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    illustration of an angel

    Love Breaks the Curse

    A Reading from The Gospel in Dickens

    Charles Dickens

    September 22, 2020
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    The Gospel in Dickens, edited by Gina Dalfonzo, is the latest installment in Plough’s acclaimed series, The Gospel in Great Writers. Buried among passages from Dickens’s most popular works are some little-known gems. In the last of his “Christmas Books,” The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, Dickens tells the story of Redlaw, a wronged and tormented chemist who makes a bargain to give up his memory, only to find that the loss brings even more torment to him and others. In the following selection from the third chapter, “The Gift Reversed,” we learn how he is restored to himself.

    “Do you know me?” asked the Chemist.

    “I should be glad,” returned the other, “and that is an unwonted word for me to use, if I could answer no.”

    The Chemist looked at the man, standing in self-abasement and degradation before him, and would have looked longer, in an ineffectual struggle for enlightenment, but that Milly resumed her late position by his side, and attracted his attentive gaze to her own face.

    “See how low he is sunk, how lost he is!” she whispered, stretching out her arm towards him, without looking from the Chemist’s face. “If you could remember all that is connected with him, do you not think it would move your pity to reflect that one you ever loved (do not let us mind how long ago, or in what belief that he has forfeited), should come to this?”

    “I hope it would,” he answered. “I believe it would.”

    His eyes wandered to the figure standing near the door, but came back speedily to her, on whom he gazed intently, as if he strove to learn some lesson from every tone of her voice, and every beam of her eyes.

    “I have no learning, and you have much,” said Milly; “I am not used to think, and you are always thinking. May I tell you why it seems to me a good thing for us to remember wrong that has been done us?”

    “Yes.”

    “That we may forgive it.”

    “Pardon me, great Heaven!” said Redlaw, lifting up his eyes, “for having thrown away thine own high attribute!”

    “And if,” said Milly, “if your memory should one day be restored, as we will hope and pray it may be, would it not be a blessing to you to recall at once a wrong and its forgiveness?”

    He looked at the figure by the door, and fastened his attentive eyes on her again; a ray of clearer light appeared to him to shine into his mind, from her bright face.

    “He cannot go to his abandoned home. He does not seek to go there. He knows that he could only carry shame and trouble to those he has so cruelly neglected; and that the best reparation he can make them now, is to avoid them. A very little money carefully bestowed, would remove him to some distant place, where he might live and do no wrong, and make such atonement as is left within his power for the wrong he has done. To the unfortunate lady who is his wife, and to his son, this would be the best and kindest boon that their best friend could give them – one too that they need never know of; and to him, shattered in reputation, mind, and body, it might be salvation.”

    He took her head between her hands, and kissed it, and said: “It shall be done. I trust to you to do it for me, now and secretly; and to tell him that I would forgive him, if I were so happy as to know for what.”

    As she rose, and turned her beaming face towards the fallen man, implying that her mediation had been successful, he advanced a step, and without raising his eyes, addressed himself to Redlaw.

    “You are so generous,” he said, “ – you ever were – that you will try to banish your rising sense of retribution in the spectacle that is before you. I do not try to banish it from myself, Redlaw. If you can, believe me.”

    The Chemist entreated Milly, by a gesture, to come nearer to him; and, as he listened, looked in her face, as if to find in it the clue to what he heard.

    “I am too decayed a wretch to make professions; I recollect my own career too well, to array any such before you. But from the day on which I made my first step downward, in dealing falsely by you, I have gone down with a certain, steady, doomed progression. That, I say.”

    Redlaw, keeping her close at his side, turned his face towards the speaker, and there was sorrow in it. Something like mournful recognition too.

    “I might have been another man, my life might have been another life, if I had avoided that first fatal step. I don’t know that it would have been. I claim nothing for the possibility. Your sister is at rest, and better than she could have been with me, if I had continued even what you thought me: even what I once supposed myself to be.”

    Redlaw made a hasty motion with his hand, as if he would have put that subject on one side.

    “I speak,” the other went on, “like a man taken from the grave. I should have made my own grave, last night, had it not been for this blessed hand.”

