Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
OF AN EDUCATIONAL CHARACTER
The school at which young Charley Hexam had first learned from
a book--the streets being, for pupils of his degree, the great
Preparatory Establishment in which very much that is never
unlearned is learned without and before book--was a miserable
loft in an unsavoury yard. Its atmosphere was oppressive and
disagreeable; it was crowded, noisy, and confusing; half the pupils
dropped asleep, or fell into a state of waking stupefaction; the
other half kept them in either condition by maintaining a
monotonous droning noise, as if they were performing, out of time
and tune, on a ruder sort of bagpipe. The teachers, animated
solely by good intentions, had no idea of execution, and a
lamentable jumble was the upshot of their kind endeavours.
It was a school for all ages, and for both sexes. The latter were
kept apart, and the former were partitioned off into square
assortments. But, all the place was pervaded by a grimly
ludicrous pretence that every pupil was childish and innocent.
This pretence, much favoured by the lady-visitors, led to the
ghastliest absurdities. Young women old in the vices of the
commonest and worst life, were expected to profess themselves
enthralled by the good child's book, the Adventures of Little
Margery, who resided in the village cottage by the mill; severely
reproved and morally squashed the miller, when she was five and
he was fifty; divided her porridge with singing birds; denied
herself a new nankeen bonnet, on the ground that the turnips did
not wear nankeen bonnets, neither did the sheep who ate them;
who plaited straw and delivered the dreariest orations to all
comers, at all sorts of unseasonable times. So, unwieldy young
dredgers and hulking mudlarks were referred to the experiences of
Thomas Twopence, who, having resolved not to rob (under
circumstances of uncommon atrocity) his particular friend and
benefactor, of eighteenpence, presently came into supernatural
possession of three and sixpence, and lived a shining light ever
afterwards. (Note, that the benefactor came to no good.) Several
swaggering sinners had written their own biographies in the same
strain; it always appearing from the lessons of those very boastful
persons, that you were to do good, not because it WAS good, but
because you were to make a good thing of it. Contrariwise, the
adult pupils were taught to read (if they could learn) out of the
New Testament; and by dint of stumbling over the syllables and
keeping their bewildered eyes on the particular syllables coming
round to their turn, were as absolutely ignorant of the sublime
history, as if they had never seen or heard of it. An exceedingly
and confoundingly perplexing jumble of a school, in fact, where
black spirits and grey, red spirits and white, jumbled jumbled
jumbled jumbled, jumbled every night. And particularly every
Sunday night. For then, an inclined plane of unfortunate infants
would be handed over to the prosiest and worst of all the teachers
with good intentions, whom nobody older would endure. Who,
taking his stand on the floor before them as chief executioner,
would be attended by a conventional volunteer boy as
executioner's assistant. When and where it first became the
conventional system that a weary or inattentive infant in a class
must have its face smoothed downward with a hot hand, or when
and where the conventional volunteer boy first beheld such
system in operation, and became inflamed with a sacred zeal to
administer it, matters not. It was the function of the chief
executioner to hold forth, and it was the function of the acolyte to
dart at sleeping infants, yawning infants, restless infants,
whimpering infants, and smooth their wretched faces; sometimes
with one hand, as if he were anointing them for a whisker;
sometimes with both hands, applied after the fashion of blinkers.
And so the jumble would be in action in this department for a
mortal hour; the exponent drawling on to My Dearert
Childerrenerr, let us say, for example, about the beautiful coming
to the Sepulchre; and repeating the word Sepulchre (commonly
used among infants) five hundred times, and never once hinting
what it meant; the conventional boy smoothing away right and
left, as an infallible commentary; the whole hot-bed of flushed and
exhausted infants exchanging measles, rashes, whooping-cough,
fever, and stomach disorders, as if they were assembled in High
Market for the purpose.
Even in this temple of good intentions, an exceptionally sharp boy
exceptionally determined to learn, could learn something, and,
having learned it, could impart it much better than the teachers; as
being more knowing than they, and not at the disadvantage in
which they stood towards the shrewder pupils. In this way it had
come about that Charley Hexam had risen in the jumble, taught in
the jumble, and been received from the jumble into a better
'So you want to go and see your sister, Hexam?'
'If you please, Mr Headstone.'
'I have half a mind to go with you. Where does your sister live?'
'Why, she is not settled yet, Mr Headstone. I'd rather you didn't
see her till she is settled, if it was all the same to you.'
