Britain hears a Footstep
10.8 x 7.8 cm. vignetted
Dickens's The Battle of Life, The Pears'Centenary Edition, vol. 4, page 76.
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"I can't help liking you," said Mr. Britain; "you're a regular good creature in your way, so shake hands, Clem. Whatever happens, I'll always take notice of you, and be a friend to you."
"Will you?" returned Clemency. "Well! that's very good of you."
"Yes, yes," said Mr. Britain, giving her his pipe to knock the ashes out of it; "I'll stand by you. Hark! That's a curious noise!"
"Noise!" repeated Clemency.
"A footstep outside. Somebody dropping from the wall, it sounded like," said Britain. "Are they all abed up-stairs?"
"Yes, all abed by this time," she replied.
"Didn't you hear anything?"
They both listened, but heard nothing.
"I tell you what," said Benjamin, taking down a lantern. "I'll have a look round, before I go to bed myself, for satisfaction's sake. Undo the door while I light this, Clemmy."
Clemency complied briskly; but observed as she did so, that he would only have his walk for his pains, that it was all his fancy, and so forth. Mr. Britain said "very likely;" but sallied out, nevertheless, armed with the poker, and casting the light of the lantern far and near in all directions.
"It's as quiet as a churchyard," said Clemency, looking after him; "and almost as ghostly, too!"
Glancing back into the kitchen, she cried fearfully, as a light figure stole into her view, "What's that!" ["Part the Second," 1912 Pears Edition, p. 76-77]
After the scene of Britain and Clemency in the Kitchen (p. 76), in which the comic servants seem to be approaching an understanding about sharing a future, Dickens continues to develop the notion that a putative elopement between Michael Warden and Marion Jeddler is afoot; Marion's dialogue on the same page as this illustration of a vigilant Benjamin Britain intensifies the air of mystery surrounding Marion's breakdown earlier,realised in the illustration By the Fireside in Dr. Jeddler's Study (p. 68).
In his introduction to this fourth volume of Pears' Christmas Books, critic Clement Shorter, editor of The English Illustrated Magazine, noted how chief illustrator John Leech mistook Dickens's narrative intention (probably through a cursory rather than careful reading of "Part the Second"), and therefore provided an illustration of The Supposed Elopement As Illustrated by John Leech, reproduced in the "Introduction" on page 9, originally the lower portion of The Night of the Return:
Dickens entered into a considerable correspondence over the illustrations of his story. Over one of these an artist seems to have "come a cropper." That artist was Leech, who, assuming that Marion Jeddler had eloped with Michael Warden, presented this in a picture which has been published in almost every edition since that day. Curiously enough no one pointed out the mistake between the years 1846, when the story was first published, and 1871, when the first volume of Forster's "Life of Dickens" appeared. In one of his letters to Forster he speaks of the "horror and agony not to be expressed" with which he discovered this error of Leech's, but he would not say anything about it for fear of giving pain "to our kind-hearted Leech." [8-9]
One may readily appreciate Leech's mistake as Dickens made suggestionsin "Part the Second" about asupposedelopement, beginning with Michael Warden's stating to his attorneys that his marrying an heiress such as Marion would resolve his financial difficulties and enable him to remain in England — and, quite by coincidence, of course — Warden leaves the village at approximately the same date that Marion vanishes. Although one may forgive Leech, Green has taken pains in his series to avoid any such misapprehension of the plot, with the result that Britain's sallying forth with a fireplace poker, having heard a footstep outside, is something of a red herring in the matter of Marion's mysterious disappearance.
The short title on page 14 ("Britain hears a footstep") is augmented by a direct quotation beneath the illustration: "Sallied out, nevertheless, armed with the poker, and casting the light of the lantern far and near in all directions." [page 81]
Relevant Illustrations from the 1846 and later Editions
Left: John Leech's dual illustration of the Christmas party and the supposed elopement, The Night of the Return. Right: Harry Furniss's intimation that Michael Warden and Marion are eloping, For Alfred's Sake (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: E. A. Abbey's 1876 wood-engraving of the scene outside Dr. Jeddler's home as Alfred discovers that Marion is missing, And sunk down in his former attitude, clasping one of Grace's cold hands in his own. [Click on image to enlarge it.]
Above: Fred Barnard's 1878 wood-engraving of the scene in which Alfred, just arrived, learns that there is trouble at home: "What is the matter?" he exclaimed. "I don't know. I — I am afraid to think. Go back. Hark!"[Click on image to enlarge it.]
Dickens, Charles. The Battle of Life: A Love Story. Illustrated by John Leech, Richard Doyle, Daniel Maclise, and Clarkson Stanfield. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1846.
___. The Battle of Life: A Love Story. Illustrated by John Leech, Richard Doyle, Daniel Maclise, and Clarkson Stanfield. (1846). Rpt. in Charles Dickens's Christmas Books, ed. Michael Slater. Hardmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, rpt. 1978.
___. The Battle of Life. Illustrated by Charles Green, R. I. London: A & F Pears, 1912.
___. Christmas Books. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
___. Christmas Books, illustrated by Fred Barnard. Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.
___. Christmas Books, illustrated by A. A. Dixon. London & Glasgow: Collins' Clear-Type Press, 1906.
___. Christmas Books. Illustrated by Harry 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 21May 2015