The Battle of Life
CHAPTER I - Part The First
NCE UPON A TIME, it matters little when, and in stalwart
England, it matters little where, a fierce battle was
fought. It was fought upon a long summer day when
the waving grass was green. Many a wild flower formed by
the Almighty Hand to be a perfumed goblet for the dew, felt
its enameled cup filled high with blood that day, and shrink-
ing dropped. Many an insect deriving its delicate colour from
harmless leaves and herbs, was stained anew that day by
dying men, and marked its frightened way with an unnatu-
ral track. The painted butterfly took blood into the air upon
the edges of its wings. The stream ran red. The trodden ground
became a quagmire, whence, from sullen pools collected in
the prints of human feet and horses’ hoofs, the one prevail-
ing hue still lowered and glimmered at the sun.
Heaven keep us from a knowledge of the sights the moon
beheld upon that field, when, coming up above the black
line of distant rising-ground, softened and blurred at the
edge by trees, she rose into the sky and looked upon the
plain, strewn with upturned faces that had once at mothers’
breasts sought mothers’ eyes, or slumbered happily. Heaven
keep us from a knowledge of the secrets whispered after-
wards upon the tainted wind that blew across the scene of
that day’s work and that night’s death and suffering! Many
a lonely moon was bright upon the battle-ground, and many
a star kept mournful watch upon it, and many a wind from
every quarter of the earth blew over it, before the traces of
the fight were worn away.
They lurked and lingered for a long time, but survived in
little things; for, Nature, far above the evil passions of men,
soon recovered Her serenity, and smiled upon the guilty
battle-ground as she had done before, when it was inno-
cent. The larks sang high above it; the swallows skimmed
and dipped and flitted to and fro; the shadows of the flying
clouds pursued each other swiftly, over grass and corn and
turnip-field and wood, and over roof and church-spire in the
nestling town among the trees, away into the bright dis-
The Battle of Life
tance on the borders of the sky and earth, where the red
sunsets faded. Crops were sown, and grew up, and were gath-
ered in; the stream that had been crimsoned, turned a
watermill; men whistled at the plough; gleaners and
haymakers were seen in quiet groups at work; sheep and
oxen pastured; boys whooped and called, in fields, to scare
away the birds; smoke rose from cottage chimneys; sabbath
bells rang peacefully; old people lived and died; the timid
creatures of the field, the simple flowers of the bush and
garden, grew and withered in their destined terms: and all
upon the fierce and bloody battle-ground, where thousands
upon thousands had been killed in the great fight. But,
there were deep green patches in the growing corn at first,
that people looked at awfully. Year after year they re-ap-
peared; and it was known that underneath those fertile spots,
heaps of men and horses lay buried, indiscriminately, en-
riching the ground. The husbandmen who ploughed those
places, shrunk from the great worms abounding there; and
the sheaves they yielded, were, for many a long year, called
the Battle Sheaves, and set apart; and no one ever knew a
Battle Sheaf to be among the last load at a Harvest Home.
For a long time, every furrow that was turned, revealed some
fragments of the fight. For a long time, there were wounded
trees upon the battle-ground; and scraps of hacked and
broken fence and wall, where deadly struggles had been made;
and trampled parts where not a leaf or blade would grow. For
a long time, no village girl would dress her hair or bosom
with the sweetest flower from that field of death: and after
many a year had come and gone, the berries growing there,
were still believed to leave too deep a stain upon the hand
that plucked them.
The Seasons in their course, however, though they passed
as lightly as the summer clouds themselves, obliterated, in
the lapse of time, even these remains of the old conflict;
and wore away such legendary traces of it as the neighbouring
people carried in their minds, until they dwindled into old
wives’ tales, dimly remembered round the winter fire, and
waning every year. Where the wild flowers and berries had
so long remained upon the stem untouched, gardens arose,
and houses were built, and children played at battles on the
turf. The wounded trees had long ago made Christmas logs,
and blazed and roared away. The deep green patches were no
greener now than the memory of those who lay in dust be-
low. The ploughshare still turned up from time to time some
rusty bits of metal, but it was hard to say what use they had
ever served, and those who found them wondered and dis-
The Battle of Life
puted. An old dinted corselet, and a helmet, had been hang-
ing in the church so long, that the same weak half-blind old
man who tried in vain to make them out above the white-
washed arch, had marvelled at them as a baby. If the host
slain upon the field, could have been for a moment reani-
mated in the forms in which they fell, each upon the spot
that was the bed of his untimely death, gashed and ghastly
soldiers would have stared in, hundreds deep, at household
door and window; and would have risen on the hearths of
quiet homes; and would have been the garnered store of
barns and granaries; and would have started up between the
cradled infant and its nurse; and would have floated with
the stream, and whirled round on the mill, and crowded the
orchard, and burdened the meadow, and piled the rickyard
high with dying men. So altered was the battle-ground, where
thousands upon thousands had been killed in the great fight.
Nowhere more altered, perhaps, about a hundred years ago,
than in one little orchard attached to an old stone house
with a honeysuckle porch; where, on a bright autumn morn-
ing, there were sounds of music and laughter, and where
two girls danced merrily together on the grass, while some
half-dozen peasant women standing on ladders, gathering
the apples from the trees, stopped in their work to look
down, and share their enjoyment. It was a pleasant, lively,
natural scene; a beautiful day, a retired spot; and the two
girls, quite unconstrained and careless, danced in the free-
dom and gaiety of their hearts.
If there were no such thing as display in the world, my
private opinion is, and I hope you agree with me, that we
might get on a great deal better than we do, and might be
infinitely more agreeable company than we are. It was charm-
ing to see how these girls danced. They had no spectators
but the apple-pickers on the ladders. They were very glad to
please them, but they danced to please themselves (or at
least you would have supposed so); and you could no more
help admiring, than they could help dancing. How they did
Not like opera-dancers. Not at all. And not like Madame
Anybody’s finished pupils. Not the least. It was not quadrille
dancing, nor minuet dancing, nor even country-dance danc-
ing. It was neither in the old style, nor the new style, nor
the French style, nor the English style: though it may have
been, by accident, a trifle in the Spanish style, which is a
free and joyous one, I am told, deriving a delightful air of
off-hand inspiration, from the chirping little castanets. As
they danced among the orchard trees, and down the groves
The Battle of Life
of stems and back again, and twirled each other lightly
round and round, the influence of their airy motion seemed
to spread and spread, in the sun-lighted scene, like an ex-
panding circle in the water. Their streaming hair and flut-
tering skirts, the elastic grass beneath their feet, the boughs
that rustled in the morning air ¾ the flashing leaves, the
speckled shadows on the soft green ground ¾ the balmy
wind that swept along the landscape, glad to turn the dis-
tant windmill, cheerily ¾ everything between the two girls,
and the man and team at plough upon the ridge of land,
where they showed against the sky as if they were the last
things in the world ¾ seemed dancing too.
At last, the younger of the dancing sisters, out of breath,
and laughing gaily, threw herself upon a bench to rest. The
other leaned against a tree hard by. The music, a wandering
harp and fiddle, left off with a flourish, as if it boasted of its
freshness; though the truth is, it had gone at such a pace,
and worked itself to such a pitch of competition with the
dancing, that it never could have held on, half a minute
longer. The apple-pickers on the ladders raised a hum and
murmur of applause, and then, in keeping with the sound,
bestirred themselves to work again like bees.
The more actively, perhaps, because an elderly gentleman,
who was no other than Doctor Jeddler himself ¾ it was
Doctor Jeddler’s house and orchard, you should know, and
these were Doctor Jeddler’s daughters ¾ came bustling out
to see what was the matter, and who the deuce played music
on his property, before breakfast. For he was a great philoso-
pher, Doctor Jeddler, and not very musical.
‘Music and dancing to-day!’ said the Doctor, stopping short,
and speaking to himself. ‘I thought they dreaded to-day.
But it’s a world of contradictions. Why, Grace, why, Marion!’
he added, aloud, ‘is the world more mad than usual this
‘Make some allowance for it, father, if it be,’ replied his
younger daughter, Marion, going close to him, and looking
into his face, ‘for it’s somebody’s birth-day.’
‘Somebody’s birth-day, Puss!’ replied the Doctor. ‘Don’t you
know it’s always somebody’s birth-day? Did you never hear
how many new performers enter on this ¾ ha! ha! ha! ¾
it’s impossible to speak gravely of it ¾ on this preposterous
and ridiculous business called Life, every minute?’
‘No, not you, of course; you’re a woman ¾ almost,’ said
the Doctor. ‘By-the-by,’ and he looked into the pretty face,
still close to his, ‘I suppose it’s your birth-day.’
The Battle of Life
‘No! Do you really, father?’ cried his pet daughter, pursing
up her red lips to be kissed.
‘There! Take my love with it,’ said the Doctor, imprinting
his upon them; ‘and many happy returns of the — the idea!
— of the day. The notion of wishing happy returns in such
a farce as this,’ said the Doctor to himself, ‘is good! Ha! ha!
Doctor Jeddler was, as I have said, a great philosopher,
and the heart and mystery of his philosophy was, to look
upon the world as a gigantic practical joke; as something
too absurd to be considered seriously, by any rational man.
His system of belief had been, in the beginning, part and
parcel of the battle-ground on which he lived, as you shall
‘Well! But how did you get the music?’ asked the Doctor.
‘Poultry-stealers, of course! Where did the minstrels come
‘Alfred sent the music,’ said his daughter Grace, adjusting
a few simple flowers in her sister’s hair, with which, in her
admiration of that youthful beauty, she had herself adorned
it half-an-hour before, and which the dancing had disar-
‘Oh! Alfred sent the music, did he?’ returned the Doctor.
‘Yes. He met it coming out of the town as he was entering
early. The men are travelling on foot, and rested there last
night; and as it was Marion’s birth-day, and he thought it
would please her, he sent them on, with a pencilled note to
me, saying that if I thought so too, they had come to ser-
‘Ay, ay,’ said the Doctor, carelessly, ‘he always takes your
‘And my opinion being favourable,’ said Grace, good-
humouredly; and pausing for a moment to admire the pretty
head she decorated, with her own thrown back; ‘and Marion
being in high spirits, and beginning to dance, I joined her.
And so we danced to Alfred’s music till we were out of breath.
And we thought the music all the gayer for being sent by
Alfred. Didn’t we, dear Marion?’
‘Oh, I don’t know, Grace. How you tease me about Alfred.’
‘Tease you by mentioning your lover?’ said her sister.
‘I am sure I don’t much care to have him mentioned,’ said
the wilful beauty, stripping the petals from some flowers
she held, and scattering them on the ground. ‘I am almost
tired of hearing of him; and as to his being my lover ¾ ‘
‘Hush! Don’t speak lightly of a true heart, which is all
your own, Marion,’ cried her sister, ‘even in jest. There is not
The Battle of Life
a truer heart than Alfred’s in the world!’
‘No-no,’ said Marion, raising her eyebrows with a pleasant
air of careless consideration, ‘perhaps not. But I don’t know
that there’s any great merit in that. I ¾ I don’t want him to
be so very true. I never asked him. If he expects that I ¾
But, dear Grace, why need we talk of him at all, just now!’
It was agreeable to see the graceful figures of the bloom-
ing sisters, twined together, lingering among the trees, con-
versing thus, with earnestness opposed to lightness, yet,
with love responding tenderly to love. And it was very curi-
ous indeed to see the younger sister’s eyes suffused with
tears, and something fervently and deeply felt, breaking
through the wilfulness of what she said, and striving with it
The difference between them, in respect of age, could not
exceed four years at most; but Grace, as often happens in
such cases, when no mother watches over both (the Doctor’s
wife was dead), seemed, in her gentle care of her young
sister, and in the steadiness of her devotion to her, older
than she was; and more removed, in course of nature, from
all competition with her, or participation, otherwise than
through her sympathy and true affection, in her wayward
fancies, than their ages seemed to warrant. Great character
of mother, that, even in this shadow and faint reflection of
it, purifies the heart, and raises the exalted nature nearer to
The Doctor’s reflections, as he looked after them, and heard
the purport of their discourse, were limited at first to cer-
tain merry meditations on the folly of all loves and likings,
and the idle imposition practised on themselves by young
people, who believed for a moment, that there could be any-
thing serious in such bubbles, and were always undeceived
But, the home-adorning, self-denying qualities of Grace,
and her sweet temper, so gentle and retiring, yet including
so much constancy and bravery of spirit, seemed all expressed
to him in the contrast between her quiet household figure
and that of his younger and more beautiful child; and he
was sorry for her sake ¾ sorry for them both ¾ that life
should be such a very ridiculous business as it was.
The Doctor never dreamed of inquiring whether his chil-
dren, or either of them, helped in any way to make the
scheme a serious one. But then he was a Philosopher.
A kind and generous man by nature, he had stumbled, by
chance, over that common Philosopher’s stone (much more
easily discovered than the object of the alchemist’s re-
The Battle of Life
searches), which sometimes trips up kind and generous men,
and has the fatal property of turning gold to dross and every
precious thing to poor account.
‘Britain!’ cried the Doctor. ‘Britain! Holloa!’
A small man, with an uncommonly sour and discontented
face, emerged from the house, and returned to this call the
unceremonious acknowledgment of ‘Now then!’
‘Where’s the breakfast table?’ said the Doctor.
‘In the house,’ returned Britain.
‘Are you going to spread it out here, as you were told last
night?’ said the Doctor. ‘Don’t you know that there are
gentlemen coming? That there’s business to be done this
morning, before the coach comes by? That this is a very
‘I couldn’t do anything, Dr. Jeddler, till the women had
done getting in the apples, could I?’ said Britain, his voice
rising with his reasoning, so that it was very loud at last.
‘Well, have they done now?’ replied the Doctor, looking at
his watch, and clapping his hands. ‘Come! make haste! where’s
‘Here am I, Mister,’ said a voice from one of the ladders,
which a pair of clumsy feet descended briskly. ‘It’s all done
now. Clear away, gals. Everything shall be ready for you in
half a minute, Mister.’
With that she began to bustle about most vigorously; pre-
senting, as she did so, an appearance sufficiently peculiar
to justify a word of introduction.
She was about thirty years old, and had a sufficiently plump
and cheerful face, though it was twisted up into an odd
expression of tightness that made it comical. But, the ex-
traordinary homeliness of her gait and manner, would have
superseded any face in the world. To say that she had two
left legs, and somebody else’s arms, and that all four limbs
seemed to be out of joint, and to start from perfectly wrong
places when they were set in motion, is to offer the mildest
outline of the reality. To say that she was perfectly content
and satisfied with these arrangements, and regarded them
as being no business of hers, and that she took her arms
and legs as they came, and allowed them to dispose of them-
selves just as it happened, is to render faint justice to her
equanimity. Her dress was a prodigious pair of self-willed
shoes, that never wanted to go where her feet went; blue
stockings; a printed gown of many colours, and the most
hideous pattern procurable for money; and a white apron.
She always wore short sleeves, and always had, by some ac-
cident, grazed elbows, in which she took so lively an inter-
The Battle of Life
est, that she was continually trying to turn them round and
get impossible views of them. In general, a little cap placed
somewhere on her head; though it was rarely to be met with
in the place usually occupied in other subjects, by that ar-
ticle of dress; but, from head to foot she was scrupulously
clean, and maintained a kind of dislocated tidiness. Indeed,
her laudable anxiety to be tidy and compact in her own
conscience as well as in the public eye, gave rise to one of
her most startling evolutions, which was to grasp herself
sometimes by a sort of wooden handle (part of her clothing,
and familiarly called a busk), and wrestle as it were with her
garments, until they fell into a symmetrical arrangement.
Such, in outward form and garb, was Clemency Newcome;
who was supposed to have unconsciously originated a cor-
ruption of her own Christian name, from Clementina (but
nobody knew, for the deaf old mother, a very phenomenon
of age, whom she had supported almost from a child, was
dead, and she had no other relation); who now busied her-
self in preparing the table, and who stood, at intervals, with
her bare red arms crossed, rubbing her grazed elbows with
opposite hands, and staring at it very composedly, until she
suddenly remembered something else she wanted, and jogged
off to fetch it.
‘Here are them two lawyers a-coming, Mister!’ said Clem-
ency, in a tone of no very great good-will.
‘Ah!’ cried the Doctor, advancing to the gate to meet them.
‘Good morning, good morning! Grace, my dear! Marion! Here
are Messrs. Snitchey and Craggs. Where’s Alfred!’
‘He’ll be back directly, father, no doubt,’ said Grace. ‘He
had so much to do this morning in his preparations for de-
parture, that he was up and out by daybreak. Good morn-
‘Ladies!’ said Mr. Snitchey, ‘for Self and Craggs,’ who bowed,
‘good morning! Miss,’ to Marion, ‘I kiss your hand.’ Which he
did. ‘And I wish you’ ¾ which he might or might not, for he
didn’t look, at first sight, like a gentleman troubled with
many warm outpourings of soul, in behalf of other people, ‘a
hundred happy returns of this auspicious day.’
‘Ha ha ha!’ laughed the Doctor thoughtfully, with his hands
in his pockets. ‘The great farce in a hundred acts!’
‘You wouldn’t, I am sure,’ said Mr. Snitchey, standing a
small professional blue bag against one leg of the table, ‘cut
the great farce short for this actress, at all events, Doctor
‘No,’ returned the Doctor. ‘God forbid! May she live to laugh
at it, as long as she can laugh, and then say, with the French
The Battle of Life
wit, “The farce is ended; draw the curtain.”’
‘The French wit,’ said Mr. Snitchey, peeping sharply into
his blue bag, ‘was wrong, Doctor Jeddler, and your philoso-
phy is altogether wrong, depend upon it, as I have often
told you. Nothing serious in life! What do you call law?’
‘A joke,’ replied the Doctor.
‘Did you ever go to law?’ asked Mr. Snitchey, looking out
of the blue bag.
‘Never,’ returned the Doctor.
‘If you ever do,’ said Mr. Snitchey, ‘perhaps you’ll alter that
Craggs, who seemed to be represented by Snitchey, and to
be conscious of little or no separate existence or personal
individuality, offered a remark of his own in this place. It
involved the only idea of which he did not stand seized and
possessed in equal moieties with Snitchey; but, he had some
partners in it among the wise men of the world.
‘It’s made a great deal too easy,’ said Mr. Craggs.
‘Law is?’ asked the Doctor.
‘Yes,’ said Mr. Craggs, ‘everything is. Everything appears to
me to be made too easy, now-a-days. It’s the vice of these
times. If the world is a joke (I am not prepared to say it
isn’t), it ought to be made a very difficult joke to crack. It
ought to be as hard a struggle, sir, as possible. That’s the
intention. But, it’s being made far too easy. We are oiling
the gates of life. They ought to be rusty. We shall have them
beginning to turn, soon, with a smooth sound. Whereas they
ought to grate upon their hinges, sir.’
Mr. Craggs seemed positively to grate upon his own hinges,
as he delivered this opinion; to which he communicated
immense effect ¾ being a cold, hard, dry, man, dressed in
grey and white, like a flint; with small twinkles in his eyes,
as if something struck sparks out of them. The three natural
kingdoms, indeed, had each a fanciful representative among
this brotherhood of disputants; for Snitchey was like a mag-
pie or raven (only not so sleek), and the Doctor had a streaked
face like a winter-pippin, with here and there a dimple to
express the peckings of the birds, and a very little bit of
pigtail behind that stood for the stalk.
