Charles Dickens.

The mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories online

. (page 12 of 103)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 12 of 103)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

pots ? horses and harness ? "

" No. Sounds."

" What sounds ? "
'- "Cries."

"' What cries do you mean ? Chairs to mend ?"

" No. I mean screeches. Now I'll tell
you, Mr. Jarsper. Wait a bit till I put the
bottle right." Here the cork is evidently taken
out again, and replaced again. " There ! Now
it's right ! This time last year, only a few
days later, I happened to have been doing what
was correct by the season, in the way of giving
it the welcome it had a right to expect, when
them town boys set on me at their worst. At
length I gave 'em the slip, and turned in here.
And here I fell asleep. And what woke me ?
The ghost of a cry. The ghost of one terrific
shriek, which shriek was followed by the ghost
of the howl of a dog : a long, dismal, woeful
howl, such as a dog gives when a person's
dead. That was my last Christmas-eve."

" What do you mean ? " is the very abrupt,
and, one might say, fierce retort.

"I mean that I made inquiries everywhere
about, and that no living ears but mine heard
either that cry or that howl. So I say they
was both ghosts ; though why they came to me,
I've never made out."

" I thought you were another kind of man,"
says Jasper scornfully.

" So I thought myself," answers Durdles with



his usual composure ; " and yet I was picked
out for it."

Jasper had risen suldenly wlien he asked
him what he meant, and he now says, " Come,
we shall freeze here • lead the way."

Durdles complies, not over-steadily ; opens
die door at the top of the steps with the key he
has already used ; and so emerges on the cathe-
dral level, in a passage at the side of the chancel.
Here the moonlight is so very bright again, that
the colours of the nearest stained-glass window
are thrown upon their faces. The appearance
of the unconscious Durdles, holding the door
open for his companion to follow, as if from the
grave, is ghastly enough, with a purple band
across his face, and a yellow splash upon his
brow : but he bears the close scrutiny of his
companion in an insensible way, although it is
prolonged while the latter fumbles among his
pockets for a key confided to him that will open
an iron gate, so to enable them to pass to the
staircase of the great tower.

" That and the bottle are enough for you to
carry," he says, giving it to Durdles ; " hand
your bundle to me ; I am younger and longer-
winded than you." Durdles hesitates for a
moment between bundle and bottle ; but gives
the preference to the bottle, as being by far the
better company, and consigns the dry weight to
his fellow-explorer.

Then they go up the winding staircase of the
great tower toilsomely, turning and turning, and
lowering their heads to avoid the stairs above,
or the rough stone pivot around which they
twist. Durdles has lighted his lantern, by draw-
ing from the cold hard wall a spark of that
mysterious fire which lurks in everything, and,
guided by this speck, they clamber up among
the cobwebs and the dust. Their way lies
through strange places. Twice or thrice they
emerge into level low-arched galleries, whence
they can look down into the moonlit nave : and
where Durdles, waving his lantern, waves the
dim angels' heads upon the corbels of the roof,
seeming to watch their progress. Anon they
turn into narrower and steeper staircases, and
the night air begins to blow upon them, and the
chirp of some startled jackdaw or frightened
rook precedes the heavy beating of wings in a
confined space, and the beating down of dust
and straws upon their heads. At last, leaving
their light behind a stair — for it blows fresh up
here — they look down on Cloisterham, fair to
see in the moonlight : its ruined habitations and
sanctuaries of the dead, at the tower's base :
its moss-softened red-tiled roofs and red-brick
houses of the living, clustered beyond : its river

winding down from the mist on the horizon, as
though that were its source, and already heaving
with a restless knowledge of its approach towards
the sea.

Once again, an unaccountable expedition this!
Jasper (always moving softly with no visible
reason) contemplates the scene, and especially
that stillest part of it which the cathedral over-
shadows. But he contemplates Durdles quite as
curiously, and Durdles is by times conscious of
his watchful eyes.

Only by times, because Durdles is growing
drowsy. As aeronauts lighten the load they
carry when they wish to rise, similarly Durdles
has lightened the wicker bottle in coming up.
Snatches of sleep surprise him on his legs, and
stop him in his talk. A mild fit of calenture
seizes him, in which he deems that the ground
so far below is on a level with the tower, and
would as lief walk off the tower into the air as
not. Such is his state when they begin to
come down. And as aeronauts make them-
selves heavier when they wish to descend, simi-
larly Durdles charges himself with more liquid
from the wicker bottle, that he may come down
the better.

The iron gate attained and locked — but not
before Durdles has tumbled twice, and cut an
eyebrow open once — they descend into the crypt
again, with the intent of issuing forth as they
entered. But, while returning among those lanes
of light, Durdles becomes so very uncertain, both
of foot and speech, that he half drops, half throws
himself down, by one of the heavy pillars, scarcely
less heavy than itself, and indistinctly appeals to
his companion for forty winks of a second each.

" If you will have it so, or must have it so,"
replies Jasper, " I'll not leave you here. Take
them, while I walk to and fro."

Durdles is asleep at once ; an4 in his sleep he
dreams a dream.

It is not much of a dream, considering the
vast extent of the domains of dreamland, and
their wonderful productions ; it is only remark-
able for being unusually restless and unusually
real. He dreams of lying there asleep, and yet
counting his companion's footsteps as he walks
to and fro. He dreams that the footsteps die
away into distance of time and of space, and
that something touches him, and that something
falls from his hand. Then something clinks
and gropes about, and he dreams that he is
alone for so long a time, that the lanes of light
take new directions as the moon advances in
her course. From succeeding unconsciousness
he passes into a dream of slow uneasiness from
cold ; and painfully awakes to a perception c\



the lanes of light — really changed, much as he
had dreamed — and Jasper walking among them,
beating his hands and feet.

" Holloa ! " Durdles cries out, unmeaningly

" Awake at last ? " says Jasper, coming up to
him. '• Do you know that your forties have
stretched into thousands ? "

" No."

" They have, though."

"What's the time?"

" Hark ! The bells are going in the tower ! "

They strike four quarters, and then the great
bell strikes.

" Two ! " cries Durdles, scrambling up. " Why
didn't you try to wake me, Mr. Jarsper ? "

" I did. I might as well have tried to wake
the dead — your own family of dead, up in the
corner there."

" Did you touch me ?"

" Touch vou ! Yes. Shook you."

As Durdl-s recalls that touching something
in his dream, he looks down on the pavement,
and sees the key of the crypt door lying close
to where he himself lay.

" I dropped you, did I ? " he says, picking it
up, and recalling that part of his dream. As he
gathers himself up again into an upright position,
or into a position as nearly upright as he ever
maintains, he is again conscious of being watched
by his companion.

"Well !" says Jasper, smiling, "are you quite
ready ? Pray don't hurry."

" Let me get my bundle right, Mister Jarsper,
and I'm with you."

As he ties it afresh, he is once more conscious
that he is very narrowly observed.

" What do you suspect me of, Mr. Jarsper ? "
he asks with drunken displeasure. " Let them
as has any suspicions of Durdles name 'em.

" I've no suspicions of you, my good Mr.
Durdles ; but I have suspicions that my bottle
was filled with something stiffer than either of
us supposed. And I also have suspicions,"
Jasper adds, taking it from the pavement and
turning it bottom upwards, " that it's empty."

Durdles condescends to laugh at this. Con-
tinuing to chuckle when his laugh is over, as
though remonstrant with himself on his drinking
powers, he rolls to the door and unlocks it.
They both pass out, and Durdles relocks it, and
pockets his key.

"A thousand thanks for a curious and in-
teresting night," says Jasper, giving him his
hand. " You can make your own way
home ?"

" I should think so ! " answers Durdles. " If

you was to offer Durdles the affront to show him
his way home, he wouldn't go home.

' Durdles wouldn't go home till morning ;
And then Durdles wouldn't go home,'

Durdles wouldn't." This with the utmost de-

" Good night, then."

" Good night, Mr. Jarsper."

Each is turning his own way, when a sharp
whistle rends the silence, and the jargon is
yelped out :

" Widdy widdy wen !
I — ket — ches — Im — out — arter — ten,
Widdy widdy wy !

Then — E — don't — go — then — I — shy —
Widdy Widdy Wake-cock warning ! "

Instantly afterwards, a rapid fire of stones rattles
at the cathedral wall, and the hideous small boy
is beheld opposite, dancing in the moonlight.

