Have we been watching a little too much TV around here, or what? :-) Nina is writing the two-part finale of our Dickensian group fanfiction. The first part is below, and the second part will run next week, after which I will wrap things up with an epilogue. So I guess that really makes it a three-part finale, technically, but I don't think epilogues count as actual chapters.
ANYWAY, without further ado, here we go!
“The end of all is near.” So Madame says. So she knits into her cloth, like some Fate conjured from the ancient worlds, some enchantress working an evil will upon her rivals. The humble milk cart stops in front of a fine brick establishment in London town.
A golden-haired girl flies into the arms of the boy who loves her; “Richard, you are safe!” Ada cries, and he replies, “Indeed, but there are greater trials ahead—I pray I have the courage to face them!” A stately gentleman, with a wild beard and flashing eyes, introduces himself to a huddled group of young men; “My name, sir, is Nicholas Nickleby,” one of these begins—“How well I know it!” the author interrupts fervently. “But we must begin our plans!” A young lady with rich brown hair and an emerald dress surveys the proceedings with a harsh eye—and instantly notices the ashen face of a bound Bradley Headstone. “I suspect you are regretful of the part you played in this?” asks Sydney Carton, appearing at her shoulder. And finally, a benevolent old man rushes to learn the fate of his presumed manservant, who lies faint in a puddle of curdling milk. “Oh Sam, Sam,” Mr. Pickwick cries, wringing his hands in distress, “If only you weren’t so blasted ornery!!”
Thus the reunion of the two parties, thus the beginning of the end, and Madame, recording the company’s plans and correspondence as a scribe of old, knits on.
But suddenly, amidst the hurried sketchings of possibilities and schemes, Miss Betsey’s voice rises, creaking like a crazy old door, above the din. “Where,” she asks imperiously, in a voice severely constrained so as not to show emotion, “is the child?”
Mr. Dickens grasps at the arm of Sydney Carton. There is silence for the space of several moments, and each figure tries to account, in his or her mind, when last they saw the little cripple, but not a one of them can recall glimpsing her after her terrible entry into that sordid tavern. The poor child has been overlooked!
“We must find her at once,” cries Mr. Woodcourt, thinking of a certain Jack Dawkins, and reaching for his jacket, when Esther checks him by a quick touch.
“No need to get the bloodhounds out,” says Miss Wren, with a toss of her head, coming in at the door. “I may be an old cross thing, and I may hippity-hop about on my stick, and SOME people may not notice whether or not I’m present, BUT—I can take care of myself.” Drawing herself up a bit, proud and rather satisfied with herself, Miss Wren beholds the astonished crowd. “Deciding things have gone on far too long for comfort,” she announces, “I went on a little errand.”
It is a good thing to see the darkness thin as dawn arrives—to see the nighttime clouds fewer, to see rays of light seeping in between, and though it makes the remaining darkness blacker still by contrast, it also relieves the sense of fear and apprehension of such a wretched scene.
And so it was at the tavern, with now less than half the content of its former hours, as all these dark spots scattered to their several sordid corners, and none farther than Pecksniff and Heep. Was one less pious, and the other less humble, that such a rift would grow betwixt them? No!
Uriah Heep, with his skeleton figure, lay draped across a table far too miniscule for his towering height, and with a stub of a pencil was making diverse plans upon a grimy writing tablet. Somehow the name “Pecksniff” kept erupting, always with various gleeful crossing-outs, as though the redheaded cur would have scored the man himself through, over and over, had he not been a coward. Which, of course, he was.
Now Pecksniff’s earlier words hand rankled in Uriah’s narrow hollow chest (for indeed, he had nothing resembling a heart there) until he had worked himself into a vengeful and menacing state, with scarcely the thinnest veneer of his old humility upon it. A fool, he’d been called—as though he hadn’t discovered that Dickens’ whereabouts from the beginning, as though he (Uriah), with his invariable modesty, hadn’t softened the shells of their fellow villains so they could be molded at the slightest touch, as though he hadn’t mollified Seth Pecksniff and kept things running smooth and at once developed scheme upon scheme, and yet, for his partnership, had seen no fruits for his labor? If he were a fool, why, it was only for entertaining an associate! And so Uriah doubled the joints of his quill-length fingers one upon the other, and planned two murders, with Mr. Dickens’ being scheduled secondly.
However, Uriah was suddenly jarred from his scrawlings by the figure of Pecksniff, looming greasy as a buttoned-up mound of lard at his side, and with him that snip of a lad Charley Bates who, appreciating the efforts of both good and bad characters, fancied himself something of a double agent, and should have requested a badge or something, were he certain he was not the first of his kind. He had a letter, which Uriah eyed suspiciously in the semi-second before his customary leer appeared.
“Why if it ain’t my associate,” he remarked sweetly, tucking the pad into his goat pocket and crossing his thin stilt legs, “come with a note! Shall I ’ave it, young Master Bates?”