'Look here, Hexam.' Mr Bradley Headstone, highly certificated
stipendiary schoolmaster, drew his right forefinger through one of
the buttonholes of the boy's coat, and looked at it attentively. 'I
hope your sister may be good company for you?'
'Why do you doubt it, Mr Headstone?'
'I did not say I doubted it.'
'No, sir; you didn't say so.'
Bradley Headstone looked at his finger again, took it out of the
buttonhole and looked at it closer, bit the side of it and looked at it
'You see, Hexam, you will be one of us. In good time you are sure
to pass a creditable examination and become one of us. Then the
The boy waited so long for the question, while the schoolmaster
looked at a new side of his finger, and bit it, and looked at it again,
that at length the boy repeated:
'The question is, sir--?'
'Whether you had not better leave well alone.'
'Is it well to leave my sister alone, Mr Headstone?'
'I do not say so, because I do not know. I put it to you. I ask you
to think of it. I want you to consider. You know how well you
are doing here.'
'After all, she got me here,' said the boy, with a struggle.
'Perceiving the necessity of it,' acquiesced the schoolmaster, 'and
making up her mind fully to the separation. Yes.'
The boy, with a return of that former reluctance or struggle or
whatever it was, seemed to debate with himself. At length he
said, raising his eyes to the master's face:
'I wish you'd come with me and see her, Mr Headstone, though
she is not settled. I wish you'd come with me, and take her in the
rough, and judge her for yourself.'
'You are sure you would not like,' asked the schoolmaster, 'to
'My sister Lizzie,' said the boy, proudly, 'wants no preparing, Mr
Headstone. What she is, she is, and shows herself to be. There's
no pretending about my sister.'
His confidence in her, sat more easily upon him than the
indecision with which he had twice contended. It was his better
nature to be true to her, if it were his worse nature to be wholly
selfish. And as yet the better nature had the stronger hold.
'Well, I can spare the evening,' said the schoolmaster. 'I am ready
to walk with you.'
'Thank you, Mr Headstone. And I am ready to go.'
Bradley Headstone, in his decent black coat and waistcoat, and
decent white shirt, and decent formal black tie, and decent
pantaloons of pepper and salt, with his decent silver watch in his
pocket and its decent hair-guard round his neck, looked a
thoroughly decent young man of six-and-twenty. He was never
seen in any other dress, and yet there was a certain stiffness in his
manner of wearing this, as if there were a want of adaptation
between him and it, recalling some mechanics in their holiday
clothes. He had acquired mechanically a great store of teacher's
knowledge. He could do mental arithmetic mechanically, sing at
sight mechanically, blow various wind instruments mechanically,
even play the great church organ mechanically. From his early
childhood up, his mind had been a place of mechanical stowage.
The arrangement of his wholesale warehouse, so that it might be
always ready to meet the demands of retail dealers history here,
geography there, astronomy to the right, political economy to the
left--natural history, the physical sciences, figures, music, the
lower mathematics, and what not, all in their several places--this
care had imparted to his countenance a look of care; while the
habit of questioning and being questioned had given him a
suspicious manner, or a manner that would be better described as
one of lying in wait. There was a kind of settled trouble in the
face. It was the face belonging to a naturally slow or inattentive
intellect that had toiled hard to get what it had won, and that had
to hold it now that it was gotten. He always seemed to be uneasy
lest anything should be missing from his mental warehouse, and
taking stock to assure himself.
Suppression of so much to make room for so much, had given him
a constrained manner, over and above. Yet there was enough of
what was animal, and of what was fiery (though smouldering), still
visible in him, to suggest that if young Bradley Headstone, when a
pauper lad, had chanced to be told off for the sea, he would not
have been the last man in a ship's crew. Regarding that origin of
his, he was proud, moody, and sullen, desiring it to be forgotten.
And few people knew of it.
In some visits to the Jumble his attention had been attracted to this
boy Hexam. An undeniable boy for a pupil-teacher; an
undeniable boy to do credit to the master who should bring him
on. Combined with this consideration, there may have been some
thought of the pauper lad now never to be mentioned. Be that
how it might, he had with pains gradually worked the boy into his
own school, and procured him some offices to discharge there,
which were repaid with food and lodging. Such were the
circumstances that had brought together, Bradley Headstone and
young Charley Hexam that autumn evening. Autumn, because
full half a year had come and gone since the bird of prey lay dead
upon the river-shore.