" What ! Is that baby-devil on the watch
there?" cries Jasper in a fury: so quickly
roused, and so violent, that he seems an older
devil himself. " I shall shed the blood of that
impish wretch ! I know I shall do it I" Regard-
less of the fire, though it hits him more than
once, he rushes at Deputy, collars him, and tries
to bring him across. But Deputy is not to be
so easily brought across. With a diabolical in-
sight into the strongest part of his position, he
is no sooner taken by the throat than he curls
up his legs, forces his assailant to hang him, as
it were, and gurgles in his throat, and screws his
body, and twists, as already undergoing the first
agonies of strangulation. There is nothing for
it but to drop him. He instantly gets himself
together, backs over to Durdles, and cries to his
assailant, gnashing the great gap in front of his
mouth with rage and malice :

" I'll blind yer, s'elp me ! I'll stone yer eyes
out, s'elp me ! If I don't have yer eyesight,
bellows me 1 " At the same time dodging behind
Durdles, and snarling at Jasper, now from this
side of him, and now from that : prepared, if
pounced upon, to dart away in all manner of
curvilinear directions, and, if run down after all,
to grovel in the dust, and cry : " Now, hit me
when I'm down ! Do it !"

" Don't hurt the boy, Mister Jarsper," urges
Durdles, shielding him. " Recollect yourself."

" He followed us to-night, when we first came

"Yer He, I didn't!" replies Deputy in his
one form of polite contradiction.

" He has been prowling near us ever
since !"

" Yer lie, I haven't !" returns Deputy. " I'd



only jist come out for my 'elth'when I see you
two a-coming out of the Kinfreederel. If
'I^ket — ches — Im—out— ar — ter — ten ! ' "

(with the usual rhythm and dance, though dodg-
ing behind Durdles), " it ain't my fault, is it ? "

" Take him home, then," retorts Jasper fero-
ciously, though with a strong check upon himself,
" and let my eyes be rid of the sight of you ! "

Deputy, with another sharp whistle, at once
expressing his relief, and liis commencement of
a milder stoning of Mr. Durdles, begins stoning
that respectable gentleman home, as if he were
a reluctant ox. Mr. Jasper goes to his gate-
house, brooding. And tlius, as everything comes
to an end, the unaccountable exped'ition comes
to an end — for the time.

lO 'JUi '•!..



ment was about to undergo a serene
hush. The Christmas recess was at
hand. What had once, and at no
f^i^ remote period, been called, even by
the erudite Miss Twinkleton herself,
" the half ;" but what was now called, as
being more elegant, and more strictly
collegiate, "the term,'' would expire to-morrow.
A noticeable relaxation of discipline had for some
few days pervaded the Nuns' House. Club
suppers had occurred in the bedrooms, and a
dressed tongue had been carved with a pair of
scissors, and handed 'round with the curling-
tongs. Portions of marmalade had likewise
been distributed on a service of plates con-
structed of curl-paper ; and cowslip wine had
been quaffed from' the small squat measuring
glass in whicli little Ri'ckitts (a junior of weakly
constitution) took her steel drops daily. The
housemaids had been bribed With various frag-
ments of ribbon, and sundry pairs of shoes more
or less down at heel, to make no mention of
crumbs in the beds ; the airiest costumes had
been worn on these festive occasions ; and the
daring Miss Ferdinand had even surprised the
company with a sprightly solo on the comb-and-
curl-paper, until suftbcated in her own pillow by
two flowing-haired executioners.

Nor were these the only tokens of dispersal.
Boxes appeared in the bedrboms (where they
were capital at other times), and a surprising
amount of packing took place, out of all propor-
tion to the amount packed. Largess, in the

form of odds and ends of cold cream and
pomatum, and also of hair-pins, was freely dis-
tributed among the attendants. On charges of
inviolable secrecy, confidences were interchanged
respecting golden youth of England expected to
call, " at home," on the first opportunity. Miss
Giggles (deficient in sentiment) did, indeed,
profess that she, for her part, acknowledged
such homage by making faces at the golden
youth ; but this young lady was outvoted by an
immense majority.

On the last night before a recess, it was
always expressly made a point of honour that
nobody should go to sleep, and that Ghosts
should be encouraged by all possible means.
This compact invariably broke down, and all the
young ladies went to sleep very soon, and got
up very early.

