by Charles Dickens
Public Domain Books
’Tom waited so long, gentlemen, that he began to think it must be getting on for midnight at least, and felt more dismal and lonely than ever he had done in all his life. He tried every means of whiling away the time, but it never had seemed to move so slow. First, he took a nearer view of the child with three heads, and thought what a comfort it must have been to his parents. Then he looked up a long telescope which was pointed out of the window, but saw nothing particular, in consequence of the stopper being on at the other end. Then he came to a skeleton in a glass case, labelled, “Skeleton of a Gentleman - prepared by Mr. Mooney,” - which made him hope that Mr. Mooney might not be in the habit of preparing gentlemen that way without their own consent. A hundred times, at least, he looked into the pot where they were boiling the philosopher’s stone down to the proper consistency, and wondered whether it was nearly done. “When it is,” thinks Tom, “I’ll send out for six-penn’orth of sprats, and turn ’em into gold fish for a first experiment.” Besides which, he made up his mind, gentlemen, to have a country-house and a park; and to plant a bit of it with a double row of gas-lamps a mile long, and go out every night with a French-polished mahogany ladder, and two servants in livery behind him, to light ’em for his own pleasure.
’At length and at last, the old gentleman’s legs appeared upon the steps leading through the roof, and he came slowly down: bringing along with him, the gifted Mooney. This Mooney, gentlemen, was even more scientific in appearance than his friend; and had, as Tom often declared upon his word and honour, the dirtiest face we can possibly know of, in this imperfect state of existence.
’Gentlemen, you are all aware that if a scientific man isn’t absent in his mind, he’s of no good at all. Mr. Mooney was so absent, that when the old gentleman said to him, “Shake hands with Mr. Grig,” he put out his leg. “Here’s a mind, Mr. Grig!” cries the old gentleman in a rapture. “Here’s philosophy! Here’s rumination! Don’t disturb him,” he says, “for this is amazing!”
’Tom had no wish to disturb him, having nothing particular to say; but he was so uncommonly amazing, that the old gentleman got impatient, and determined to give him an electric shock to bring him to - “for you must know, Mr. Grig,” he says, “that we always keep a strongly charged battery, ready for that purpose.” These means being resorted to, gentlemen, the gifted Mooney revived with a loud roar, and he no sooner came to himself than both he and the old gentleman looked at Tom with compassion, and shed tears abundantly.
’"My dear friend,” says the old gentleman to the Gifted, “prepare him.”
’"I say,” cries Tom, falling back, “none of that, you know. No preparing by Mr. Mooney if you please.”
’"Alas!” replies the old gentleman, “you don’t understand us. My friend, inform him of his fate. - I can’t.”
’The Gifted mustered up his voice, after many efforts, and informed Tom that his nativity had been carefully cast, and he would expire at exactly thirty-five minutes, twenty-seven seconds, and five- sixths of a second past nine o’clock, a.m., on that day two months.
’Gentlemen, I leave you to judge what were Tom’s feelings at this announcement, on the eve of matrimony and endless riches. “I think,” he says in a trembling voice, “there must be a mistake in the working of that sum. Will you do me the favour to cast it up again?” - “There is no mistake,” replies the old gentleman, “it is confirmed by Francis Moore, Physician. Here is the prediction for to-morrow two months.” And he showed him the page, where sure enough were these words - “The decease of a great person may be looked for, about this time.”
’"Which,” says the old gentleman, “is clearly you, Mr. Grig.”
’"Too clearly,” cries Tom, sinking into a chair, and giving one hand to the old gentleman, and one to the Gifted. “The orb of day has set on Thomas Grig for ever!”
’At this affecting remark, the Gifted shed tears again, and the other two mingled their tears with his, in a kind - if I may use the expression - of Mooney and Co.’s entire. But the old gentleman recovering first, observed that this was only a reason for hastening the marriage, in order that Tom’s distinguished race might be transmitted to posterity; and requesting the Gifted to console Mr. Grig during his temporary absence, he withdrew to settle the preliminaries with his niece immediately.
’And now, gentlemen, a very extraordinary and remarkable occurrence took place; for as Tom sat in a melancholy way in one chair, and the Gifted sat in a melancholy way in another, a couple of doors were thrown violently open, the two young ladies rushed in, and one knelt down in a loving attitude at Tom’s feet, and the other at the Gifted’s. So far, perhaps, as Tom was concerned - as he used to say - you will say there was nothing strange in this: but you will be of a different opinion when you understand that Tom’s young lady was kneeling to the Gifted, and the Gifted’s young lady was kneeling to Tom.
’"Halloa! stop a minute!” cries Tom; “here’s a mistake. I need condoling with by sympathising woman, under my afflicting circumstances; but we’re out in the figure. Change partners, Mooney.”
’"Monster!” cries Tom’s young lady, clinging to the Gifted.
’"Miss!” says Tom. “Is that your manners?”
