single donkey
or emaciated horse, for a pair of horses in pretty
good condition were released from the shafts and grazing on the
frouzy grass. Neither was it a gipsy caravan, for at the open door
(graced with a bright brass knocker) sat a Christian lady, stout
and comfortable to look upon, who wore a large bonnet trembling
with bows. And that it was not an unprovided or destitute caravan
was clear from this lady's occupation, which was the very pleasant
and refreshing one of taking tea. The tea-things, including a
bottle of rather suspicious character and a cold knuckle of ham,
were set forth upon a drum, covered with a white napkin; and there,
as if at the most convenient round-table in all the world, sat
this roving lady, taking her tea and enjoying the prospect.

It happened that at that moment the lady of the caravan had her cup
(which, that everything about her might be of a stout and
comfortable kind, was a breakfast cup) to her lips, and that having
her eyes lifted to the sky in her enjoyment of the full flavour of
the tea, not unmingled possibly with just the slightest
dash or gleam of something out of the suspicious bottle--but this
is mere speculation and not distinct matter of history--it
happened that being thus agreeably engaged, she did not see the
travellers when they first came up. It was not until she was in
the act of getting down the cup, and drawing a long breath after
the exertion of causing its contents to disappear, that the lady of
the caravan beheld an old man and a young child walking slowly by,
and glancing at her proceedings with eyes of modest but hungry
admiration.

'Hey!' cried the lady of the caravan, scooping the crumbs out of
her lap and swallowing the same before wiping her lips. 'Yes, to
be sure--Who won the Helter-Skelter Plate, child?'

'Won what, ma'am?' asked Nell.

'The Helter-Skelter Plate at the races, child--the plate that was
run for on the second day.'

'On the second day, ma'am?'

'Second day! Yes, second day,' repeated the lady with an air of
impatience. 'Can't you say who won the Helter-Skelter Plate when
you're asked the question civilly?'

'I don't know, ma'am.'

'Don't know!' repeated the lady of the caravan; 'why, you were
there. I saw you with my own eyes.'

Nell was not a little alarmed to hear this, supposing that the lady
might be intimately acquainted with the firm of Short and Codlin;
but what followed tended to reassure her.

'And very sorry I was,' said the lady of the caravan, 'to see you
in company with a Punch; a low, practical, wulgar wretch, that
people should scorn to look at.'

'I was not there by choice,' returned the child; 'we didn't know
our way, and the two men were very kind to us, and let us travel
with them. Do you--do you know them, ma'am?'

'Know 'em, child!' cried the lady of the caravan in a sort of
shriek. 'Know them! But you're young and inexperienced, and
that's your excuse for asking sich a question. Do I look as if I
know'd 'em, does the caravan look as if it know'd 'em?'

'No, ma'am, no,' said the child, fearing she had committed some
grievous fault. 'I beg your pardon.'

It was granted immediately, though the lady still appeared much
ruffled and discomposed by the degrading supposition. The child
then explained that they had left the races on the first day, and
were travelling to the next town on that road, where they purposed
to spend the night. As the countenance of the stout lady began to
clear up, she ventured to inquire how far it was. The reply--which
the stout lady did not come to, until she had thoroughly explained
that she went to the races on the first day in a gig, and as an
expedition of pleasure, and that her presence there had no
connexion with any matters of business or profit--was, that the
town was eight miles off.

This discouraging information a little dashed the child, who could
scarcely repress a tear as she glanced along the darkening road.
Her grandfather made no complaint, but he sighed heavily as he
leaned upon his staff, and vainly tried to pierce the dusty
distance.

The lady of the caravan was in the act of gathering her tea
equipage together preparatory to clearing the table, but noting the
child's anxious manner she hesitated and stopped. The child
curtseyed, thanked her for her information, and giving her hand to
the old man had already got some fifty yards or so away, when the
lady of the caravan called to her to return.

'Come nearer, nearer still,' said she, beckoning to her to ascend
the steps. 'Are you hungry, child?'

'Not very, but we are tired, and it's--it IS a long way.'

'Well, hungry or not, you had better have some tea,' rejoined her
new acquaintance. 'I suppose you are agreeable to that, old
gentleman?'

The grandfather humbly pulled off his hat and thanked her. The
lady of the caravan then bade him come up the steps likewise, but
the drum proving an inconvenient table for two, they descended
again, and sat upon the grass, where she handed down to them the
tea-tray, the bread and butter, the knuckle of ham, and in short
everything of which she had partaken herself, except the bottle
which she had already embraced an opportunity of slipping into her
pocket.

'Set 'em out near the hind wheels, child, that's the best place,'
said their friend, superintending the arrangements from above.
'Now hand up the teapot for a little more hot water, and a pinch of
fresh tea, and then both of you eat and drink as much as you can,
and don't spare anything; that's all I ask of you.'

They might perhaps have carried out the lady's wish, if it had been
less freely expressed, or even if it had not been expressed at all.
But as this direction relieved them from any shadow of delicacy or
uneasiness, they made a hearty meal and enjoyed it to the utmost.

