Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 13 of 103)
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dismissing it. My life is not so busy as yours,
you see, and I have not so many things to think
of. So I thought about it very much, and I
cried about it very much too (though that was
not your fault, poor boy) ; when all at once my
guardian came down, to prepare for my leaving
the Nuns' House. I tried to hint to him that 1
was not quite settled in my mind, but I hesi-
tated and failed, and he didn't understand me.
But he is a good, good man. And he put before
me so kindly, and yet so strongly, how seriously
we ought to consider in our circumstances, that
I resolved to speak to you the next moment we
were alone and grave. And if I seemed to
come to it easily just now, because I came to it
all at once, don't think it was so really, Eddy,
for oh ! it was very, very hard, and oh ! I am
very, very sorry ! "

Her full heart broke into tears again. He
put his arm about her waist, and the}- walked
by the river-side together.

'• Your guardian has spoken to me too, Rosa
dear. I saw him before I left London." His
right hand was in his breast, seeking the ring ;
but he checked it as he thought : " If I am to
take it back, why should I tell her of it ? ''

" And that made you more serious about it,
didn't it, Eddy ? And if I had not spoken to
you as I have, you would have spoken to me ?



I hope you can tell me so ? I don't like it to
be all my doing, ihougli it is so much better
for us."

" Yes, I should have spoken ; I shoukl have
put everything before you ; I came intending to
do it. But I never could have spoken to you as
you have spoken to me, Rosa."

" Don't say you mean so coldly or unkindly,
Eddy, please, if you can help it,"

" I mean so sensibly and delicately, so wisely
and affectionately."

" That's my dear brother ! " She kissed his

hand in a little rapture. " The dear girls will
be dreadfully disappointed," added Rosa, laugh-
ing, with the dewdrops glistening in her bright
eyes. " They have looked forward to it so, poor
pets ! "

" Ah ! but I fear it will be a worse disappoint-
ment to Jack," said Edwin Drood with a start.
" I never thought of Jack ! "

Her swift and intent look at him as he said
the words could no more be recalled than a
flash of lightning can. But it appeared as
though she would have instantly recalled it, if


she could ; for she looked down, confused, and
breathed quickly.

" You don't doubt its being a blow to Jack,
Rosa ? "

She merely replied, and that evasively and
hurriedly : Why shoukl she ? She had not
thought about it. He seemed, to her, to have
so little to do with it.

" My dear child ! can you suppose that any

one so wrapped up in another — Mrs. Tope's

expression : not mine — as Jack is in me, could

fail to be struck all of a heap by such a sudden

iiuvviN Drood, 5.

and complete change in my life ? I say sudden,
because it will be sudden to ///;;/, you know."

She nodded twice or thrice, and her lips
parted as if she would have assented. But she
uttered no sound, and her breathing was no

" How shall I tell Jack?" said Edwin, rumi-
nating. If he had been less occupied with the
thought, he must have seen her singular emotion.
" I never thought of Jack. It must be broken
to him before tlie town crier knows it. I dine
with the dear fellow to-morrow and next day — ■



Christmas-eve and Christmas-day — but it would
never do to spoil his feast-days. He always
worries about nie, and moddlcy-coddleys in the
merest trifles. The news is sure to overset him.
How on earth shall this be broken to Jack } "

*' He must be told, I suppose ? " said Rosa.

" My dear Rosa ! who ought to be in our
confidence, if not Jack ? "

" My guardian promised to come down, if I
should write and ask him. I am going to do so.
Would you like to leave it to him ? "

" A bright idea ! " cried Edwin. " The other
trustee. Nothing more natural. He comes down,
he goes to Jack, he relates what we have agreed
upon, and he states our case better than we
could. He has already spoken feelingly to you,
he has already spoken feelingly to me, and he'll
put the whole thing feelingly to Jack. That's
it ! I am not a coward, Rosa, but, to tell you a
secret, I am a little afraid of Jack."

" No, no ! you are not afraid of him ! " cried
Rosa, turning white, and clasping her hands.

" Why, sister Rosa, sister Rosa, what do you
see from the turret?" said Edwin, rallying her.
" My dear girl ! "

" You frightened me."

" Most unintentionally, but I am as sorry as
if I had meant to do it. Could you possibly
suppose for a moment, from any loose way of
speaking of mine, that I was literally afraid of
the dear fond fellow ? What I mean is, that he
is subject to a kind of paroxysm, or fit — I saw^
him in it once — and I don't know but that so
great a surprise, coming upon him direct from
me whom he is so wrapped up in, might bring
it on, perhaps. Which — and this is the secret I
was going to tell you — is another reason for
your guardian's making the communication. He
is so steady, precise, and exact, that he Avill
talk Jack's thoughts into shape in no time ;
whereas with me Jack is always impulsive and
hurried, and I may sa}^, almost womanish."

