Will Fern's last visit to Meg
8.6 x 7.3 cm. vignetted
Dickens's The Chimes, The Pears' Centenary Edition, vol. 2, page 130.
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She was singing faintly to it in its sleep, and walking to and fro to hush it, when her door was softly opened, and a man looked in.
"For the last time," he said.
"For the last time."
He listened like a man pursued: and spoke in whispers.
"Margaret, my race is nearly run. I couldn't finish it, without a parting word with you. Without one grateful word."
"What have you done?" she asked: regarding him with terror.
He looked at her, but gave no answer.
After a short silence, he made a gesture with his hand, as if he set her question by; as if he brushed it aside; and said:
"It's long ago, Margaret, now: but that night is as fresh in my memory as ever 'twas. We little thought, then," he added, looking round, "that we should ever meet like this. Your child, Margaret? Let me have it in my arms. Let me hold your child."
He put his hat upon the floor, and took it. And he trembled as he took it, from head to foot.
"Is it a girl?"
He put his hand before its little face. ["Fourth Quarter," p. 131, 1912 edition]
Neither The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang An Old Year Out and a New Year In (1844) has no precise equivalent for this scene, when Will Fern, having set in motion an act of arson that will lead to his imprisonment, visits Meg for the last time, although Richard Doyle's headpiece for "The Fourth Quarter," Margaret and her Child, does show Margaret at the brink of the Thames holding "her" child (not Lilian's, as Will Fern suggests). The caption for Will Fern's last visit to Meg is a lengthy quotation drawn from the facing page: "She was singing faintly to it in its sleep, and walking to and fro to hush it, when her door was softly opened, and a man looked in." The illustration emphasizes Meg's role as a mother, placing the infant just right of centre and throwing the visitor, Will Fern, still in his countryman's felt hat and smockfrock, well into the shadows in the background. But for a simple chair and table, which block Meg's easy egress from the room, there is neither furniture nor decoration, suggesting the poverty to which she has now come — sewing and needlework are no longer evident on the table, implying that she no longer has any means of supporting herself.
Illustrations from the first edition (1844), the British Household Edition (1878), and the Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910)
Left: Richard Doyle's realisation of Meg's desperate final act, Margaret and Her Child. Right: Harry Furniss's study of Trotty's seeing his daughter and her fiance in a deperssed state, Margaret and Richard. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: Fred Barnard's 1878 wood-engraving of Lilian's return to Meg to ask her foregiveness, and melodramatically to die in her arms, "Never more, Meg; never more! Here! Here!" [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Dickens, Charles. The Chimes. Introduction by Clement Shorter. Illustrated by Charles Green. The Pears' Centenary Edition. London: A & F Pears, [?1912].
Dickens, Charles. The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang An Old Year Out and a New Year In. Illustrated by John Leech, Richard Doyle, Clarkson Stanfield, and Daniel Maclise. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1844.
Dickens, Charles. The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang An Old Year Out and a New Year In. Illustrated by John Leech, Richard Doyle, Clarkson Stanfield, and Daniel Maclise. (1844). Rpt. in Charles Dickens's Christmas Books, ed. Michael Slater. Hardmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, rpt. 1978. Pp. 137-252.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Illustrated byHarry Furniss. The Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book, 1910.
_____. Christmas Stories. Illustrated by E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Last modified 15 April 2015