The schools--for they were twofold, as the sexes--were down in
that district of the flat country tending to the Thames, where Kent
and Surrey meet, and where the railways still bestride the market-
gardens that will soon die under them. The schools were newly
built, and there were so many like them all over the country, that
one might have thought the whole were but one restless edifice
with the locomotive gift of Aladdin's palace. They were in a
neighbourhood which looked like a toy neighbourhood taken in
blocks out of a box by a child of particularly incoherent mind, and
set up anyhow; here, one side of a new street; there, a large
solitary public-house facing nowhere; here, another unfinished
street already in ruins; there, a church; here, an immense new
warehouse; there, a dilapidated old country villa; then, a medley
of black ditch, sparkling cucumber-frame, rank field, richly
cultivated kitchen-garden, brick viaduct, arch-spanned canal, and
disorder of frowziness and fog. As if the child had given the table
a kick, and gone to sleep.
But, even among school-buildings, school-teachers, and school-
pupils, all according to pattern and all engendered in the light of
the latest Gospel according to Monotony, the older pattern into
which so many fortunes have been shaped for good and evil,
comes out. It came out in Miss Peecher the schoolmistress,
watering her flowers, as Mr Bradley Headstone walked forth. It
came out in Miss Peecher the schoolmistress, watering the flowers
in the little dusty bit of garden attached to her small official
residence, with little windows like the eyes in needles, and little
doors like the covers of school-books.
Small, shining, neat, methodical, and buxom was Miss Peecher;
cherry-cheeked and tuneful of voice. A little pincushion, a little
housewife, a little book, a little workbox, a little set of tables and
weights and measures, and a little woman, all in one. She could
write a little essay on any subject, exactly a slate long, beginning
at the left-hand top of one side and ending at the right-hand
bottom of the other, and the essay should be strictly according to
rule. If Mr Bradley Headstone had addressed a written proposal
of marriage to her, she would probably have replied in a complete
little essay on the theme exactly a slate long, but would certainly
have replied Yes. For she loved him. The decent hair-guard that
went round his neck and took care of his decent silver watch was
an object of envy to her. So would Miss Peecher have gone round
his neck and taken care of him. Of him, insensible. Because he
did not love Miss Peecher.
Miss Peecher's favourite pupil, who assisted her in her little
household, was in attendance with a can of water to replenish her
little watering-pot, and sufficiently divined the state of Miss
Peecher's affections to feel it necessary that she herself should
love young Charley Hexam. So, there was a double palpitation
among the double stocks and double wall-flowers, when the
master and the boy looked over the little gate.
'A fine evening, Miss Peecher,' said the Master.
'A very fine evening, Mr Headstone,' said Miss Peecher. 'Are you
taking a walk?'
'Hexam and I are going to take a long walk.'
'Charming weather,' remarked Miss Peecher, FOR a long walk.'
'Ours is rather on business than mere pleasure,' said the Master.
Miss Peecher inverting her watering-pot, and very carefully
shaking out the few last drops over a flower, as if there were some
special virtue in them which would make it a Jack's beanstalk
before morning, called for replenishment to her pupil, who had
been speaking to the boy.
'Good-night, Miss Peecher,' said the Master.
'Good-night, Mr Headstone,' said the Mistress.
The pupil had been, in her state of pupilage, so imbued with the
class-custom of stretching out an arm, as if to hail a cab or
omnibus, whenever she found she had an observation on hand to
offer to Miss Peecher, that she often did it in their domestic
relations; and she did it now.
'Well, Mary Anne?' said Miss Peecher.
'If you please, ma'am, Hexam said they were going to see his
'But that can't be, I think,' returned Miss Peecher: 'because Mr
Headstone can have no business with HER.'
Mary Anne again hailed.
'Well, Mary Anne?'
'If you please, ma'am, perhaps it's Hexam's business?'
'That may be,' said Miss Peecher. 'I didn't think of that. Not that
it matters at all.'
Mary Anne again hailed.
'Well, Mary Anne?'
'They say she's very handsome.'
'Oh, Mary Anne, Mary Anne!' returned Miss Peecher, slightly
colouring and shaking her head, a little out of humour; 'how often
have I told you not to use that vague expression, not to speak in
that general way? When you say THEY say, what do you mean?
Part of speech They?'
Mary Anne hooked her right arm behind her in her left hand, as
being under examination, and replied:
'Then how many do you mean, Mary Anne? Two? Or more?'
'I beg your pardon, ma'am,' said Mary Anne, disconcerted now she
came to think of it; 'but I don't know that I mean more than her
brother himself.' As she said it, she unhooked her arm.
'I felt convinced of it,' returned Miss Peecher, smiling again. 'Now
pray, Mary Anne, be careful another time. He says is very
different from they say, remember. Difference between he says
and they say? Give it me.'