Rosa seemed convinced. Perhaps, from her
own very difterent point of view of " Jack,"' she
felt comforted and protected by the interposition
of Mr. Grewgious between herself and him.

And now, Edwin Drood's right hand closed
again upon the ring in its little case, and again
Avas checked by the consideration : " It is cer-
tain, now, that I am to give it back to him ;
then why should I tell her of it ?" That pretty
sympathetic nature which could be so sorry for
him in the blight of their childish hopes of hap-
piness together, and could so quietly find itself
alone in a new world to weave fresh wreaths of
such flowers as it might prove to bear, the old
world's flowers being withered, would be grieved

by those sorrowful jewels ; and to what purpose ?
Why should it be ? They were but a sign of broken
joys and baseless projects ; in their very beauty
they were (as the unlikeliest of men had said)
almost a cruel satire on the loves, hopes, plans,
of humanity, which are able to forecast nothing,
and are so much brittle dust. Let them be.
He would restore them to her guardian when he
came down ; he, in his turn, would restore them
to the cabinet from which he had unwillingly
taken them ; and there, like old letters or old
vows, or other records of old aspirations come
to nothing, they would be disregarded, until^
being valuable, they were sold into circulation
again, to repeat their former round.

Let them be. Let them lie unspoken of in
his breast. However distinctly or indistinctly
he entertained these thoughts, he arrived at the
conclusion. Let them be. Among the mighty
store of wonderful chains that are for ever forg-
ing, day and night, in the vast iron-works of
time and circumstance, there was one chain
forged in the moment of that small conclusion,
riveted to the foundations of heaven and earth,
and gifted with invincible force to hold and

They walked on by the river. They began to
speak of their separate plans. He would quicken
his departure from England, and she would re-
main where she was, at least as long as Helena
remained. The poor dear girls should have
their disappointment broken to them gently,
and, as the first preliminary, ]\Iiss Twinkleton
should be confided in by Rosa, even in advance
of the reappearance of Mr. Grewgious. It
should be made clear in all quarters that she
and Echvin were the best of friends. There had
never been so serene an understanding between
them since they were first afhanced. And yet
there w'as one reservation on each side : on hers,
that she intended, through her guardian, to with-
draw herself immediately from the tuition of her
music-master ; on his, that he did already enter-
tain some wandering speculations whether it
might ever come to pass that he would know
more of Miss Landless.

The bright frosty day declined as they walked
and spoke together. The sun dipped in the
river far behind them, and the old city lay red
before them, as their walk drew to a close. The
moaning water cast its seaweed duskily at their
feet when they turned to leave its margin ; and
the rooks hovered above them with hoarse cries,
darker splashes in the darkening air.

" I will prepare Jack for my flitting soon," said
Edwin in a low voice, "and I will but see your
guardian when he comes, and then go before



they speak together. It will be better done
without my being by. Don't you think so ? "

" Yes."

" We know we have done right, Rosa ? "


" We know we are better so, even now?"

" And shall be far, far better so by-and-by."

Still there was that lingering tenderness in
their hearts towards the old positions they were
relinquisliing, that they prolonged their parting.
■\Vhen they came among the elm-trees by the
cathedral, where they had last sat together, they
stopped as by consent, and Rosa raised her face
to his, as she had never raised it in the old days;
for they were old already.

" God bless you, dear ! Good-bye ! "

" God bless you, dear ! Good-bye !"

They kissed each other fervently.

" Now, please take me home, Eddy, and let
me be by myself"

" Don't look round, Rosa," he cautioned her
as he drew her arm through his, and led her
away. " Didn't you see Jack?"

" No ! Where ? "

** Under the trees. He saw us as we took
leave of each other. Poor fellow ! he little
thinks we have parted. This will be a blow to
him, I am much afraid ! "

She hurried on without resting, and hurried on
until they had passed under the gatehouse into
the street. Once there, she asked :

" Has he followed us ? You can look without
seeming to. Is he behind ? "

" No. Yes, he is ! He has just passed out
under the gateway. The dear sympathetic old
fellow likes to keep us in sight. I am afraid he
will be bitterly disappointed ! "

She pulled hurriedly at the handle of the
hoarse old bell, and the gate soon opened.
Before going in, she gave him one last wide-
wondering look, as if she would have asked him,
with imploring emphasis : " Oh ! don't you un-
derstand ? " And out of that look he vanished
from her view.