The concluding ceremony came off at twelve
o'clock on the day of departure; when Miss
Twinkleton, supported by Mrs. Tisher, held a
drawing-room in her own apartment (the globes
already covered with brown hoUand), where
glasses of white wine and plates of cut pound-
cake were discovered on the table. Miss Twinkle-
ton then said : Ladies, another revolving year
had brouglit us round to that festive period at
which the first feelings of our nature bounded in

our Miss Twinkleton was annually going

to add " bosoms," but annually stopped on
the brink of that expression, and substituted
"hearts.*' Hearts; our hearts. Hem! Again
a revolving year, ladies, had brought us to a
pause in our studies — let us hope our greatly-
advanced studies— and, like the mariner in his
bark, the warrior in his tent, the captive in his
dungeon, and the traveller in his various con-
veyances, w^e yearned for home. Did we say,
on such an occasion, in the opening words of
Mr. Addison's impressive tragedy :

" The dawn is overcast, the morning lowers,
And heavily in clouds brings on the day,
The great, th' important day ? "

Not SO. From horizon to zenith all was couktir
dc rose, for all was redolent of our relations
and friends. Might 7ue find iJicm prospering
as mc expected ; might they find us prospering
as they expected ! Ladies, we would now, with
our love to one another, wish one another good-
bye, and happiness, until we met again. And
when the time should come for our resumption
of those pursuits which (here a general depres-
sion set in all round), pursuits which, pursuits
which ; — then let us ever remember what was
said by the Spartan General, in words too trite
for repetition, at the battle it were superfluous
to specify.



The handmaidens of the establishment, in
their best caps, then handed the trays, and the
young ladies sipped and crumbled, and the
bespoken coaches began to choke the street.
Then leave-taking was not long about ; and
Miss Twinkleton, in saluting each young lady's
cheek, confided to her an exceedingly neat letter,
addressed to her next friend at law, " with Miss
Twinkleton's best compliments " in the corner.
This missive she handed with an air as if it had
not the least connection with the bill, but were
something in the nature of a delicate and joyful

So many times had Rosa seen such dispersals,
and so very little did she know of any other
Home, that she was contented to remain where
she was, and was even better contented than
ever before, having her latest friend with her.
And yet her latest friendship had a blank place
in it of which she could not fail to be sensible.
Helena Landless, having been a party to her
brother's revelation about Rosa, and having
entered into that compact of silence with Mr.
Crisparkle, shrank from any allusion to Edwin
Drood's name. Why she so avoided it was
mysterious to Rosa, but she perfectly perceived
the fact. But for the fact, she might have re-
lieved her own little perplexed heart of some
of its doubts and hesitations by taking Helena
into her confidence. As it was, she had no
such vent : she could only ponder on her own
difficulties, and wonder more and more why this
avoidance of Edwin's name should last, now that
she knew — for so much Helena had told her —
that a good understanding was to be re-esta-
blished between the two young men when Edwin
came down.

It would have made a pretty picture, so many
pretty girls kissing Rosa in the cold porch of
the Nuns' House, and that sunny little creature
peeping out of it (unconscious of sly faces carved
on spout and gable peeping at her), and waving
farewells to the departing coaches, as if she
represented the spirit of rosy youth abiding in
the place to keep it bright and warm in its deser-
tion. The hoarse High Street became musical
with the cry, in various silvery voices, " Good-
bye, Rosebud darling ! " and the effigy of Mr.
Sapsea's father over the opposite doorway seemed
to say to mankind : " Gentlemen, favour me with
your attention to this charming little last lot left
behind, and bid with a spirit worthy of the
occasion ! " Then the staid street, so unwontedly
sparkling, youthful, and fresh for a few rippling
moments, ran dry, and Cloisterham was itself

If Rosebud in her bower now waited Edwin

Drood's coming with an uneasy heart, Edwin for
his part was uneasy too. AVith far less force of
purjjose in his composition than the childish
beauty, crowned by acclamation fairy (lueen of
Miss Twinkleton's establishment, he had a con-
science, and Mr. Grewgious had pricked it.
That gentleman's steady convictions of what was
right and what was wrong, in such a case as his,
were neither to be frowned aside nor laughed
aside. They would not be moved. But for the
dinner in Staple Inn, and but for the ring he
carried in the breast pocket of his coat, he
would have drifted into their wedding-day with-
out another pause for real thought, loosely
trusting that all would go well, left alone. But
that serious putting him on his truth to the
living and the dead had brought him to a check.
Ele must either give the ring to Rosa, or he
must take it back. Once put into this narrowed
way of action, it was curious that he began to
consider Rosa's claims upon him more unself-
ishly than he had ever considered them before,
and began to be less sure of himself than he had
ever been in all his easy-going days.

