Polly, Barbox Brothers' Guest at Dinner
13.8 x 8.8 cm framed
Dickens's Christmas Stories, Vol. 16 of Charles Dickens Library Edition, facing page 544.
The 1866 Christmas framed tale Mugby Junction contained Dickens's introduction and two other pieces, but not as in previous years a conclusion by Dickens. His chief contribution was a significant piece of psychological ghost fiction, "The Signal-Man," called "Chapter IV. No. 1 Branch Line. — The Signal-Man" in the 1866 Extra Christmas Number of All the Year Round. [Commentary continued below.]
[Click on image to enlarge it, and mouse over to find links.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
[You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
Thus they arrived at the hotel. And there he had to say at the bar, and said awkwardly enough; "I have found a little girl!"
The whole establishment turned out to look at the little girl. Nobody knew her; nobody could make out her name, as she set it forth — except one chamber-maid, who said it was Constantinople — which it wasn't.
"I will dine with my young friend in a private room," said Barbox Brothers to the hotel authorities, "and perhaps you will be so good as to let the police know that the pretty baby is here. I suppose she is sure to be inquired for soon, if she has not been already. Come along, Polly."
Perfectly at ease and peace, Polly came along, but, finding the stairs rather stiff work, was carried up by Barbox Brothers. The dinner was a most transcendant success, and the Barbox sheepishness, under Polly's directions how to mince her meat for her, and how to diffuse gravy over the plate with a liberal and equal hand, was another fine sight.
"And now," said Polly, "while we are at dinner, you be good, and tell me that story I taught you."
With the tremors of a Civil Service examination upon him, and very uncertain indeed, not only as to the epoch at which the pie appeared in history, but also as to the measurements of that indispensable fact, Barbox Brothers made a shaky beginning, but under encouragement did very fairly. There was a want of breadth observable in his rendering of the cheeks, as well as the appetite, of the boy; and there was a certain tameness in his fairy, referable to an under-current of desire to account for her. Still, as the first lumbering performance of a good-humoured monster, it passed muster.
"I told you to be good," said Polly, "and you are good, ain't you?"
"I hope so," replied Barbox Brothers.
Such was his deference that Polly, elevated on a platform of sofa cushions in a chair at his right hand, encouraged him with a pat or two on the face from the greasy bowl of her spoon, and even with a gracious kiss. In getting on her feet upon her chair, however, to give him this last reward, she toppled forward among the dishes, and caused him to exclaim, as he effected her rescue: "Gracious Angels! Whew! I thought we were in the fire, Polly!"
"What a coward you are, ain't you?" said Polly when replaced.
"Yes, I am rather nervous," he replied. "Whew! Don't, Polly! Don't flourish your spoon, or you'll go over sideways. Don't tilt up your legs when you laugh, Polly, or you'll go over backwards. Whew! Polly, Polly, Polly," said Barbox Brothers, nearly succumbing to despair, "we are environed with dangers!"
Indeed, he could descry no security from the pitfalls that were yawning for Polly, but in proposing to her, after dinner, to sit upon a low stool. "I will, if you will," said Polly. So, as peace of mind should go before all, he begged the waiter to wheel aside the table, bring a pack of cards, a couple of footstools, and a screen, and close in Polly and himself before the fire, as it were in a snug room within the room. Then, finest sight of all, was Barbox Brothers on his footstool, with a pint decanter on the rug, contemplating Polly as she built successfully, and growing blue in the face with holding his breath, lest he should blow the house down. [Chapter 2, pages 538-539]
Of all the illustrated editions, only Furniss's Charles Dickens Library of 1910 focuses in its plates on the narrator whom Dickens has dubbed "the gentleman from Nowhere" (532) and who is known as "Barbox Brothers," the firm for which he once worked and whose labels are still on his luggage. In successive illustrated anthologies, the much reprinted short story "The Signal-man" was detached from Mugby Junction, appearing under the heading "Two Ghost Stories." Whereas this psychological tale for the industrial age was the subject of illustration by Townley Green in the 1868 Illustrated Library Edition, by E. A. Abbey in the 1876 Harper and Bros. Household Edition, and by E. G. Dalziel in the 1877 Chapman and Hall Household Edition, Harry Furniss elected instead to provide a single illustration for each of "The Barbox Brothers" and "Barbox Bros. and Co." The multi-part story as it originally appeared on 10 December 1866 was a collaborative effort by the "Conductor" and four of Dickens's staff-writers, who produced four of the "branch lines" or stories associated with the "Mugby" (in fact, Rugby) railway junction. Andrew Halliday (1830-1877), last represented in the Extra Christmas Numbers by "How the Side-Room was attended by a Doctor" in Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings (1863), contributed "No. 2 Branch Line. The Engine-Driver"; Dickens's son-in-law, painter and writer Charles Allston Collins (1828-1873), "No. 3 Branch Line. The Compensation House"; children's writer Hesba Stretton (the nom de plume of Sarah Smith, 1832-1911), "No. 4 Branch Line. The Travelling Post-Office"; and novelist and journalist Amelia B. Edwards (1831-1892) "No. 5 Branch Line. The Engineer." The organisation of the parts balances Dickens's initial pieces — variously sentimental, satirical, suspenseful and psychological — with the short stories of the younger writers.
