Dickens /Christmas /The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices

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The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices – 1857 – A short story – a collaboration

This is a humorous narrative of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens on a walking tour of Cumberland during September 1857.  Written in collaboration, it was originally published in Household Words, 3-31 October 1857; and Harper’s Weekly, 31 October–28 November 1857.  Collected in book form in 1890.

Collins takes on the identity of Thomas Idle (a born-and-bred idler) and Dickens that of Francis Goodchild (laboriously idle).

Collins wrote three main parts.  In the first, he describes his sprained ankle after a reluctant ascent of Carrock Fell in the mist.  The second is the story of the doctor, this was later republished as ‘The Dead Hand‘.  The remaining section is a mixture of fiction and memory based around the reminiscences of Collins’s own life. 

In September, eighteen hundred and fifty-seven, two idle apprentices, exhausted by the long, hot summer, and the long, hot work it had brought with it, ran away from their employer.

They were bound to a lady named Literature, who was in fact well liked, for example she had supplied Sir Richard Whittington with his cat.

The apprentices had no goal, they wanted to know nothing, to learn nothing and do nothing. They took to themselves the names Mr Thomas Idle and Mr Francis Goodchild. Idle was a passive idler, Goodchild was laboriously idle,would go to great lenghts to be idle,

They found themselves in the North of England,Thomas lying in a meadow watching railway trains of a distant viaduct, Francis was a mile away walking south.

Goodchild suggeated they go forward, but Tomsaid he wanted to finish his ballad, Annie Laurie. It claimed that he would ‘lay doon and dee’, Goodchild criticised the person in the song,saying he should punch someone’s head. Goodchild said ‘It’s no trouble, Tom, to fall in love; for he often did, Idle says he would do best to keep out of it.

The two had sent their personal baggage ahead and had just a knapsack with them. Idle contemplated Bradshaw’s Guide and wondered why they had not taken it. They concluded they would travel by the express the next morning to Euston Square Terminus.

The express was like every other express, smelling of a washing-day or steam from a tea-urn. It shrieked over sections, it burrowed into tunnels,passed through stations without stopping.It stopped ayt some stations to swoop up passengers, some had refreshment rooms. Animals in the fieldswere used to the thundering meteor. Past buildings , canals and chimneys, the dialect changed, the people changed.

They had arrived at Carlisle, it offered amuseents, a lecture on India, a plea to put anything in a missionary box, guide books for Carlisle and the nearby lakes were for sale.

On market morning Carlisle was disagreeably busy, for the apprentices! Markets, bible stalls, dispensaries with the cure for all maladies, military recruitment.

They rode away from Carlisle toward Hesket, Newmarket. Goodchild had read of Carrock, or Carrock Fell, and thought it would be the height of idleness to climb it. Idle was not so sure but relented.

They arrived at a shoemakers and asked for a guide, but he said that no visitors went up Carrock, The went to the inn and the innkeeper offered a man he had working in the fields to act as a guide.

The innkeeper eventually offered them a dog-cart for Carrockand the apprentices set off in into a fine, soft, close, drowsy, penetrating rain. The cart was left at a farmhouse and the innkeeper with a large umbrella assumed the role as guide.

The sides of Carrock looked very steep, Idle would pay any sum to be back at the inn, the summit was lost in mist and the rain got heavier. The innkeeper led the way, Goodchild followed happily, Idle brought up the rear, mournfully. At the beginning the ascent was easy, but it got tougher. The three turned to look down at the countryside, it looked like some water-colour drawing.

Idle wasfalling back from the other two, they reached a ridge, was it the top? No! Carrock is only fifteen hundred feet. The innkeeper worried that the visibility did not get worse. He had not made the ascent for twenty years and if it did get worse the party could get lost.

They come to a cairn and the innkeeper adds a stone. Idle looks back and sees nothing. They have to find the direction to the farmhoues where the dogcart was left. Goodchild pulls out a compass and they work out the direction.