Mary Anne immediately hooked her right arm behind her in her
left hand--an attitude absolutely necessary to the situation--and
replied: 'One is indicative mood, present tense, third person
singular, verb active to say. Other is indicative mood, present
tense, third person plural, verb active to say.'
'Why verb active, Mary Anne?'
'Because it takes a pronoun after it in the objective case, Miss
'Very good indeed,' remarked Miss Peecher, with encouragement.
'In fact, could not be better. Don't forget to apply it, another time,
Mary Anne.' This said, Miss Peecher finished the watering of her
flowers, and went into her little official residence, and took a
refresher of the principal rivers and mountains of the world, their
breadths, depths, and heights, before settling the measurements of
the body of a dress for her own personal occupation.
Bradley Headstone and Charley Hexam duly got to the Surrey
side of Westminster Bridge, and crossed the bridge, and made
along the Middlesex shore towards Millbank. In this region are a
certain little street called Church Street, and a certain little blind
square, called Smith Square, in the centre of which last retreat is a
very hideous church with four towers at the four corners,
generally resembling some petrified monster, frightful and
gigantic, on its back with its legs in the air. They found a tree near
by in a corner, and a blacksmith's forge, and a timber yard, and a
dealer's in old iron. What a rusty portion of a boiler and a great
iron wheel or so meant by lying half-buried in the dealer's fore-
court, nobody seemed to know or to want to know. Like the
Miller of questionable jollity in the song, They cared for Nobody,
no not they, and Nobody cared for them.
After making the round of this place, and noting that there was a
deadly kind of repose on it, more as though it had taken laudanum
than fallen into a natural rest, they stopped at the point where the
street and the square joined, and where there were some little
quiet houses in a row. To these Charley Hexam finally led the
way, and at one of these stopped.
'This must be where my sister lives, sir. This is where she came
for a temporary lodging, soon after father's death.'
'How often have you seen her since?'
'Why, only twice, sir,' returned the boy, with his former
reluctance; 'but that's as much her doing as mine.'
'How does she support herself?'
'She was always a fair needlewoman, and she keeps the stockroom
of a seaman's outfitter.'
'Does she ever work at her own lodging here?'
'Sometimes; but her regular hours and regular occupation are at
their place of business, I believe, sir. This is the number.'
The boy knocked at a door, and the door promptly opened with a
spring and a click. A parlour door within a small entry stood
open, and disclosed a child--a dwarf--a girl--a something--sitting
on a little low old-fashioned arm-chair, which had a kind of little
working bench before it.
'I can't get up,' said the child, 'because my back's bad, and my legs
are queer. But I'm the person of the house.'
'Who else is at home?' asked Charley Hexam, staring.
'Nobody's at home at present,' returned the child, with a glib
assertion of her dignity, 'except the person of the house. What did
you want, young man?'
'I wanted to see my sister.'
'Many young men have sisters,' returned the child. 'Give me your
name, young man?'
The queer little figure, and the queer but not ugly little face, with
its bright grey eyes, were so sharp, that the sharpness of the
manner seemed unavoidable. As if, being turned out of that
mould, it must be sharp.
'Hexam is my name.'
'Ah, indeed?' said the person of the house. 'I thought it might be.
Your sister will be in, in about a quarter of an hour. I am very
fond of your sister. She's my particular friend. Take a seat. And
this gentleman's name?'
'Mr Headstone, my schoolmaster.'
'Take a seat. And would you please to shut the street door first? I
can't very well do it myself; because my back's so bad, and my
legs are so queer.'
They complied in silence, and the little figure went on with its
work of gumming or gluing together with a camel's-hair brush
certain pieces of cardboard and thin wood, previously cut into
various shapes. The scissors and knives upon the bench showed
that the child herself had cut them; and the bright scraps of velvet
and silk and ribbon also strewn upon the bench showed that when
duly stuffed (and stuffing too was there), she was to cover them
smartly. The dexterity of her nimble fingers was remarkable, and,
as she brought two thin edges accurately together by giving them a
little bite, she would glance at the visitors out of the corners of her
grey eyes with a look that out-sharpened all her other sharpness.
'You can't tell me the name of my trade, I'll be bound,' she said,
after taking several of these observations.
'You make pincushions,' said Charley.
'What else do I make?'
'Pen-wipers,' said Bradley Headstone.
'Ha! ha! What else do I make? You're a schoolmaster, but you
can't tell me.'
'You do something,' he returned, pointing to a corner of the little
bench, 'with straw; but I don't know what.'
