This was written for a Dickens fanfiction challenge on Dickensblog .com/dickensblog/
The rules were as follows:
-Your story should take place in winter.
-Your story should center around a New-Year's style "resolution" of some sort.
-Your story should be about one of your top five favorite characters.
I made mine about three of my top favorite characters. :D
"Dear Mr. Noggs, you were the very first person I thought to turn to," I said, "though you are so good a person you will not take any credit to yourself for the trust I place in you—"
Newman Noggs, looking uncomfortable, performed such a series of pops and crackles upon the joints of his hands that it might have astonished me, were I not acquainted with his propensity to such activity under strong emotion. "No—no—dear Mrs. Woodcourt, never call me good—oh, no, the trust is all a part of your own good heart."
It was good of him to say so, though of course it was not true, but I was well familiar with the dear old man's modest nature. We had been friends two years, since my little family passed a part of a summer in Devon near the farm Mr. Noggs was caretaker for. My children, as all the neighboring children, doted on the peculiar, kind old man and clamoured to return the next summer and doubtless would again. It was a more cheery place than their grandmother's ancestral home in Wales. But here I am rattling away when I ought to be continuing my tale.
"Mrs. Woodcourt, what brings you so far alone on such a bitter winter's day?" Mr. Noggs inquired as he pressed more hot spiced negus into my chilled hands.
"It is the wish of a dying woman," I said softly, "and there was no one to perform it but my own poor self. Allan—Mr. Woodcourt—would have taken up the charge, but he has been away from home this week, attending the sickbed of a dear old friend. I left my children in the good care of Ada Carstone and my dear Charley—who is married now, you know—and came to consult with you. Since the death of my good, kind Guardian, I have no one who can perform a delicate bit of business in London. It is my misfortune never to have been in Devon at the same time as your kind friend Mr. Nickleby and made his acquaintance, or I should never have troubled you—"
"Troubled me! It is my delight to make myself useful, Mrs. Woodcourt. Nick thinks I'm getting old, you know, and tries to make me accept more servants—me, have servants! Please go on, and tell me what I may do for you."
Dear, kind Mr. Noggs! "It is a matter of locating a lady and begging whether she will come to see this poor, dying lady in my home. But allow me to start from the beginning and tell you all, as she gave permission. It was a still, clear, but cold evening five days ago that I found her. I do not know what impelled me to step outside—sitting too long over the hot fire with my sewing, perhaps, though I cannot help but think that there was a special providence in it, for she surely would have been shortly dead if I had not. I walked out with a shawl as far as the gate, and by the moonlight I saw her there, a dark, huddled mass on the frosty grass. I screamed out for help, and my darling—Ada, you know—came flying out ahead of all the servants. She is a quiet, sweet dear, but in her kindness she loves me so that she would have flown at anyone to save me. But there was no attacker, only a terribly sick woman lying at the gate. We carried her in and laid her in my bed, and there she has been for five days.
"Oh, Mr. Noggs, the poor lady strikes such a thrill through me as I think of her! It is not fear nor any such emotion, and yet it is keen, for there is something in her face and carriage that that bring to mind—my own poor, dear mother. I am so sorry, Mr. Noggs. I ought not to weep after so many years, but I cannot help it. You know I cannot, for did we not meet while both in tearful contemplation of a little grave near Mr. Nickleby's farm? There. I am quite composed again. But it is impossible to fully describe the poor lady as she lies ill in my bed! She was dressed in clothing that was once very fine but now much bedraggled. She was once very beautiful, oh, so beautiful, but there is an iciness to her features, as through the frost had fallen on her long ago and never departed. Even unconscious she bears herself proudly, but her fevered wanderings have revealed anguish of spirit, and her hair which must once have been luxuriantly dark is now completely white.
"I have learned much of her life and her anguish, and though I cannot call her good, yet I cannot condemn her. I am not good enough to cast stones. She has suffered, and most of her sufferings are not of her own making. Raised in genteel poverty, she knew it was her lot to be sold to a husband in exchange for his fortune and position, and it made her proud and bitter, hating herself and all others with her. I have seen between the lines of what she has spoken to me, I have seen how desperate and angry she grew under the knowledge that she was a kind of slave and how determined never to fully yield. It was her misfortune to meet with a husband at least her match for pride and yet more selfish. Mr. Noggs, when I compare my last seven years of marriage with my gentle, kind husband with the two years this poor lady passed under her husband's roof ten—twelve years ago, I am almost ashamed! For what have I done to earn such joy? Pray—do not answer, for you will be undeservedly kind to me.