While they were thus engaged, the lady of the caravan alighted
on the earth, and with her hands clasped behind her, and her large
bonnet trembling excessively, walked up and down in a measured
tread and very stately manner, surveying the caravan from time to
time with an air of calm delight, and deriving particular
gratification from the red panels and the brass knocker. When she
had taken this gentle exercise for some time, she sat down upon the
steps and called 'George'; whereupon a man in a carter's frock, who
had been so shrouded in a hedge up to this time as to see
everything that passed without being seen himself, parted the twigs
that concealed him, and appeared in a sitting attitude, supporting
on his legs a baking-dish and a half-gallon stone bottle, and
bearing in his right hand a knife, and in his left a fork.

'Yes, Missus,' said George.

'How did you find the cold pie, George?'

'It warn't amiss, mum.'

'And the beer,' said the lady of the caravan, with an appearance of
being more interested in this question than the last; 'is it
passable, George?'

'It's more flatterer than it might be,' George returned, 'but it
an't so bad for all that.'

To set the mind of his mistress at rest, he took a sip (amounting
in quantity to a pint or thereabouts) from the stone bottle, and
then smacked his lips, winked his eye, and nodded his head. No
doubt with the same amiable desire, he immediately resumed his
knife and fork, as a practical assurance that the beer had wrought
no bad effect upon his appetite.

The lady of the caravan looked on approvingly for some time, and
then said,

'Have you nearly finished?'

'Wery nigh, mum.' And indeed, after scraping the dish all round
with his knife and carrying the choice brown morsels to his mouth,
and after taking such a scientific pull at the stone bottle that,
by degrees almost imperceptible to the sight, his head went further
and further back until he lay nearly at his full length upon the
ground, this gentleman declared himself quite disengaged, and came
forth from his retreat.

'I hope I haven't hurried you, George,' said his mistress, who
appeared to have a great sympathy with his late pursuit.

'If you have,' returned the follower, wisely reserving himself
for any favourable contingency that might occur, 'we must make up
for it next time, that's all.'

'We are not a heavy load, George?'

'That's always what the ladies say,' replied the man, looking a
long way round, as if he were appealing to Nature in general
against such monstrous propositions. 'If you see a woman a
driving, you'll always perceive that she never will keep her whip
still; the horse can't go fast enough for her. If cattle have got
their proper load, you never can persuade a woman that they'll not
bear something more. What is ' the cause of this here?'

'Would these two travellers make much difference to the horses, if
we took them with us?' asked his mistress, offering no reply to the
philosophical inquiry, and pointing to Nell and the old man, who
were painfully preparing to resume their journey on foot.

'They'd make a difference in course,' said George doggedly.

'Would they make much difference?' repeated his mistress. 'They
can't be very heavy.'

'The weight o' the pair, mum,' said George, eyeing them with the
look of a man who was calculating within half an ounce or so,
'would be a trifle under that of Oliver Cromwell."

Nell was very much surprised that the man should be so accurately
acquainted with the weight of one whom she had read of in books as
having lived considerably before their time, but speedily forgot
the subject in the joy of hearing that they were to go forward in
the caravan, for which she thanked its lady with unaffected
earnestness. She helped with great readiness and alacrity to put
away the tea-things and other matters that were lying about, and,
the horses being by that time harnessed, mounted into the vehicle,
followed by her delighted grandfather. Their patroness then shut
the door and sat herself down by her drum at an open window; and,
the steps being struck by George and stowed under the carriage,
away they went, with a great noise of flapping and creaking and
straining, and the bright brass knocker, which nobody ever knocked
at, knocking one perpetual double knock of its own accord as they
jolted heavily along.

Content of CHAPTER 26 (Charles Dickens' novel: The Old Curiosity Shop)

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 27 The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 27

The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 27
CHAPTER 27When they had travelled slowly forward for some short distance,Nell ventured to steal a look round the caravan and observe it moreclosely. One half of it--that moiety in which the comfortableproprietress was then seated--was carpeted, and so partitioned offat the further end as to accommodate a sleeping-place, constructedafter the fashion of a berth on board ship, which was shaded, likethe little windows, with fair white curtains, and lookedcomfortable enough, though by what kind of gymnastic exercise thelady of the caravan ever contrived to get into it, was anunfathomable mystery. The other half served for a kitchen, and wasfitted
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 25 The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 25

The Old Curiosity Shop - Chapter 25
CHAPTER 25After a sound night's rest in a chamber in the thatched roof, inwhich it seemed the sexton had for some years been a lodger, butwhich he had lately deserted for a wife and a cottage of his own,the child rose early in the morning and descended to the room whereshe had supped last night. As the schoolmaster had already left hisbed and gone out, she bestirred herself to make it neat andcomfortable, and had just finished its arrangement when the kindhost returned.He thanked her many times, and said that the old dame who usuallydid such offices for him had
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT