I am fond of Gardening. I like to dig. If among the operations of the garden any need for such a work can be at any time discovered or invented, I like to dig a hole.
This fun little tale first appeared in Dickens’ weekly journal Household Words. The version of it here is from an anthology of pieces from the journal published in America as Pearl-Fishing; Choice Stories from Dickens’ Household Words, which is hosted at Project Gutenberg.
On the 3d of March, 1849, I began a hole behind the kitchen wall, whereinto it was originally intended to transplant a plum tree. The exercise was so much to my taste, that a strange humor impelled me to dig on. A fascination held me to the task. I neglected my business. I disappeared from the earth’s surface. A boy who worked a basket by means of a rope and pulley, aided me; so aided, I confined my whole attention to spade labor. The centripetal force seemed to have made me its especial victim. I dug on until Autumn. In the beginning of November I observed that, upon percussion, the sound given by the floor of my pit was resonant. I did not intermit my labor, urged as I was by a mysterious instinct downwards. On applying my ear, I occasionally heard a subdued sort of rattle, which caused me to form a theory that the centre of the earth might be composed of mucus. In November, the ground broke beneath me into a hollow, and I fell a considerable distance. I alighted on the box-seat of a four-horse coach, which happened to be running at that time immediately underneath. The coachman took no notice whatever of my sudden arrival by his side. He was so completely muffled up, that I could observe only the skillful way in which he manipulated reins and whip. The horses were yellow. I had seen no more than this, when the guard’s horn blew, and presently we pulled up at an inn. A waiter came out, and appeared to collect four bags from the passengers inside the coach. He then came round to me.
“Dine here, Sir?”
“Yes, certainly,” said I. I like to dine—not the sole point of resemblance between myself and the great Johnson.
“Trouble you for your stomach, Sir.”
While the waiter was looking up with a polite stare into my puzzled face, my neighbor, the coachman, put one hand within his outer coat, as if to feel for money in his waistcoat pocket. Directly afterwards his fingers came again to light, and pulled forth an enormous sack. Notwithstanding that it was abnormally enlarged, I knew by observation of its form and texture that this was a stomach, with the œsophagus attached. This, then, the waiter caught as it was thrown down to him, and hung it carelessly over his arm, together with the four smaller bags (which I now knew to be also stomachs) collected from the passengers within the coach. I started up, and as I happened to look round, observed a skeleton face upon the shoulders of a gentleman who sat immediately behind my back. My own features were noticed at the same time by the guard, who now came forward touching his hat.
“Beg your pardon, Sir, but you’ve been and done it.”
“Why, Sir, you should have booked your place, and not come up in this clandestine way. However, you’ve been and done it!”
“My good man, what have I done?”
“Why, Sir, the Baron Terroro’s eyes had the box seat, and I strongly suspect you’ve been and sat upon them.”
I looked involuntarily to see whether I had been sitting upon anything except the simple cushion. Truly enough, there was an eye, which I had crushed and flattened.
“Only one,” I said.
“Worse for you, and better for him. The other eye had time to escape, and it will know you again, that’s certain. Well, it’s no business of mine. Of course you’ve no appetite now for dinner? Better pay your fare, Sir. To the Green Hippopotamus and Spectacles, where we put up, it’s ten-and-six.”
“Is there room inside?” I inquired. It was advisable to shrink from observation.
“Yes, Sir. The inside passengers are mostly skeleton. There’s room for three, Sir. Inside, one-pound-one.”
I paid the money, and became an inside passenger.
Professor Essig’s Lectures on Anatomy had so fortified me, that I did not shrink from entering the Skitzton coach. It contained living limbs, loose or attached to skeletons in other respects bare, except that they were clothed with broadcloth garments, cut after the English fashion. One passenger only had a complete face of flesh, he had also one living hand; the other hand I guessed was bony, because it was concealed in a glove obviously padded. By observing the fit of his clothes, I came to a conclusion that this gentleman was stuffed throughout; that all his limbs, except the head and hand, were artificial. Two pair of Legs, in woollen stockings, and a pair of Ears, were in a corner of the coach, and in another corner there were nineteen or twenty Scalps.
I thought it well to look astonished at nothing, and, having pointed in a careless manner to the scalps, asked what might be their destination? The person with the Face and Hand replied to me; and although evidently himself a gentleman, he addressed me with a tone of unconcealed respect.
“They are going to Skitzton, Sir, to the hairdresser’s.”
“Yes, to be sure,” I said. “They are to make Natural Skin Wigs. I might have known.”
“I beg your pardon, Sir. There is a ball to-morrow night at Culmsey. But the gentry do not like to employ village barbers, and therefore many of the better class of people send their hair to Skitzton, and receive it back by the return coach properly cut and curled.”
“Oh,” said I. “Ah! Oh, indeed!”
“Dinners, gentlemen!” said a voice at the window, and the waiter handed in four stomachs, now tolerably well filled. Each passenger received his property, and pulling open his chest with as much composure as if he were unbuttoning his waistcoat, restored his stomach, with a dinner in it, to the right position. Then the reckonings were paid, and the coach started.
I thought of my garden, and much wished that somebody could throw Professor Essig down the hole that I had dug. A few things were to be met with in Skitzland which would rather puzzle him. They puzzled me; but I took refuge in silence, and so fortified, protected my ignorance from an exposure.
“You are going to court, Sir, I presume?” said my Face and Hand friend, after a short pause. His was the only mouth in the coach, excepting mine, so that he was the only passenger able to enter into conversation.
“My dear Sir,” I replied, “let me be frank with you. I have arrived here unexpectedly out of another world. Of the manners and customs, nay, of the very nature of the people who inhabit this country, I know nothing. For any information you can give me, I shall be very grateful.”
My friend smiled incredulity, and said,
“Whatever you are pleased to profess, I will believe. What you are pleased to feign a wish for, I am proud to furnish. In Skitzland, the inhabitants, until they come of age, retain that illustrious appearance which you have been so fortunate as never to have lost. During the night of his twenty-first birthday, each Skitzlander loses the limbs which up to that period have received from him no care, no education. Of those neglected parts the skeletons alone remain, but all those organs which he has employed sufficiently continue unimpaired. I, for example, devoted to the study of the law, forgot all occupation but to think, to use my senses, and to write. I rarely used my legs, and therefore Nature has deprived me of them.”
“But,” I observed, “it seems that in Skitzland you are able to take yourselves to pieces.”
“No one has that power more largely than yourself. What organs we have we can detach on any service. When dispersed, a simple force of Nature directs all corresponding members whither to fly that they may re-assemble.”
“If they can fly,” I asked, “why are they sent in coaches? There were a pair of eyes on the box-seat.”
“Simply for safety against accidents. Eyes flying alone are likely to be seized by birds, and incur many dangers. They are sent, therefore, usually under protection, like any other valuable parcel.”
“Do many accidents occur?”
“Very few. For mutual protection, and also because a single member is often all that has been left existing of a fellow Skitzlander, our laws, as you, Sir, know much better than myself, estimate the destruction of any part absent on duty from its skeleton as a crime equivalent to murder——”
After this I held my tongue. Presently my friend again inquired whether I was going up to Court?
“Why should I go to Court?”
“Oh, Sir, it pleases you to be facetious. You must be aware that any Skitzlander who has been left by Nature in possession of every limb, sits in the Assembly of the Perfect, or the Upper House, and receives many State emoluments and dignities.”
“Are there many members of that Upper Assembly?”
“Sir, there were forty-two. But if you are now travelling to claim your seat, the number will be raised to forty-three.”
“The Baron Terroro—” I hinted.
“My brother, Sir. His eyes are on the box-seat under my care. Undoubtedly he is a Member of the Upper House.”
I was now anxious to get out of the coach as soon as possible. My wish was fulfilled after the next pause. One Eye, followed by six Pairs of Arms, with strong hard Hands belonging to them, flew in at the window. I was collared; the door was opened, and all hands were at work to drag me out and away. The twelve Hands whisked me through the air, while the one Eye sailed before us, like an old bird, leader of the flight.
What sort of sky have they in Skitzland? Our earth overarches them, and, as the sun-light filters through, it causes a subdued illumination with very pure rays. Skitzland is situated nearly in the centre of our globe, it hangs there like a shrunken kernel in the middle of a nutshell. The height from Skitzland to the over-arching canopy is great; so great, that if I had not fallen personally from above the firmament, I should have considered it to be a blue sky similar to ours. At night it is quite dark; but during the day there is an appearance in the Heaven of white spots; their glistening reminded me of stars. I noticed them as I was being conveyed to prison by the strong arms of justice, for it was by a detachment of members from the Skitzton Police that I was now hurried along. The air was very warm, and corroborated the common observation of an increase of heat as you get into the pith of our planet. The theory of Central Fire, however, is, you perceive, quite overturned by my experience.
We alighted near the outskirts of a large and busy town. Through its streets I was dragged publicly, much stared at, and much staring. The street life was one busy nightmare of disjointed limbs. Professor Essig, could he have been dragged through Skitzton, would have delivered his farewell lecture upon his return. “Gentlemen, Fuit Ilium—Fuit Ischium—Fuit Sacrum—Anatomy has lost her seat among the sciences. My occupation’s gone.” Professor Owen’s Book “On the Nature of Limbs,” must contain, in the next edition, an Appendix “Upon Limbs in Skitzland.” I was dragged through the streets, and all that I saw there, in the present age of little faith, I dare not tell you. I was dragged through the streets to prison and there duly chained, after having been subjected to the scrutiny of about fifty couples of eyes drawn up in a line within the prison door. I was chained in a dark cell, a cell so dark that I could very faintly perceive the figure of some being who was my companion. Whether this individual had ears wherewith to hear, and mouth wherewith to answer me, I could not see, but at a venture I addressed him. My thirst for information was unconquerable; I began, therefore, immediately with a question:
“Friend, what are those stars which we see shining in the sky at mid-day?”
An awful groan being an unsatisfactory reply, I asked again.
“Man, do not mock at misery. You will yourself be one of them.”
‘The Teachers shall shine like Stars in the Firmament.’ I have a propensity for teaching, but was puzzled to discover how I could give so practical an illustration of the text of Fichte.
“Believe me,” I said, “I am strangely ignorant. Explain yourself.”
He answered with a hollow voice:
“Murderers are shot up out of mortars into the sky, and stick there. Those white, glistening specks, they are their skeletons.”
Justice is prompt in Skitzland. I was tried incredibly fast by a jury of twelve men who had absolutely heads. The judges had nothing but brain, mouth, and ear. Three powerful tongues defended me, but as they were not suffered to talk nonsense, they had little to say. The whole case was too clear to be talked into cloudiness. Baron Terroro, in person, deposed, that he had sent his eyes to see a friend in Culmsey, and that they were returning on the Skitzton coach, when I, illegally, came with my whole bulk upon the box-seat, which he occupied. That one of his eyes was, in that manner, totally destroyed, but that the other eye, having escaped, identified me, and brought to his brain intelligence of the calamity which had befallen. He deposed further, that having received this information, he despatched his uncrushed eye with arms from the police-office, and accompanied with several members of the detective force, to capture the offender, and to procure the full proofs of my crime. A sub-inspector of Skitzton Police then deposed that he sent three of his faculties, with his mouth, eye, and ear, to meet the coach. That the driver, consisting only of a stomach and hands, had been unable to observe what passed. That the guard, on the contrary, had taxed me with my deed, that he had seen me rise from my seat upon the murdered eye, and that he had heard me make confession of my guilt. The guard was brought next into court, and told his tale. Then I was called upon for my defence. If a man wearing a cloth coat and trousers, and talking excellent English, were to plead at the Old Bailey that he had broken into some citizen’s premises accidentally by falling from the moon, his tale would be received in London as mine was in Skitzton. I was severely reprimanded for my levity, and ordered to be silent. The Judge summed up and the Jury found me Guilty. The Judge who had put on the black cap before the verdict was pronounced, held out no hope of mercy, and straightway sentenced me to Death, according to the laws and usage of the Realm.
The period which intervenes between the sentence and execution of a criminal in Skitzland, is not longer than three hours. In order to increase the terror of death by contrast, the condemned man is suffered to taste at the table of life from which he is banished, the most luscious viands. All the attainable enjoyment that his wit can ask for, he is allowed to have, during the three hours before he is shot, like rubbish, off the fields of Skitzland.
Under guard, of course, I was now to be led whithersoever I desired.
Several churches were open. They never are all shut in Skitzton. I was taken into one. A man with heart and life was preaching. People with hearts were in some pews; people with brains, in others; people with ears only, in some. In a neighboring church there was a popular preacher, a skeleton with life. His congregation was a crowd of ears, and nothing more.
There was a day-performance at the Opera. I went to that. Fine lungs and mouths possessed the stage, and afterwards there was a great bewilderment with legs. I was surprised to notice that many of the most beautiful ladies were carried in and out, and lifted about like dolls. My guides sneered at my pretence of ignorance, when I asked why this was. But they were bound to please me in all practicable ways, so they informed me, although somewhat pettishly. It seems that in Skitzland, ladies who possess and have cultivated only their good looks, lose at the age of twenty-one, all other endowments. So they become literally dolls, but dolls of a superior kind; for they can not only open and shut their eyes, but also sigh; wag slowly with their heads, and sometimes take a pocket-handkerchief out of a bag, and drop it. But as their limbs are powerless, they have to be lifted and dragged about after the fashion that excited my astonishment.