As the active figure of a handsome young man, dressed for
a journey, and followed by a porter bearing several packages
and baskets, entered the orchard at a brisk pace, and with
an air of gaiety and hope that accorded well with the morn-
ing, these three drew together, like the brothers of the sis-
ter Fates, or like the Graces most effectually disguised, or
like the three weird prophets on the heath, and greeted
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‘Happy returns, Alf!’ said the Doctor, lightly.
‘A hundred happy returns of this auspicious day, Mr.
Heathfield!’ said Snitchey, bowing low.
‘Returns!’ Craggs murmured in a deep voice, all alone.
‘Why, what a battery!’ exclaimed Alfred, stopping short,
‘and one ¾ two ¾ three ¾ all foreboders of no good, in the
great sea before me. I am glad you are not the first I have
met this morning: I should have taken it for a bad omen.
But, Grace was the first ¾ sweet, pleasant Grace ¾ so I defy
‘If you please, Mister, I was the first you know,’ said Clem-
ency Newcome. ‘She was walking out here, before sunrise,
you remember. I was in the house.’
‘That’s true! Clemency was the first,’ said Alfred. ‘So I defy
you with Clemency.’
‘Ha, ha, ha, ¾ for Self and Craggs,’ said Snitchey. ‘What a
‘Not so bad a one as it appears, may be,’ said Alfred, shak-
ing hands heartily with the Doctor, and also with Snitchey
and Craggs, and then looking round. ‘Where are the ¾ Good
With a start, productive for the moment of a closer part-
nership between Jonathan Snitchey and Thomas Craggs than
the subsisting articles of agreement in that wise contem-
plated, he hastily betook himself to where the sisters stood
together, and ¾ however, I needn’t more particularly ex-
plain his manner of saluting Marion first, and Grace after-
wards, than by hinting that Mr. Craggs may possibly have
considered it ‘too easy.’
Perhaps to change the subject, Dr. Jeddler made a hasty
move towards the breakfast, and they all sat down at table.
Grace presided; but so discreetly stationed herself, as to cut
off her sister and Alfred from the rest of the company.
Snitchey and Craggs sat at opposite corners, with the blue
bag between them for safety; the Doctor took his usual po-
sition, opposite to Grace. Clemency hovered galvanically about
the table, as waitress; and the melancholy Britain, at an-
other and a smaller board, acted as Grand Carver of a round
of beef and a ham.
‘Meat?’ said Britain, approaching Mr. Snitchey, with the
carving knife and fork in his hands, and throwing the ques-
tion at him like a missile.
‘Certainly,’ returned the lawyer.
‘Do you want any?’ to Craggs.
‘Lean and well done,’ replied that gentleman.
The Battle of Life
Having executed these orders, and moderately supplied
the Doctor (he seemed to know that nobody else wanted
anything to eat), he lingered as near the Firm as he decently
could, watching with an austere eye their disposition of the
viands, and but once relaxing the severe expression of his
face. This was on the occasion of Mr. Craggs, whose teeth
were not of the best, partially choking, when he cried out
with great animation, ‘I thought he was gone!’
‘Now, Alfred,’ said the Doctor, ‘for a word or two of busi-
ness, while we are yet at breakfast.’
‘While we are yet at breakfast,’ said Snitchey and Craggs,
who seemed to have no present idea of leaving off.
Although Alfred had not been breakfasting, and seemed
to have quite enough business on his hands as it was, he
‘If you please, sir.’
‘If anything could be serious,’ the Doctor began, ‘in such a ¾‘
‘Farce as this, sir,’ hinted Alfred.
‘In such a farce as this,’ observed the Doctor, ‘it might be
this recurrence, on the eve of separation, of a double birth-
day, which is connected with many associations pleasant to
us four, and with the recollection of a long and amicable
intercourse. That’s not to the purpose.’
‘Ah! yes, yes, Dr. Jeddler,’ said the young man. ‘It is to the
purpose. Much to the purpose, as my heart bears witness
this morning; and as yours does too, I know, if you would let
it speak. I leave your house to-day; I cease to be your ward
to-day; we part with tender relations stretching far behind
us, that never can be exactly renewed, and with others dawn-
ing ¾ yet before us,’ he looked down at Marion beside him,
‘fraught with such considerations as I must not trust myself
to speak of now. Come, come!’ he added, rallying his spirits
and the Doctor at once, ‘there’s a serious grain in this large
foolish dust-heap, Doctor. Let us allow to-day, that there is
‘To-day!’ cried the Doctor. ‘Hear him! Ha, ha, ha! Of all
days in the foolish year. Why, on this day, the great battle
was fought on this ground. On this ground where we now
sit, where I saw my two girls dance this morning, where the
fruit has just been gathered for our eating from these trees,
the roots of which are struck in Men, not earth, ¾ so many
lives were lost, that within my recollection, generations af-
terwards, a churchyard full of bones, and dust of bones, and
chips of cloven skulls, has been dug up from underneath our
feet here. Yet not a hundred people in that battle knew for
what they fought, or why; not a hundred of the inconsider-
The Battle of Life
ate rejoicers in the victory, why they rejoiced. Not half a
hundred people were the better for the gain or loss. Not
half-a-dozen men agree to this hour on the cause or merits;
and nobody, in short, ever knew anything distinct about it,
but the mourners of the slain. Serious, too!’ said the Doctor,
laughing. ‘Such a system!’
‘But, all this seems to me,’ said Alfred, ‘to be very serious.’
‘Serious!’ cried the Doctor. ‘If you allowed such things to
be serious, you must go mad, or die, or climb up to the top
of a mountain, and turn hermit.’
‘Besides ¾ so long ago,’ said Alfred.
‘Long ago!’ returned the Doctor. ‘Do you know what the
world has been doing, ever since? Do you know what else it
has been doing? I don’t!’
‘It has gone to law a little,’ observed Mr. Snitchey, stirring
‘Although the way out has been always made too easy,’
said his partner.
‘And you’ll excuse my saying, Doctor,’ pursued Mr. Snitchey,
‘having been already put a thousand times in possession of
my opinion, in the course of our discussions, that, in its
having gone to law, and in its legal system altogether, I do
observe a serious side ¾ now, really, a something tangible,
and with a purpose and intention in it ¾ ‘
Clemency Newcome made an angular tumble against the
table, occasioning a sounding clatter among the cups and
‘Heyday! what’s the matter there?’ exclaimed the Doctor.
‘It’s this evil-inclined blue bag,’ said Clemency, ‘always trip-
ping up somebody!’
‘With a purpose and intention in it, I was saying,’ resumed
Snitchey, ‘that commands respect. Life a farce, Dr. Jeddler?
With law in it?’
The Doctor laughed, and looked at Alfred.
‘Granted, if you please, that war is foolish,’ said Snitchey.
‘There we agree. For example. Here’s a smiling country,’ point-
ing it out with his fork, ‘once overrun by soldiers ¾ tres-
passers every man of ‘em ¾ and laid waste by fire and sword.
He, he, he! The idea of any man exposing himself, voluntar-
ily, to fire and sword! Stupid, wasteful, positively ridicu-
lous; you laugh at your fellow-creatures, you know, when
you think of it! But take this smiling country as it stands.
Think of the laws appertaining to real property; to the be-
quest and devise of real property; to the mortgage and re-
demption of real property; to leasehold, freehold, and copy-
hold estate; think,’ said Mr. Snitchey, with such great emo-
The Battle of Life
tion that he actually smacked his lips, ‘of the complicated
laws relating to title and proof of title, with all the contra-
dictory precedents and numerous acts of parliament con-
nected with them; think of the infinite number of inge-
nious and interminable chancery suits, to which this pleas-
ant prospect may give rise; and acknowledge, Dr. Jeddler,
that there is a green spot in the scheme about us! I believe,’
said Mr. Snitchey, looking at his partner, ‘that I speak for
Self and Craggs?’
Mr. Craggs having signified assent, Mr. Snitchey, some-
what freshened by his recent eloquence, observed that he
would take a little more beef and another cup of tea.
‘I don’t stand up for life in general,’ he added, rubbing his
hands and chuckling, ‘it’s full of folly; full of something
worse. Professions of trust, and confidence, and unselfish-
ness, and all that! Bah, bah, bah! We see what they’re worth.
But, you mustn’t laugh at life; you’ve got a game to play; a
very serious game indeed! Everybody’s playing against you,
you know, and you’re playing against them. Oh! it’s a very
interesting thing. There are deep moves upon the board.
You must only laugh, Dr. Jeddler, when you win ¾ and then
not much. He, he, he! And then not much,’ repeated Snitchey,
rolling his head and winking his eye, as if he would have
added, ‘you may do this instead!’
‘Well, Alfred!’ cried the Doctor, ‘what do you say now?’
‘I say, sir,’ replied Alfred, ‘that the greatest favour you
could do me, and yourself too, I am inclined to think, would
be to try sometimes to forget this battle-field and others
like it in that broader battle-field of Life, on which the sun
looks every day.’
‘Really, I’m afraid that wouldn’t soften his opinions, Mr.
Alfred,’ said Snitchey. ‘The combatants are very eager and
very bitter in that same battle of Life. There’s a great deal of
cutting and slashing, and firing into people’s heads from
behind. There is terrible treading down, and trampling on.
It is rather a bad business.’
‘I believe, Mr. Snitchey,’ said Alfred, ‘there are quiet victo-
ries and struggles, great sacrifices of self, and noble acts of
heroism, in it ¾ even in many of its apparent lightnesses
and contradictions ¾ not the less difficult to achieve, be-
cause they have no earthly chronicle or audience ¾ done
every day in nooks and corners, and in little households,
and in men’s and women’s hearts ¾ any one of which might
reconcile the sternest man to such a world, and fill him
with belief and hope in it, though two-fourths of its people
were at war, and another fourth at law; and that’s a bold
The Battle of Life
Both the sisters listened keenly.
‘Well, well!’ said the Doctor, ‘I am too old to be converted,
even by my friend Snitchey here, or my good spinster sister,
Martha Jeddler; who had what she calls her domestic trials
ages ago, and has led a sympathising life with all sorts of
people ever since; and who is so much of your opinion (only
she’s less reasonable and more obstinate, being a woman),
that we can’t agree, and seldom meet. I was born upon this
battle-field. I began, as a boy, to have my thoughts directed
to the real history of a battle-field. Sixty years have gone
over my head, and I have never seen the Christian world,
including Heaven knows how many loving mothers and good
enough girls like mine here, anything but mad for a battle-
field. The same contradictions prevail in everything. One
must either laugh or cry at such stupendous inconsisten-
cies; and I prefer to laugh.’
Britain, who had been paying the profoundest and most
melancholy attention to each speaker in his turn, seemed
suddenly to decide in favour of the same preference, if a
deep sepulchral sound that escaped him might be construed
into a demonstration of risibility. His face, however, was so
perfectly unaffected by it, both before and afterwards, that
although one or two of the breakfast party looked round as
being startled by a mysterious noise, nobody connected the
offender with it.
Except his partner in attendance, Clemency Newcome; who
rousing him with one of those favourite joints, her elbows,
inquired, in a reproachful whisper, what he laughed at.
‘Not you!’ said Britain.
‘Humanity,’ said Britain. ‘That’s the joke!’
‘What between master and them lawyers, he’s getting more
and more addle-headed every day!’ cried Clemency, giving
him a lunge with the other elbow, as a mental stimulant. ‘Do
you know where you are? Do you want to get warning?’
‘I don’t know anything,’ said Britain, with a leaden eye
and an immovable visage. ‘I don’t care for anything. I don’t
make out anything. I don’t believe anything. And I don’t
Although this forlorn summary of his general condition
may have been overcharged in an access of despondency,
Benjamin Britain ¾ sometimes called Little Britain, to dis-
tinguish him from Great; as we might say Young England,
to express Old England with a decided difference ¾ had
defined his real state more accurately than might be sup-
The Battle of Life
posed. For, serving as a sort of man Miles to the Doctor’s
Friar Bacon, and listening day after day to innumerable ora-
tions addressed by the Doctor to various people, all tending
to show that his very existence was at best a mistake and an
absurdity, this unfortunate servitor had fallen, by degrees,
into such an abyss of confused and contradictory sugges-
tions from within and without, that Truth at the bottom of
her well, was on the level surface as compared with Britain
in the depths of his mystification. The only point he clearly
comprehended, was, that the new element usually brought
into these discussions by Snitchey and Craggs, never served
to make them clearer, and always seemed to give the Doctor
a species of advantage and confirmation. Therefore, he looked
upon the Firm as one of the proximate causes of his state of
mind, and held them in abhorrence accordingly.
‘But, this is not our business, Alfred,’ said the Doctor. ‘Ceas-
ing to be my ward (as you have said) to-day; and leaving us
full to the brim of such learning as the Grammar School
down here was able to give you, and your studies in London
could add to that, and such practical knowledge as a dull old
country Doctor like myself could graft upon both; you are
away, now, into the world. The first term of probation ap-
pointed by your poor father, being over, away you go now,
your own master, to fulfil his second desire. And long before
your three years’ tour among the foreign schools of medi-
cine is finished, you’ll have forgotten us. Lord, you’ll forget
us easily in six months!’
‘If I do ¾ But you know better; why should I speak to
you!’ said Alfred, laughing.
‘I don’t know anything of the sort,’ returned the Doctor.
‘What do you say, Marion?’
Marion, trifling with her teacup, seemed to say ¾ but she
didn’t say it ¾ that he was welcome to forget, if he could.
Grace pressed the blooming face against her cheek, and
‘I haven’t been, I hope, a very unjust steward in the ex-
ecution of my trust,’ pursued the Doctor; ‘but I am to be, at
any rate, formally discharged, and released, and what not
this morning; and here are our good friends Snitchey and
Craggs, with a bagful of papers, and accounts, and docu-
ments, for the transfer of the balance of the trust fund to
you (I wish it was a more difficult one to dispose of, Alfred,
but you must get to be a great man and make it so), and
other drolleries of that sort, which are to be signed, sealed,
‘And duly witnessed as by law required,’ said Snitchey, push-
The Battle of Life
ing away his plate, and taking out the papers, which his
partner proceeded to spread upon the table; ‘and Self and
Crags having been co-trustees with you, Doctor, in so far as
the fund was concerned, we shall want your two servants to
attest the signatures ¾ can you read, Mrs. Newcome?’
‘I an’t married, Mister,’ said Clemency.
‘Oh! I beg your pardon. I should think not,’ chuckled
Snitchey, casting his eyes over her extraordinary figure. ‘You
‘A little,’ answered Clemency.
‘The marriage service, night and morning, eh?’ observed
the lawyer, jocosely.
‘No,’ said Clemency. ‘Too hard. I only reads a thimble.’
‘Read a thimble!’ echoed Snitchey. ‘What are you talking
about, young woman?’
Clemency nodded. ‘And a nutmeg-grater.’
‘Why, this is a lunatic! a subject for the Lord High Chan-
cellor!’ said Snitchey, staring at her.
¾ ‘If possessed of any property,’ stipulated Craggs.
Grace, however, interposing, explained that each of the
articles in question bore an engraved motto, and so formed
the pocket library of Clemency Newcome, who was not much
given to the study of books.
‘Oh, that’s it, is it, Miss Grace!’ said Snitchey.
‘Yes, yes. Ha, ha, ha! I thought our friend was an idiot.
She looks uncommonly like it,’ he muttered, with a supercil-
ious glance. ‘And what does the thimble say, Mrs. Newcome?’
‘I an’t married, Mister,’ observed Clemency.
‘Well, Newcome. Will that do?’ said the lawyer. ‘What does
the thimble say, Newcome?’
How Clemency, before replying to this question, held one
pocket open, and looked down into its yawning depths for
the thimble which wasn’t there, ¾ and how she then held
an opposite pocket open, and seeming to descry it, like a
pearl of great price, at the bottom, cleared away such inter-
vening obstacles as a handkerchief, an end of wax candle, a
flushed apple, an orange, a lucky penny, a cramp bone, a
padlock, a pair of scissors in a sheath more expressively de-
scribable as promising young shears, a handful or so of loose
beads, several balls of cotton, a needle-case, a cabinet col-
lection of curl-papers, and a biscuit, all of which articles she
entrusted individually and separately to Britain to hold, ¾
is of no consequence.
Nor how, in her determination to grasp this pocket by the
throat and keep it prisoner (for it had a tendency to swing,
and twist itself round the nearest corner), she assumed and
The Battle of Life
calmly maintained, an attitude apparently inconsistent with
the human anatomy and the laws of gravity. It is enough
that at last she triumphantly produced the thimble on her
finger, and rattled the nutmeg-grater: the literature of both
those trinkets being obviously in course of wearing out and
wasting away, through excessive friction.
‘That’s the thimble, is it, young woman?’ said Mr. Snitchey,
diverting himself at her expense. ‘And what does the thimble
‘It says,’ replied Clemency, reading slowly round as if it
were a tower, ‘For-get and For-give.’
Snitchey and Craggs laughed heartily. ‘So new!’ said
Snitchey. ‘So easy!’ said Craggs. ‘Such a knowledge of human
nature in it!’ said Snitchey. ‘So applicable to the affairs of
life!’ said Craggs.
‘And the nutmeg-grater?’ inquired the head of the Firm.
‘The grater says,’ returned Clemency, ‘Do as you ¾ wold ¾
be ¾ done by.’
‘Do, or you’ll be done brown, you mean,’ said Mr. Snitchey.
‘I don’t understand,’ retorted Clemency, shaking her head
vaguely. ‘I an’t no lawyer.’
‘I am afraid that if she was, Doctor,’ said Mr. Snitchey,
turning to him suddenly, as if to anticipate any effect that
might otherwise be consequent on this retort, ‘she’d find it
to be the golden rule of half her clients. They are serious
enough in that ¾ whimsical as your world is ¾ and lay the
blame on us afterwards. We, in our profession, are little else
than mirrors after all, Mr. Alfred; but, we are generally con-
sulted by angry and quarrelsome people who are not in their
best looks, and it’s rather hard to quarrel with us if we re-
flect unpleasant aspects. I think,’ said Mr. Snitchey, ‘that I
speak for Self and Craggs?’
‘Decidedly,’ said Craggs.
‘And so, if Mr. Britain will oblige us with a mouthful of
ink,’ said Mr. Snitchey, returning to the papers, ‘we’ll sign,
seal, and deliver as soon as possible, or the coach will be
coming past before we know where we are.’
If one might judge from his appearance, there was every
probability of the coach coming past before Mr. Britain knew
where he was; for he stood in a state of abstraction, men-
tally balancing the Doctor against the lawyers, and the law-
yers against the Doctor, and their clients against both, and
engaged in feeble attempts to make the thimble and nut-
meg-grater (a new idea to him) square with anybody’s sys-
tem of philosophy; and, in short, bewildering himself as
much as ever his great namesake has done with theories and
The Battle of Life
schools. But, Clemency, who was his good Genius ¾ though
he had the meanest possible opinion of her understanding,
by reason of her seldom troubling herself with abstract specu-
lations, and being always at hand to do the right thing at
the right time ¾ having produced the ink in a twinkling,
tendered him the further service of recalling him to himself
by the application of her elbows; with which gentle flappers
she so jogged his memory, in a more literal construction of
that phrase than usual, that he soon became quite fresh
How he laboured under an apprehension not uncommon
to persons in his degree, to whom the use of pen and ink is
an event, that he couldn’t append his name to a document,
not of his own writing, without committing himself in some
shadowy manner, or somehow signing away vague and enor-
mous sums of money; and how he approached the deeds
under protest, and by dint of the Doctor’s coercion, and
insisted on pausing to look at them before writing (the
cramped hand, to say nothing of the phraseology, being so
much Chinese to him), and also on turning them round to
see whether there was anything fraudulent underneath; and
how, having signed his name, he became desolate as one
who had parted with his property and rights; I want the
time to tell. Also, how the blue bag containing his signa-
ture, afterwards had a mysterious interest for him, and he
couldn’t leave it; also, how Clemency Newcome, in an ec-
stasy of laughter at the idea of her own importance and
dignity, brooded over the whole table with her two elbows,
like a spread eagle, and reposed her head upon her left arm
as a preliminary to the formation of certain cabalistic char-
acters, which required a deal of ink, and imaginary counter-
parts whereof she executed at the same time with her tongue.
