This part is by Nina. Christy, I think you're next, correct?
We, as travelers through the universe of pen and ink, must leave Mr. Guppy in this terrifying force of literary villains to return to the author of all the chaos, Charles Dickens, whom we must admit was feeling very dull and boring in the midst of all the action and personality of his characters. "I always fancied myself as an interesting sort of maverick," he thought, a bit sullenly, as the carriage rumbled dully upon the cobblestone streets, but as he glanced out of the window and saw all the other flesh-and-blood, ordinary people, he felt so much more like one of them—normal, nondescript, commonplace—than he had in decades, since he had first introduced the world to Mr. Pickwick—who just that morning was sitting right across from him, stuffing a pipe! "The world is indeed upside down," Mr. Dickens came to the wise conclusion, when his glance fell upon Miss Betsey Trotwood and her companion, Mr. Dick, shoved into the corner of the cab but looking oddly comfortable.
Miss Betsey hadn't spoken a word, but had sat rigidly throughout Mr. Dickens' reverie. Mr. Dick kept casting furtive glances at Richard, and had attempted to give Jenny an apple he had had in his possession, until she nearly snapped his hand off. Mr. Dickens sighed, not without a tinge of fear for their destination, causing the old lady to rapidly dart her head in his direction.
Mr. Dickens eyed her with an eye that had grown quite tired—and it was only 11 o'clock in the morning. "Well you see, madam, I shall have to explain—you see, I conducted a public reading this morning—"
"And we were read out of the book," Miss Betsey nodded, motioning with her umbrella for him to continue. "Go on."
Mr. Dickens had forgotten the little speech he had neatly composed and was now repeating to any new character he met—he was, in a word, dumbfounded. "You...you understand me? Did someone tell you already?"
"Did someone tell me already?" Miss Betsey repeated, incredulously. "Mr. Dick, did you hear him? As though I haven't five senses and a mind sharp as a razor, and can't figure things out for myself. Read out of a book? Of course! Why else would we instantly be in the middle of London when we were in our sitting room just a minute before, and why would London look so VERY different than we are used to (a great deal dirtier), and all other manner of incredible and unlikely occurrences? Mr. Dick had enough sense to deduce that, didn't you Dick?"
Mr. Dick had been pondering over the sharpness of Jenny Wren, as most little girls wore fine frocks and liked to sew him handkerchiefs and didn't appear to have such a sharp voice as that particular little girl in the carriage did and above all took apples when offered them, and so at Aunt Betsey's question he became entirely flustered and looked as though he had forgotten. "Didn't I deduce it..." Mr. Dick repeated, hazily.
"That we are out of a book, Dick."
"Oh! Oh yes! I deduced that."
Mr. Dickens looked at him rather flatly.
"I've heard of such things in fairy stories," Mr. Dick explained, "and you know, they do REAL things in fairy stories, like eat and drink and get dirty, and so this just seemed possible to me."
"See?" Aunt Betsey smiled fondly at Dick. "Though I did encounter another character—one Nickleby, I believe, who confirmed this belief of ours and who directed us to you (the author, I suppose), who would know where my nephew is."
"Ah," Mr. Dickens nodded, cognizant that the worst of his speech still needed to be conveyed to the stern, stony woman facing him. "Yes. I am very sorry to inform you, Miss Betsey, but..."
"Miss," Jenny said suddenly, addressing her elder, "you seem to me to have a good head on your shoulders, which is more than I can say for MOST adults," here she cast a not-exactly-subtle glance at Mr. Dickens, "and so I shall break the news to you as I feel you would most prefer it, which is to say, directly."
Miss Betsey stifled a little chuckle, but noticing the serious look on the child's face, urged her to continue.
"Yes, ma'am. You see, your nephew Mr. Copperfield was defending him," pointing her little crutch at the author, "and so met an untimely end with a bullet. He was a Hero, though, and if I were his aunt, well, that would console me."
Miss Betsey stared at her, silently. Mr. Dick gave a little whimper, for to those of his gentle spirit, Death is a terrible word, but Miss Betsey checked him with a slight motion of her hand.
"No tears, Dick. We are in Danger, it seems. Mr. Dickens," she turned to the author, and with a great struggle, composed her own face, "did you just leave him in the street, or what did you do with him?"
"Oh, oh no—he died the death of a literary character," Mr. Dickens said rapidly, "and so I believe he is back in the story, living his life as he had before he was spirited into this world."