On the descent Idle is lost and found. They set off again around the mountain, Idle is lost and found again. The mist gets thicker. Then as Goodchild inspects the compass, the glass and needle fall out, it is broken. They had to go forward blindly.

They pressed on, around the mountain and came to the edge of a ravine. They decided to descend, but Idle, having fallen behind, sprained his ankle. They returned to him, Goodchild bandaged the ankle, and lent him his shoulder for them to continue downward. They had no idea where they were.

They followed the stream until they discerned a faintly-markerd cart-track. They followed it hoping it might lead to some farm or cottage. It was now afternoon and they began to worry about the darkness descending.

Eventually the track waswiped out by a stream, so they followed the stream. It led them to a mine, but it was exhausted and abandoned, though there were a few sheep grazing, and the innkepper tried but failed to recognise their markings.

Idle was about to declare that he could not go further, when the mist lifted and they saw they were down themountain and out on the moor. The innkeeper ran off to get the dog-cart and they loaded Idle. The innkeeper related a tale of another traveller who had spent the night in Carrock, he was so scared and starved by morning that he resolved never to go out again, except to his grave.

Idle took comfort that they had avoided anything worse.

They made it back, changed their clothes and took whiskey, both as treatment and to calm them.



Carrock, Old
Goodchild, Francis
Holliday, Arthur
Idle, Thomas
Literature, Mrs
Lorn, Doctor
Speddie, Doctor

They set off for Wigton by covered carriage, though the rain sloshed about like bagatelle and still poured into its interior. The locals seemed not to heed the rain, They arrived to find Wigton market was over.

Idle was carried into an inn and put across three chairs. Goodchild, at the window, reported that Wigton was one of themost dismal places he had ever seen. He reports that ther are eleven linen-drapers in view, plus several othershops. He sees two mysterious men with inscrutable backs, standing in the rain. They turn and have no expressions.

Another day of travel made Idle’s condition worse. They stoppedin a very little town, still in Cumberland. Goodchild asked the motherly lanlady of the small inn whether there was a doctor, and she said yes, a Dr Speddie. She despatches someone to fetch him.

The doctor establishes that it is a ligament that he has strained. He promises to send a lotion, but time and rest is required. In conversation they established that the doctor was acquainted with some friends of Idle, and has spent time on the other side of England, where Idle came from. Goodchild accompanied the doctor back to his place, to fetch the lotion and save him a journey.

The very pale doctor’s assistant, Lorn, is despatched with the lotion as he would have more skill than Goodchild. The doctor saw that Goodchild was confused by Lorn, so he drew him close and told his tale.

He talked of a friend called Arthur Holliday who arrived at Doncaster in September, togotothe races. His father was a rich manufacturer and Arthur was the only son. He arrived late and looked for dinner and a bed atthe principla hotel. They gave him dinner, but laughed about the bed saying it was race week. It was quite usual for folk to stay overnight in their carriages, or sleep on doorsteps that week.

Rich as he was he could not get a bed for the night. This was a novelty for Arthur, and it looked as if it would rain. He walkedthrough the suburbs and came across the Two Robins.

There was a groupof mena and someone with a knapsack leaving, he said ‘No, Mr Landlord, I am not easily scared by trifles; but, I don’t mind confessing that I can’t quite stand that’.

Holliday assumed the traveller was complaining of the price, and as he was rich asked the landlord for his price. The sly-looking landlord asked for five shillings, which Arthur readily agreed. The landlord said, ‘You can have a bed all to yourself for five shillings; but you can’t have more than a half-share of the room it stands in. Do you see what I mean, young gentleman?’

‘What sort of a man is it who has got the other bed?’ Arthur inquired. ‘Is he a gentleman?

The landlord said, ‘The quietest man I ever came across. As sober as a judge, and as regular as clock-work in his habits. It hasn’t struck nine, not ten minutes ago, and he’s in his bed already.’

Holliday agreed the terms and was shown to the room. Hecommented that the other guest was a quiet sleeper, but very pale. Then declared that he was dead.

The landlord confirmed this, ‘He died at five o’clock to-day. He’s been here a week, paying his way fairly enough. There are his books and letters and things, all sealed up in that brown-paper parcel, for the Coroner’s inquest to open to-morrow. And that’s as much as I know about it.’

He added. ‘If you’re frightened to stop alone with him, that’s not my look out. I’ve kept my part of the bargain. There’s the bed I promised you, clean and comfortable and I mean to keep the money.’

Arthur agreed to stay. He heard the clock strike ten, and steeled himselfto pass the hours before morning in the room. He had never encountered death before. He pondered the landlord’s description of how he died. The dead man had presumably been tired, perhaps had a long illness.

He found an embossed card bearing some riddles, but could not focus on them. He was stirred from his thoughts as the landlord shouted out that he was off to bed. His attention kept getting drawn to the dead man’s pale face.

He heard the people below leaving and became aware that the candle would be burnt out within an hour, he would be left in the dark. He accidentally snuffed the candle too far and it went out. He distrusted the curtained bed immediately.

He went to his bag where he had some matches. As soon as he had relit the candle his attention went to the curtained bed. He saw a long white hand hanging over the side. It was perfectly motionless, but he panicked and just stared at it.

He went back to his bed, he drew the curtains to find the man had moved, now he could see his whole arm, and his head had turned a little om the pillow, his eyelids were wide open.

He ran from the room and raised the house, explaining what had happened and calling for a doctor, Doctor Speddie was then a locum, and the nearest doctor. He believed nothing of the story of a dead man returning to life.

Arthur and I were suprised to see eachother, but with his help Speddie dragged the man back from the jaws of death. When he awoke his questions made the doctor surmise he too was a doctor, and he confirmed this was so. Speedie inquiredof which branch and the man replied ‘Any branch, which will put bread into the mouth of a poor man.’

The pale man thanked Arthur for saving his life, stressing that if he was ‘my own brother’ you could not have done more, Speddie thought he saw a similarity in their looks. The pale man revealed that he had no father, and asked if Arthur’s father would become his.

Arthur offered his writing set to prepare a prescription, as he took it out a picture floated out. It was drawn by a pretty girl, who he had fallen for, but fortunately he learned she was affianced to another before he could declare it. It had been a rash engagement to some poor man who was never likely to get money enough to marry her. The pale man said ‘The poor man may die out of your way.’

The pale man than asked Arthur a favour, to forget what was said in that room, not to tell his father or any other, Arthur agreed.

Speddie knew that Arthur’s father had been the subject of some scandals in his youth, of the plae man’s surprise at the mention of Arthur’s surname, of the glimpsed similarity, of how he had stressed ‘My own brother’, and the man’s tale of his illegitimacy. But the man had left the inn by the morning,

Speedie reported that Arthur did in fact marry the pretty girl as the pale man had suggested. Arthur and his wife had lived nearby for three years before a serious illness had taken her. Speddie had treated her and they had become close having many conversations.

On one such occasion she had been reading old letters which had been addressed to her from a man to whom she had been engaged before Arthur, she called him her first love. He was trining to be a doctor, was poor and had gone aboroad to train. They had written to each other, but when she believed he had returned to England the letters had stopped. When a year passed she had married Arthur. The doctor asked her about timings and established that the letters had stopped at the same time he had treated the pale man.

Man years passed and Lorn presented himself to Speedie to become his assistant. Speddie thought he resembled Mr Holliday, he assumed he was the first man engaged to Arthur’s wife,that he was the pale manlfrom the inn. The only one whomight confirm his suspicions was Lorn himself. But he had never confirmed any of these suspicions.

They were disturbed by Lorn’s return, the door caught on a fold in the carpet and a long white bony hand appeared. Goodchild said ‘That hand! Look at that hand, Doctor!’

The tale proceeds. Thomas Idle, stretched out injured on a sofa in Allonby, reflects that all the great disasters of his life have been caused by being deluded into activity. It consists of reminiscences, and is loosely based on Collins’s own life. 

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