Also, how, having once tasted ink, she became thirsty in
that regard, as tame tigers are said to be after tasting an-
other sort of fluid, and wanted to sign everything, and put
her name in all kinds of places. In brief, the Doctor was
discharged of his trust and all its responsibilities; and Alfred,
taking it on himself, was fairly started on the journey of
‘Britain!’ said the Doctor. ‘Run to the gate, and watch for
the coach. Time flies, Alfred.’
‘Yes, sir, yes,’ returned the young man, hurriedly. ‘Dear
Grace! a moment! Marion ¾ so young and beautiful, so win-
ning and so much admired, dear to my heart as nothing else
in life is ¾ remember! I leave Marion to you!’
‘She has always been a sacred charge to me, Alfred. She is
The Battle of Life
doubly so, now. I will be faithful to my trust, believe me.’
‘I do believe it, Grace. I know it well. Who could look upon
your face, and hear your voice, and not know it! Ah, Grace!
If I had your well-governed heart, and tranquil mind, how
bravely I would leave this place to-day!’
‘Would you?’ she answered with a quiet smile.
‘And yet, Grace ¾ Sister, seems the natural word.’
‘Use it!’ she said quickly. ‘I am glad to hear it. Call me
‘And yet, sister, then,’ said Alfred, ‘Marion and I had better
have your true and steadfast qualities serving us here, and
making us both happier and better. I wouldn’t carry them
away, to sustain myself, if I could!’
‘Coach upon the hill-top!’ exclaimed Britain.
‘Time flies, Alfred,’ said the Doctor.
Marion had stood apart, with her eyes fixed upon the
ground; but, this warning being given, her young lover
brought her tenderly to where her sister stood, and gave her
into her embrace.
‘I have been telling Grace, dear Marion,’ he said, ‘that you
are her charge; my precious trust at parting. And when I
come back and reclaim you, dearest, and the bright prospect
of our married life lies stretched before us, it shall be one of
our chief pleasures to consult how we can make Grace happy;
how we can anticipate her wishes; how we can show our
gratitude and love to her; how we can return her something
of the debt she will have heaped upon us.’
The younger sister had one hand in his; the other rested
on her sister’s neck. She looked into that sister’s eyes, so
calm, serene, and cheerful, with a gaze in which affection,
admiration, sorrow, wonder, almost veneration, were blended.
She looked into that sister’s face, as if it were the face of
some bright angel. Calm, serene, and cheerful, the face looked
back on her and on her lover.
‘And when the time comes, as it must one day,’ said Alfred,
¾ ‘I wonder it has never come yet, but Grace knows best,
for Grace is always right ¾ when she will want a friend to
open her whole heart to, and to be to her something of what
she has been to us ¾ then, Marion, how faithful we will
prove, and what delight to us to know that she, our dear
good sister, loves and is loved again, as we would have her!’
Still the younger sister looked into her eyes, and turned
not ¾ even towards him. And still those honest eyes looked
back, so calm, serene, and cheerful, on herself and on her
‘And when all that is past, and we are old, and living (as
The Battle of Life
we must!) together ¾ close together ¾ talking often of old
times,’ said Alfred ¾ ‘these shall be our favourite times among
them ¾ this day most of all; and, telling each other what
we thought and felt, and hoped and feared at parting; and
how we couldn’t bear to say good bye ¾ ‘
‘Coach coming through the wood!’ cried Britain.
‘Yes! I am ready ¾ and how we met again, so happily in
spite of all; we’ll make this day the happiest in all the year,
and keep it as a treble birth-day. Shall we, dear?’
‘Yes!’ interposed the elder sister, eagerly, and with a radi-
ant smile. ‘Yes! Alfred, don’t linger. There’s no time. Say
good bye to Marion. And Heaven be with you!’
He pressed the younger sister to his heart. Released from
his embrace, she again clung to her sister; and her eyes,
with the same blended look, again sought those so calm,
serene, and cheerful.
‘Farewell, my boy!’ said the Doctor. ‘To talk about any seri-
ous correspondence or serious affections, and engagements
and so forth, in such a ¾ ha ha ha! ¾ you know what I
mean ¾ why that, of course, would be sheer nonsense. All I
can say is, that if you and Marion should continue in the
same foolish minds, I shall not object to have you for a son-
in-law one of these days.’
‘Over the bridge!’ cried Britain.
‘Let it come!’ said Alfred, wringing the Doctor’s hand
stoutly. ‘Think of me sometimes, my old friend and guard-
ian, as seriously as you can! Adieu, Mr. Snitchey! Farewell,
‘Coming down the road!’ cried Britain.
‘A kiss of Clemency Newcome for long acquaintance’ sake!
Shake hands, Britain! Marion, dearest heart, good bye! Sis-
ter Grace! remember!’
The quiet household figure, and the face so beautiful in its
serenity, were turned towards him in reply; but Marion’s
look and attitude remained unchanged.
The coach was at the gate. There was a bustle with the
luggage. The coach drove away. Marion never moved.
‘He waves his hat to you, my love,’ said Grace. ‘Your chosen
husband, darling. Look!’
The younger sister raised her head, and, for a moment,
turned it. Then, turning back again, and fully meeting, for
the first time, those calm eyes, fell sobbing on her neck.
‘Oh, Grace. God bless you! But I cannot bear to see it,
Grace! It breaks my heart.’
The Battle of Life
CHAPTER II - Part The Second
NITCHY AND S CRAGGS had a snug little office on the old
Battle Ground, where they drove a snug little busi
ness, and fought a great many small pitched battles
for a great many contending parties. Though it could hardly
be said of these conflicts that they were running fights ¾
for in truth they generally proceeded at a snail’s pace ¾ the
part the Firm had in them came so far within the general
denomination, that now they took a shot at this Plaintiff,
and now aimed a chop at that Defendant, now made a heavy
charge at an estate in Chancery, and now had some light
skirmishing among an irregular body of small debtors, just
as the occasion served, and the enemy happened to present
himself. The Gazette was an important and profitable fea-
ture in some of their fields, as in fields of greater renown;
and in most of the Actions wherein they showed their
generalship, it was afterwards observed by the combatants
that they had had great difficulty in making each other out,
or in knowing with any degree of distinctness what they
were about, in consequence of the vast amount of smoke by
which they were surrounded.
The offices of Messrs. Snitchey and Craggs stood conve-
nient, with an open door down two smooth steps, in the
market-place; so that any angry farmer inclining towards
hot water, might tumble into it at once. Their special coun-
cil-chamber and hall of conference was an old back-room
up-stairs, with a low dark ceiling, which seemed to be knit-
ting its brows gloomily in the consideration of tangled points
of law. It was furnished with some high-backed leathern
chairs, garnished with great goggle-eyed brass nails, of which,
every here and there, two or three had fallen out ¾ or had
been picked out, perhaps, by the wandering thumbs and
forefingers of bewildered clients. There was a framed print of
a great judge in it, every curl in whose dreadful wig had
made a man’s hair stand on end. Bales of papers filled the
dusty closets, shelves, and tables; and round the wainscot
there were tiers of boxes, padlocked and fireproof, with
people’s names painted outside, which anxious visitors felt
themselves, by a cruel enchantment, obliged to spell back-
wards and forwards, and to make anagrams of, while they
sat, seeming to listen to Snitchey and Craggs, without com-
prehending one word of what they said.
Snitchey and Craggs had each, in private life as in profes-
sional existence, a partner of his own. Snitchey and Craggs
were the best friends in the world, and had a real confidence
The Battle of Life
in one another; but Mrs. Snitchey, by a dispensation not
uncommon in the affairs of life, was on principle suspicious
of Mr. Craggs; and Mrs. Craggs was on principle suspicious of
Mr. Snitchey. ‘Your Snitcheys indeed,’ the latter lady would
observe, sometimes, to Mr. Craggs; using that imaginative
plural as if in disparagement of an objectionable pair of pan-
taloons, or other articles not possessed of a singular num-
ber; ‘I don’t see what you want with your Snitcheys, for my
part. You trust a great deal too much to your Snitcheys, I
think, and I hope you may never find my words come true.’
While Mrs. Snitchey would observe to Mr. Snitchey, of Craggs,
‘that if ever he was led away by man he was led away by that
man, and that if ever she read a double purpose in a mortal
eye, she read that purpose in Craggs’s eye.’ Notwithstanding
this, however, they were all very good friends in general:
and Mrs. Snitchey and Mrs. Craggs maintained a close bond
of alliance against ‘the office,’ which they both considered
the Blue chamber, and common enemy, full of dangerous
(because unknown) machinations.
In this office, nevertheless, Snitchey and Craggs made honey
for their several hives. Here, sometimes, they would linger,
of a fine evening, at the window of their council-chamber
overlooking the old battle-ground, and wonder (but that
was generally at assize time, when much business had made
them sentimental) at the folly of mankind, who couldn’t
always be at peace with one another and go to law comfort-
ably. Here, days, and weeks, and months, and years, passed
over them: their calendar, the gradually diminishing num-
ber of brass nails in the leathern chairs, and the increasing
bulk of papers on the tables. Here, nearly three years’ flight
had thinned the one and swelled the other, since the break-
fast in the orchard; when they sat together in consultation
Not alone; but, with a man of about thirty, or that time of
life, negligently dressed, and somewhat haggard in the face,
but well-made, well-attired, and well-looking, who sat in
the armchair of state, with one hand in his breast, and the
other in his dishevelled hair, pondering moodily. Messrs.
Snitchey and Craggs sat opposite each other at a neighbouring
desk. One of the fireproof boxes, unpadlocked and opened,
was upon it; a part of its contents lay strewn upon the table,
and the rest was then in course of passing through the hands
of Mr. Snitchey; who brought it to the candle, document by
document; looked at every paper singly, as he produced it;
shook his head, and handed it to Mr. Craggs; who looked it
over also, shook his head, and laid it down. Sometimes, they
The Battle of Life
would stop, and shaking their heads in concert, look to-
wards the abstracted client. And the name on the box being
Michael Warden, Esquire, we may conclude from these pre-
mises that the name and the box were both his, and that
the affairs of Michael Warden, Esquire, were in a bad way.
‘That’s all,’ said Mr. Snitchey, turning up the last paper.
‘Really there’s no other resource. No other resource.’
‘All lost, spent, wasted, pawned, borrowed, and sold, eh?’
said the client, looking up.
‘All,’ returned Mr. Snitchey.
‘Nothing else to be done, you say?’
‘Nothing at all.’
The client bit his nails, and pondered again.
‘And I am not even personally safe in England? You hold to
that, do you?’
‘In no part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Ireland,’ replied Mr. Snitchey.
‘A mere prodigal son with no father to go back to, no
swine to keep, and no husks to share with them? Eh?’ pur-
sued the client, rocking one leg over the other, and search-
ing the ground with his eyes.
Mr. Snitchey coughed, as if to deprecate the being sup-
posed to participate in any figurative illustration of a legal
position. Mr. Craggs, as if to express that it was a partner-
ship view of the subject, also coughed.
‘Ruined at thirty!’ said the client. ‘Humph!’
‘Not ruined, Mr. Warden,’ returned Snitchey. ‘Not so bad as
that. You have done a good deal towards it, I must say, but
you are not ruined. A little nursing ¾ ‘
‘A little Devil,’ said the client.
‘Mr. Craggs,’ said Snitchey, ‘will you oblige me with a pinch
of snuff? Thank you, sir.’
As the imperturbable lawyer applied it to his nose with
great apparent relish and a perfect absorption of his atten-
tion in the proceeding, the client gradually broke into a
smile, and, looking up, said:
‘You talk of nursing. How long nursing?’
‘How long nursing?’ repeated Snitchey, dusting the snuff
from his fingers, and making a slow calculation in his mind.
‘For your involved estate, sir? In good hands? S. and C.’s,
say? Six or seven years.’
‘To starve for six or seven years!’ said the client with a
fretful laugh, and an impatient change of his position.
‘To starve for six or seven years, Mr. Warden,’ said Snitchey,
‘would be very uncommon indeed. You might get another
estate by showing yourself, the while. But, we don’t think
The Battle of Life
you could do it ¾ speaking for Self and Craggs ¾ and con-
sequently don’t advise it.’
‘What do you advise?’
‘Nursing, I say,’ repeated Snitchey. ‘Some few years of nurs-
ing by Self and Craggs would bring it round. But to enable
us to make terms, and hold terms, and you to keep terms,
you must go away; you must live abroad. As to starvation,
we could ensure you some hundreds a-year to starve upon,
even in the beginning ¾ I dare say, Mr. Warden.’
‘Hundreds,’ said the client. ‘And I have spent thousands!’
‘That,’ retorted Mr. Snitchey, putting the papers slowly back
into the cast-iron box, ‘there is no doubt about. No doubt
about,’ he repeated to himself, as he thoughtfully pursued
The lawyer very likely knew his man; at any rate his dry,
shrewd, whimsical manner, had a favourable influence on
the client’s moody state, and disposed him to be more free
and unreserved. Or, perhaps the client knew his man, and
had elicited such encouragement as he had received, to ren-
der some purpose he was about to disclose the more defen-
sible in appearance. Gradually raising his head, he sat look-
ing at his immovable adviser with a smile, which presently
broke into a laugh.
‘After all,’ he said, ‘my iron-headed friend ¾ ‘
Mr. Snitchey pointed out his partner. ‘Self and ¾ excuse
me ¾ Craggs.’
‘I beg Mr. Craggs’s pardon,’ said the client. ‘After all, my
iron-headed friends,’ he leaned forward in his chair, and
dropped his voice a little, ‘you don’t know half my ruin yet.’
Mr. Snitchey stopped and stared at him. Mr. Craggs also
‘I am not only deep in debt,’ said the client, ‘but I am deep
in ¾ ‘
‘Not in love!’ cried Snitchey.
‘Yes!’ said the client, falling back in his chair, and survey-
ing the Firm with his hands in his pockets. ‘Deep in love.’
‘And not with an heiress, sir?’ said Snitchey.
‘Not with an heiress.’
‘Nor a rich lady?’
‘Nor a rich lady that I know of ¾ except in beauty and
‘A single lady, I trust?’ said Mr. Snitchey, with great ex-
‘It’s not one of Dr. Jeddler’s daughters?’ said Snitchey, sud-
denly squaring his elbows on his knees, and advancing his
The Battle of Life
face at least a yard.
‘Yes!’ returned the client.
‘Not his younger daughter?’ said Snitchey.
‘Yes!’ returned the client.
‘Mr. Craggs,’ said Snitchey, much relieved, ‘will you oblige
me with another pinch of snuff? Thank you! I am happy to
say it don’t signify, Mr. Warden; she’s engaged, sir, she’s
bespoke. My partner can corroborate me. We know the fact.’
‘We know the fact,’ repeated Craggs.
‘Why, so do I perhaps,’ returned the client quietly. ‘What
of that! Are you men of the world, and did you never hear of
a woman changing her mind?’
‘There certainly have been actions for breach,’ said Mr.
Snitchey, ‘brought against both spinsters and widows, but,
in the majority of cases ¾ ‘
‘Cases!’ interposed the client, impatiently. ‘Don’t talk to
me of cases. The general precedent is in a much larger vol-
ume than any of your law books. Besides, do you think I
have lived six weeks in the Doctor’s house for nothing?’
‘I think, sir,’ observed Mr. Snitchey, gravely addressing him-
self to his partner, ‘that of all the scrapes Mr. Warden’s horses
have brought him into at one time and another ¾ and they
have been pretty numerous, and pretty expensive, as none
know better than himself, and you, and I ¾ the worst scrape
may turn out to be, if he talks in this way, this having ever
been left by one of them at the Doctor’s garden wall, with
three broken ribs, a snapped collar-bone, and the Lord knows
how many bruises. We didn’t think so much of it, at the
time when we knew he was going on well under the Doctor’s
hands and roof; but it looks bad now, sir. Bad? It looks very
bad. Doctor Jeddler too ¾ our client, Mr. Craggs.’
‘Mr. Alfred Heathfield too ¾ a sort of client, Mr. Snitchey,’
‘Mr. Michael Warden too, a kind of client,’ said the careless
visitor, ‘and no bad one either: having played the fool for
ten or twelve years. However, Mr. Michael Warden has sown
his wild oats now ¾ there’s their crop, in that box; and he
means to repent and be wise. And in proof of it, Mr. Michael
Warden means, if he can, to marry Marion, the Doctor’s lovely
daughter, and to carry her away with him.’
‘Really, Mr. Craggs,’ Snitchey began.
‘Really, Mr. Snitchey, and Mr. Craggs, partners both,’ said
the client, interrupting him; ‘you know your duty to your
clients, and you know well enough, I am sure, that it is no
part of it to interfere in a mere love affair, which I am obliged
to confide to you. I am not going to carry the young lady
The Battle of Life
off, without her own consent. There’s nothing illegal in it. I
never was Mr. Heathfield’s bosom friend. I violate no confi-
dence of his. I love where he loves, and I mean to win where
he would win, if I can.’
‘He can’t, Mr. Craggs,’ said Snitchey, evidently anxious and
discomfited. ‘He can’t do it, sir. She dotes on Mr. Alfred.’
‘Does she?’ returned the client.
‘Mr. Craggs, she dotes on him, sir,’ persisted Snitchey.
‘I didn’t live six weeks, some few months ago, in the Doctor’s
house for nothing; and I doubted that soon,’ observed the
client. ‘She would have doted on him, if her sister could
have brought it about; but I watched them. Marion avoided
his name, avoided the subject: shrunk from the least allu-
sion to it, with evident distress.’
‘Why should she, Mr. Craggs, you know? Why should she,
sir?’ inquired Snitchey.
‘I don’t know why she should, though there are many likely
reasons,’ said the client, smiling at the attention and per-
plexity expressed in Mr. Snitchey’s shining eye, and at his
cautious way of carrying on the conversation, and making
himself informed upon the subject; ‘but I know she does.
She was very young when she made the engagement ¾ if it
may be called one, I am not even sure of that ¾ and has
repented of it, perhaps. Perhaps ¾ it seems a foppish thing
to say, but upon my soul I don’t mean it in that light ¾ she
may have fallen in love with me, as I have fallen in love with
‘He, he! Mr. Alfred, her old playfellow too, you remember,
Mr. Craggs,’ said Snitchey, with a disconcerted laugh; ‘knew
her almost from a baby!’