After Doctor Marigold's Prescriptions, Dickens' interest in what had become the traditional Christmas number apparently declined. In Mugby Junction, as its table of contents indicates, he added the stories by other writers as a kind of inevitable supplement at the end of his own contributions. [Thomas 152]
This, then, was to be the last of Dickens's "framed tales for Christmas," since 1867's No Thoroughfare is a tightly organised joint venture with just one other writer, Wilkie Collins, who had not contributed any short stories whatsoever to Dickens's seasonal offerings since 1861.
The Illustrated Library Edition "anthologized" version of the 1866 sequence of short stories contained J. Mahoney's Mugby Junction and Townley Green's The Signal-Man, neither of which foregrounds the limited omniscient's focal character, Young Jackson (otherwise, the flaneur termed "Barbox Brothers"). The 1876 American Household Edition of Christmas Stories contained E. A. Abbey's sixties style illustrations for The Christmas Books and plates for a few of the periodical stories, including an atmospheric realisation of the "Do you see it?" I asked him. The serious tone, the gloomy setting, and the psychologically damaged signal-man here Abbey balances with the satirical group scene I noticed that Sniff was agin a-rubbing his stomach with a soothing hand, and that he had drored up one leg for "Main Line: The Boy at Mugby." Perhaps Furniss avoided this piece on the horrors of British catering at railway coffeeshops since the food services problems besetting travellers were no longer topical. Certainly the "Refreshment Room" was still a cause celebre when Mahoney illustrated Mugby Junction in 1868, for he selected as his subject the humorous confrontation between the American visitor, used to better fare when travelling by rail, and the imperious Matron of the culinary establishment. Mahoney's illustration entitled Mugby Junction in the 1868 Illustrated Library Edition realizes the scene between the external observer (closer to the reader) and the signal-man (in company uniform, rear), comparable to E. A. Abbey's 1876 illustration "Do you see it?" I asked him.
Edward Dalziel was Chapman and Hall's chosen illustrator for its own Household Edition volume the year following the publication the Harper and Brothers volume; the British volume, more extensively illustrated, was dedicated entirely to the Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All the Year Round". E. G. Dalziel's execution of the illustration I took you for some one else yesterday evening. That troubles me. for "The Signal-man" is surprisingly prosaic and static for so tension-filled a narrative.
The companion stories "Barbox Brothers" and "Barbox Brothers and Co." (chapters one and two in the 1910 anthology) were the subjects that Furniss chose to illustrate, despite the fact that these had never been subjects for illustration previously. With his usual gusto, in his second illustration Furniss depicts a giggling "very little fair-haired girl" (535) who knows only her Christian name, Polly — so that, by the merest of Dickensian coincidences she does not reveal that she is the daughter of Tresham, Jackson's rival for the hand of Beatrice, who Dickens reveals (eventually) is Polly's mother. Sensibly, as the lost child that Barbox Brothers has offered to assist, Polly requires he buy her dinner instantly. Propped up on pillows to reach the table, Polly is enjoying herself at Mr. Jackson's (Barbox Brothers' real name) expense at the railway hotel's private dining room, waving her spoon (not shown in the picture) in the air and threatening momentarily to topple off herself improvised child-seat. Deciphering the picture analeptically, after the passage which the picture realizes, the reader knows of Beatrice's subterfuge in using her daughter to soften Jackson's heart towards her and her sickly husband. Indeed, by the time that the reader encounters this illustration, he or she knows that Polly is not "lost" at all.
Relevant Illustrated Library Edition (1868) and Household Edition (1876-77) Illustrations
Left: Mahoney's 1868 plate "Mugby Junction"; Townley Green's "The Signal-Man". Centre: E. A. Abbey's "Do you see it?" I asked him. Right: Edward Dalziel's 1877 stolid illustration "I took you for some one else yesterday evening. That troubles me" [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1988.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. 2 vols.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All The Year Round". Il. Fred Walker, F. A. Fraser, Harry French, E. G. Dalziel, J. Mahony [sic], Townley Green, and Charles Green. Centenary Edition. 36 vols. London: Chapman & Hall; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911. Volume Two.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. Edward Dalziel, Harry French, F. A. Fraser, James Mahoney, Townley Green, and Charles Green. The Oxford Illustrated Dickens. Oxford, New York, and Toronto: Oxford U.P., 1956, rpt. 1989.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All the Year Round". Il. E. G. Dalziel. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1877. Rpt., 1892.
Schlicke, Paul, ed. "Christmas Stories." The Oxford Companion to Dickens. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1999. Pp. 100-101.
Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
Last modified 7 October 2013