’"I abjure thee!” cries Tom’s young lady. “I renounce thee. I never will be thine. Thou,” she says to the Gifted, “art the object of my first and all-engrossing passion. Wrapt in thy sublime visions, thou hast not perceived my love; but, driven to despair, I now shake off the woman and avow it. Oh, cruel, cruel man!” With which reproach she laid her head upon the Gifted’s breast, and put her arms about him in the tenderest manner possible, gentlemen.
’"And I,” says the other young lady, in a sort of ecstasy, that made Tom start - “I hereby abjure my chosen husband too. Hear me, Goblin!” - this was to the Gifted - “Hear me! I hold thee in the deepest detestation. The maddening interview of this one night has filled my soul with love - but not for thee. It is for thee, for thee, young man,” she cries to Tom. “As Monk Lewis finely observes, Thomas, Thomas, I am thine, Thomas, Thomas, thou art mine: thine for ever, mine for ever!” with which words, she became very tender likewise.
’Tom and the Gifted, gentlemen, as you may believe, looked at each other in a very awkward manner, and with thoughts not at all complimentary to the two young ladies. As to the Gifted, I have heard Tom say often, that he was certain he was in a fit, and had it inwardly.
’"Speak to me! Oh, speak to me!” cries Tom’s young lady to the Gifted.
’"I don’t want to speak to anybody,” he says, finding his voice at last, and trying to push her away. “I think I had better go. I’m - I’m frightened,” he says, looking about as if he had lost something.
’"Not one look of love!” she cries. “Hear me while I declare - “
’"I don’t know how to look a look of love,” he says, all in a maze. “Don’t declare anything. I don’t want to hear anybody.”
’"That’s right!” cries the old gentleman (who it seems had been listening). “That’s right! Don’t hear her. Emma shall marry you to-morrow, my friend, whether she likes it or not, and SHE shall marry Mr. Grig.”
’Gentlemen, these words were no sooner out of his mouth than Galileo Isaac Newton Flamstead (who it seems had been listening too) darts in, and spinning round and round, like a young giant’s top, cries, “Let her. Let her. I’m fierce; I’m furious. I give her leave. I’ll never marry anybody after this - never. It isn’t safe. She is the falsest of the false,” he cries, tearing his hair and gnashing his teeth; “and I’ll live and die a bachelor!”
’"The little boy,” observed the Gifted gravely, “albeit of tender years, has spoken wisdom. I have been led to the contemplation of woman-kind, and will not adventure on the troubled waters of matrimony.”
’"What!” says the old gentleman, “not marry my daughter! Won’t you, Mooney? Not if I make her? Won’t you? Won’t you?”
’"No,” says Mooney, “I won’t. And if anybody asks me any more, I’ll run away, and never come back again.”
’"Mr. Grig,” says the old gentleman, “the stars must be obeyed. You have not changed your mind because of a little girlish folly - eh, Mr. Grig?”
’Tom, gentlemen, had had his eyes about him, and was pretty sure that all this was a device and trick of the waiting-maid, to put him off his inclination. He had seen her hiding and skipping about the two doors, and had observed that a very little whispering from her pacified the Salamander directly. “So,” thinks Tom, “this is a plot - but it won’t fit.”
’"Eh, Mr. Grig?” says the old gentleman.
’"Why, Sir,” says Tom, pointing to the crucible, “if the soup’s nearly ready - “
’"Another hour beholds the consummation of our labours,” returned the old gentleman.
’"Very good,” says Tom, with a mournful air. “It’s only for two months, but I may as well be the richest man in the world even for that time. I’m not particular, I’ll take her, Sir. I’ll take her.”
’The old gentleman was in a rapture to find Tom still in the same mind, and drawing the young lady towards him by little and little, was joining their hands by main force, when all of a sudden, gentlemen, the crucible blows up, with a great crash; everybody screams; the room is filled with smoke; and Tom, not knowing what may happen next, throws himself into a Fancy attitude, and says, “Come on, if you’re a man!” without addressing himself to anybody in particular.
’"The labours of fifteen years!” says the old gentleman, clasping his hands and looking down upon the Gifted, who was saving the pieces, “are destroyed in an instant!” - And I am told, gentlemen, by-the-bye, that this same philosopher’s stone would have been discovered a hundred times at least, to speak within bounds, if it wasn’t for the one unfortunate circumstance that the apparatus always blows up, when it’s on the very point of succeeding.
’Tom turns pale when he hears the old gentleman expressing himself to this unpleasant effect, and stammers out that if it’s quite agreeable to all parties, he would like to know exactly what has happened, and what change has really taken place in the prospects of that company.
’"We have failed for the present, Mr. Grig,” says the old gentleman, wiping his forehead. “And I regret it the more, because I have in fact invested my niece’s five thousand pounds in this glorious speculation. But don’t be cast down,” he says, anxiously - “in another fifteen years, Mr. Grig - “
“Oh!” cries Tom, letting the young lady’s hand fall. “Were the stars very positive about this union, Sir?”
’"They were,” says the old gentleman.
’"I’m sorry to hear it,” Tom makes answer, “for it’s no go, Sir.”
’"No what!” cries the old gentleman.