" I will be guided by what she says, and by
how we get on," was his decision, walking from
the gatehouse to the Nuns' House. " Whatever
comes of it, I will bear his words in mind, and
try to be true to the living and the dead."

Rosa was dressed for walking. She expected
him. It was a bright frosty day, and Miss
Twinkleton had already graciously sanctioned
fresh air. Thus they got out together before it
became necessary for either Miss Twinkleton, or
the deputy high-priest Mrs. Tisher, to lay even
so much as one of those usual offerings on the
shrine of Propriety.

" My dear Eddy," said Rosa when they had
turned out of the High Street, and had got
among the quiet walks in the neighbourhood of
the cathedral and the river, " I want to say
something very serious to you. I have been
thinking about it for a long, long time."

" I want to be serious with you too, Rosa
dear. I mean to be serious and earnest."

" Thank you, Eddy. And you will not think
_ie unkind because I begin, Avill you ? You
will not think I speak for myself only, because
I speak first? That would not be generous,
would it ? And I know you are generous !"

He said, " I hope I am not ungenerous to
you, Rosa." He called her Pussy no more.
Never again.

" And there is no fear," pursued Rosa, " of
our quarrelling, is there ? Because, Eddy,"
clasping her hand on his arm, " we have so
much reason to be verv lenient to each other !"■



Eddy, let us be
to brother and


" We will be, Rosa."

" That's a dear good boy !
courageous. Let us change
sister from this day forth."

" Never be husband and wife ?"

" Never ! "

Neither spoke again for a little while,
after that pause he said, with some eftbrt :

" Of course I know that this has been in both
our minds, Rosa, and of course I am in honour
bound to confess freely that it does not originate
with you."

" No, nor with you, dear,"' she returned with
pathetic earnestness. " That sprung up between
us. You are not truly happy in our engagement ;
I am not truly happy in it. Oh, I am so sorry,
so sorry ! " And there she broke into tears.

" I am deeply sorry too, Rosa. Deeply sorry
for you."

" And I for you, poor boy ! And I for you '"

This pure young feeling, this gentle and for-
bearing feeling of each towards the other, brought
with it its reward in a softening light that seemed
to shine on their position. The relations be-
tween them did not look wilful, or capricious,
or a failure, in such a light ; they became ele-
vated into something more self-denying, honour-
able, affectionate, and true.

" If we knew yesterday," said Rosa as she
dried her eyes, " and we did know yesterday,
and on many, many yesterdays, that we were far
from right together in those relations which were
not of our own choosing, what better could we
do to-day than change them ? It is natural that
we should be sorry, and you see how sorry we
both are ; but how much better to be sorry now
than then ! "

" When, Rosa ? "

" When it would be too late. And then we
should be angry, besides."

Another silence fell upon them.

" And you know," said Rosa innocently,
" you couldn't like me then ; and you can
always like me now, for I shall not be a drag
upon you, or a worry to you. And I can always
like you now, and your sister will not tease or
trifle with you. I often did when I was \ ot
your sister, and I beg your pardon for it."

" Don't let us come to that, Rosa, or I shall
want more pardoning than I like to think of."

" No, indeed, Eddy; you are too hard, my
generous boy, upon yourself. Let us sit down,
brother, on these ruins, and let me tell you how
it was with us. I think I know, for I have con-
sidered about it very much since you were here
iast time. You liked me, didn't you ? You
thought I was a nice little thing ? "

" Everybody thinks that, Rosa."

" Do they ? " She knitted her brow musingly
for a moment, and then flaslicd out with the
bright little induction : " Well, but say they
do. Surely it was not enough that you should
think of me only as other people did ; now,
was it ? "

The point was not to be got over. It was not

" And that is just what I mean ; that is just
i how it was with us," said Rosa. " You liked me
very well, and you had grown used to me, and
had grown used to the idea of our being married.
You accepted the situation as an inevitable kind
of thing, didn't you ? It was to be, you thought,
and why discuss or dispute it ?"

It was new and strange to him to have him-
self presented to himself so clearly, in a glass of
her holding up. He had always patronised her,
in his superiority to her share of woman's wit.
Was that but another instance of something
radically amiss in the terms on which they had
been gliding towards a lifelong bondage ?

" All this that I say of you is true of me as
well, Eddy. Unless it was, I might not be bold
enough to say it. Only the difference between
us was, that by little and little there crept into
my mind a habit of thinking about it, instead of

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 12 of 103)