Chapter 11. The Old Couple

by Charles Dickens

They are grandfather and grandmother to a dozen grown people and have great-grandchildren besides; their bodies are bent, their hair is grey, their step tottering and infirm.  Is this the lightsome pair whose wedding was so merry, and have the young couple indeed grown old so soon!

It seems but yesterday—and yet what a host of cares and griefs are crowded into the intervening time which, reckoned by them, lengthens out into a century!  How many new associations have wreathed themselves about their hearts since then!  The old time is gone, and a new time has come for others—not for them.  They are but the rusting link that feebly joins the two, and is silently loosening its hold and dropping asunder.

It seems but yesterday—and yet three of their children have sunk into the grave, and the tree that shades it has grown quite old.  One was an infant—they wept for him; the next a girl, a slight young thing too delicate for earth—her loss was hard indeed to bear.  The third, a man.  That was the worst of all, but even that grief is softened now.

It seems but yesterday—and yet how the gay and laughing faces of that bright morning have changed and vanished from above ground!  Faint likenesses of some remain about them yet, but they are very faint and scarcely to be traced.  The rest are only seen in dreams, and even they are unlike what they were, in eyes so old and dim.

One or two dresses from the bridal wardrobe are yet preserved.  They are of a quaint and antique fashion, and seldom seen except in pictures.  White has turned yellow, and brighter hues have faded.  Do you wonder, child?  The wrinkled face was once as smooth as yours, the eyes as bright, the shrivelled skin as fair and delicate.  It is the work of hands that have been dust these many years.

Where are the fairy lovers of that happy day whose annual return comes upon the old man and his wife, like the echo of some village bell which has long been silent?  Let yonder peevish bachelor, racked by rheumatic pains, and quarrelling with the world, let him answer to the question.  He recollects something of a favourite playmate; her name was Lucy—so they tell him.  He is not sure whether she was married, or went abroad, or died.  It is a long while ago, and he don’t remember.

Is nothing as it used to be; does no one feel, or think, or act, as in days of yore?  Yes.  There is an aged woman who once lived servant with the old lady’s father, and is sheltered in an alms-house not far off.  She is still attached to the family, and loves them all; she nursed the children in her lap, and tended in their sickness those who are no more.  Her old mistress has still something of youth in her eyes; the young ladies are like what she was but not quite so handsome, nor are the gentlemen as stately as Mr. Harvey used to be.  She has seen a great deal of trouble; her husband and her son died long ago; but she has got over that, and is happy now—quite happy.

If ever her attachment to her old protectors were disturbed by fresher cares and hopes, it has long since resumed its former current.  It has filled the void in the poor creature’s heart, and replaced the love of kindred.  Death has not left her alone, and this, with a roof above her head, and a warm hearth to sit by, makes her cheerful and contented.  Does she remember the marriage of great-grandmamma?  Ay, that she does, as well—as if it was only yesterday.  You wouldn’t think it to look at her now, and perhaps she ought not to say so of herself, but she was as smart a young girl then as you’d wish to see.  She recollects she took a friend of hers up-stairs to see Miss Emma dressed for church; her name was—ah! she forgets the name, but she remembers that she was a very pretty girl, and that she married not long afterwards, and lived—it has quite passed out of her mind where she lived, but she knows she had a bad husband who used her ill, and that she died in Lambeth work-house.  Dear, dear, in Lambeth workhouse!

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