‘Which makes it the more probable that she may be tired
of his idea,’ calmly pursued the client, ‘and not indisposed
to exchange it for the newer one of another lover, who pre-
sents himself (or is presented by his horse) under romantic
circumstances; has the not unfavourable reputation ¾ with
a country girl ¾ of having lived thoughtlessly and gaily,
without doing much harm to anybody; and who, for his
youth and figure, and so forth ¾ this may seem foppish
again, but upon my soul I don’t mean it in that light ¾
might perhaps pass muster in a crowd with Mr. Alfred him-
There was no gainsaying the last clause, certainly; and Mr.
Snitchey, glancing at him, thought so. There was something
naturally graceful and pleasant in the very carelessness of
his air. It seemed to suggest, of his comely face and well-
knit figure, that they might be greatly better if he chose:
The Battle of Life
and that, once roused and made earnest (but he never had
been earnest yet), he could be full of fire and purpose. ‘A
dangerous sort of libertine,’ thought the shrewd lawyer, ‘to
seem to catch the spark he wants, from a young lady’s eyes.’
‘Now, observe, Snitchey,’ he continued, rising and taking
him by the button, ‘and Craggs,’ taking him by the button
also, and placing one partner on either side of him, so that
neither might evade him. ‘I don’t ask you for any advice.
You are right to keep quite aloof from all parties in such a
matter, which is not one in which grave men like you could
interfere, on any side. I am briefly going to review in half-a-
dozen words, my position and intention, and then I shall
leave it to you to do the best for me, in money matters, that
you can: seeing, that, if I run away with the Doctor’s beau-
tiful daughter (as I hope to do, and to become another man
under her bright influence), it will be, for the moment, more
chargeable than running away alone. But I shall soon make
all that up in an altered life.’
‘I think it will be better not to hear this, Mr. Craggs?’ said
Snitchey, looking at him across the client.
‘I think not,’ said Craggs. — Both listened attentively.
‘Well! You needn’t hear it,’ replied their client. ‘I’ll men-
tion it, however. I don’t mean to ask the Doctor’s consent,
because he wouldn’t give it me. But I mean to do the Doctor
no wrong or harm, because (besides there being nothing
serious in such trifles, as he says) I hope to rescue his child,
my Marion, from what I see ¾ I know ¾ she dreads, and
contemplates with misery: that is, the return of this old
lover. If anything in the world is true, it is true that she
dreads his return. Nobody is injured so far. I am so harried
and worried here just now, that I lead the life of a flying-
fish. I skulk about in the dark, I am shut out of my own
house, and warned off my own grounds; but, that house,
and those grounds, and many an acre besides, will come
back to me one day, as you know and say; and Marion will
probably be richer — on your showing, who are never san-
guine ¾ ten years hence as my wife, than as the wife of
Alfred Heathfield, whose return she dreads (remember that),
and in whom or in any man, my passion is not surpassed.
Who is injured yet? It is a fair case throughout. My right is
as good as his, if she decide in my favour; and I will try my
right by her alone. You will like to know no more after this,
and I will tell you no more. Now you know my purpose, and
wants. When must I leave here?’
‘In a week,’ said Snitchey. ‘Mr. Craggs?’
‘In something less, I should say,’ responded Craggs.
The Battle of Life
‘In a month,’ said the client, after attentively watching
the two faces. ‘This day month. To- day is Thursday. Succeed
or fail, on this day month I go.’
‘It’s too long a delay,’ said Snitchey; ‘much too long. But
let it be so. I thought he’d have stipulated for three,’ he
murmured to himself. ‘Are you going? Good night, sir!’
‘Good night!’ returned the client, shaking hands with the
‘You’ll live to see me making a good use of riches yet.
Henceforth the star of my destiny is, Marion!’
‘Take care of the stairs, sir,’ replied Snitchey; ‘for she don’t
shine there. Good night!’
So they both stood at the stair-head with a pair of office-
candles, watching him down. When he had gone away, they
stood looking at each other.
‘What do you think of all this, Mr. Craggs?’ said Snitchey.
Mr. Craggs shook his head.
‘It was our opinion, on the day when that release was
executed, that there was something curious in the parting
of that pair; I recollect,’ said Snitchey.
‘It was,’ said Mr. Craggs.
‘Perhaps he deceives himself altogether,’ pursued Mr.
Snitchey, locking up the fireproof box, and putting it away;
‘or, if he don’t, a little bit of fickleness and perfidy is not a
miracle, Mr. Craggs. And yet I thought that pretty face was
very true. I thought,’ said Mr. Snitchey, putting on his great-
coat (for the weather was very cold), drawing on his gloves,
and snuffing out one candle, ‘that I had even seen her char-
acter becoming stronger and more resolved of late. More like
‘Mrs. Craggs was of the same opinion,’ returned Craggs.
‘I’d really give a trifle to-night,’ observed Mr. Snitchey,
who was a good-natured man, ‘if I could believe that Mr.
Warden was reckoning without his host; but, light-headed,
capricious, and unballasted as he is, he knows something of
the world and its people (he ought to, for he has bought
what he does know, dear enough); and I can’t quite think
that. We had better not interfere: we can do nothing, Mr.
Craggs, but keep quiet.’
‘Nothing,’ returned Craggs.
‘Our friend the Doctor makes light of such things,’ said Mr.
Snitchey, shaking his head. ‘I hope he mayn’t stand in need
of his philosophy. Our friend Alfred talks of the battle of
life,’ he shook his head again, ‘I hope he mayn’t be cut down
early in the day. Have you got your hat, Mr. Craggs? I am
The Battle of Life
going to put the other candle out.’ Mr. Craggs replying in the
affirmative, Mr. Snitchey suited the action to the word, and
they groped their way out of the council-chamber, now dark
as the subject, or the law in general.
My story passes to a quiet little study, where, on that
same night, the sisters and the hale old Doctor sat by a
cheerful fireside. Grace was working at her needle. Marion
read aloud from a book before her. The Doctor, in his dress-
ing-gown and slippers, with his feet spread out upon the
warm rug, leaned back in his easy-chair, and listened to the
book, and looked upon his daughters.
They were very beautiful to look upon. Two better faces
for a fireside, never made a fireside bright and sacred. Some-
thing of the difference between them had been softened
down in three years’ time; and enthroned upon the clear
brow of the younger sister, looking through her eyes, and
thrilling in her voice, was the same earnest nature that her
own motherless youth had ripened in the elder sister long
ago. But she still appeared at once the lovelier and weaker
of the two; still seemed to rest her head upon her sister’s
breast, and put her trust in her, and look into her eyes for
counsel and reliance. Those loving eyes, so calm, serene,
and cheerful, as of old.
‘“And being in her own home,”’ read Marion, from the book;
‘“her home made exquisitely dear by these remembrances,
she now began to know that the great trial of her heart
must soon come on, and could not be delayed. O Home, our
comforter and friend when others fall away, to part with
whom, at any step between the cradle and the grave”’¾
‘Marion, my love!’ said Grace.
‘Why, Puss!’ exclaimed her father, ‘what’s the matter?’
She put her hand upon the hand her sister stretched to-
wards her, and read on; her voice still faltering and trem-
bling, though she made an effort to command it when thus
‘“To part with whom, at any step between the cradle and
the grave, is always sorrowful. O Home, so true to us, so
often slighted in return, be lenient to them that turn away
from thee, and do not haunt their erring footsteps too re-
proachfully! Let no kind looks, no well- remembered smiles,
be seen upon thy phantom face. Let no ray of affection,
welcome, gentleness, forbearance, cordiality, shine from thy
white head. Let no old loving word, or tone, rise up in judg-
ment against thy deserter; but if thou canst look harshly
and severely, do, in mercy to the Penitent!”’
The Battle of Life
‘Dear Marion, read no more to-night,’ said Grace for she
‘I cannot,’ she replied, and closed the book. ‘The words
seem all on fire!’
The Doctor was amused at this; and laughed as he patted
her on the head.
‘What! overcome by a story-book!’ said Doctor Jeddler. ‘Print
and paper! Well, well, it’s all one. It’s as rational to make a
serious matter of print and paper as of anything else. But,
dry your eyes, love, dry your eyes. I dare say the heroine has
got home again long ago, and made it up all round ¾ and if
she hasn’t, a real home is only four walls; and a fictitious
one, mere rags and ink. What’s the matter now?’
‘It’s only me, Mister,’ said Clemency, putting in her head at
‘And what’s the matter with you?’ said the Doctor.
‘Oh, bless you, nothing an’t the matter with me,’ returned
Clemency ¾ and truly too, to judge from her well-soaped
face, in which there gleamed as usual the very soul of good-
humour, which, ungainly as she was, made her quite engag-
ing. Abrasions on the elbows are not generally understood,
it is true, to range within that class of personal charms called
beauty-spots. But, it is better, going through the world, to
have the arms chafed in that narrow passage, than the tem-
per: and Clemency’s was sound and whole as any beauty’s in
‘Nothing an’t the matter with me,’ said Clemency, enter-
ing, ‘but ¾ come a little closer, Mister.’
The Doctor, in some astonishment, complied with this in-
‘You said I wasn’t to give you one before them, you know,’
A novice in the family might have supposed, from her
extraordinary ogling as she said it, as well as from a singu-
lar rapture or ecstasy which pervaded her elbows, as if she
were embracing herself, that ‘one,’ in its most favourable
interpretation, meant a chaste salute. Indeed the Doctor
himself seemed alarmed, for the moment; but quickly re-
gained his composure, as Clemency, having had recourse to
both her pockets ¾ beginning with the right one, going
away to the wrong one, and afterwards coming back to the
right one again ¾ produced a letter from the Post-office.
‘Britain was riding by on a errand,’ she chuckled, handing
it to the Doctor, ‘and see the mail come in, and waited for
it. There’s A. H. in the corner. Mr. Alfred’s on his journey
home, I bet. We shall have a wedding in the house ¾ there
The Battle of Life
was two spoons in my saucer this morning. Oh Luck, how
slow he opens it!’
All this she delivered, by way of soliloquy, gradually rising
higher and higher on tiptoe, in her impatience to hear the
news, and making a corkscrew of her apron, and a bottle of
her mouth. At last, arriving at a climax of suspense, and
seeing the Doctor still engaged in the perusal of the letter,
she came down flat upon the soles of her feet again, and
cast her apron, as a veil, over her head, in a mute despair,
and inability to bear it any longer.
‘Here! Girls!’ cried the Doctor. ‘I can’t help it: I never
could keep a secret in my life. There are not many secrets,
indeed, worth being kept in such a ¾ well! never mind
that. Alfred’s coming home, my dears, directly.’
‘Directly!’ exclaimed Marion.
‘What! The story-book is soon forgotten!’ said the Doctor,
pinching her cheek. ‘I thought the news would dry those
tears. Yes. “Let it be a surprise,” he says, here. But I can’t let
it be a surprise. He must have a welcome.’
‘Directly!’ repeated Marion.
‘Why, perhaps not what your impatience calls “directly,”’
returned the doctor; ‘but pretty soon too. Let us see. Let us
see. To-day is Thursday, is it not? Then he promises to be
here, this day month.’
‘This day month!’ repeated Marion, softly.
‘A gay day and a holiday for us,’ said the cheerful voice of
her sister Grace, kissing her in congratulation. ‘Long looked
forward to, dearest, and come at last.’
She answered with a smile; a mournful smile, but full of
sisterly affection. As she looked in her sister’s face, and lis-
tened to the quiet music of her voice, picturing the happi-
ness of this return, her own face glowed with hope and joy.
And with a something else; a something shining more and
more through all the rest of its expression; for which I have
no name. It was not exultation, triumph, proud enthusiasm.
They are not so calmly shown. It was not love and gratitude
alone, though love and gratitude were part of it. It ema-
nated from no sordid thought, for sordid thoughts do not
light up the brow, and hover on the lips, and move the spirit
like a fluttered light, until the sympathetic figure trembles.
Dr. Jeddler, in spite of his system of philosophy ¾ which
he was continually contradicting and denying in practice,
but more famous philosophers have done that ¾ could not
help having as much interest in the return of his old ward
and pupil as if it had been a serious event. So he sat himself
down in his easy-chair again, stretched out his slippered
The Battle of Life
feet once more upon the rug, read the letter over and over
a great many times, and talked it over more times still.
‘Ah! The day was,’ said the Doctor, looking at the fire,
‘when you and he, Grace, used to trot about arm-in-arm, in
his holiday time, like a couple of walking dolls. You remem-
‘I remember,’ she answered, with her pleasant laugh, and
plying her needle busily.
‘This day month, indeed!’ mused the Doctor. ‘That hardly
seems a twelve month ago. And where was my little Marion
‘Never far from her sister,’ said Marion, cheerily, ‘however
little. Grace was everything to me, even when she was a
young child herself.’
‘True, Puss, true,’ returned the Doctor. ‘She was a staid
little woman, was Grace, and a wise housekeeper, and a busy,
quiet, pleasant body; bearing with our humours and antici-
pating our wishes, and always ready to forget her own, even
in those times. I never knew you positive or obstinate, Grace,
my darling, even then, on any subject but one.’
‘I am afraid I have changed sadly for the worse, since,’
laughed Grace, still busy at her work. ‘What was that one,
‘Alfred, of course,’ said the Doctor. ‘Nothing would serve
you but you must be called Alfred’s wife; so we called you
Alfred’s wife; and you liked it better, I believe (odd as it
seems now), than being called a Duchess, if we could have
made you one.’
‘Indeed?’ said Grace, placidly.
‘Why, don’t you remember?’ inquired the Doctor.
‘I think I remember something of it,’ she returned, ‘but
not much. It’s so long ago.’ And as she sat at work, she
hummed the burden of an old song, which the Doctor liked.
‘Alfred will find a real wife soon,’ she said, breaking off;
‘and that will be a happy time indeed for all of us. My three
years’ trust is nearly at an end, Marion. It has been a very
easy one. I shall tell Alfred, when I give you back to him,
that you have loved him dearly all the time, and that he has
never once needed my good services. May I tell him so, love?’
‘Tell him, dear Grace,’ replied Marion, ‘that there never was
a trust so generously, nobly, steadfastly discharged; and that
I have loved you, all the time, dearer and dearer every day;
and O! how dearly now!’
‘Nay,’ said her cheerful sister, returning her embrace, ‘I can
scarcely tell him that; we will leave my deserts to Alfred’s
imagination. It will be liberal enough, dear Marion; like your
The Battle of Life
With that, she resumed the work she had for a moment
laid down, when her sister spoke so fervently: and with it
the old song the Doctor liked to hear. And the Doctor, still
reposing in his easy-chair, with his slippered feet stretched
out before him on the rug, listened to the tune, and beat
time on his knee with Alfred’s letter, and looked at his two
daughters, and thought that among the many trifles of the
trifling world, these trifles were agreeable enough.
Clemency Newcome, in the meantime, having accomplished
her mission and lingered in the room until she had made
herself a party to the news, descended to the kitchen, where
her coadjutor, Mr. Britain, was regaling after supper, sur-
rounded by such a plentiful collection of bright pot-lids,
well-scoured saucepans, burnished dinner-covers, gleaming
kettles, and other tokens of her industrious habits, arranged
upon the walls and shelves, that he sat as in the centre of a
hall of mirrors. The majority did not give forth very flatter-
ing portraits of him, certainly; nor were they by any means
unanimous in their reflections; as some made him very long-
faced, others very broad-faced, some tolerably well-looking,
others vastly ill-looking, according to their several manners
of reflecting: which were as various, in respect of one fact,
as those of so many kinds of men. But they all agreed that
in the midst of them sat, quite at his ease, an individual
with a pipe in his mouth, and a jug of beer at his elbow,
who nodded condescendingly to Clemency, when she sta-
tioned herself at the same table.
‘Well, Clemmy,’ said Britain, ‘how are you by this time, and
what’s the news?’
Clemency told him the news, which he received very gra-
ciously. A gracious change had come over Benjamin from
head to foot. He was much broader, much redder, much more
cheerful, and much jollier in all respects. It seemed as if his
face had been tied up in a knot before, and was now un-
twisted and smoothed out.
‘There’ll be another job for Snitchey and Craggs, I suppose,’
he observed, puffing slowly at his pipe. ‘More witnessing for
you and me, perhaps, Clemmy!’
‘Lor!’ replied his fair companion, with her favourite twist
of her favourite joints. ‘I wish it was me, Britain!’
‘Wish what was you?’
‘A-going to be married,’ said Clemency.
Benjamin took his pipe out of his mouth and laughed
heartily. ‘Yes! you’re a likely subject for that!’ he said. ‘Poor
Clem!’ Clemency for her part laughed as heartily as he, and
The Battle of Life
seemed as much amused by the idea. ‘Yes,’ she assented, ‘I’m
a likely subject for that; an’t I?’
‘You’ll never be married, you know,’ said Mr. Britain, re-
suming his pipe.
‘Don’t you think I ever shall though?’ said Clemency, in
perfect good faith.
Mr. Britain shook his head. ‘Not a chance of it!’
‘Only think!’ said Clemency. ‘Well! ¾ I suppose you mean
to, Britain, one of these days; don’t you?’
A question so abrupt, upon a subject so momentous, re-
quired consideration. After blowing out a great cloud of
smoke, and looking at it with his head now on this side and
now on that, as if it were actually the question, and he were
surveying it in various aspects, Mr. Britain replied that he
wasn’t altogether clear about it, but ¾ ye-es ¾ he thought
he might come to that at last.
‘I wish her joy, whoever she may be!’ cried Clemency.
‘Oh she’ll have that,’ said Benjamin, ‘safe enough.’
‘But she wouldn’t have led quite such a joyful life as she
will lead, and wouldn’t have had quite such a sociable sort
of husband as she will have,’ said Clemency, spreading her-
self half over the table, and staring retrospectively at the
candle, ‘if it hadn’t been for ¾ not that I went to do it, for
it was accidental, I am sure ¾ if it hadn’t been for me; now
would she, Britain?’
‘Certainly not,’ returned Mr. Britain, by this time in that
high state of appreciation of his pipe, when a man can open
his mouth but a very little way for speaking purposes; and
sitting luxuriously immovable in his chair, can afford to turn
only his eyes towards a companion, and that very passively
and gravely. ‘Oh! I’m greatly beholden to you, you know,
‘Lor, how nice that is to think of!’ said Clemency.
At the same time, bringing her thoughts as well as her
sight to bear upon the candle- grease, and becoming abruptly
reminiscent of its healing qualities as a balsam, she anointed
her left elbow with a plentiful application of that remedy.
‘You see I’ve made a good many investigations of one sort
and another in my time,’ pursued Mr. Britain, with the pro-
fundity of a sage, ‘having been always of an inquiring turn
of mind; and I’ve read a good many books about the general
Rights of things and Wrongs of things, for I went into the
literary line myself, when I began life.’
‘Did you though!’ cried the admiring Clemency.
‘Yes,’ said Mr. Britain: ‘I was hid for the best part of two
years behind a bookstall, ready to fly out if anybody pock-
The Battle of Life
eted a volume; and after that, I was light porter to a stay
and mantua maker, in which capacity I was employed to
carry about, in oilskin baskets, nothing but deceptions ¾
which soured my spirits and disturbed my confidence in
human nature; and after that, I heard a world of discussions
in this house, which soured my spirits fresh; and my opin-
ion after all is, that, as a safe and comfortable sweetener of
the same, and as a pleasant guide through life, there’s noth-
ing like a nutmeg-grater.’
Clemency was about to offer a suggestion, but he stopped
her by anticipating it.