"Back in the story, eh?" Miss Betsey repeated, visibly relaxing. "Well, that makes sense. Better there than here, at any rate. Such a dirty city. Aren't there sweeps?"
“Sir,” Richard said presently to the author, his face pale and drawn, as Miss Betsey lamented the lack of proper cleaners to Mr. Dick, “we promised Ada we would have others of your…characters…join us at our destination to help Guppy. When do we plan on stopping for them, you know? We should be almost there, by now.”
Mr. Dickens passed a hand over his face and sighed, then met Richard’s anxious eyes. “Rick, you are a good dear character, and so is Ada, bless her— her concern for us is most touching and welcome and indeed I would very much like to have the assistance I promised her. I am ashamed that I have dealt falsely with her. But I cannot—I will not—risk harming others for a mistake I have made. It is my duty to reclaim Mr. Guppy without harm, and hopefully I shall be able to talk some sense into Heep and Pecksniff in the process. In fact,” he said, low and evenly, but not without a tremor in his voice, “I would like to give all of you a chance to leave, now. Mr. Guppy is my responsibility—you are my responsibility, and I must pay for the damage I have done, even if it was done unwittingly.” Mr. Dickens looked about him anxiously, but there was silence for several minutes.
“Well I certainly shan’t leave you—” Miss Betsey and Jenny Wren began at the exact same time, but then both broke off, and frowned at the other. And with such reassurance from an old woman and a little girl, what could the others do but comply?
And so the carriage rolled on, on down the path to Danger, on to the ruinous tavern which, as if it had absorbed all the cruel words uttered within, seemed to be dying its own death. We shall fly ahead of the path of Mr. Dickens' cab, and see what perils Mr. Guppy, the alleged hero, is facing.
As the door to the tavern slammed open, bringing a soft mist of dust from the ceiling, the foolish law clerk was illuminated in silhouette against the light behind him. M. Riguad added this sketch to his napkin, but that is about the extent of the impact Mr. Guppy had upon his arrival. Once all the eyes had swiveled toward him, observed him, and recognized his obvious insignificance, the action resumed much as before. Mr. Guppy had not expected that.
“Who are you?” someone (likely Charley Bates, who was of a curious nature) asked, as a matter of form.
Now, Mr. Guppy was no coward. Far from it. On the contrary, he was a man of wisdom. Did Mr. Guppy’s heart fail him amid the presence of a half-score of villains? Do not suppose it. His heart had no impact on him. He was purely cerebral, was Mr. Guppy.
If they know I am Mr. Guppy, and what I’ve come here for, he reasoned, objectively, I shall accomplish nothing; I shan’t be able to ascertain the perfidious workings of their diabolical machinations. And so, when Master Bates repeated, “I say, what is your name, my covey?” Mr. Guppy replied, evenly,
“My name is Samuel Weller.”
Unfortunately for him, he had forgotten an old acquaintance was present in the crowd, namely, one Mr. Tulkinghorn, who looking up from a ragged copy of Bleak House said, “My dear Mr. Guppy, since when have you adopted an alias? Perhaps it’s been since Mr. Dickens had me assassinated—though this is mere conjecture, of course as, naturally, my memory of events after that occasion is rather foggy.”
“M–Mr. Tulkinghorn,” Mr. Guppy wheezed, in a choking sort of voice, the result of his heart having conquered his head at last, and made the victory flag from his windpipe. “So—very pleased to see you in your…revived…state.”
“I am curious as to why you are here,” Mr. Tulkinghorn continued, composedly, as all eyes fixed upon Mr. Guppy, who was alternately turning white and red with each breath.
“Oh,” he said. “Well, it is a very comprehensive reason as to why I provided an appellation as hadn’t been bestowed upon me succeeding my removal from the maternal dwelling-place, and the reason is because I—wanted to show you—hem, it’s quite close in here, ain’t it?—because I wanted to show you what a successful mendicant I am.”
Mr. Guppy hemmed continuously for the space of three minutes, stamped his foot as though that somehow steadied his thoughts; his arms hung at his side and he regarded the fearsome group much as a sailor regards a white squall.
“Come again, dear boy?” Mr. Pecksniff inquired. “Mendicant?”
“Oh!” Mr. Guppy nodded, reminded that not everyone was privileged with such an expansive vocabulary as himself. “A liar, you know. I’m a most horrible, nasty liar, oh yes—I once convinced my mother that my middle name was Henry, once.”