“It’s addressed to Messrs. Pecksniff and Heep,” Charley said with a critical air, holding the letter away in that irritating way boys have, “and it looks to be a lady’s handwri—hey now!” This addition was occasioned by Mr. Pecksniff’s neatly nipping the document from Charley’s dirty paws. “Addressed to Pecksniff and Heep, and you are neither,” he remarked genteelly. “Now run along, good boy.” Though the cuff he received from Pecksniff’s beseeching hand did not exactly occasion good humor.
Pecksniff delicately slit the envelope open with his small finger and applied his double eyeglass to his face.
“Excuse me, fellow partner,” said Uriah civilly, from the table, “but I believe I’d like to have a look.”
“Oh certainly, certainly,” replied Pecksniff, just as civilly, “but I should like to peruse it first, you know.” Mr. Pecksniff was not so slow-witted as he liked to lead on—a sharp mind had that gentleman, a calculating contraption of a brain that ran extra-smoothly from a profusion of greasy humor, and as Uriah Heep glowered in his own private corner, this worthy ran his usually uplifted eyes stealthily across the page before him. The script was small and sharp, as though the author had conserved as much lead and energy as possible, for it was written in pencil. A copy of the words Pecksniff rapidly ingested is included:
It has come to my attention that the two of you, and varying acquaintances and accomplices, harbor a certain hatefulness towards Mr. Charles Dickens. Now how any of you can sit and accuse him, I don’t know, as I doubt any of you could ever have stood and looked the Honourable Mrs. T in the eye with a good conscience (which allusion you may not be able to appreciate, as you are not from my same book), but that’s the state of things now, at any rate.
If you wish to settle this as the gentlemen you proclaim yourselves to be, here’s what you will do. You will put yourselves on a train—not, of course, giving your real names—and journey into the green fields near the Crossroads Inn just outside of London. There, it shall be settled honorably, and, perhaps, appropriately, in a duel.
An addendum was tagged at the end:
This isn’t a tea party, so there’s no reason to wear your frippery or frills.
And then it was simply signed,
—THE DOLLS’ DRESSMAKER.
Mr. Pecksniff licked his lips and folded the letter before relaying it to Uriah, who snatched it greedily and graspingly, and immediately retreated into his lair.
A duel, Mr. Pecksniff mused. How quaint and old-fashioned. How gentlemanly! Why, his own grandfather had perished on such an occasion, riddled through with bullets in a most becoming pattern. Pecksniff surveyed Uriah discreetly (he was following the words with his forefinger and concentrating hard), and reflected a moment. Why Uriah, with his high-strung temper, didn’t need to be burdened with a loaded pistol, did he? It would only endanger him the more. And I am never one to harm a fellow brother, Mr. Pecksniff considered. Do unto others, you know.
And then, if Uriah were to be given first chance at revenge upon Mr. Dickens (who, likely, would have a loaded pistol to fire)—why, Mr. Pecksniff himself would be only too happy to take on proceedings from there! So after Uriah Heep finished the letter, and Mr. Pecksniff announced the plan to their sadly ill-favored group, he decided to have a little chat with Mr. Steerforth, on the subject of firearms and their uses.
“We haven’t much time, Jenny my love,” said Mr. Dickens anxiously, in response to Jenny’s late announcement, “but dear, tell us what you have done, for it may make much the difference!”
“I played postman,” Miss Wren answered, concisely.
Charles Dickens gritted his teeth. “Please elaborate.”
“Oh! Very well,” Miss Wren returned, looking around at all the eager faces. “I didn’t know anyone was really interested in my whereabouts and actions, but then again you learn something new everyday, don’t you! It was the schoolmaster’s doing that I did what I did at all. Why yes indeed it was,” she said to him, “so I hope that satisfies you with your ugly actions.
“Well. When you all went flying around the back of the place, as soon as I saw him, creeping about in his dark and guilty way, I said to myself, ‘Jenny, you may be queer when it comes to legs and other bits, but you aren’t queer in the head yet, and so you must do what you must do.’ And so I did, and that’s the end of it. I wrote those uglies a letter and they’re going to duel with you but make an end of themselves, or I’m a poor judge of character.”
Everyone stared at her dumbly for a moment, until Miss Betsey leapt from her chair. “Good girl!!” she cried. “Mr. Dick, I don’t believe my niece Betsey Trotwood Copperfield could do any better herself!”
“But then, we must away!” Nicholas cried as Miss Betsey danced a stiff jig. “I heard once of another duel, though I pray this one will come to a better end.”
“Richard, dear,” said Ada, deeply vexed, as the others made preparations to depart per Jenny’s instructions, “I don’t understand how arming two men and bidding them to—to kill!—anyone, is preferred or honorable?”
“Well, dear girl,” Jenny interjected, coolly, “once you give each of those toadies a pistol and put them together—well, I think you’ll see the beauty of the practice!”