‘Com-bined,’ he added gravely, ‘with a thimble.’
‘Do as you wold, you know, and cetrer, eh!’ observed Clem-
ency, folding her arms comfortably in her delight at this
avowal, and patting her elbows. ‘Such a short cut, an’t it?’
‘I’m not sure,’ said Mr. Britain, ‘that it’s what would be
considered good philosophy. I’ve my doubts about that; but
it wears well, and saves a quantity of snarling, which the
genuine article don’t always.’
‘See how you used to go on once, yourself, you know!’ said
‘Ah!’ said Mr. Britain. ‘But the most extraordinary thing,
Clemmy, is that I should live to be brought round, through
you. That’s the strange part of it. Through you! Why, I sup-
pose you haven’t so much as half an idea in your head.’
Clemency, without taking the least offence, shook it, and
laughed and hugged herself, and said, ‘No, she didn’t sup-
pose she had.’
‘I’m pretty sure of it,’ said Mr. Britain.
‘Oh! I dare say you’re right,’ said Clemency. ‘I don’t pretend
to none. I don’t want any.’
Benjamin took his pipe from his lips, and laughed till the
tears ran down his face. ‘What a natural you are, Clemmy!’
he said, shaking his head, with an infinite relish of the
joke, and wiping his eyes. Clemency, without the smallest
inclination to dispute it, did the like, and laughed as heart-
ily as he.
‘I can’t help liking you,’ said Mr. Britain; ‘you’re a regular
good creature in your way, so shake hands, Clem. Whatever
happens, I’ll always take notice of you, and be a friend to
‘Will you?’ returned Clemency. ‘Well! that’s very good of
‘Yes, yes,’ said Mr. Britain, giving her his pipe to knock the
ashes out of it; ‘I’ll stand by you. Hark! That’s a curious
The Battle of Life
‘Noise!’ repeated Clemency.
‘A footstep outside. Somebody dropping from the wall, it
sounded like,’ said Britain. ‘Are they all abed up-stairs?’
‘Yes, all abed by this time,’ she replied.
‘Didn’t you hear anything?’
They both listened, but heard nothing.
‘I tell you what,’ said Benjamin, taking down a lantern.
‘I’ll have a look round, before I go to bed myself, for
satisfaction’s sake. Undo the door while I light this, Clemmy.’
Clemency complied briskly; but observed as she did so,
that he would only have his walk for his pains, that it was
all his fancy, and so forth. Mr. Britain said ‘very likely;’ but
sallied out, nevertheless, armed with the poker, and casting
the light of the lantern far and near in all directions.
‘It’s as quiet as a churchyard,’ said Clemency, looking after
him; ‘and almost as ghostly too!’
Glancing back into the kitchen, she cried fearfully, as a
light figure stole into her view, ‘What’s that!’
‘Hush!’ said Marion in an agitated whisper. ‘You have al-
ways loved me, have you not!’
‘Loved you, child! You may be sure I have.’
‘I am sure. And I may trust you, may I not? There is no one
else just now, in whom I can trust.’
‘Yes,’ said Clemency, with all her heart.
‘There is some one out there,’ pointing to the door, ‘whom
I must see, and speak with, to-night. Michael Warden, for
God’s sake retire! Not now!’
Clemency started with surprise and trouble as, following
the direction of the speaker’s eyes, she saw a dark figure
standing in the doorway.
‘In another moment you may be discovered,’ said Marion.
‘Not now! Wait, if you can, in some concealment. I will come
He waved his hand to her, and was gone. ‘Don’t go to bed.
Wait here for me!’ said Marion, hurriedly. ‘I have been seek-
ing to speak to you for an hour past. Oh, be true to me!’
Eagerly seizing her bewildered hand, and pressing it with
both her own to her breast ¾ an action more expressive, in
its passion of entreaty, than the most eloquent appeal in
words, ¾ Marion withdrew; as the light of the returning
lantern flashed into the room.
‘All still and peaceable. Nobody there. Fancy, I suppose,’
said Mr. Britain, as he locked and barred the door. ‘One of
the effects of having a lively imagination. Halloa! Why, what’s
The Battle of Life
Clemency, who could not conceal the effects of her sur-
prise and concern, was sitting in a chair: pale, and trem-
bling from head to foot.
‘Matter!’ she repeated, chafing her hands and elbows, ner-
vously, and looking anywhere but at him. ‘That’s good in
you, Britain, that is! After going and frightening one out of
one’s life with noises and lanterns, and I don’t know what
all. Matter! Oh, yes!’
‘If you’re frightened out of your life by a lantern, Clemmy,’
said Mr. Britain, composedly blowing it out and hanging it
up again, ‘that apparition’s very soon got rid of. But you’re
as bold as brass in general,’ he said, stopping to observe her;
‘and were, after the noise and the lantern too. What have
you taken into your head? Not an idea, eh?’
But, as Clemency bade him good night very much after her
usual fashion, and began to bustle about with a show of
going to bed herself immediately, Little Britain, after giving
utterance to the original remark that it was impossible to
account for a woman’s whims, bade her good night in re-
turn, and taking up his candle strolled drowsily away to
When all was quiet, Marion returned.
‘Open the door,’ she said; ‘and stand there close beside me,
while I speak to him, outside.’
Timid as her manner was, it still evinced a resolute and
settled purpose, such as Clemency could not resist. She softly
unbarred the door: but before turning the key, looked round
on the young creature waiting to issue forth when she should
The face was not averted or cast down, but looking full
upon her, in its pride of youth and beauty. Some simple
sense of the slightness of the barrier that interposed itself
between the happy home and honoured love of the fair girl,
and what might be the desolation of that home, and ship-
wreck of its dearest treasure, smote so keenly on the tender
heart of Clemency, and so filled it to overflowing with sor-
row and compassion, that, bursting into tears, she threw
her arms round Marion’s neck.
‘It’s little that I know, my dear,’ cried Clemency, ‘very little;
but I know that this should not be. Think of what you do!’
‘I have thought of it many times,’ said Marion, gently.
‘Once more,’ urged Clemency. ‘Till to-morrow.’ Marion shook
‘For Mr. Alfred’s sake,’ said Clemency, with homely earnest-
ness. ‘Him that you used to love so dearly, once!’
She hid her face, upon the instant, in her hands, repeat-
The Battle of Life
ing ‘Once!’ as if it rent her heart.
‘Let me go out,’ said Clemency, soothing her. ‘I’ll tell him
what you like. Don’t cross the door-step to-night. I’m sure
no good will come of it. Oh, it was an unhappy day when Mr.
Warden was ever brought here! Think of your good father,
darling ¾ of your sister.’
‘I have,’ said Marion, hastily raising her head. ‘You don’t
know what I do. I must speak to him. You are the best and
truest friend in all the world for what you have said to me,
but I must take this step. Will you go with me, Clemency,’
she kissed her on her friendly face, ‘or shall I go alone?’
Sorrowing and wondering, Clemency turned the key, and
opened the door. Into the dark and doubtful night that lay
beyond the threshold, Marion passed quickly, holding by
In the dark night he joined her, and they spoke together
earnestly and long; and the hand that held so fast by
Clemeney’s, now trembled, now turned deadly cold, now
clasped and closed on hers, in the strong feeling of the speech
it emphasised unconsciously. When they returned, he fol-
lowed to the door, and pausing there a moment, seized the
other hand, and pressed it to his lips. Then, stealthily with-
The door was barred and locked again, and once again she
stood beneath her father’s roof. Not bowed down by the se-
cret that she brought there, though so young; but, with
that same expression on her face for which I had no name
before, and shining through her tears.
Again she thanked and thanked her humble friend, and
trusted to her, as she said, with confidence, implicitly. Her
chamber safely reached, she fell upon her knees; and with
her secret weighing on her heart, could pray!
Could rise up from her prayers, so tranquil and serene, and
bending over her fond sister in her slumber, look upon her
face and smile ¾ though sadly: murmuring as she kissed
her forehead, how that Grace had been a mother to her, ever,
and she loved her as a child!
Could draw the passive arm about her neck when lying
down to rest ¾ it seemed to cling there, of its own will,
protectingly and tenderly even in sleep ¾ and breathe upon
the parted lips, God bless her!
Could sink into a peaceful sleep, herself; but for one dream,
in which she cried out, in her innocent and touching voice,
that she was quite alone, and they had all forgotten her.
A month soon passes, even at its tardiest pace. The month
appointed to elapse between that night and the return, was
The Battle of Life
quick of foot, and went by, like a vapour.
The day arrived. A raging winter day, that shook the old
house, sometimes, as if it shivered in the blast. A day to
make home doubly home. To give the chimney-corner new
delights. To shed a ruddier glow upon the faces gathered
round the hearth, and draw each fireside group into a closer
and more social league, against the roaring elements with-
out. Such a wild winter day as best prepares the way for
shut-out night; for curtained rooms, and cheerful looks; for
music, laughter, dancing, light, and jovial entertainment!
All these the Doctor had in store to welcome Alfred back.
They knew that he could not arrive till night; and they would
make the night air ring, he said, as he approached. All his
old friends should congregate about him. He should not miss
a face that he had known and liked. No! They should every
one be there!
So, guests were bidden, and musicians were engaged, and
tables spread, and floors prepared for active feet, and boun-
tiful provision made, of every hospitable kind. Because it
was the Christmas season, and his eyes were all unused to
English holly and its sturdy green, the dancing-room was
garlanded and hung with it; and the red berries gleamed an
English welcome to him, peeping from among the leaves.
It was a busy day for all of them: a busier day for none of
them than Grace, who noiselessly presided everywhere, and
was the cheerful mind of all the preparations. Many a time
that day (as well as many a time within the fleeting month
preceding it), did Clemency glance anxiously, and almost
fearfully, at Marion. She saw her paler, perhaps, than usual;
but there was a sweet composure on her face that made it
lovelier than ever.
At night when she was dressed, and wore upon her head a
wreath that Grace had proudly twined about it ¾ its mimic
flowers were Alfred’s favourites, as Grace remembered when
she chose them ¾ that old expression, pensive, almost sor-
rowful, and yet so spiritual, high, and stirring, sat again
upon her brow, enhanced a hundred-fold.
‘The next wreath I adjust on this fair head, will be a mar-
riage wreath,’ said Grace; ‘or I am no true prophet, dear.’
Her sister smiled, and held her in her arms.
‘A moment, Grace. Don’t leave me yet. Are you sure that I
want nothing more?’
Her care was not for that. It was her sister’s face she thought
of, and her eyes were fixed upon it, tenderly.
‘My art,’ said Grace, ‘can go no farther, dear girl; nor your
beauty. I never saw you look so beautiful as now.’
The Battle of Life
‘I never was so happy,’ she returned.
‘Ay, but there is a greater happiness in store. In such an-
other home, as cheerful and as bright as this looks now,’ said
Grace, ‘Alfred and his young wife will soon be living.’
She smiled again. ‘It is a happy home, Grace, in your fancy.
I can see it in your eyes. I know it will be happy, dear. How
glad I am to know it.’
‘Well,’ cried the Doctor, bustling in. ‘Here we are, all ready
for Alfred, eh? He can’t be here until pretty late ¾ an hour
or so before midnight ¾ so there’ll be plenty of time for
making merry before he comes. He’ll not find us with the ice
unbroken. Pile up the fire here, Britain! Let it shine upon
the holly till it winks again. It’s a world of nonsense, Puss;
true lovers and all the rest of it ¾ all nonsense; but we’ll be
nonsensical with the rest of ‘em, and give our true lover a
mad welcome. Upon my word!’ said the old Doctor, looking
at his daughters proudly, ‘I’m not clear to-night, among other
absurdities, but that I’m the father of two handsome girls.’
‘All that one of them has ever done, or may do ¾ may do,
dearest father ¾ to cause you pain or grief, forgive her,’
said Marion, ‘forgive her now, when her heart is full. Say
that you forgive her. That you will forgive her. That she
shall always share your love, and ¾,’ and the rest was not
said, for her face was hidden on the old man’s shoulder.
‘Tut, tut, tut,’ said the Doctor gently. ‘Forgive! What have
I to forgive? Heyday, if our true lovers come back to flurry us
like this, we must hold ‘em at a distance; we must send
expresses out to stop ‘em short upon the road, and bring ‘em
on a mile or two a day, until we’re properly prepared to meet
‘em. Kiss me, Puss. Forgive! Why, what a silly child you are!
If you had vexed and crossed me fifty times a day, instead of
not at all, I’d forgive you everything, but such a supplica-
tion. Kiss me again, Puss. There! Prospective and retrospec-
tive ¾ a clear score between us. Pile up the fire here! Would
you freeze the people on this bleak December night! Let us
be light, and warm, and merry, or I’ll not forgive some of
So gaily the old Doctor carried it! And the fire was piled
up, and the lights were bright, and company arrived, and a
murmuring of lively tongues began, and already there was a
pleasant air of cheerful excitement stirring through all the
More and more company came flocking in. Bright eyes
sparkled upon Marion; smiling lips gave her joy of his re-
turn; sage mothers fanned themselves, and hoped she
mightn’t be too youthful and inconstant for the quiet round
The Battle of Life
of home; impetuous fathers fell into disgrace for too much
exaltation of her beauty; daughters envied her; sons envied
him; innumerable pairs of lovers profited by the occasion;
all were interested, animated, and expectant.
Mr. and Mrs. Craggs came arm in arm, but Mrs. Snitchey
came alone. ‘Why, what’s become of him?’ inquired the Doc-
The feather of a Bird of Paradise in Mrs. Snitchey’s turban,
trembled as if the Bird of Paradise were alive again, when
she said that doubtless Mr. Craggs knew. She was never told.
‘That nasty office,’ said Mrs. Craggs.
‘I wish it was burnt down,’ said Mrs. Snitchey.
‘He’s ¾ he’s ¾ there’s a little matter of business that
keeps my partner rather late,’ said Mr. Craggs, looking un-
easily about him.
‘Oh-h! Business. Don’t tell me!’ said Mrs. Snitchey.
‘We know what business means,’ said Mrs. Craggs.
But their not knowing what it meant, was perhaps the
reason why Mrs. Snitchey’s Bird of Paradise feather quivered
so portentously, and why all the pendant bits on Mrs. Craggs’s
ear-rings shook like little bells.
‘I wonder you could come away, Mr. Craggs,’ said his wife.
‘Mr. Craggs is fortunate, I’m sure!’ said Mrs. Snitchey.
‘That office so engrosses ‘em,’ said Mrs. Craggs.
‘A person with an office has no business to be married at
all,’ said Mrs. Snitchey.
Then, Mrs. Snitchey said, within herself, that that look of
hers had pierced to Craggs’s soul, and he knew it; and Mrs.
Craggs observed to Craggs, that ‘his Snitcheys’ were deceiv-
ing him behind his back, and he would find it out when it
was too late.
Still, Mr. Craggs, without much heeding these remarks,
looked uneasily about until his eye rested on Grace, to whom
he immediately presented himself.
‘Good evening, ma’am,’ said Craggs. ‘You look charmingly.
Your ¾ Miss ¾ your sister, Miss Marion, is she ¾ ‘
‘Oh, she’s quite well, Mr. Craggs.’
‘Yes ¾ I ¾ is she here?’ asked Craggs.
‘Here! Don’t you see her yonder? Going to dance?’ said
Mr. Craggs put on his spectacles to see the better; looked
at her through them, for some time; coughed; and put them,
with an air of satisfaction, in their sheath again, and in his
Now the music struck up, and the dance commenced. The
bright fire crackled and sparkled, rose and fell, as though it
The Battle of Life
joined the dance itself, in right good fellowship. Sometimes,
it roared as if it would make music too. Sometimes, it flashed
and beamed as if it were the eye of the old room: it winked
too, sometimes, like a knowing patriarch, upon the youth-
ful whisperers in corners. Sometimes, it sported with the
holly-boughs; and, shining on the leaves by fits and starts,
made them look as if they were in the cold winter night
again, and fluttering in the wind. Sometimes its genial
humour grew obstreperous, and passed all bounds; and then
it cast into the room, among the twinkling feet, with a loud
burst, a shower of harmless little sparks, and in its exulta-
tion leaped and bounded, like a mad thing, up the broad old
Another dance was near its close, when Mr. Snitchey
touched his partner, who was looking on, upon the arm.
Mr. Craggs started, as if his familiar had been a spectre.
‘Is he gone?’ he asked.
‘Hush! He has been with me,’ said Snitchey, ‘for three hours
and more. He went over everything. He looked into all our
arrangements for him, and was very particular indeed. He
The dance was finished. Marion passed close before him,
as he spoke. She did not observe him, or his partner; but,
looked over her shoulder towards her sister in the distance,
as she slowly made her way into the crowd, and passed out
of their view.
‘You see! All safe and well,’ said Mr. Craggs. ‘He didn’t recur
to that subject, I suppose?’
‘Not a word.’
‘And is he really gone? Is he safe away?’
‘He keeps to his word. He drops down the river with the
tide in that shell of a boat of his, and so goes out to sea on
this dark night! ¾ a dare-devil he is ¾ before the wind.
There’s no such lonely road anywhere else. That’s one thing.
The tide flows, he says, an hour before midnight ¾ about
this time. I’m glad it’s over.’ Mr. Snitchey wiped his forehead,
which looked hot and anxious.
‘What do you think,’ said Mr. Craggs, ‘about ¾ ‘
‘Hush!’ replied his cautious partner, looking straight be-
fore him. ‘I understand you. Don’t mention names, and don’t
let us, seem to be talking secrets. I don’t know what to
think; and to tell you the truth, I don’t care now. It’s a great
relief. His self-love deceived him, I suppose. Perhaps the
young lady coquetted a little. The evidence would seem to
point that way. Alfred not arrived?’
‘Not yet,’ said Mr. Craggs. ‘Expected every minute.’
The Battle of Life
‘Good.’ Mr. Snitchey wiped his forehead again. ‘It’s a great
relief. I haven’t been so nervous since we’ve been in part-
nership. I intend to spend the evening now, Mr. Craggs.’
Mrs. Craggs and Mrs. Snitchey joined them as he announced
this intention. The Bird of Paradise was in a state of extreme
vibration, and the little bells were ringing quite audibly.
‘It has been the theme of general comment, Mr. Snitchey,’
said Mrs. Snitchey. ‘I hope the office is satisfied.’
‘Satisfied with what, my dear?’ asked Mr. Snitchey.
‘With the exposure of a defenceless woman to ridicule and
remark,’ returned his wife. ‘That is quite in the way of the
office, that is.’
‘I really, myself,’ said Mrs. Craggs, ‘have been so long ac-
customed to connect the office with everything opposed to
domesticity, that I am glad to know it as the avowed enemy
of my peace. There is something honest in that, at all events.’
‘My dear,’ urged Mr. Craggs, ‘your good opinion is invalu-
able, but I never avowed that the office was the enemy of
‘No,’ said Mrs. Craggs, ringing a perfect peal upon the little
bells. ‘Not you, indeed. You wouldn’t be worthy of the office,
if you had the candour to.’
‘As to my having been away to-night, my dear,’ said Mr.
Snitchey, giving her his arm, ‘the deprivation has been mine,
I’m sure; but, as Mr. Craggs knows ¾ ‘
Mrs. Snitchey cut this reference very short by hitching her
husband to a distance, and asking him to look at that man.
To do her the favour to look at him!
‘At which man, my dear?’ said Mr. Snitchey.