'Well done you!' cried the person of the house. 'I only make
pincushions and pen-wipers, to use up my waste. But my straw
really does belong to my business. Try again. What do I make
with my straw?'
'A schoolmaster, and says dinner-mats! I'll give you a clue to my
trade, in a game of forfeits. I love my love with a B because she's
Beautiful; I hate my love with a B because she is Brazen; I took
her to the sign of the Blue Boar, and I treated her with Bonnets;
her name's Bouncer, and she lives in Bedlam.--Now, what do I
make with my straw?'
'Fine ladies',' said the person of the house, nodding assent. 'Dolls'.
I'm a Doll's Dressmaker.'
'I hope it's a good business?'
The person of the house shrugged her shoulders and shook her
head. 'No. Poorly paid. And I'm often so pressed for time! I had
a doll married, last week, and was obliged to work all night. And
it's not good for me, on account of my back being so bad and my
legs so queer.'
They looked at the little creature with a wonder that did not
diminish, and the schoolmaster said: 'I am sorry your fine ladies
are so inconsiderate.'
'It's the way with them,' said the person of the house, shrugging
her shoulders again. 'And they take no care of their clothes, and
they never keep to the same fashions a month. I work for a doll
with three daughters. Bless you, she's enough to ruin her
husband!' The person of the house gave a weird little laugh here,
and gave them another look out of the corners of her eyes. She
had an elfin chin that was capable of great expression; and
whenever she gave this look, she hitched this chin up. As if her
eyes and her chin worked together on the same wires.
'Are you always as busy as you are now?'
'Busier. I'm slack just now. I finished a large mourning order the
day before yesterday. Doll I work for, lost a canary-bird.' The
person of the house gave another little laugh, and then nodded her
head several times, as who should moralize, 'Oh this world, this
'Are you alone all day?' asked Bradley Headstone. 'Don't any of
the neighbouring children--?'
'Ah, lud!' cried the person of the house, with a little scream, as if
the word had pricked her. 'Don't talk of children. I can't bear
children. I know their tricks and their manners.' She said this with
an angry little shake of her tight fist close before her eyes.
Perhaps it scarcely required the teacher-habit, to perceive that the
doll's dressmaker was inclined to be bitter on the difference
between herself and other children. But both master and pupil
understood it so.
'Always running about and screeching, always playing and
fighting, always skip-skip-skipping on the pavement and chalking
it for their games! Oh! I know their tricks and their manners!'
Shaking the little fist as before. 'And that's not all. Ever so often
calling names in through a person's keyhole, and imitating a
person's back and legs. Oh! I know their tricks and their manners.
And I'll tell you what I'd do, to punish 'em. There's doors under
the church in the Square--black doors, leading into black vaults.
Well! I'd open one of those doors, and I'd cram 'em all in, and
then I'd lock the door and through the keyhole I'd blow in pepper.'
'What would be the good of blowing in pepper?' asked Charley
'To set 'em sneezing,' said the person of the house, 'and make their
eyes water. And when they were all sneezing and inflamed, I'd
mock 'em through the keyhole. Just as they, with their tricks and
their manners, mock a person through a person's keyhole!'
An uncommonly emphatic shake of her little fist close before her
eyes, seemed to ease the mind of the person of the house; for she
added with recovered composure, 'No, no, no. No children for
me. Give me grown-ups.'
It was difficult to guess the age of this strange creature, for her
poor figure furnished no clue to it, and her face was at once so
young and so old. Twelve, or at the most thirteen, might be near
'I always did like grown-ups,' she went on, 'and always kept
company with them. So sensible. Sit so quiet. Don't go prancing
and capering about! And I mean always to keep among none but
grown-ups till I marry. I suppose I must make up my mind to
marry, one of these days.'
She listened to a step outside that caught her ear, and there was a
soft knock at the door. Pulling at a handle within her reach, she
said, with a pleased laugh: 'Now here, for instance, is a grown-up
that's my particular friend!' and Lizzie Hexam in a black dress
entered the room.
Taking him to her arms in the old way--of which he seemed a little
ashamed--she saw no one else.
'There, there, there, Liz, all right my dear. See! Here's Mr
Headstone come with me.'
Her eyes met those of the schoolmaster, who had evidently
expected to see a very different sort of person, and a murmured
word or two of salutation passed between them. She was a little
flurried by the unexpected visit, and the schoolmaster was not at
his ease. But he never was, quite.