I said then, “Let me see the Poor.” They took me to a Workhouse. The men, there, were all yellow; and they wore a dress which looked as though it were composed of asphalt; it had also a smell like that of pitch. I asked for explanation of these things.
A Superintendent of Police remarked that I was losing opportunities of real enjoyment for the idle purpose of persisting in my fable of having dropped down from the sky. However, I compelled him to explain to me what was the reason of these things. The information I obtained was chiefly this:—that Nature, in Skitzland, never removes the stomach. Every man has to feed himself; and the necessity for finding food, joined to the necessity for buying clothes, is a mainspring whereby the whole clockwork of civilized life is kept in motion. Now, if a man positively cannot feed and clothe himself, he becomes a pauper. He then goes to the Workhouse, where he has his stomach filled with a cement. That stopping lasts a life-time, and he thereafter needs no food. His body, however, becomes yellow by the superfluity of bile. The yellow-boy, which is the Skitzland epithet for pauper, is at the same time provided with a suit of clothes. The clothes are of a material so tough that they can be worn unimpaired for more than eighty years. The pauper is now freed from care, but were he in this state cast loose upon society, since he has not that stimulus to labor which excites industry in other men, he would become an element of danger in the state. Nature no longer compelling him to work, the law compels him. The remainder of his life is forfeit to the uses of his country. He labors at the workhouse, costing nothing more than the expense of lodging, after the first inconsiderable outlay for cement wherewith to plug his stomach, and for the one suit of apparel.
When we came out of the workhouse, all the bells in the town were tolling. The Superintendent told me that I had sadly frittered away time, for I had now no more than half an hour to live. Upon that I leaned my back against a post, and asked him to prepare me for my part in the impending ceremony by giving me a little information on the subject of executions.
I found that it was usual for a man to be executed with great ceremony upon the spot whereon his crime had been committed. That in case of rebellions or tumults in the provinces, when large numbers were not unfrequently condemned to death, the sentence of the law was carried out in the chief towns of the disturbed districts. That large numbers of people were thus sometimes discharged from a single market-place, and that the repeated strokes appeared to shake, or crack, or pierce in some degree that portion of the sky towards which the artillery had been directed. I here at once saw that I had discovered the true cause of earthquakes and volcanoes; and this shows how great light may be thrown upon theories concerning the hidden constitution of this earth, by going more deeply into the matter of it than had been done by any one before I dug my hole. Our volcanoes, it is now proved, are situated over the market-places of various provincial towns in Skitzland. When a revolution happens, the rebels are shot up,—discharged from mortars by means of an explosive material evidently far more powerful than our gunpowder, or gun-cotton; and they are pulverized by the friction in grinding their way through the earth. How simple and easy truth appears, when we have once arrived at it.
The sound of muffled drums approached us, and a long procession turned the corner of a street. I was placed in the middle of it,—Baron Terroro by my side. All then began to float so rapidly away, that I was nearly left alone, when forty arms came back and collared me. It was considered to be a proof of my refractory disposition, that I would make no use of my innate power of flight. I was therefore dragged in this procession swiftly through the air, drums playing, fifes lamenting.
We alighted on the spot where I had fallen, and the hole through which I had come I saw above me. It was very small, but the light from above shining more vividly through it made it look, with its rough edges, like a crumpled moon. A quantity of some explosive liquid was poured into a large mortar, which had been erected (under the eye of Baron Terroro) exactly where my misfortune happened. I was then thrust in, the Baron ramming me down, and pounding with a long stock or pestle upon my head in a noticeably vicious manner. The Baron then cried “Fire!” and as I shot out, in the midst of a blaze, I saw him looking upward.
By great good fortune, they had planted their artillery so well, that I was fired up through my hole again, and alighted in my own garden, just a little singed. My first thought was to run to an adjoining bed of vegetable marrows. Thirty vegetable marrows and two pumpkins I rained down to astonish the Skitzlanders, and I fervently hope that one of them may have knocked out the remaining eye of my vindictive enemy, the Baron. I then went into the pantry, and obtained a basket full of eggs, and having rained these down upon the Skitzlanders, I left them. It was after breakfast when I went down to Skitzland, and I came back while the dinner bell was ringing.