‘Your chosen companion; I’m no companion to you, Mr.
‘Yes, yes, you are, my dear,’ he interposed.
‘No, no, I’m not,’ said Mrs. Snitchey with a majestic smile.
‘I know my station. Will you look at your chosen compan-
ion, Mr. Snitchey; at your referee, at the keeper of your
secrets, at the man you trust; at your other self, in short?’
The habitual association of Self with Craggs, occasioned
Mr. Snitchey to look in that direction.
‘If you can look that man in the eye this night,’ said Mrs.
Snitchey, ‘and not know that you are deluded, practised upon,
made the victim of his arts, and bent down prostrate to his
will by some unaccountable fascination which it is impos-
sible to explain and against which no warning of mine is of
the least avail, all I can say is ¾ I pity you!’
At the very same moment Mrs. Craggs was oracular on the
cross subject. Was it possible, she said, that Craggs could so
The Battle of Life
blind himself to his Snitcheys, as not to feel his true posi-
tion? Did he mean to say that he had seen his Snitcheys
come into that room, and didn’t plainly see that there was
reservation, cunning, treachery, in the man? Would he tell
her that his very action, when he wiped his forehead and
looked so stealthily about him, didn’t show that there was
something weighing on the conscience of his precious
Snitcheys (if he had a conscience), that wouldn’t bear the
light? Did anybody but his Snitcheys come to festive enter-
tainments like a burglar? ¾ which, by the way, was hardly
a clear illustration of the case, as he had walked in very
mildly at the door. And would he still assert to her at noon-
day (it being nearly midnight), that his Snitcheys were to
be justified through thick and thin, against all facts, and
reason, and experience?
Neither Snitchey nor Craggs openly attempted to stem the
current which had thus set in, but, both were content to be
carried gently along it, until its force abated. This happened
at about the same time as a general movement for a country
dance; when Mr. Snitchey proposed himself as a partner to
Mrs. Craggs, and Mr. Craggs gallantly offered himself to Mrs.
Snitchey; and after some such slight evasions as ‘why don’t
you ask somebody else?’ and ‘you’ll be glad, I know, if I
decline,’ and ‘I wonder you can dance out of the office’ (but
this jocosely now), each lady graciously accepted, and took
It was an old custom among them, indeed, to do so, and to
pair off, in like manner, at dinners and suppers; for they
were excellent friends, and on a footing of easy familiarity.
Perhaps the false Craggs and the wicked Snitchey were a
recognised fiction with the two wives, as Doe and Roe,
incessantly running up and down bailiwicks, were with the
two husbands: or, perhaps the ladies had instituted, and
taken upon themselves, these two shares in the business,
rather than be left out of it altogether. But, certain it is,
that each wife went as gravely and steadily to work in her
vocation as her husband did in his, and would have consid-
ered it almost impossible for the Firm to maintain a success-
ful and respectable existence, without her laudable exer-
But, now, the Bird of Paradise was seen to flutter down
the middle; and the little bells began to bounce and jingle
in poussette; and the Doctor’s rosy face spun round and
round, like an expressive pegtop highly varnished; and
breathless Mr. Craggs began to doubt already, whether coun-
try dancing had been made ‘too easy,’ like the rest of life;
The Battle of Life
and Mr. Snitchey, with his nimble cuts and capers, footed it
for Self and Craggs, and half-a-dozen more.
Now, too, the fire took fresh courage, favoured by the lively
wind the dance awakened, and burnt clear and high. It was
the Genius of the room, and present everywhere. It shone in
people’s eyes, it sparkled in the jewels on the snowy necks
of girls, it twinkled at their ears as if it whispered to them
slyly, it flashed about their waists, it flickered on the ground
and made it rosy for their feet, it bloomed upon the ceiling
that its glow might set off their bright faces, and it kindled
up a general illumination in Mrs. Craggs’s little belfry.
Now, too, the lively air that fanned it, grew less gentle as
the music quickened and the dance proceeded with new spirit;
and a breeze arose that made the leaves and berries dance
upon the wall, as they had often done upon the trees; and
the breeze rustled in the room as if an invisible company of
fairies, treading in the foot-steps of the good substantial
revellers, were whirling after them. Now, too, no feature of
the Doctor’s face could be distinguished as he spun and spun;
and now there seemed a dozen Birds of Paradise in fitful
flight; and now there were a thousand little bells at work;
and now a fleet of flying skirts was ruffled by a little tem-
pest, when the music gave in, and the dance was over.
Hot and breathless as the Doctor was, it only made him
the more impatient for Alfred’s coming.
‘Anything been seen, Britain? Anything been heard?’
‘Too dark to see far, sir. Too much noise inside the house to
‘That’s right! The gayer welcome for him. How goes the
‘Just twelve, sir. He can’t be long, sir.’
‘Stir up the fire, and throw another log upon it,’ said the
Doctor. ‘Let him see his welcome blazing out upon the night
¾ good boy! ¾ as he comes along!’
He saw it ¾ Yes! From the chaise he caught the light, as
he turned the corner by the old church. He knew the room
from which it shone. He saw the wintry branches of the old
trees between the light and him. He knew that one of those
trees rustled musically in the summer time at the window of
The tears were in his eyes. His heart throbbed so violently
that he could hardly bear his happiness. How often he had
thought of this time ¾ pictured it under all circumstances
¾ feared that it might never come ¾ yearned, and wearied
for it ¾ far away!
Again the light! Distinct and ruddy; kindled, he knew, to
The Battle of Life
give him welcome, and to speed him home. He beckoned
with his hand, and waved his hat, and cheered out, loud, as
if the light were they, and they could see and hear him, as
he dashed towards them through the mud and mire, trium-
Stop! He knew the Doctor, and understood what he had
done. He would not let it be a surprise to them. But he could
make it one, yet, by going forward on foot. If the orchard-
gate were open, he could enter there; if not, the wall was
easily climbed, as he knew of old; and he would be among
them in an instant.
He dismounted from the chaise, and telling the driver ¾
even that was not easy in his agitation ¾ to remain behind
for a few minutes, and then to follow slowly, ran on with
exceeding swiftness, tried the gate, scaled the wall, jumped
down on the other side, and stood panting in the old or-
There was a frosty rime upon the trees, which, in the faint
light of the clouded moon, hung upon the smaller branches
like dead garlands. Withered leaves crackled and snapped
beneath his feet, as he crept softly on towards the house.
The desolation of a winter night sat brooding on the earth,
and in the sky. But, the red light came cheerily towards him
from the windows; figures passed and repassed there; and
the hum and murmur of voices greeted his ear sweetly.
Listening for hers: attempting, as he crept on, to detach it
from the rest, and half believing that he heard it: he had
nearly reached the door, when it was abruptly opened, and a
figure coming out encountered his. It instantly recoiled with
a half-suppressed cry.
‘Clemency,’ he said, ‘don’t you know me?’
‘Don’t come in!’ she answered, pushing him back. ‘Go away.
Don’t ask me why. Don’t come in.’
‘What is the matter?’ he exclaimed.
‘I don’t know. I ¾ I am afraid to think. Go back. Hark!’
There was a sudden tumult in the house. She put her hands
upon her ears. A wild scream, such as no hands could shut
out, was heard; and Grace ¾ distraction in her looks and
manner ¾ rushed out at the door.
‘Grace!’ He caught her in his arms. ‘What is it! Is she dead!’
She disengaged herself, as if to recognise his face, and fell
down at his feet.
A crowd of figures came about them from the house. Among
them was her father, with a paper in his hand.
‘What is it!’ cried Alfred, grasping his hair with his hands,
and looking in an agony from face to face, as he bent upon
The Battle of Life
his knee beside the insensible girl. ‘Will no one look at me?
Will no one speak to me? Does no one know me? Is there no
voice among you all, to tell me what it is!’
There was a murmur among them. ‘She is gone.’
‘Gone!’ he echoed.
‘Fled, my dear Alfred!’ said the Doctor, in a broken voice,
and with his hands before his face. ‘Gone from her home and
us. To-night! She writes that she has made her innocent
and blameless choice ¾ entreats that we will forgive her ¾
prays that we will not forget her ¾ and is gone.’
‘With whom? Where?’
He started up, as if to follow in pursuit; but, when they
gave way to let him pass, looked wildly round upon them,
staggered back, and sunk down in his former attitude, clasp-
ing one of Grace’s cold hands in his own.
There was a hurried running to and fro, confusion, noise,
disorder, and no purpose. Some proceeded to disperse them-
selves about the roads, and some took horse, and some got
lights, and some conversed together, urging that there was
no trace or track to follow. Some approached him kindly,
with the view of offering consolation; some admonished him
that Grace must be removed into the house, and that he
prevented it. He never heard them, and he never moved.
The snow fell fast and thick. He looked up for a moment in
the air, and thought that those white ashes strewn upon his
hopes and misery, were suited to them well. He looked round
on the whitening ground, and thought how Marion’s foot-
prints would be hushed and covered up, as soon as made,
and even that remembrance of her blotted out. But he never
felt the weather and he never stirred.
CHAPTER III - Part The Third
THE world had grown six years older since that night of the
return. It was a warm autumn afternoon, and there had
been heavy rain. The sun burst suddenly from among the
clouds; and the old battle-ground, sparkling brilliantly and
cheerfully at sight of it in one green place, flashed a respon-
sive welcome there, which spread along the country side as
if a joyful beacon had been lighted up, and answered from a
How beautiful the landscape kindling in the light, and
that luxuriant influence passing on like a celestial presence,
brightening everything! The wood, a sombre mass before,
revealed its varied tints of yellow, green, brown, red: its
different forms of trees, with raindrops glittering on their
The Battle of Life
leaves and twinkling as they fell. The verdant meadow-land,
bright and glowing, seemed as if it had been blind, a minute
since, and now had found a sense of sight where-with to
look up at the shining sky. Corn-fields, hedge-rows, fences,
homesteads, and clustered roofs, the steeple of the church,
the stream, the water-mill, all sprang out of the gloomy
darkness smiling. Birds sang sweetly, flowers raised their
drooping heads, fresh scents arose from the invigorated
ground; the blue expanse above extended and diffused it-
self; already the sun’s slanting rays pierced mortally the
sullen bank of cloud that lingered in its flight; and a rain-
bow, spirit of all the colours that adorned the earth and sky,
spanned the whole arch with its triumphant glory.
At such a time, one little roadside Inn, snugly sheltered
behind a great elm-tree with a rare seat for idlers encircling
its capacious bole, addressed a cheerful front towards the
traveller, as a house of entertainment ought, and tempted
him with many mute but significant assurances of a com-
fortable welcome. The ruddy sign-board perched up in the
tree, with its golden letters winking in the sun, ogled the
passer-by, from among the green leaves, like a jolly face,
and promised good cheer. The horse-trough, full of clear
fresh water, and the ground below it sprinkled with drop-
pings of fragrant hay, made every horse that passed, prick
up his ears. The crimson curtains in the lower rooms, and
the pure white hangings in the little bed-chambers above,
beckoned, Come in! with every breath of air. Upon the bright
green shutters, there were golden legends about beer and
ale, and neat wines, and good beds; and an affecting picture
of a brown jug frothing over at the top. Upon the window-
sills were flowering plants in bright red pots, which made a
lively show against the white front of the house; and in the
darkness of the doorway there were streaks of light, which
glanced off from the surfaces of bottles and tankards.
On the door-step, appeared a proper figure of a landlord,
too; for, though he was a short man, he was round and
broad, and stood with his hands in his pockets, and his legs
just wide enough apart to express a mind at rest upon the
subject of the cellar, and an easy confidence ¾ too calm
and virtuous to become a swagger ¾ in the general resources
of the Inn. The superabundant moisture, trickling from ev-
erything after the late rain, set him off well. Nothing near
him was thirsty. Certain top-heavy dahlias, looking over the
palings of his neat well-ordered garden, had swilled as much
as they could carry ¾ perhaps a trifle more ¾ and may
have been the worse for liquor; but the sweet-briar, roses,
The Battle of Life
wall¾flowers, the plants at the windows, and the leaves on
the old tree, were in the beaming state of moderate com-
pany that had taken no more than was wholesome for them,
and had served to develop their best qualities. Sprinkling
dewy drops about them on the ground, they seemed profuse
of innocent and sparkling mirth, that did good where it
lighted, softening neglected corners which the steady rain
could seldom reach, and hurting nothing.
This village Inn had assumed, on being established, an
uncommon sign. It was called The Nutmeg-Grater. And un-
derneath that household word, was inscribed, up in the tree,
on the same flaming board, and in the like golden charac-
ters, By Benjamin Britain.
At a second glance, and on a more minute examination of
his face, you might have known that it was no other than
Benjamin Britain himself who stood in the doorway ¾ rea-
sonably changed by time, but for the better; a very comfort-
able host indeed.
‘Mrs. B.,’ said Mr. Britain, looking down the road, ‘is rather
late. It’s tea-time.’
As there was no Mrs. Britain coming, he strolled leisurely
out into the road and looked up at the house, very much to
his satisfaction. ‘It’s just the sort of house,’ said Benjamin, ‘I
should wish to stop at, if I didn’t keep it.’
Then, he strolled towards the garden-paling, and took a
look at the dahlias. They looked over at him, with a helpless
drowsy hanging of their heads: which bobbed again, as the
heavy drops of wet dripped off them.
‘You must be looked after,’ said Benjamin. ‘Memorandum,
not to forget to tell her so. She’s a long time coming!’
Mr. Britain’s better half seemed to be by so very much his
better half, that his own moiety of himself was utterly cast
away and helpless without her.
‘She hadn’t much to do, I think,’ said Ben. ‘There were a
few little matters of business after market, but not many.
Oh! here we are at last!’
A chaise-cart, driven by a boy, came clattering along the
road: and seated in it, in a chair, with a large well-saturated
umbrella spread out to dry behind her, was the plump figure
of a matronly woman, with her bare arms folded across a
basket which she carried on her knee, several other baskets
and parcels lying crowded around her, and a certain bright
good nature in her face and contented awkwardness in her
manner, as she jogged to and fro with the motion of her
carriage, which smacked of old times, even in the distance.
Upon her nearer approach, this relish of by-gone days was
The Battle of Life
not diminished; and when the cart stopped at the Nutmeg-
Grater door, a pair of shoes, alighting from it, slipped nim-
bly through Mr. Britain’s open arms, and came down with a
substantial weight upon the pathway, which shoes could
hardly have belonged to any one but Clemency Newcome.
In fact they did belong to her, and she stood in them, and
a rosy comfortable-looking soul she was: with as much soap
on her glossy face as in times of yore, but with whole elbows
now, that had grown quite dimpled in her improved condi-
‘You’re late, Clemmy!’ said Mr. Britain.
‘Why, you see, Ben, I’ve had a deal to do!’ she replied,
looking busily after the safe removal into the house of all
the packages and baskets: ‘eight, nine, ten ¾ where’s eleven?
Oh! my basket’s eleven! It’s all right. Put the horse up, Harry,
and if he coughs again give him a warm mash to-night.
Eight, nine, ten. Why, where’s eleven? Oh! forgot, it’s all
right. How’s the children, Ben?’
‘Hearty, Clemmy, hearty.’
‘Bless their precious faces!’ said Mrs. Britain, unbonneting
her own round countenance (for she and her husband were
by this time in the bar), and smoothing her hair with her
open hands. ‘Give us a kiss, old man!’
Mr. Britain promptly complied.
‘I think,’ said Mrs. Britain, applying herself to her pockets
and drawing forth an immense bulk of thin books and
crumpled papers: a very kennel of dogs’-ears: ‘I’ve done ev-
erything. Bills all settled ¾ turnips sold ¾ brewer’s ac-
count looked into and paid ¾ ‘bacco pipes ordered ¾ sev-
enteen pound four, paid into the Bank ¾ Doctor Heathfield’s
charge for little Clem ¾ you’ll guess what that is ¾ Doctor
Heathfield won’t take nothing again, Ben.’
‘I thought he wouldn’t,’ returned Ben.
‘No. He says whatever family you was to have, Ben, he’d
never put you to the cost of a halfpenny. Not if you was to
Mr. Britain’s face assumed a serious expression, and he
looked hard at the wall.
‘An’t it kind of him?’ said Clemency.
‘Very,’ returned Mr. Britain. ‘It’s the sort of kindness that I
wouldn’t presume upon, on any account.’
‘No,’ retorted Clemency. ‘Of course not. Then there’s the
pony ¾ he fetched eight pound two; and that an’t bad, is
‘It’s very good,’ said Ben.
‘I’m glad you’re pleased!’ exclaimed his wife. ‘I thought
The Battle of Life
you would be; and I think that’s all, and so no more at
present from yours and cetrer, C. Britain. Ha ha ha! There!
Take all the papers, and lock ‘em up. Oh! Wait a minute.
Here’s a printed bill to stick on the wall. Wet from the
printer’s. How nice it smells!’
‘What’s this?’ said Ben, looking over the document.
‘I don’t know,’ replied his wife. ‘I haven’t read a word of it.’
‘“To be sold by Auction,”’ read the host of the Nutmeg-
Grater, ‘“unless previously disposed of by private contract.”’
‘They always put that,’ said Clemency.
‘Yes, but they don’t always put this,’ he returned. ‘Look
here, “Mansion,” &c. ¾ “offices,” &c., “shrubberies,” &c.,
“ring fence,” &c. “Messrs. Snitchey and Craggs,” &c., “orna-
mental portion of the unencumbered freehold property of
Michael Warden, Esquire, intending to continue to reside
‘Intending to continue to reside abroad!’ repeated Clem-
‘Here it is,’ said Britain. ‘Look!’
‘And it was only this very day that I heard it whispered at
the old house, that better and plainer news had been half
promised of her, soon!’ said Clemency, shaking her head
sorrowfully, and patting her elbows as if the recollection of
old times unconsciously awakened her old habits. ‘Dear, dear,
dear! There’ll be heavy hearts, Ben, yonder.’
Mr. Britain heaved a sigh, and shook his head, and said he
couldn’t make it out: he had left off trying long ago. With
that remark, he applied himself to putting up the bill just
inside the bar window. Clemency, after meditating in silence
for a few moments, roused herself, cleared her thoughtful
brow, and bustled off to look after the children.
Though the host of the Nutmeg-Grater had a lively regard
for his good-wife, it was of the old patronising kind, and she
amused him mightily. Nothing would have astonished him
so much, as to have known for certain from any third party,
that it was she who managed the whole house, and made
him, by her plain straightforward thrift, good-humour, hon-
esty, and industry, a thriving man. So easy it is, in any
degree of life (as the world very often finds it), to take those
cheerful natures that never assert their merit, at their own
modest valuation; and to conceive a flippant liking of people
for their outward oddities and eccentricities, whose innate
worth, if we would look so far, might make us blush in the
It was comfortable to Mr. Britain, to think of his own con-
descension in having married Clemency. She was a perpetual
The Battle of Life
testimony to him of the goodness of his heart, and the kind-
ness of his disposition; and he felt that her being an excel-
lent wife was an illustration of the old precept that virtue is
its own reward.
He had finished wafering up the bill, and had locked the
vouchers for her day’s proceedings in the cupboard ¾ chuck-
ling all the time, over her capacity for business ¾ when,
returning with the news that the two Master Britains were
playing in the coach-house under the superintendence of
one Betsey, and that little Clem was sleeping ‘like a picture,’
she sat down to tea, which had awaited her arrival, on a
little table. It was a very neat little bar, with the usual dis-
play of bottles and glasses; a sedate clock, right to the minute
(it was half-past five); everything in its place, and every-
thing furbished and polished up to the very utmost.