"The one consolation in the proud woman's life with her proud husband was her husband's sweet young daughter, for he was a widower, and yet it was also her torment. She felt the tenderest of feelings for the beautiful girl, feelings she had never thought to have awakened, and yet she was forced to repress them, pass almost as a stranger with her step-daughter— Pray forgive my foolish tears again, Mr. Noggs! But she is so very much like my own poor mother. Let me only say that in time she fled her husband—it is so very wicked of me to be glad for it! He was cruel and selfish, but she tells me with tears that she was by no means guiltless herself. Together they made their ruin.
"The lady has lived these last years with her cousin, a man she says was kind but stupid, whom she despised but whose kindness humbled her. I do not understand how one could despise a kind friend, but she has long had nothing but her pride to shield her. Dear Mr. Noggs, can you imagine what it is like to hate all the world but one person? She has been empty and miserable, and now that her kind relation has died, her remaining relatives look on her as a fallen woman and have turned her out. She has lived on the small amount of money he was able to leave her, but even that has faded, and so she set out to walk to London—why, I do not think even she knows. Many of her delirious ramblings have been of this stepdaughter, of her innocence, beauty, and goodness, of the pain the poor girl suffered and of the joy she found with her own husband. O, it seems to me, Mr. Noggs, that it is too, too easy to build up another's life or shatter it through mere kindness and unkindness! I have done nothing but what our Lord commanded us, in welcoming the sick and the stranger, and there is a whole new aspect to the poor lady's face, a kind of glad weakness, as if she is at last glad to put down the heavy shield of pride.
"Thus in traveling by foot through this cruel winter, she came to my own dear house, nearly dead with fatigue, hunger, and chill, and when she read the name on the gate, she said to herself that it was an omen and that it was the right place for her to die, for her whole life has been un unending vista of bleakness. How could she know that my house is Bleak in name only? It is alive from day's end to day's end with the children's laughter and play, with my darling's sweetness and my husband's warm kindness. Perhaps it has been good for her to hear the happiness of what she thought was to be so bleak! Perhaps it has helped her to form her resolution, which she had before shrunk from. She says it is I who have helped her—she says I have been reminding her all the while of her own dear Florence—but, there! It is only her weakened nerves and her gratitude.
"Her determination is this: she will see Florence once more before she dies. She wishes for Florence to see that she has learnt to be humble and for Florence to be by her when she casts herself—for the first and last time—on the breast of that Friend who would have carried her long ago. Dear Mr. Noggs, forgive me!"
"No—no—" Newman Noggs said, wiping his overflowing eyes with a great expanse of handkerchief and gulping some of the boiling negus. "You have touched me, Mrs. Woodcourt, but that is not so bad a thing! How can I help this poor lady?"
"You are the only person I know with business connections in London. I must send word to Florence Gay, but how am I to do so? Her husband has some connection to a firm in London, but Mrs. Dombey cannot say which—she is so ill and confused—"
Mr. Noggs half-rose involuntarily. "Dombey! Dombey—Dombey, you say?"
"Do you know the name?" I asked eagerly.
"Why—why, yes, Mrs. Woodcourt! Perhaps ten years ago the prestigious firm of Dombey and Son made such a great smash that it was spoken of in London and beyond for many and a day. There was a great mystery involved which I never knew much of, but I do know that Cheeryble and Nickleby profited by it by the acquisition of their excellent business manager, Mr. Morfin, when Tom Linkinwater died. Now, what can I remember of the thing?" He paced, cracking the joints of his hands absently. "Ah! Mrs. Woodcourt, I do believe I have it! After the smash of Dombey and Son, Mr. Dombey was known to be living with his daughter, a Mrs. Gay! Gay? Of Hughes, Gay, and Waxman? Perhaps, perhaps. Either Nick or Frank Cheeryble will know. We will go to London immediately, Mrs. Woodcourt!"
"I knew you could help me, dear Mr. Noggs."
No one except my own dear Guardian could have helped me better. Mr. Noggs led me to Mr. Nickleby himself, who had but recently celebrated the marriage of his eldest daughter, and Mr. Nickleby and Mr. Noggs led me to Walter Gay, of Hughes, Gay, and Waxman, and Mr. Gay led me to his beautiful wife, who had but recently suffered the death of her father. It was Florence Dombey exactly as Edith Dombey had described her. Mrs. Gay wept when she learned of my mission, for gladness and for sorrow, and she departed immediately with me and Mr. Noggs.
I cannot share details of that final meeting between two hearts able to love freely at last, for I did not witness it, but when Mrs. Gay emerged from my bedroom, she wept again, and again gladness and sorrow mingled in her tears. When I went in, Edith Dombey was lying pale and still on the pillows of my bed, her face soft, gentle, more beautiful than it had ever been in life, and, for the first time, at peace. I could not help myself. I shed a few tears, kissed her pale face, and went away to the rooms of each of my children to tell them how their Mother loved them.