    “Oh dear, he likes me too!” sobbed Milly, under her breath. “That’s another!”

    “I could not have put myself in your way, last night, even for bread. But to-day, my recollection of what has been is so strongly stirred, and is presented to me, I don’t know how, so vividly, that I have dared to come at her suggestion, and to take your bounty, and to thank you for it, and to beg you, Redlaw, in your dying hour, to be as merciful to me in your thoughts, as you are in your deeds.”

    He turned towards the door, and stopped a moment on his way forth.

    “I hope my son may interest you, for his mother’s sake. I hope he may deserve to do so. Unless my life should be preserved a long time, and I should know that I have not misused your aid, I shall never look upon him more.”

    Going out, he raised his eyes to Redlaw for the first time. Redlaw, whose steadfast gaze was fixed upon him, dreamily held out his hand. He returned and touched it – little more – with both his own – and bending down his head, went slowly out.

    In the few moments that elapsed, while Milly silently took him to the gate, the Chemist dropped into his chair, and covered his face with his hands. Seeing him thus, when she came back, accompanied by her husband and his father (who were both greatly concerned for him), she avoided disturbing him, or permitting him to be disturbed; and kneeled down near the chair to put some warm clothing on the boy.

    “That’s exactly where it is. That’s what I always say, father!” exclaimed her admiring husband. “There’s a motherly feeling in Mrs. William’s breast that must and will have went!”

    “Ay, ay,” said the old man; “you’re right. My son William’s right!”

    “It happens all for the best, Milly dear, no doubt,” said Mr. William, tenderly, “that we have no children of our own; and yet I sometimes wish you had one to love and cherish. Our little dead child that you built such hopes upon, and that never breathed the breath of life – it has made you quiet-like, Milly.”

    “I am very happy in the recollection of it, William dear,” she answered. “I think of it every day.”

    “I was afraid you thought of it a good deal.”

    “Don’t say afraid; it is a comfort to me; it speaks to me in so many ways. The innocent thing that never lived on earth is like an angel to me, William.”

    “You are like an angel to father and me,” said Mr. William, softly. “I know that.”

    “When I think of all those hopes I built upon it, and the many times I sat and pictured to myself the little smiling face upon my bosom that never lay there, and the sweet eyes turned up to mine that never opened to the light,” said Milly, “I can feel a greater tenderness, I think, for all the disappointed hopes in which there is no harm. When I see a beautiful child in its fond mother’s arms, I love it all the better, thinking that my child might have been like that, and might have made my heart as proud and happy.”

    Redlaw raised his head, and looked towards her.

    “All through life, it seems by me,” she continued, “to tell me something. For poor neglected children, my little child pleads as if it were alive, and had a voice I knew, with which to speak to me. When I hear of youth in suffering or shame, I think that my child might have come to that, perhaps, and that God took it from me in his mercy. Even in age and grey hair, such as father’s, it is present: saying that it too might have lived to be old, long and long after you and I were gone, and to have needed the respect and love of younger people.”

    Her quiet voice was quieter than ever, as she took her husband’s arm, and laid her head against it.

    “Children love me so, that sometimes I half fancy – it’s a silly fancy, William – they have some way I don’t know of, of feeling for my little child, and me, and understanding why their love is precious to me. If I have been quiet since, I have been more happy, William, in a hundred ways. Not least happy, dear, in this – that even when my little child was born and dead but a few days and I was weak and sorrowful, and could not help grieving a little, the thought arose, that if I tried to lead a good life, I should meet in Heaven a bright creature, who would call me, Mother!”

    Redlaw fell upon his knees, with a loud cry.

    “O Thou,” he said, “who through the teaching of pure love, hast graciously restored me to the memory which was the memory of Christ upon the Cross, and of all the good who perished in His cause, receive my thanks, and bless her!”

    Contributed By black and white portrait of Charles Dickens Charles Dickens

    Charles Dickens (1812–1870) was the most popular author of his day and is still widely considered the greatest novelist of the Victorian era.

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