‘It’s the first time I’ve sat down quietly to-day, I declare,’
said Mrs. Britain, taking a long breath, as if she had sat
down for the night; but getting up again immediately to
hand her husband his tea, and cut him his bread-and-but-
ter; ‘how that bill does set me thinking of old times!’
‘Ah!’ said Mr. Britain, handling his saucer like an oyster,
and disposing of its contents on the same principle.
‘That same Mr. Michael Warden,’ said Clemency, shaking
her head at the notice of sale, ‘lost me my old place.’
‘And got you your husband,’ said Mr. Britain.
‘Well! So he did,’ retorted Clemency, ‘and many thanks to
‘Man’s the creature of habit,’ said Mr. Britain, surveying
her, over his saucer. ‘I had somehow got used to you, Clem;
and I found I shouldn’t be able to get on without you. So we
went and got made man and wife. Ha! ha! We! Who’d have
‘Who indeed!’ cried Clemency. ‘It was very good of you,
‘No, no, no,’ replied Mr. Britain, with an air of self-denial.
‘Nothing worth mentioning.’
‘Oh yes it was, Ben,’ said his wife, with great simplicity;
‘I’m sure I think so, and am very much obliged to you. Ah!’
looking again at the bill; ‘when she was known to be gone,
and out of reach, dear girl, I couldn’t help telling ¾ for her
sake quite as much as theirs ¾ what I knew, could I?’
‘You told it, anyhow,’ observed her husband.
‘And Dr. Jeddler,’ pursued Clemency, putting down her tea-
cup, and looking thoughtfully at the bill, ‘in his grief and
passion turned me out of house and home! I never have
been so glad of anything in all my life, as that I didn’t say
The Battle of Life
an angry word to him, and hadn’t any angry feeling towards
him, even then; for he repented that truly, afterwards. How
often he has sat in this room, and told me over and over
again he was sorry for it! ¾ the last time, only yesterday,
when you were out. How often he has sat in this room, and
talked to me, hour after hour, about one thing and another,
in which he made believe to be interested! ¾ but only for
the sake of the days that are gone by, and because he knows
she used to like me, Ben!’
‘Why, how did you ever come to catch a glimpse of that,
Clem?’ asked her husband: astonished that she should have
a distinct perception of a truth which had only dimly sug-
gested itself to his inquiring mind.
‘I don’t know, I’m sure,’ said Clemency, blowing her tea, to
cool it. ‘Bless you, I couldn’t tell you, if you was to offer me
a reward of a hundred pound.’
He might have pursued this metaphysical subject but for
her catching a glimpse of a substantial fact behind him, in
the shape of a gentleman attired in mourning, and cloaked
and booted like a rider on horseback, who stood at the bar-
door. He seemed attentive to their conversation, and not at
all impatient to interrupt it.
Clemency hastily rose at this sight. Mr. Britain also rose
and saluted the guest. ‘Will you please to walk up-stairs,
sir? There’s a very nice room up-stairs, sir.’
‘Thank you,’ said the stranger, looking earnestly at Mr.
Britain’s wife. ‘May I come in here?’
‘Oh, surely, if you like, sir,’ returned Clemency, admitting
‘What would you please to want, sir?’
The bill had caught his eye, and he was reading it.
‘Excellent property that, sir,’ observed Mr. Britain.
He made no answer; but, turning round, when he had
finished reading, looked at Clemency with the same obser-
vant curiosity as before. ‘You were asking me,’ ¾ he said,
still looking at her, ¾ ‘What you would please to take, sir,’
answered Clemency, stealing a glance at him in return.
‘If you will let me have a draught of ale,’ he said, moving
to a table by the window, ‘and will let me have it here,
without being any interruption to your meal, I shall be much
obliged to you.’ He sat down as he spoke, without any fur-
ther parley, and looked out at the prospect. He was an easy,
well-knit figure of a man in the prime of life. His face, much
browned by the sun, was shaded by a quantity of dark hair;
and he wore a moustache. His beer being set before him, he
filled out a glass, and drank, good-humouredly, to the house;
The Battle of Life
adding, as he put the tumbler down again:
‘It’s a new house, is it not?’
‘Not particularly new, sir,’ replied Mr. Britain.
‘Between five and six years old,’ said Clemency; speaking
‘I think I heard you mention Dr. Jeddler’s name, as I came
in,’ inquired the stranger. ‘That bill reminds me of him; for I
happen to know something of that story, by hearsay, and
through certain connexions of mine. ¾ Is the old man liv-
‘Yes, he’s living, sir,’ said Clemency.
‘Since when, sir?’ returned Clemency, with remarkable em-
phasis and expression.
‘Since his daughter ¾ went away.’
‘Yes! he’s greatly changed since then,’ said Clemency. ‘He’s
grey and old, and hasn’t the same way with him at all; but,
I think he’s happy now. He has taken on with his sister
since then, and goes to see her very often. That did him
good, directly. At first, he was sadly broken down; and it
was enough to make one’s heart bleed, to see him wandering
about, railing at the world; but a great change for the better
came over him after a year or two, and then he began to like
to talk about his lost daughter, and to praise her, ay and the
world too! and was never tired of saying, with the tears in
his poor eyes, how beautiful and good she was. He had for-
given her then. That was about the same time as Miss Grace’s
marriage. Britain, you remember?’
Mr. Britain remembered very well.
‘The sister is married then,’ returned the stranger. He paused
for some time before he asked, ‘To whom?’
Clemency narrowly escaped oversetting the tea-board, in
her emotion at this question.
‘Did you never hear?’ she said.
‘I should like to hear,’ he replied, as he filled his glass
again, and raised it to his lips.
‘Ah! It would be a long story, if it was properly told,’ said
Clemency, resting her chin on the palm of her left hand, and
supporting that elbow on her right hand, as she shook her
head, and looked back through the intervening years, as if
she were looking at a fire. ‘It would be a long story, I am
‘But told as a short one,’ suggested the stranger.
Told as a short one,’ repeated Clemency in the same thought-
ful tone, and without any apparent reference to him, or
consciousness of having auditors, ‘what would there be to
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tell? That they grieved together, and remembered her to-
gether, like a person dead; that they were so tender of her,
never would reproach her, called her back to one another as
she used to be, and found excuses for her! Every one knows
that. I’m sure I do. No one better,’ added Clemency, wiping
her eyes with her hand.
‘And so,’ suggested the stranger.
‘And so,’ said Clemency, taking him up mechanically, and
without any change in her attitude or manner, ‘they at last
were married. They were married on her birth-day ¾ it comes
round again to-morrow ¾ very quiet, very humble like, but
very happy. Mr. Alfred said, one night when they were walk-
ing in the orchard, “Grace, shall our wedding-day be Marion’s
birth-day?” And it was.’
‘And they have lived happily together?’ said the stranger.
‘Ay,’ said Clemency. ‘No two people ever more so. They have
had no sorrow but this.’
She raised her head as with a sudden attention to the
circumstances under which she was recalling these events,
and looked quickly at the stranger. Seeing that his face was
turned toward the window, and that he seemed intent upon
the prospect, she made some eager signs to her husband,
and pointed to the bill, and moved her mouth as if she were
repeating with great energy, one word or phrase to him over
and over again. As she uttered no sound, and as her dumb
motions like most of her gestures were of a very extraordi-
nary kind, this unintelligible conduct reduced Mr. Britain to
the confines of despair. He stared at the table, at the stranger,
at the spoons, at his wife ¾ followed her pantomime with
looks of deep amazement and perplexity ¾ asked in the
same language, was it property in danger, was it he in dan-
ger, was it she ¾ answered her signals with other signals
expressive of the deepest distress and confusion ¾ followed
the motions of her lips ¾ guessed half aloud ‘milk and wa-
ter,’ ‘monthly warning,’ ‘mice and walnuts’ ¾ and couldn’t
approach her meaning.
Clemency gave it up at last, as a hopeless attempt; and
moving her chair by very slow degrees a little nearer to the
stranger, sat with her eyes apparently cast down but glanc-
ing sharply at him now and then, waiting until he should
ask some other question. She had not to wait long; for he
‘And what is the after history of the young lady who went
away? They know it, I suppose?’
Clemency shook her head. ‘I’ve heard,’ she said, ‘that Doc-
tor Jeddler is thought to know more of it than he tells. Miss
The Battle of Life
Grace has had letters from her sister, saying that she was
well and happy, and made much happier by her being mar-
ried to Mr. Alfred: and has written letters back. But there’s a
mystery about her life and fortunes, altogether, which noth-
ing has cleared up to this hour, and which ¾ ‘
She faltered here, and stopped.
‘And which’ ¾ repeated the stranger.
‘Which only one other person, I believe, could explain,’
said Clemency, drawing her breath quickly.
‘Who may that be?’ asked the stranger.
‘Mr. Michael Warden!’ answered Clemency, almost in a shriek:
at once conveying to her husband what she would have had
him understand before, and letting Michael Warden know
that he was recognised.
‘You remember me, sir?’ said Clemency, trembling with emo-
tion; ‘I saw just now you did! You remember me, that night
in the garden. I was with her!’
‘Yes. You were,’ he said.
‘Yes, sir,’ returned Clemency. ‘Yes, to be sure. This is my
husband, if you please. Ben, my dear Ben, run to Miss Grace
¾ run to Mr. Alfred ¾ run somewhere, Ben! Bring some-
body here, directly!’
‘Stay!’ said Michael Warden, quietly interposing himself
between the door and Britain. ‘What would you do?’
‘Let them know that you are here, sir,’ answered Clemency,
clapping her hands in sheer agitation. ‘Let them know that
they may hear of her, from your own lips; let them know
that she is not quite lost to them, but that she will come
home again yet, to bless her father and her loving sister ¾
even her old servant, even me,’ she struck herself upon the
breast with both hands, ‘with a sight of her sweet face. Run,
Ben, run!’ And still she pressed him on towards the door,
and still Mr. Warden stood before it, with his hand stretched
out, not angrily, but sorrowfully.
‘Or perhaps,’ said Clemency, running past her husband, and
catching in her emotion at Mr. Warden’s cloak, ‘perhaps
she’s here now; perhaps she’s close by. I think from your
manner she is. Let me see her, sir, if you please. I waited on
her when she was a little child. I saw her grow to be the
pride of all this place. I knew her when she was Mr. Alfred’s
promised wife. I tried to warn her when you tempted her
away. I know what her old home was when she was like the
soul of it, and how it changed when she was gone and lost.
Let me speak to her, if you please!’
He gazed at her with compassion, not unmixed with won-
der: but, he made no gesture of assent.
The Battle of Life
‘I don’t think she can know,’ pursued Clemency, ‘how truly
they forgive her; how they love her; what joy it would be to
them, to see her once more. She may be timorous of going
home. Perhaps if she sees me, it maygive her new heart.
Only tell me truly, Mr. Warden, is she with you?’
‘She is not,’ he answered, shaking his head.
This answer, and his manner, and his black dress, and his
coming back so quietly, and his announced intention of con-
tinuing to live abroad, explained it all. Marion was dead.
He didn’t contradict her; yes, she was dead! Clemency sat
down, hid her face upon the table, and cried.
At that moment, a grey-headed old gentleman came run-
ning in: quite out of breath, and panting so much that his
voice was scarcely to be recognised as the voice of Mr.
‘Good Heaven, Mr. Warden!’ said the lawyer, taking him
aside, ‘what wind has blown ¾ ‘ He was so blown himself,
that he couldn’t get on any further until after a pause, when
he added, feebly, ‘you here?’
‘An ill-wind, I am afraid,’ he answered. ‘If you could have
heard what has just passed ¾ how I have been besought
and entreated to perform impossibilities ¾ what confusion
and affliction I carry with me!’
‘I can guess it all. But why did you ever come here, my
good sir?’ retorted Snitchey.
‘Come! How should I know who kept the house? When I
sent my servant on to you, I strolled in here because the
place was new to me; and I had a natural curiosity in every-
thing new and old, in these old scenes; and it was outside
the town. I wanted to communicate with you, first, before
appearing there. I wanted to know what people would say
to me. I see by your manner that you can tell me. If it were
not for your confounded caution, I should have been pos-
sessed of everything long ago.’
‘Our caution!’ returned the lawyer, ‘speaking for Self and
Craggs ¾ deceased,’ here Mr. Snitchey, glancing at his hat-
band, shook his head, ‘how can you reasonably blame us,
Mr. Warden? It was understood between us that the subject
was never to be renewed, and that it wasn’t a subject on
which grave and sober men like us (I made a note of your
observations at the time) could interfere. Our caution too!
When Mr. Craggs, sir, went down to his respected grave in
the full belief ¾ ‘
‘I had given a solemn promise of silence until I should
return, whenever that might be,’ interrupted Mr. Warden;
‘and I have kept it.’
The Battle of Life
‘Well, sir, and I repeat it,’ returned Mr. Snitchey, ‘we were
bound to silence too. We were bound to silence in our duty
towards ourselves, and in our duty towards a variety of cli-
ents, you among them, who were as close as wax. It was not
our place to make inquiries of you on such a delicate sub-
ject. I had my suspicions, sir; but, it is not six months since
I have known the truth, and been assured that you lost her.’
‘By whom?’ inquired his client.
‘By Doctor Jeddler himself, sir, who at last reposed that
confidence in me voluntarily. He, and only he, has known
the whole truth, years and years.’
‘And you know it?’ said his client.
‘I do, sir!’ replied Snitchey; ‘and I have also reason to know
that it will be broken to her sister to-morrow evening. They
have given her that promise. In the meantime, perhaps you’ll
give me the honour of your company at my house; being
unexpected at your own. But, not to run the chance of any
more such difficulties as you have had here, in case you
should be recognised ¾ though you’re a good deal changed;
I think I might have passed you myself, Mr. Warden ¾ we
had better dine here, and walk on in the evening. It’s a very
good place to dine at, Mr. Warden: your own property, by-
the-bye. Self and Craggs (deceased) took a chop here some-
times, and had it very comfortably served. Mr. Craggs, sir,’
said Snitchey, shutting his eyes tight for an instant, and
opening them again, ‘was struck off the roll of life too soon.’
‘Heaven forgive me for not condoling with you,’ returned
Michael Warden, passing his hand across his forehead, ‘but
I’m like a man in a dream at present. I seem to want my
wits. Mr. Craggs ¾ yes ¾ I am very sorry we have lost Mr.
Craggs.’ But he looked at Clemency as he said it, and seemed
to sympathise with Ben, consoling her.
‘Mr. Craggs, sir,’ observed Snitchey, ‘didn’t find life, I regret
to say, as easy to have and to hold as his theory made it out,
or he would have been among us now. It’s a great loss to me.
He was my right arm, my right leg, my right ear, my right
eye, was Mr. Craggs. I am paralytic without him. He be-
queathed his share of the business to Mrs. Craggs, her ex-
ecutors, administrators, and assigns. His name remains in
the Firm to this hour. I try, in a childish sort of a way, to
make believe, sometimes, he’s alive. You may observe that I
speak for Self and Craggs ¾ deceased, sir ¾ deceased,’ said
the tender-hearted attorney, waving his pocket-handkerchief.
Michael Warden, who had still been observant of Clem-
ency, turned to Mr. Snitchey when he ceased to speak, and
whispered in his ear.
The Battle of Life
‘Ah, poor thing!’ said Snitchey, shaking his head. ‘Yes. She
was always very faithful to Marion. She was always very fond
of her. Pretty Marion! Poor Marion! Cheer up, Mistress ¾
you are married now, you know, Clemency.’
Clemency only sighed, and shook her head.
‘Well, well! Wait till to-morrow,’ said the lawyer, kindly.
‘To-morrow can’t bring back’ the dead to life, Mister,’ said
‘No. It can’t do that, or it would bring back Mr. Craggs,
deceased,’ returned the lawyer. ‘But it may bring some sooth-
ing circumstances; it may bring some comfort. Wait till to-
So Clemency, shaking his proffered hand, said she would;
and Britain, who had been terribly cast down at sight of his
despondent wife (which was like the business hanging its
head), said that was right; and Mr. Snitchey and Michael
Warden went up-stairs; and there they were soon engaged in
a conversation so cautiously conducted, that no murmur of
it was audible above the clatter of plates and dishes, the
hissing of the frying-pan, the bubbling of saucepans, the
low monotonous waltzing of the jack ¾ with a dreadful
click every now and then as if it had met with some mortal
accident to its head, in a fit of giddiness ¾ and all the other
preparations in the kitchen for their dinner. D
To-morrow was a bright and peaceful day; and nowhere
were the autumn tints more beautifully seen, than from the
quiet orchard of the Doctor’s house. The snows of many winter
nights had melted from that ground, the withered leaves of
many summer times had rustled there, since she had fled.
The honey-suckle porch was green again, the trees cast
bountiful and changing shadows on the grass, the landscape
was as tranquil and serene as it had ever been; but where
Not there. Not there. She would have been a stranger sight
in her old home now, even than that home had been at first,
without her. But, a lady sat in the familiar place, from whose
heart she had never passed away; in whose true memory she
lived, unchanging, youthful, radiant with all promise and
all hope; in whose affection ¾ and it was a mother’s now,
there was a cherished little daughter playing by her side ¾
she had no rival, no successor; upon whose gentle lips her
name was trembling then.
The spirit of the lost girl looked out of those eyes. Those
eyes of Grace, her sister, sitting with her husband in the
The Battle of Life
orchard, on their wedding-day, and his and Marion’s birth-
He had not become a great man; he had not grown rich;
he had not forgotten the scenes and friends of his youth; he
had not fulfilled any one of the Doctor’s old predictions.
But, in his useful, patient, unknown visiting of poor men’s
homes; and in his watching of sick beds; and in his daily
knowledge of the gentleness and goodness flowering the by-
paths of this world, not to be trodden down beneath the
heavy foot of poverty, but springing up, elastic, in its track,
and making its way beautiful; he had better learned and
proved, in each succeeding year, the truth of his old faith.
The manner of his life, though quiet and remote, had shown
him how often men still entertained angels, unawares, as in
the olden time; and how the most unlikely forms ¾ even
some that were mean and ugly to the view, and poorly clad
¾ became irradiated by the couch of sorrow, want, and pain,
and changed to ministering spirits with a glory round their
He lived to better purpose on the altered battle-ground,
perhaps, than if he had contended restlessly in more ambi-
tious lists; and he was happy with his wife, dear Grace.
And Marion. Had he forgotten her?
‘The time has flown, dear Grace,’ he said, ‘since then;’ they
had been talking of that night; ‘and yet it seems a long long
while ago. We count by changes and events within us. Not
‘Yet we have years to count by, too, since Marion was with
us,’ returned Grace. ‘Six times, dear husband, counting to-
night as one, we have sat here on her birth-day, and spoken
together of that happy return, so eagerly expected and so
long deferred. Ah when will it be! When will it be!’
Her husband attentively observed her, as the tears col-
lected in her eyes; and drawing nearer, said:
‘But, Marion told you, in that farewell letter which she
left for you upon your table, love, and which you read so
often, that years must pass away before it could be. Did she
She took a letter from her breast, and kissed it, and said
‘That through these intervening years, however happy she
might be, she would look forward to the time when you
would meet again, and all would be made clear; and that she
prayed you, trustfully and hopefully to do the same. The
letter runs so, does it not, my dear?’
