CHAPTER II—MRS. LIRRIPER RELATES HOW JEMMY TOPPED UP
Well my dear and so the evening readings of those jottings of the Major’s brought us round at last to the evening when we were all packed and going away next day, and I do assure you that by that time though it was deliciously comfortable to look forward to the dear old house in Norfolk Street again, I had formed quite a high opinion of the French nation and had noticed them to be much more homely and domestic in their families and far more simple and amiable in their lives than I had ever been led to expect, and it did strike me between ourselves that in one particular they might be imitated to advantage by another nation which I will not mention, and that is in the courage with which they take their little enjoyments on little means and with little things and don’t let solemn big-wigs stare them out of countenance or speechify them dull, of which said solemn big-wigs I have ever had the one opinion that I wish they were all made comfortable separately in coppers with the lids on and never let out any more.
“Now young man,” I says to Jemmy when we brought our chairs into the balcony that last evening, “you please to remember who was to ‘top up.’”
“All right Gran” says Jemmy. “I am the illustrious personage.”
But he looked so serious after he had made me that light answer, that the Major raised his eyebrows at me and I raised mine at the Major.
“Gran and godfather,” says Jemmy, “you can hardly think how much my mind has run on Mr. Edson’s death.”
It gave me a little check. “Ah! it was a sad scene my love” I says, “and sad remembrances come back stronger than merry. But this” I says after a little silence, to rouse myself and the Major and Jemmy all together, “is not topping up. Tell us your story my dear.”
“I will” says Jemmy.
“What is the date sir?” says I. “Once upon a time when pigs drank wine?”
“No Gran,” says Jemmy, still serious; “once upon a time when the French drank wine.”
Again I glanced at the Major, and the Major glanced at me.
“In short, Gran and godfather,” says Jemmy, looking up, “the date is this time, and I’m going to tell you Mr. Edson’s story.”
The flutter that it threw me into. The change of colour on the part of the Major!
“That is to say, you understand,” our bright-eyed boy says, “I am going to give you my version of it. I shall not ask whether it’s right or not, firstly because you said you knew very little about it, Gran, and secondly because what little you did know was a secret.”
I folded my hands in my lap and I never took my eyes off Jemmy as he went running on.
“The unfortunate gentleman” Jemmy commences, “who is the subject of our present narrative was the son of Somebody, and was born Somewhere, and chose a profession Somehow. It is not with those parts of his career that we have to deal; but with his early attachment to a young and beautiful lady.”
I thought I should have dropped. I durstn’t look at the Major; but I know what his state was, without looking at him.
“The father of our ill-starred hero” says Jemmy, copying as it seemed to me the style of some of his story-books, “was a worldly man who entertained ambitious views for his only son and who firmly set his face against the contemplated alliance with a virtuous but penniless orphan. Indeed he went so far as roundly to assure our hero that unless he weaned his thoughts from the object of his devoted affection, he would disinherit him. At the same time, he proposed as a suitable match the daughter of a neighbouring gentleman of a good estate, who was neither ill-favoured nor unamiable, and whose eligibility in a pecuniary point of view could not be disputed. But young Mr. Edson, true to the first and only love that had inflamed his breast, rejected all considerations of self-advancement, and, deprecating his father’s anger in a respectful letter, ran away with her.”
My dear I had begun to take a turn for the better, but when it come to running away I began to take another turn for the worse.
“The lovers” says Jemmy “fled to London and were united at the altar of Saint Clement’s Danes. And it is at this period of their simple but touching story that we find them inmates of the dwelling of a highly-respected and beloved lady of the name of Gran, residing within a hundred miles of Norfolk Street.”
I felt that we were almost safe now, I felt that the dear boy had no suspicion of the bitter truth, and I looked at the Major for the first time and drew a long breath. The Major gave me a nod.
“Our hero’s father” Jemmy goes on “proving implacable and carrying his threat into unrelenting execution, the struggles of the young couple in London were severe, and would have been far more so, but for their good angel’s having conducted them to the abode of Mrs. Gran; who, divining their poverty (in spite of their endeavours to conceal it from her), by a thousand delicate arts smoothed their rough way, and alleviated the sharpness of their first distress.”
Here Jemmy took one of my hands in one of his, and began a marking the turns of his story by making me give a beat from time to time upon his other hand.
“After a while, they left the house of Mrs. Gran, and pursued their fortunes through a variety of successes and failures elsewhere. But in all reverses, whether for good or evil, the words of Mr. Edson to the fair young partner of his life were, ‘Unchanging Love and Truth will carry us through all!’”
My hand trembled in the dear boy’s, those words were so wofully unlike the fact.
“Unchanging Love and Truth” says Jemmy over again, as if he had a proud kind of a noble pleasure in it, “will carry us through all! Those were his words. And so they fought their way, poor but gallant and happy, until Mrs. Edson gave birth to a child.”
“A daughter,” I says.
“No,” says Jemmy, “a son. And the father was so proud of it that he could hardly bear it out of his sight. But a dark cloud overspread the scene. Mrs. Edson sickened, drooped, and died.”
“Ah! Sickened, drooped, and died!” I says.
“And so Mr. Edson’s only comfort, only hope on earth, and only stimulus to action, was his darling boy. As the child grew older, he grew so like his mother that he was her living picture. It used to make him wonder why his father cried when he kissed him. But unhappily he was like his mother in constitution as well as in face, and lo, died too before he had grown out of childhood. Then Mr. Edson, who had good abilities, in his forlornness and despair, threw them all to the winds. He became apathetic, reckless, lost. Little by little he sank down, down, down, down, until at last he almost lived (I think) by gaming. And so sickness overtook him in the town of Sens in France, and he lay down to die. But now that he laid him down when all was done, and looked back upon the green Past beyond the time when he had covered it with ashes, he thought gratefully of the good Mrs. Gran long lost sight of, who had been so kind to him and his young wife in the early days of their marriage, and he left the little that he had as a last Legacy to her. And she, being brought to see him, at first no more knew him than she would know from seeing the ruin of a Greek or Roman Temple, what it used to be before it fell; but at length she remembered him. And then he told her, with tears, of his regret for the misspent part of his life, and besought her to think as mildly of it as she could, because it was the poor fallen Angel of his unchanging Love and Constancy after all. And because she had her grandson with her, and he fancied that his own boy, if he had lived, might have grown to be something like him, he asked her to let him touch his forehead with his cheek and say certain parting words.”
Jemmy’s voice sank low when it got to that, and tears filled my eyes, and filled the Major’s.
“You little Conjurer” I says, “how did you ever make it all out? Go in and write it every word down, for it’s a wonder.”
Which Jemmy did, and I have repeated it to you my dear from his writing.
Then the Major took my hand and kissed it, and said, “Dearest madam all has prospered with us.”
“Ah Major” I says drying my eyes, “we needn’t have been afraid. We might have known it. Treachery don’t come natural to beaming youth; but trust and pity, love and constancy,—they do, thank God!”