'I told Mr Headstone you were not settled, Liz, but he was so kind
as to take an interest in coming, and so I brought him. How well
Bradley seemed to think so.
'Ah! Don't she, don't she?' cried the person of the house, resuming
her occupation, though the twilight was falling fast. 'I believe you
she does! But go on with your chat, one and all:
You one two three,
And don't mind me.'
--pointing this impromptu rhyme with three points of her thin fore-
'I didn't expect a visit from you, Charley,' said his sister. 'I
supposed that if you wanted to see me you would have sent to me,
appointing me to come somewhere near the school, as I did last
time. I saw my brother near the school, sir,' to Bradley
Headstone, 'because it's easier for me to go there, than for him to
come here. I work about midway between the two places.'
'You don't see much of one another,' said Bradley, not improving
in respect of ease.
'No.' With a rather sad shake of her head. 'Charley always does
well, Mr Headstone?'
'He could not do better. I regard his course as quite plain before
'I hoped so. I am so thankful. So well done of you, Charley dear!
It is better for me not to come (except when he wants me)
between him and his prospects. You think so, Mr Headstone?'
Conscious that his pupil-teacher was looking for his answer, that
he himself had suggested the boy's keeping aloof from this sister,
now seen for the first time face to face, Bradley Headstone
'Your brother is very much occupied, you know. He has to work
hard. One cannot but say that the less his attention is diverted
from his work, the better for his future. When he shall have
established himself, why then--it will be another thing then.'
Lizzie shook her head again, and returned, with a quiet smile: 'I
always advised him as you advise him. Did I not, Charley?'
'Well, never mind that now,' said the boy. 'How are you getting
'Very well, Charley. I want for nothing.'
'You have your own room here?'
'Oh yes. Upstairs. And it's quiet, and pleasant, and airy.'
'And she always has the use of this room for visitors,' said the
person of the house, screwing up one of her little bony fists, like
an opera-glass, and looking through it, with her eyes and her chin
in that quaint accordance. 'Always this room for visitors; haven't
you, Lizzie dear?'
It happened that Bradley Headstone noticed a very slight action of
Lizzie Hexam's hand, as though it checked the doll's dressmaker.
And it happened that the latter noticed him in the same instant; for
she made a double eyeglass of her two hands, looked at him
through it, and cried, with a waggish shake of her head: 'Aha!
Caught you spying, did I?'
It might have fallen out so, any way; but Bradley Headstone also
noticed that immediately after this, Lizzie, who had not taken off
her bonnet, rather hurriedly proposed that as the room was getting
dark they should go out into the air. They went out; the visitors
saying good-night to the doll's dressmaker, whom they left, leaning
back in her chair with her arms crossed, singing to herself in a
sweet thoughtful little voice.
'I'll saunter on by the river,' said Bradley. 'You will be glad to talk
As his uneasy figure went on before them among the evening
shadows, the boy said to his sister, petulantly:
'When are you going to settle yourself in some Christian sort of
place, Liz? I thought you were going to do it before now.'
'I am very well where I am, Charley.'
'Very well where you are! I am ashamed to have brought Mr
Headstone with me. How came you to get into such company as
that little witch's?'
'By chance at first, as it seemed, Charley. But I think it must have
been by something more than chance, for that child--You
remember the bills upon the walls at home?'
'Confound the bills upon the walls at home! I want to forget the
bills upon the walls at home, and it would be better for you to do
the same,' grumbled the boy. 'Well; what of them?'
'This child is the grandchild of the old man.'
'What old man?'
'The terrible drunken old man, in the list slippers and the night-
The boy asked, rubbing his nose in a manner that half expressed
vexation at hearing so much, and half curiosity to hear more: 'How
came you to make that out? What a girl you are!'
'The child's father is employed by the house that employs me;
that's how I came to know it, Charley. The father is like his own
father, a weak wretched trembling creature, falling to pieces,
never sober. But a good workman too, at the work he does. The
mother is dead. This poor ailing little creature has come to be
what she is, surrounded by drunken people from her cradle--if she
ever had one, Charley.'
'I don't see what you have to do with her, for all that,' said the boy.
'Don't you, Charley?'
The boy looked doggedly at the river. They were at Millbank, and
the river rolled on their left. His sister gently touched him on the
shoulder, and pointed to it.
'Any compensation--restitution--never mind the word, you know
my meaning. Father's grave.'
But he did not respond with any tenderness. After a moody
silence he broke out in an ill-used tone:
'It'll be a very hard thing, Liz, if, when I am trying my best to get
up in the world, you pull me back.'
