Alfred, Grace, and their Little Daughter in the Orchard
13 x 11.1 cm. vignetted, whole-page lithograph
Dickens's The Battle of Life, The Pears' Centenary Edition, vol. 4, page 130.
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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"Alfred!" said Grace, laying her hand upon his shoulder earnestly, "there is something in this letter — this old letter, which you say I read so often — that I have never told you. But, to-night, dear husband, with that sunset drawing near, and all our life seeming to soften and become hushed with the departing day, I cannot keep it secret."
"What is it, love?"
"When Marion went away, she wrote me, here, that you had once left her a sacred trust to me, and that now she left you, Alfred, such a trust in my hands: praying and beseeching me, as I loved her, and as I loved you, not to reject the affection she believed (she knew, she said) you would transfer to me when the new wound was healed, but to encourage and return it."
"— And make me a proud, and happy man again, Grace. Did she say so?"
"She meant, to make myself so blest and honoured in your love," was his wife's answer, as he held her in his arms.
"Hear me, my dear!" he said. — "No. Hear me so!" — and as he spoke, he gently laid the head she had raised, again upon his shoulder. "I know why I have never heard this passage in the letter, until now. I know why no trace of it ever showed itself in any word or look of yours at that time. I know why Grace, although so true a friend to me, was hard to win to be my wife. And knowing it, my own! I know the priceless value of the heart I gird within my arms, and thank GOD for the rich possession!"
She wept, but not for sorrow, as he pressed her to his heart. After a brief space, he looked down at the child, who was sitting at their feet playing with a little basket of flowers, and bade her look how golden and how red the sun was. ["Part the Third," p. 129, 1912 Pears edition]
The short title on page 14 ("Alfred, Grace, and their Little Daughter in the Orchard ") is augmented by a direct quotation beneath the actual whole-page illustration: "And knowing it, my own! I know the priceless value of the heart I gird within my arms" (p. 130, immediately below the lithograph in fine print, and beginning at the very bottom of p. 129); in other words, the reader encounters the picture immediately after encountering the passage illustrated. The editor tantalizes the reader with the following line at the bottom of p. 129, just before the reader encounters the illustration:
"You are to know the truth of Marion's history, my love," he answered.
Alfred cautions his wife to be prepared for "a trial — a surprise — a shock" (131) as a messenger now waiting at the garden gate will finally tell the story. Opposite the next illustration (the embracing sisters), Marion emerges from the shadows at the gate, and embraces her father in Grace's view — but the "story" remains untold as Dickens keeps the reader in continued suspense.
With the quiet domestic scene in the orchard we have come full circle from the opening scene there almost a decade earlier, when the adolescent sisters danced among the fruit trees on Marion's birthday, coincidentally the day of Alfred's medical studies abroad. In the five-and-a-half years since Marion vanished, Alfred has assumed responsibility for the greater part of his father-in-law's medical practice and has had a daughter, who must be about four years old. And yet some shade still hangs over the couple in the late summer sunshine — the fate of Marion. All this the reader sees in the illustration as he or she negotiates the text to get to the bottom of the mystery. In the 1846 edition of the novella, the team of illustrators foreshadows the tearful reunion of Grace and Marion in the headpiece for the final chapter, Richard Doyle's Part the Third, which establishes an anticipatory set in the reader's mind. In the Green program, the source of suspense is not the circumstances under which Marion will return, but, first, whether Marion is still alive, and, secondly, the identity of the stranger at the garden gate whom Alfred assures Grace (and the reader) has a story to impart that will clear up the mystery of Marion's disappearance.
In Green's illustration, Grace seems dispirited as the sunset of Marion's birthday has arrived, but Alfred has yet to disclose the secret of her disappearance to which clearly he is now privy. The very same garden bench appears in the next illustration for the sake of visual continuity. The apple tree frames the heads of the couple, and leads the eyes down the left register to the playing child who is oblivious to her parents' emotional discussion of the missing aunt. In her hand, Grace holds that very letter Marion left for her on the night of Alfred's return, the letter that is the focal point of Grace's dialogue as Marion had essentially "bequeathed" her fiancé to her sister. If one may quibble, Green's choosing a formal, shot-silk dress of mid-eighteenth century fashion for Grace, the young wife of a country physician, is a bit excessive.
Nevertheless, the equally elegant penultimate illustration in Charles Green's narrative-pictorial sequence (like Daniel Maclise's The Sisters in the original novella) will assure the reader that the trajectory of the story is towards a tearful reunion of the mutually devoted sisters — a reunion which for Dickens in the autumn of 1846 represented the fulfilment of his wish to be reunited with his dead sister-in-law Mary Hogarth, whose sudden demise on 7 May 1837 had such a profound impact on the young author. Like Marion for Alfred, Mary had been "Charles's intimate friend, a privileged sister and domestic companion" (Kaplan 92).
Relevant Illustrations from the 1846 and later Editions
Left: Richard Doyle's interpretation of the tearful reunion of the sisters, Part the Third. Right: Daniel Maclise's tender moment closing the story of the everyday battles of life, The Sisters. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
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. Harmondsworth: 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.
Kaplan, Fred. Dickens: A Biography. New York: William Morrow, 1988.
Last modified 3 June 2015