’"Go, Sir,” says Tom, fiercely. “I forbid the banns.” And with these words - which are the very words he used - he sat himself down in a chair, and, laying his head upon the table, thought with a secret grief of what was to come to pass on that day two months.
’Tom always said, gentlemen, that that waiting-maid was the artfullest minx he had ever seen; and he left it in writing in this country when he went to colonize abroad, that he was certain in his own mind she and the Salamander had blown up the philosopher’s stone on purpose, and to cut him out of his property. I believe Tom was in the right, gentlemen; but whether or no, she comes forward at this point, and says, “May I speak, Sir?” and the old gentleman answering, “Yes, you may,” she goes on to say that “the stars are no doubt quite right in every respect, but Tom is not the man.” And she says, “Don’t you remember, Sir, that when the clock struck five this afternoon, you gave Master Galileo a rap on the head with your telescope, and told him to get out of the way?" “Yes, I do,” says the old gentleman. “Then,” says the waiting- maid, “I say he’s the man, and the prophecy is fulfilled.” The old gentleman staggers at this, as if somebody had hit him a blow on the chest, and cries, “He! why he’s a boy!” Upon that, gentlemen, the Salamander cries out that he’ll be twenty-one next Lady-day; and complains that his father has always been so busy with the sun round which the earth revolves, that he has never taken any notice of the son that revolves round him; and that he hasn’t had a new suit of clothes since he was fourteen; and that he wasn’t even taken out of nankeen frocks and trousers till he was quite unpleasant in ’em; and touches on a good many more family matters to the same purpose. To make short of a long story, gentlemen, they all talk together, and cry together, and remind the old gentleman that as to the noble family, his own grandfather would have been lord mayor if he hadn’t died at a dinner the year before; and they show him by all kinds of arguments that if the cousins are married, the prediction comes true every way. At last, the old gentleman being quite convinced, gives in; and joins their hands; and leaves his daughter to marry anybody she likes; and they are all well pleased; and the Gifted as well as any of them.
’In the middle of this little family party, gentlemen, sits Tom all the while, as miserable as you like. But, when everything else is arranged, the old gentleman’s daughter says, that their strange conduct was a little device of the waiting-maid’s to disgust the lovers he had chosen for ’em, and will he forgive her? and if he will, perhaps he might even find her a husband - and when she says that, she looks uncommon hard at Tom. Then the waiting-maid says that, oh dear! she couldn’t abear Mr. Grig should think she wanted him to marry her; and that she had even gone so far as to refuse the last lamplighter, who was now a literary character (having set up as a bill-sticker); and that she hoped Mr. Grig would not suppose she was on her last legs by any means, for the baker was very strong in his attentions at that moment, and as to the butcher, he was frantic. And I don’t know how much more she might have said, gentlemen (for, as you know, this kind of young women are rare ones to talk), if the old gentleman hadn’t cut in suddenly, and asked Tom if he’d have her, with ten pounds to recompense him for his loss of time and disappointment, and as a kind of bribe to keep the story secret.
’"It don’t much matter, Sir,” says Tom, “I ain’t long for this world. Eight weeks of marriage, especially with this young woman, might reconcile me to my fate. I think,” he says, “I could go off easy after that.” With which he embraces her with a very dismal face, and groans in a way that might move a heart of stone - even of philosopher’s stone.
’"Egad,” says the old gentleman, “that reminds me - this bustle put it out of my head - there was a figure wrong. He’ll live to a green old age - eighty-seven at least!”
’"How much, Sir?” cries Tom.
’"Eighty-seven!” says the old gentleman.
’Without another word, Tom flings himself on the old gentleman’s neck; throws up his hat; cuts a caper; defies the waiting-maid; and refers her to the butcher.
’"You won’t marry her!” says the old gentleman, angrily.
’"And live after it!” says Tom. “I’d sooner marry a mermaid with a small-tooth comb and looking-glass.”
’"Then take the consequences,” says the other.
’With those words - I beg your kind attention here, gentlemen, for it’s worth your notice - the old gentleman wetted the forefinger of his right hand in some of the liquor from the crucible that was spilt on the floor, and drew a small triangle on Tom’s forehead. The room swam before his eyes, and he found himself in the watch- house.’
’Found himself where?’ cried the vice, on behalf of the company generally.
’In the watch-house,’ said the chairman. ’It was late at night, and he found himself in the very watch-house from which he had been let out that morning.’
’Did he go home?’ asked the vice.
’The watch-house people rather objected to that,’ said the chairman; ’so he stopped there that night, and went before the magistrate in the morning. “Why, you’re here again, are you?” says the magistrate, adding insult to injury; “we’ll trouble you for five shillings more, if you can conveniently spare the money.” Tom told him he had been enchanted, but it was of no use. He told the contractors the same, but they wouldn’t believe him. It was very hard upon him, gentlemen, as he often said, for was it likely he’d go and invent such a tale? They shook their heads and told him he’d say anything but his prayers - as indeed he would; there’s no doubt about that. It was the only imputation on his moral character that ever I heard of.’