'Yes, you, Liz. Why can't you let bygones be bygones? Why can't
you, as Mr Headstone said to me this very evening about another
matter, leave well alone? What we have got to do, is, to turn our
faces full in our new direction, and keep straight on.'
'And never look back? Not even to try to make some amends?'
'You are such a dreamer,' said the boy, with his former petulance.
'It was all very well when we sat before the fire--when we looked
into the hollow down by the flare--but we are looking into the real
'Ah, we were looking into the real world then, Charley!'
'I understand what you mean by that, but you are not justified in
it. I don't want, as I raise myself to shake you off, Liz. I want to
carry you up with me. That's what I want to do, and mean to do.
I know what I owe you. I said to Mr Headstone this very evening,
"After all, my sister got me here." Well, then. Don't pull me
back, and hold me down. That's all I ask, and surely that's not
She had kept a steadfast look upon him, and she answered with
'I am not here selfishly, Charley. To please myself I could not be
too far from that river.'
'Nor could you be too far from it to please me. Let us get quit of it
equally. Why should you linger about it any more than I? I give it
a wide berth.'
'I can't get away from it, I think,' said Lizzie, passing her hand
across her forehead. 'It's no purpose of mine that I live by it still.'
'There you go, Liz! Dreaming again! You lodge yourself of your
own accord in a house with a drunken--tailor, I suppose--or
something of the sort, and a little crooked antic of a child, or old
person, or whatever it is, and then you talk as if you were drawn
or driven there. Now, do be more practical.'
She had been practical enough with him, in suffering and striving
for him; but she only laid her hand upon his shoulder--not
reproachfully--and tapped it twice or thrice. She had been used to
do so, to soothe him when she carried him about, a child as heavy
as herself. Tears started to his eyes.
'Upon my word, Liz,' drawing the back of his hand across them, 'I
mean to be a good brother to you, and to prove that I know what I
owe you. All I say is, that I hope you'll control your fancies a
little, on my account. I'll get a school, and then you must come
and live with me, and you'll have to control your fancies then, so
why not now? Now, say I haven't vexed you.'
'You haven't, Charley, you haven't.'
'And say I haven't hurt you.'
'You haven't, Charley.' But this answer was less ready.
'Say you are sure I didn't mean to. Come! There's Mr Headstone
stopping and looking over the wall at the tide, to hint that it's time
to go. Kiss me, and tell me that you know I didn't mean to hurt
She told him so, and they embraced, and walked on and came up
with the schoolmaster.
'But we go your sister's way,' he remarked, when the boy told him
he was ready. And with his cumbrous and uneasy action he stiffly
offered her his arm. Her hand was just within it, when she drew it
back. He looked round with a start, as if he thought she had
detected something that repelled her, in the momentary touch.
'I will not go in just yet,' said Lizzie. 'And you have a distance
before you, and will walk faster without me.'
Being by this time close to Vauxhall Bridge, they resolved, in
consequence, to take that way over the Thames, and they left her;
Bradley Headstone giving her his hand at parting, and she
thanking him for his care of her brother.
The master and the pupil walked on, rapidly and silently. They
had nearly crossed the bridge, when a gentleman came coolly
sauntering towards them, with a cigar in his mouth, his coat
thrown back, and his hands behind him. Something in the careless
manner of this person, and in a certain lazily arrogant air with
which he approached, holding possession of twice as much
pavement as another would have claimed, instantly caught the
boy's attention. As the gentleman passed the boy looked at him
narrowly, and then stood still, looking after him.
'Who is it that you stare after?' asked Bradley.
'Why!' said the boy, with a confused and pondering frown upon
his face, 'It IS that Wrayburn one!'
Bradley Headstone scrutinized the boy as closely as the boy had
scrutinized the gentleman.
'I beg your pardon, Mr Headstone, but I couldn't help wondering
what in the world brought HIM here!'
Though he said it as if his wonder were past--at the same time
resuming the walk--it was not lost upon the master that he looked
over his shoulder after speaking, and that the same perplexed and
pondering frown was heavy on his face.
'You don't appear to like your friend, Hexam?'
'I DON'T like him,' said the boy.
'He took hold of me by the chin in a precious impertinent way, the
first time I ever saw him,' said the boy.
'For nothing. Or--it's much the same--because something I
happened to say about my sister didn't happen to please him.'
'Then he knows your sister?'
'He didn't at that time,' said the boy, still moodily pondering.
The boy had so lost himself that he looked at Mr Bradley
Headstone as they walked on side by side, without attempting to
reply until the question had been repeated; then he nodded and
answered, 'Yes, sir.'