“Is your middle name Enry?” Uriah Heep questioned, rather blandly.
“Oh, oh no,” Mr. Guppy gulped. “I haven’t got one, and that was the beauty of it. Just William Guppy, Pentonville Place, Pentonville, and all that. But if that circumstancial evidence isn’t enough, just the fact that I’m a lawyer will, er, insinuate my art of deception and fact-twisting. I think Mr. Tulkinghorn here can attest to that,” he added, with conflicting feelings of disdain and timidity.
“The boy is a lawyer, or fancies himself one,” Tulkinghorn said dryly, helping himself to a respectable portion of sherry without bothering to glance at his audience. “In reality, he’s an unsuccessful law clerk, and a buffoon besides, which is more than enough reason why he may view that Dickens with antipathy.”
“I do view Mr. Dickens with antipathy!” nodded Mr. Guppy quickly. “And with my abilities of deception, and my wide-ranging knowledge (of plants, animals, even minerals!) I feel I could be, er, a valuable asset to your…firm.” Mr. Guppy, albeit in a daze, was mightily pleased by his concluding word choice, and felt that, at least for the moment, he had gained the upper hand and was verbally treading upon the skulls of his adversaries.
Mr. Pecksniff, after consulting briefly with his serpentine associate, dispatched Mr. Guppy to a table, where sat a stern-faced but handsome woman, silently knitting a work Mr. Guppy considered very complex but rather lumpy; a beautiful young lady, evidently deeply in thought; a young man (who appeared to our companion to be rather high-and-mighty) just coming out of the throes of drunkenness as he seated himself in an almost broken chair; and a very tiny man who was sipping from a mug Mr. Guppy felt the fellow could climb into and sleep sixty winks within. The table was quite secluded, secreted away in the darkest corner of the already fearfully shadowy establishment, amid some reeking wine barrels, bearing decades of hoary dust.
It must be mentioned, the dark and handsome woman would stealthily raise her eyes for a brief second and scrutinize, with a native keenness, all others in the room, then drop her eyes just as quickly back to her cloth, which lengthened before her like a dread shadow. This, of course, went by utterly unnoticed by Mr. Guppy, who was planing his legs with his hands under the great burden of sitting in a room full of villains, trying to devise something clever to say, and being directly across from a very beautiful specimen of the fairer sex; he seemed shocked into life when the Frenchwoman hissed something directly into his left ear. “Are you a patriot?” were the hot words.
Mr. Guppy tried to be subtle in asking what she meant, with the vague impression his end was near.
“What,” she said, quietly, “do you think of those two?” Only her pupils indicated the two of which she spoke—Pecksniff and Heep—as she cast a furtive glance their way.
Mr. Guppy was dumbstruck and didn’t quite know what to say. “I—I don’t like them” he said at last, quickly adding, “not overmuch,” lest he had misjudged the meaning in the halting English words of the Frenchwoman.
“Hmm,” Madame grunted. “A patriot.” And to herself she added imbecíle, which can be translated to any language with ease, but outwardly, she calmly laid her knitting across the table. “Attencíon,” she said in the same low voice, as Mr. Guppy began to make some sense of the sprawling pattern in the cloth. “We are not…how you say…beholden to them.”
“Indeed we are not,” said the gentleman, firmly. “We are beholden to ourselves and to our God, no more. Glad to see you agree, madam.”
Madame continued. “We are capable of control. I do not need their sickly French spewed like bursting winecasks. I tell them I will head the revolution agains’ that man. They say no, because I am a woman. I say yes. They say to follow orders, and all will go well. I am no fool—I have ideas. But now, who is to overthrow? That Dickens, who I do not know, or those two vermin? Those two who have scorned me.”
“And decieved you, as well,” said Sydney Carton, quietly. “Mr. Dickens may have controlled us in his books, but now we are free, masters of our own fates. We can make our own choices, and we mustn’t let this chance to control our—destinies, if you will—be wasted with obedience to two true villains.”
Madame nodded fiercely. “We do not need their…oligarchy.”
“Control by few,” Mr. Guppy explained for the benefit of the young lady opposite. That young lady gave him a frigid stare, then immediately turned to the Frenchwoman and began speaking in fluent, beautiful French.
“You know,” said Sydney Carton to Mr. Guppy in the interim, “I don’t like your speech about dishonest lawyers. We aren’t all like that.”
“Well,” Mr. Guppy scoffed, with a very bad grace, “I said I lie, didn’t I?”
