It was a thing to look at. The three children close together, and two of them relying solely on the third, and the third so young and yet with an air of age and steadiness that sat so strangely on the childish figure.
“Charley, Charley!” said my guardian. “How old are you?”
“Over thirteen, sir,” replied the child.
“Oh! What a great age,” said my guardian. “What a great age, Charley!”
I cannot describe the tenderness with which he spoke to her, half playfully yet all the more compassionately and mournfully.
“And do you live alone here with these babies, Charley?” said my guardian.
“Yes, sir,” returned the child, looking up into his face with perfect confidence, “since father died.”
“And how do you live, Charley? Oh! Charley,” said my guardian, turning his face away for a moment, “how do you live?”
“Since father died, sir, I’ve gone out to work. I’m out washing to-day.”
“God help you, Charley!” said my guardian. “You’re not tall enough to reach the tub!”
“In pattens I am, sir,” she said quickly. “I’ve got a high pair as belonged to mother.”
“And when did mother die? Poor mother!”
“Mother died just after Emma was born,” said the child, glancing at the face upon her bosom. “Then father said I was to be as good a mother to her as I could. And so I tried. And so I worked at home and did cleaning and nursing and washing for a long time before I began to go out. And that’s how I know how; don’t you see, sir?”
“And do you often go out?”
“As often as I can,” said Charley, opening her eyes and smiling, “because of earning sixpences and shillings!”
“And do you always lock the babies up when you go out?”
“To keep ’em safe, sir, don’t you see?” said Charley. “Mrs. Blinder comes up now and then, and Mr. Gridley comes up sometimes, and perhaps I can run in sometimes, and they can play you know, and Tom an’t afraid of being locked up, are you, Tom?”
“No-o!” said Tom stoutly.
“When it comes on dark, the lamps are lighted down in the court, and they show up here quite bright–almost quite bright. Don’t they, Tom?”
“Yes, Charley,” said Tom, “almost quite bright.”
“Then he’s as good as gold,” said the little creature–Oh, in such a motherly, womanly way! “And when Emma’s tired, he puts her to bed. And when he’s tired he goes to bed himself. And when I come home and light the candle and has a bit of supper, he sits up again and has it with me. Don’t you, Tom?”
“Oh, yes, Charley!” said Tom. “That I do!” And either in this glimpse of the great pleasure of his life or in gratitude and love for Charley, who was all in all to him, he laid his face among the scanty folds of her frock and passed from laughing into crying.
Sketches and comments
Okay, I can’t read this passage through to the end without squirting a few tears. Three motherless children orphaned when their father dies. Dickens does not sugarcoat the problems of poverty and disease. Making the empathetic and caring John Jarndyce the witness to their suffering only increases the poignancy. Esther the narrator is there too, but Jarndyce is the real vector of sympathy.
This picture is one I will likely re-cut in the future. An early attempt while I was still figuring out linoleum cutting techniques, I got a little sloppy with the floor and background and just started hacking away, thinking, “Yeah, this will surely look like *something* when it’s done!”
It’s easy to trick yourself when exploring a new art medium, and think that the medium, whether it’s oils, or airbrush, or linoleum cutting, will create effects “by itself”. The real solution is to master the medium and make it do things that YOU want it to do!
In addition, these early images were done on 8×10 linoleum, which felt cramped to me. I shortly moved to 9×12, which made an enormous difference, just by allowing more image area.
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