'Going to see her, I dare say.'
'It can't be!' said the boy, quickly. 'He doesn't know her well
enough. I should like to catch him at it!'
When they had walked on for a time, more rapidly than before,
the master said, clasping the pupil's arm between the elbow and
the shoulder with his hand:
'You were going to tell me something about that person. What did
you say his name was?'
'Wrayburn. Mr Eugene Wrayburn. He is what they call a
barrister, with nothing to do. The first time be came to our old
place was when my father was alive. He came on business; not
that it was HIS business--HE never had any business--he was
brought by a friend of his.'
'And the other times?'
'There was only one other time that I know of. When my father
was killed by accident, he chanced to be one of the finders. He
was mooning about, I suppose, taking liberties with people's chins;
but there he was, somehow. He brought the news home to my
sister early in the morning, and brought Miss Abbey Potterson, a
neighbour, to help break it to her. He was mooning about the
house when I was fetched home in the afternoon--they didn't
know where to find me till my sister could be brought round
sufficiently to tell them--and then he mooned away.'
'And is that all?'
'That's all, sir.'
Bradley Headstone gradually released the boy's arm, as if he were
thoughtful, and they walked on side by side as before. After a
long silence between them, Bradley resumed the talk.
'I suppose--your sister--' with a curious break both before and
after the words, 'has received hardly any teaching, Hexam?'
'Hardly any, sir.'
'Sacrificed, no doubt, to her father's objections. I remember them
in your case. Yet--your sister--scarcely looks or speaks like an
'Lizzie has as much thought as the best, Mr Headstone. Too
much, perhaps, without teaching. I used to call the fire at home,
her books, for she was always full of fancies--sometimes quite
wise fancies, considering--when she sat looking at it.'
'I don't like that,' said Bradley Headstone.
His pupil was a little surprised by this striking in with so sudden
and decided and emotional an objection, but took it as a proof of
the master's interest in himself. It emboldened him to say:
'I have never brought myself to mention it openly to you, Mr
Headstone, and you're my witness that I couldn't even make up
my mind to take it from you before we came out to-night; but it's a
painful thing to think that if I get on as well as you hope, I shall
be--I won't say disgraced, because I don't mean disgraced—but--
rather put to the blush if it was known--by a sister who has been
very good to me.'
'Yes,' said Bradley Headstone in a slurring way, for his mind
scarcely seemed to touch that point, so smoothly did it glide to
another, 'and there is this possibility to consider. Some man who
had worked his way might come to admire--your sister--and might
even in time bring himself to think of marrying--your sister--and it
would be a sad drawback and a heavy penalty upon him, if;
overcoming in his mind other inequalities of condition and other
considerations against it, this inequality and this consideration
remained in full force.'
'That's much my own meaning, sir.'
'Ay, ay,' said Bradley Headstone, 'but you spoke of a mere
brother. Now, the case I have supposed would be a much stronger
case; because an admirer, a husband, would form the connexion
voluntarily, besides being obliged to proclaim it: which a brother is
not. After all, you know, it must be said of you that you couldn't
help yourself: while it would be said of him, with equal reason,
that he could.'
'That's true, sir. Sometimes since Lizzie was left free by father's
death, I have thought that such a young woman might soon
acquire more than enough to pass muster. And sometimes I have
even thought that perhaps Miss Peecher--'
'For the purpose, I would advise Not Miss Peecher,' Bradley
Headstone struck in with a recurrence of his late decision of
'Would you be so kind as to think of it for me, Mr Headstone?'
'Yes, Hexam, yes. I'll think of it. I'll think maturely of it. I'll think
well of it.'
Their walk was almost a silent one afterwards, until it ended at the
school-house. There, one of neat Miss Peecher's little windows,
like the eyes in needles, was illuminated, and in a corner near it
sat Mary Anne watching, while Miss Peecher at the table stitched
at the neat little body she was making up by brown paper pattern
for her own wearing. N.B. Miss Peecher and Miss Peecher's
pupils were not much encouraged in the unscholastic art of
needlework, by Government.
Mary Anne with her face to the window, held her arm up.
'Well, Mary Anne?'
'Mr Headstone coming home, ma'am.'
In about a minute, Mary Anne again hailed.
'Yes, Mary Anne?'
'Gone in and locked his door, ma'am.'
Miss Peecher repressed a sigh as she gathered her work together
for bed, and transfixed that part of her dress where her heart
would have been if she had had the dress on, with a sharp, sharp
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.