“Hush, both of you,” Estella interjected sharply. “Mr. Carton, Madame Defarge shares our rebellious nature—she wants nothing to do with those horrid creatures, but has a plan for their downfall and our liberation. Have you any objection?”
“None,” came the reply, and Sim, having finished his draught with the skill of one extraordinarily familiar with ale and other uplifting spirits, put in, “I know this table has sophisticated people here, and as an apprentice, I can say that, more ’n once, I’ve ’ad the fierce urge to take a cudgel to the master’s head.” Meaning to say, of course, that he approved. As no one bothered to consult Mr. Guppy, which oversight was like so many knives through his particolored waistcoat, Estella began to relate Madame’s plan in English.
As though the sight of a half-mad Frenchwoman relating a plan of anarchy to an alcoholic lawyer, a disgruntled apprentice, a young lady of distinction, and Mr. Guppy weren’t shocking enough to you, reader, here comes another blow. For just as Estella, to Madame Defarge’s dark nods of approval, had done conveying the Frenchwoman’s careful plot, and just as Sydney Carton, in the gloom of that corner, had laid something hard and metallic upon the table, the door to the decaying tavern once more sprang open. First appeared, in that brightly lit aperture, a little child, with beautiful golden hair, and a crutch of terrible contrast; and as soon as he caught sight of her Bradley Headstone gave a strangled cry of recognition. In almost the same instant appeared a handsome, boyish young man with a dark look upon his face; and Mr. Tulkinghorn gave a snarl—“You!” Nearly blocking the light from the door were two older figures, like Time come to collect its dues, and Uriah Heep shivered convulsively, and shrank into the back corner with a sort of hiss.
And then, with a great menacing glance, shoulders thrown back, and a look of defiance and power and the shadow of control in his face’
The cry was unanimous, and, as though in a crushing wave of bodies, villain after vagabond surged after the author.
“Now!” cried Madame, prematurely seizing her chance, and Sim sprang from the table; in a wink, all the lights went out. Darkness, thick and oppressive, overspread all like a shroud; each pair of eyes instinctively searched for a point of light on which to rely, but there was none, as all the drapes were pulled and the door tightly wedged into place.
But what of Mr. Guppy?
“Where’s Steerforth’s revolver?” demanded Estella, badly caught off her guard by Madame’s impetuosity, and scattering glasses of wine to the floor as she searched the table blindly with her hands. “Tappertit’s lightworks will be in vain if—”
“I have it!” Mr. Guppy cried, incredulously, as though the thing had leapt into his hands in the turmoil.
“Then fire it, you fool!” Sydney Carton commanded. He and Estella dropped to the floor in the darkness, but Madame had her foot planted firmly upon a chair in conquest. So Mr. Guppy, instinctively plugging one ear with a trembling forefinger, cocked the old-fashioned pistol and sent it crashing across the room. Again he cocked it, again he fired it, and the same thunderous crack echoed through everyone’s heads.
There was a thud, the great sinking of Some Body (in every sense of the word) onto the moldering and creaking floorboards. Like lightning, all suddenly became illuminated again as a window was thrown open in the back of the room, the shaft of light delineating a huddled mass on the ground.
It was Mr. Tulkinghorn. Mr. Tulkinghorn, in a gross reproduction of his death by Dickens, heaped unceremoniously at their feet. But this time, the shot had been by a different hand. Yet that hand, and the rest of him, and in fact his entire party, were not present to witness the handiwork of Dickens’ stolen revolver—all the party had disappeared.
A rug was pulled over the mass that had been Tulkinghorn, which was already fluttering in the same manner David Copperfield’s corpse had early that morning, and a long, low whistle erupted from Uriah, and a groan came from Mr. Pecksniff.
“What is it, fellow partner?” asked Uriah, all hovering and slithering and subservient attention at once. Pecksniff glared at him, and pulled his hand away from his face with a grimace—his entire left cheek was mired in a livid red, and his left hand bore the same traces of injury. “I’ve been hit, man. Struck. Wounded!” He took the kerchief Uriah proffered and glared sullenly about the room. The expression on his face suddenly altered, as a landscape changes when the blithe sun disappears in the wake of an oncoming storm. “Where,” he asked, between his pious teeth, “is the Frenchwoman?”
“She—she ain’t ’ere,” Uriah gasped as he slowly turned about the room, slowly growing aware.
“And neither is that doting drunkard, nor the girl, nor neither that full-o-hisself ’prentice!” Nor neither Mr. Guppy, though no one noticed.