The Battle of Life
‘And every other letter she has written since?’
‘Except the last ¾ some months ago ¾ in which she spoke
of you, and what you then knew, and what I was to learn to-
He looked towards the sun, then fast declining, and said
that the appointed time was unset.
‘Alfred!’ said Grace, laying her hand upon his shoulder ear-
nestly, ‘there is something in this letter ¾this old letter,
which you say I read so often ¾ that I have never told you.
But, to-night, dear husband, with that sunset drawing near,
and all our life seeming to soften and become hushed with
the departing day, I cannot keep it secret.’
‘What is it, love?’
‘When Marion went away, she wrote me, here, that you
had once left her a sacred trust to me, and that now she left
you, Alfred, such a trust in my hands: praying and beseech-
ing me, as I loved her, and as I loved you, not to reject the
affection she believed (she knew, she said) you would trans-
fer to me when the new wound was healed, but to encourage
and return it.’
‘¾And make me a proud, and happy man again, Grace.
Did she say so?’
‘She meant, to make myself so blest and honoured in your
love,’ was his wife’s answer, as he held her in his arms.
‘Hear me, my dear!’ he said. ¾ ‘No. Hear me so!’ ¾ and as
he spoke, he gently laid the head she had raised, again upon
his shoulder. ‘I know why I have never heard this passage in
the letter, until now. I know why no trace of it ever showed
itself in any word or look of yours at that time. I know why
Grace, although so true a friend to me, was hard to win to be
my wife. And knowing it, my own! I know the priceless value
of the heart I gird within my arms, and thank god for the
She wept, but not for sorrow, as he pressed her to his
heart. After a brief space, he looked down at the child, who
was sitting at their feet playing with a little basket of flow-
ers, and bade her look how golden and how red the sun was.
‘Alfred,’ said Grace, raising her head quickly at these words.
‘The sun is going down. You have not forgotten what I am to
know before it sets.’
‘You are to know the truth of Marion’s history, my love,’ he
‘All the truth,’ she said, imploringly. ‘Nothing veiled from
me, any more. That was the promise. Was it not?’
‘It was,’ he answered.
‘Before the sun went down on Marion’s birth-day. And you
The Battle of Life
see it, Alfred? It is sinking fast.’
He put his arm about her waist, and, looking steadily into
her eyes, rejoined:
‘That truth is not reserved so long for me to tell, dear
Grace. It is to come from other lips.’
‘From other lips!’ she faintly echoed.
‘Yes. I know your constant heart, I know how brave you
are, I know that to you a word of preparation is enough. You
have said, truly, that the time is come. It is. Tell me that
you have present fortitude to bear a trial ¾ a surprise ¾
shock: and the messenger is waiting at the gate.’
‘What messenger?’ she said. ‘And what intelligence does
‘I am pledged,’ he answered her, preserving his steady look,
‘to say no more. Do you think you understand me?’
‘I am afraid to think,’ she said.
There was that emotion in his face, despite its steady gaze,
which frightened her. Again she hid her own face on his
shoulder, trembling, and entreated him to pause ¾ a mo-
‘Courage, my wife! When you have firmness to receive the
messenger, the messenger is waiting at the gate. The sun is
setting on Marion’s birth-day. Courage, courage, Grace!’
She raised her head, and, looking at him, told him she was
ready. As she stood, and looked upon him going away, her
face was so like Marion’s as it had been in her later days at
home, that it was wonderful to see. He took the child with
him. She called her back ¾ she bore the lost girl’s name ¾
and pressed her to her bosom. The little creature, being re-
leased again, sped after him, and Grace was left alone.
She knew not what she dreaded, or what hoped; but re-
mained there, motionless, looking at the porch by which
they had disappeared.
Ah! what was that, emerging from its shadow; standing
on its threshold! That figure, with its white garments rus-
tling in the evening air; its head laid down upon her father’s
breast, and pressed against it to his loving heart! O God! was
it a vision that came bursting from the old man’s arms, and
with a cry, and with a waving of its hands, and with a wild
recipitation of itself upon her in its boundless love, sank
down in her embrace!
‘Oh, Marion, Marion! Oh, my sister! Oh, my heart’s dear
love! Oh, joy and happiness unutterable, so to meet again!’
It was no dream, no phantom conjured up by hope and
fear, but Marion, sweet Marion! So beautiful, so happy, so
unalloyed by care and trial, so elevated and exalted in her
The Battle of Life
loveliness, that as the setting sun shone brightly on her
upturned face, she might have been a spirit visiting the
earth upon some healing mission.
Clinging to her sister, who had dropped upon a seat and
bent down over her ¾ and smiling through her tears ¾ and
kneeling, close before her, with both arms twining round
her, and never turning for an instant from her face ¾ and
with the glory of the setting sun upon her brow, and with
the soft tranquillity of evening gathering around them ¾
Marion at length broke silence; her voice, so calm, low, clear,
and pleasant, well-tuned to the time.
‘When this was my dear home, Grace, as it will be now
‘Stay, my sweet love! A moment! O Marion, to hear you
She could not bear the voice she loved so well, at first.
‘When this was my dear home, Grace, as it will be now
again, I loved him from my soul. I loved him most devotedly.
I would have died for him, though I was so young. I never
slighted his affection in my secret breast for one brief in-
stant. It was far beyond all price to me. Although it is so
long ago, and past, and gone, and everything is wholly
changed, I could not bear to think that you, who love so
well, should think I did not truly love him once. I never
loved him better, Grace, than when he left this very scene
upon this very day. I never loved him better, dear one, than
I did that night when I left here.’
Her sister, bending over her, could look into her face, and
hold her fast.
‘But he had gained, unconsciously,’ said Marion, with a
gentle smile, ‘another heart, before I knew that I had one to
give him. That heart ¾ yours, my sister! ¾ was so yielded
up, in all its other tenderness, to me; was so devoted, and so
noble; that it plucked its love away, and kept its secret from
all eyes but mine ¾ Ah! what other eyes were quickened by
such tenderness and gratitude! ¾ and was content to sacri-
fice itself to me. But, I knew something of its depths. I knew
the struggle it had made. I knew its high, inestimable worth
to him, and his appreciation of it, let him love me as he
would. I knew the debt I owed it. I had its great example
every day before me. What you had done for me, I knew that
I could do, Grace, if I would, for you. I never laid my head
down on my pillow, but I prayed with tears to do it. I never
laid my head down on my pillow, but I thought of Alfred’s
own words on the day of his departure, and how truly he
had said (for I knew that, knowing you) that there were
The Battle of Life
victories gained every day, in struggling hearts, to which
these fields of battle were nothing. Thinking more and more
upon the great endurance cheerfully sustained, and never
known or cared for, that there must be, every day and hour,
in that great strife of which he spoke, my trial seemed to
grow light and easy. And He who knows our hearts, my dear-
est, at this moment, and who knows there is no drop of
bitterness or grief ¾ of anything but unmixed happiness ¾
in mine, enabled me to make the resolution that I never
would be Alfred’s wife. That he should be my brother, and
your husband, if the course I took could bring that happy
end to pass; but that I never would (Grace, I then loved him
dearly, dearly!) be his wife!’
‘O Marion! O Marion!’
‘I had tried to seem indifferent to him;’ and she pressed
her sister’s face against her own; ‘but that was hard, and
you were always his true advocate. I had tried to tell you of
my resolution, but you would never hear me; you would
never understand me. The time was drawing near for his
return. I felt that I must act, before the daily intercourse
between us was renewed. I knew that one great pang, un-
dergone at that time, would save a lengthened agony to all
of us. I knew that if I went away then, that end must follow
which HAS followed, and which has made us both so happy,
Grace! I wrote to good Aunt Martha, for a refuge in her
house: I did not then tell her all, but something of my story,
and she freely promised it. While I was contesting that step
with myself, and with my love of you, and home, Mr. War-
den, brought here by an accident, became, for some time,
‘I have sometimes feared of late years, that this might
have been,’ exclaimed her sister; and her countenance was
ashy-pale. ‘You never loved him ¾ and you married him in
your self-sacrifice to me!’
‘He was then,’ said Marion, drawing her sister closer to her,
‘on the eve of going secretly away for a long time. He wrote
to me, after leaving here; told me what his condition and
prospects really were; and offered me his hand. He told me
he had seen I was not happy in the prospect of Alfred’s
return. I believe he thought my heart had no part in that
contract; perhaps thought I might have loved him once, and
did not then; perhaps thought that when I tried to seem
indifferent, I tried to hide indifference ¾ I cannot tell.
But I wished that you should feel me wholly lost to Alfred
¾ hopeless to him ¾ dead. Do you understand me, love?’
Her sister looked into her face, attentively. She seemed in
The Battle of Life
‘I saw Mr. Warden, and confided in his honour; charged
him with my secret, on the eve of his and my departure. He
kept it. Do you understand me, dear?’
Grace looked confusedly upon her. She scarcely seemed to
‘My love, my sister!’ said Marion, ‘recall your thoughts a
moment; listen to me. Do not look so strangely on me. There
are countries, dearest, where those who would abjure a mis-
placed passion, or would strive, against some cherished feel-
ing of their hearts and conquer it, retire into a hopeless
solitude, and close the world against themselves and worldly
loves and hopes for ever. When women do so, they assume
that name which is so dear to you and
me, and call each other Sisters. But, there may be sisters,
Grace, who, in the broad world out of doors, and underneath
its free sky, and in its crowded places, and among its busy
life, and trying to assist and cheer it and to do some good,
¾ learn the same lesson; and who, with hearts still fresh
and young, and open to all happiness and means of happi-
ness, can say the battle is long past, the victory long won.
And such a one am I! You understand me now?’
Still she looked fixedly upon her, and made no reply.
‘Oh Grace, dear Grace,’ said Marion, clinging yet more ten-
derly and fondly to that breast from which she had been so
long exiled, ‘if you were not a happy wife and mother ¾ if I
had no little namesake here ¾ if Alfred, my kind brother,
were not your own fond husband ¾ from whence could I
derive the ecstasy I feel to-night! But, as I left here, so I
have returned. My heart has known no other love, my hand
has never been bestowed apart from it. I am still your maiden
sister, unmarried, unbetrothed: your own loving old Marion,
in whose affection you exist alone and have no partner,
She understood her now. Her face relaxed: sobs came to
her relief; and falling on her neck, she wept and wept, and
fondled her as if she were a child again.
When they were more composed, they found that the Doc-
tor, and his sister good Aunt Martha, were standing near at
hand, with Alfred.
‘This is a weary day for me,’ said good Aunt Martha, smil-
ing through her tears, as she embraced her nieces; ‘for I lose
my dear companion in making you all happy; and what can
you give me, in return for my Marion?’
‘A converted brother,’ said the Doctor.
‘That’s something, to be sure,’ retorted Aunt Martha, ‘in
The Battle of Life
such a farce as ¾ ‘
‘No, pray don’t,’ said the doctor penitently.
‘Well, I won’t,’ replied Aunt Martha. ‘But, I consider myself
ill used. I don’t know what’s to become of me without my
Marion, after we have lived together half-a-dozen years.’
‘You must come and live here, I suppose,’ replied the Doc-
tor. ‘We shan’t quarrel now, Martha.’
‘Or you must get married, Aunt,’ said Alfred.
‘Indeed,’ returned the old lady, ‘I think it might be a good
speculation if I were to set my cap at Michael Warden, who,
I hear, is come home much the better for his absence in all
respects. But as I knew him when he was a boy, and I was
not a very young woman then, perhaps he mightn’t respond.
So I’ll make up my mind to go and live with Marion, when
she marries, and until then (it will not be very long, I dare
say) to live alone. What do you say, Brother?’
‘I’ve a great mind to say it’s a ridiculous world altogether,
and there’s nothing serious in it,’ observed the poor old Doc-
‘You might take twenty affidavits of it if you chose, An-
thony,’ said his sister; ‘but nobody would believe you with
such eyes as those.’
‘It’s a world full of hearts,’ said the Doctor, hugging his
youngest daughter, and bending across her to hug Grace ¾
for he couldn’t separate the sisters; ‘and a serious world,
with all its folly ¾ even with mine, which was enough to
have swamped the whole globe; and it is a world on which
the sun never rises, but it looks upon a thousand bloodless
battles that are some set-off against the miseries and wick-
edness of Battle-Fields; and it is a world we need be careful
how we libel, Heaven forgive us, for it is a world of sacred
mysteries, and its Creator only knows what lies beneath the
surface of His lightest image!’ D
You would not be the better pleased with my rude pen, if
it dissected and laid open to your view the transports of this
family, long severed and now reunited. Therefore, I will not
follow the poor Doctor through his humbled recollection of
the sorrow he had had, when Marion was lost to him; nor,
will I tell how serious he had found that world to be, in
which some love, deep-anchored, is the portion of all hu-
man creatures; nor, how such a trifle as the absence of one
little unit in the great absurd account, had stricken him to
the ground. Nor, how, in compassion for his distress, his
sister had, long ago, revealed the truth to him by slow de-
The Battle of Life
grees, and brought him to the knowledge of the heart of his
self-banished daughter, and to that daughter’s side.
Nor, how Alfred Heathfield had been told the truth, too,
in the course of that then current year; and Marion had
seen him, and had promised him, as her brother, that on her
birth-day, in the evening, Grace should know it from her
lips at last.
‘I beg your pardon, Doctor,’ said Mr. Snitchey, looking into
the orchard, ‘but have I liberty to come in?’
Without waiting for permission, he came straight to Marion,
and kissed her hand, quite joyfully.
‘If Mr. Craggs had been alive, my dear Miss Marion,’ said Mr.
Snitchey, ‘he would have had great interest in this occasion.
It might have suggested to him, Mr. Alfred, that our life is
not too easy perhaps: that, taken altogether, it will bear any
little smoothing we can give it; but Mr. Craggs was a man
who could endure to be convinced, sir. He was always open
to conviction. If he were open to conviction, now, I ¾ this
is weakness. Mrs. Snitchey, my dear,’ ¾ at his summons that
lady appeared from behind the door, ‘you are among old
Mrs. Snitchey having delivered her congratulations, took
her husband aside.
‘One moment, Mr. Snitchey,’ said that lady. ‘It is not in my
nature to rake up the ashes of the departed.’
‘No, my dear,’ returned her husband.
‘Mr. Craggs is ¾ ‘
‘Yes, my dear, he is deceased,’ said Snitchey.
‘But I ask you if you recollect,’ pursued his wife, ‘that
evening of the ball? I only ask you that. If you do; and if
your memory has not entirely failed you, Mr. Snitchey; and
if you are not absolutely in your dotage; I ask you to con-
nect this time with that ¾ to remember how I begged and
prayed you, on my knees ¾ ‘
‘Upon your knees, my dear?’ said Mr. Snitchey.
‘Yes,’ said Mrs. Snitchey, confidently, ‘and you know it ¾
to beware of that man ¾ to observe his eye ¾ and now to
tell me whether I was right, and whether at that moment he
knew secrets which he didn’t choose to tell.’
‘Mrs. Snitchey,’ returned her husband, in her ear, ‘Madam.
Did you ever observe anything in my eye?’
‘No,’ said Mrs. Snitchey, sharply. ‘Don’t flatter yourself.’
‘Because, Madam, that night,’ he continued, twitching her
by the sleeve, ‘it happens that we both knew secrets which
we didn’t choose to tell, and both knew just the same pro-
fessionally. And so the less you say about such things the
The Battle of Life
better, Mrs. Snitchey; and take this as a warning to have
wiser and more charitable eyes another time. Miss Marion, I
brought a friend of yours along with me. Here! Mistress!’
Poor Clemency, with her apron to her eyes, came slowly in,
escorted by her husband; the latter doleful with the presen-
timent, that if she abandoned herself to grief, the Nutmeg-
Grater was done for.
‘Now, Mistress,’ said the lawyer, checking Marion as she
ran towards her, and interposing himself between them,
‘what’s the matter with you?’
‘The matter!’ cried poor Clemency. ¾ When, looking up in
wonder, and in indignant remonstrance, and in the added
emotion of a great roar from Mr. Britain, and seeing that
sweet face so well remembered close before her, she stared,
sobbed, laughed, cried, screamed, embraced her, held her
fast, released her, fell on Mr. Snitchey and embraced him
(much to Mrs. Snitchey’s indignation), fell on the Doctor
and embraced him, fell on Mr. Britain and embraced him,
and concluded by embracing herself, throwing her apron
over her head, and going into hysterics behind it.
A stranger had come into the orchard, after Mr. Snitchey,
and had remained apart, near the gate, without being ob-
served by any of the group; for they had little spare atten-
tion to bestow, and that had been monopolised by the ec-
stasies of Clemency. He did not appear to wish to be ob-
served, but stood alone, with downcast eyes; and there was
an air of dejection about him (though he was a gentleman
of a gallant appearance) which the general happiness ren-
dered more remarkable.
None but the quick eyes of Aunt Martha, however, remarked
him at all; but, almost as soon as she espied him, she was in
conversation with him. Presently, going to where Marion
stood with Grace and her little namesake, she whispered
something in Marion’s ear, at which she started, and ap-
peared surprised; but soon recovering from her confusion,
she timidly approached the stranger, in Aunt Martha’s com-
pany, and engaged in conversation with him too.
‘Mr. Britain,’ said the lawyer, putting his hand in his pocket,
and bringing out a legal-looking document, while this was
going on, ‘I congratulate you. You are now the whole and
sole proprietor of that freehold tenement, at present occu-
pied and held by yourself as a licensed tavern, or house of
public entertainment, and commonly called or known by
the sign of the Nutmeg-Grater. Your wife lost one house,
through my client Mr. Michael Warden; and now gains an-
other. I shall have the pleasure of canvassing you for the
The Battle of Life
county, one of these fine mornings.’
‘Would it make any difference in the vote if the sign was
altered, sir?’ asked Britain.
‘Not in the least,’ replied the lawyer.
‘Then,’ said Mr. Britain, handing him back the conveyance,
‘just clap in the words, “and Thimble,” will you be so good;
and I’ll have the two mottoes painted up in the parlour
instead of my wife’s portrait.’
‘And let me,’ said a voice behind them; it was the stranger’s
— Michael Warden’s; ‘let me claim the benefit of those in-
scriptions. Mr. Heathfield and Dr. Jeddler, I might have deeply
wronged you both. That I did not, is no virtue of my own. I
will not say that I am six years wiser than I was, or better.
But I have known, at any rate, that term of self-reproach. I
can urge no reason why you should deal gently with me. I
abused the hospitality of this house; and learnt by my own
demerits, with a shame I never have forgotten, yet with
some profit too, I would fain hope, from one,’ he glanced at
Marion, ‘to whom I made my humble supplication for for-
giveness, when I knew her merit and my deep unworthiness.
In a few days I shall quit this place for ever. I entreat your
pardon. Do as you would be done by! Forget and Forgive!’
Time ¾ from whom I had the latter portion of this story,
and with whom I have the pleasure of a personal acquain-
tance of some five-and-thirty years’ duration
me, leaning easily upon his scythe, that Michael Warden
never went away again, and never sold his house, but opened
it afresh, maintained a golden means of hospitality, and had
a wife, the pride and honour of that countryside, whose
name was Marion. But, as I have observed that Time con-
fuses facts occasionally, I hardly know what weight to give
to his authority.
The Battle of Life