“And Dickens has escaped!” Pecksniff wailed, “and his whole seething lot—vanished—probably gone with our plans! You idiot, why didn’t you apprehend them?!” And Mr. Pecksniff threw the blood-soaked handkerchief to the floor as he seethed at Uriah Heep, like a raging child.
“An idiot, sir?” Mr. Heep echoed, without any trace of humility; and in that moment, the seeds of division began to ripen between the associates, its thorny stems entangling them in a fierce and uncompromising grasp. Uriah Heep turned to Bradley Headstone and hissed, with an awful smile, “Now’s your chance for retribution!”
Mr. Guppy had been first out of the back door and into the alley (as indeed, self-preservation was naturally in order for such a noble deedsman as himself), and soon after followed Sim, Estella, Sydney, and Madame with her eternal knitting. His shock in beholding Mr. Dickens in that same alley was exceedingly great; so much so that the poor young man took one look at him, felt as though his head had been locked in the old iron safe at Kenge and Carboy’s and then flung into the street, and crying “Tell Miss Summerson I did it for her!” he collapsed into Miss Betsey’s arms, in a dead faint. There was no retrieving him, and Miss Betsey regarded him rather as a piece of refuse.
“We must go,” Madame cried imperiously. “Get into that cart”—for truly, a large milk cart was shambling down the road at just that moment, and having nearly completed its route, the back was spacious enough for Dickens’ ever-growing party. Miss Betsey passed the young clerk into the arms of Mr. Dickens, who hoisted him aboard, then with a few shillings for a makeshift passage and a promise of speed, they careened down the road at the mercy of an evidently half-witted milkman.
Madame Defarge immediately turned her dark eye upon Mr. Dickens, who himself shrank at its startling penetration. “Tell me if they speak the truth—if you are lofty, if you have done me ‘arm. I do not know you. But I don’t like them. I don’t like their airs.” She spat out this last word in disgust. “So tell me.”
Mr. Dickens cast his eyes down, and chose his words carefully. Madame Defarge—how well he knew it!—was not one to be trifled with, and she was so very cunning, but Mr. Dickens also knew how she dealt with those she considered to be poor or weak. “I was born a poor boy,” Charles Dickens began, “cast out of my school, downtrod in the streets, and one day I took up a pen, and with it was able to triumph above my oppressors, and you were born as the result. If that is bad in me, I pray you will deal with me as I deserve.”
Madame glared at him, but his answer seemed to be satisfactory for the present, and she resumed her knitting—but not without, ever and anon, scrutinizing the author as if to plumb the depth of his mind.
Mr. Dickens, feeling rather faint himself, his earlier wound beginning to once more announce its presence, leant against the back of the shuddering cart. His gaze fell directly opposite, upon the reflecting face of Sydney Carton—Sydney Carton, his hero; Sydney Carton, who, he knew in his heart he had unwittingly wronged; Sydney Carton, the person for whom he’d been pried from his apartment only twelve hours past, as that man was said to have some sort of wisdom. Before Mr. Dickens could gather his thoughts, formulate something to say, Carton himself spoke. “I do not understand,” he began, and Mr. Dickens winced as he felt a wave of apprehension wash over him, “I don’t understand why they are so opposed to you now, now they are free, and have the capacity to control themselves.”
This, of course, was not what Mr. Dickens had expected Carton to say.
“Certainly, you shaped them to be what they were,” Sydney Carton pursued, almost to himself, “yet we can all change, change for something better, greater, nobler. That is in our power, now, at least—witness all these, once villains, but here among us now to instead bring those villains down. Yet this Heep and Pecksniff, and all their sordid lot, refuse to take control of their actions, but remain slaves to your image of them. With their wretched behavior,” he added, raising his voice, “they are only proving they deserve the path you laid out for them!”
The author sat, silently—he could hear Mr. Dick, somewhere far in the distance it seemed, counting the cans of milk on the cart aloud—but a thought had pushed its way from the back of Mr. Dickens’ mind. “My God,” he half-whispered. “That’s the key! Copperfield was right—Carton speaks the truth! Even with free will, those villains show prove to be their own undoing —so long as we let them!”
All eyes were on Mr. Dickens; each person (excepting Mr. Guppy) regarded him curiously or breathlessly—and a horrible smile of triumph curled at Madame Defarge’s lips as the great realization struck her.
“Then the end of all is near.”