CHRISTMAS-EVE in Cloisterham. A few
strange faces in the streets ; a fcAv other
faces, half strange and half familiar, once the
faces of Cloisterham children, now the faces of
men and women who come back from the
outer world at long intervals to find the city
wonderfully shrunken in size, as if it had not

washed by any means well in the meanwhile.
To these, the striking of the cathedral clock,
and the cawing of the rooks from the cathedral
tower, are like voices of their nursery-time. To
such as these it has happened, in their dying
hours afar off, that they have imagined their
chamber floor to be strewn with the autumnal
leaves fallen from the elm-trees in the Close : so
have the rustling sounds and fresh scents of their
earliest impressions revived when the circle of
their lives was very nearly traced, and the begin-
ning and the end were drawing close together.

Seasonable tokens are about. Red berries
shine here and there in the lattices of Minor
Canon Corner; Mr. and Mrs. Tope are daintily
sticking sprigs of holly into the carvings and
sconces of the cathedral stalls, as if they were
sticking them into the coat button-holes of the
Dean and Chapter. Lavish profusion is in the
shops : particularly in the articles of currants,
raisins, spices, candied peel, and moist sugar.
An unusual air of gallantry and dissijDation is
abroad ; evinced in an immense bunch of
mistletoe hanging in the greengrocer's shop
doorway, and a poor little Twelfth Cake,
culminating in the figure of a Harlequin —
such a very poor little Twelfth Cake, that
one would rather call it a Twenty-fourth Cake
or a Forty-eighth Cake — to be raffled for at the
pastrycook's, terms one shilling per member.
Public amusements are not wanting. The Wax-
Work which made so deep an impression on the
reflective mind of the Emperor of China is to be
seen by particular desire, during Christmas
Week only, on the premises of the bankrupt
livery-stable keeper up the lane ; and a new
grand comic Christmas Pantomime is to be pro-
duced at the Theatre: the latter heralded by
the portrait of Signor Jacksonini the clown,
saying, " How do you do to-morrow?" quite as
large as life, and almost as miserably. In short,
Cloisterham is up and doing : though from this
description the High School and Miss Twinkle-
ton's are to be excluded. From the former
establishment the scholars have gone home,
every one of them in love with one of Miss
Twinkleton's young ladies (who knows nothing
about it) ; and only the handmaidens flutter
occasionally in the windows of the latter. It is
noticed, by-the-bye, that these damsels become,
within the limits of decorum, more skittish when
thus intrusted with the concrete representation
of their sex than when dividing the representa-
tion with Miss Twinkleton's young ladies.

Three are to meet at the gatehouse to-night.
How does each one of the three get through the



Neville Landless, though absolved from his
books for the time by Mr. Crisparkle — whose
fresh nature is by no means insensible to the
charms of a holiday — reads and writes in his
cjuiet room, with a concentrated air, until it is
two hours past noon. He then sets himself to
clearing his table, to arranging his books, and to
tearing up and burning his stray papers. He
makes a clean sweep of all untidy accumulations,
puts all his drawers in order, and leaves no note
or scrap of paper undestroyed, save such me-
moranda as bear directly on his studies. This
done, he turns to his wardrobe, selects a few
articles of ordinary wear — among them, change
of stout shoes and socks for walking — and packs
these in a knapsack. This knapsack is new, and
he bought it in the High Street yesterday. He
also purchased, at the same time and at the
same place, a heavy walking-stick : strong in
the handle for the grip of the hand, and iron-
shod. He tries this, swings it, poises it, and lays
it by, with the knapsack, on a window-seat. By
this time his arrangements are complete.

He dresses for going out, and is in the act of
going — indeed, has left his room, and has met
the Minor Canon on the staircase, coming out
of his bedroom upon the same story — when he
turns back again for his walking-stick, thinking
he will carry it now. Mr. Crisparkle, who has
paused on the staircase, sees it in his hand on
his immediately reappearing, takes it from him,
and asks him with a smile how he chooses a
stick ?

" Really I don't know that I understand the
subject," he answers. " I chose it for its

" Much too heavy, Neville ; much too heavy."

" To rest upon in a long walk, sir? "

" Rest upon ! " repeats Mr. Crisparkle, throw-
ing himself into pedestrian form. " You don't
rest upon it ; you merely balance with it."

" I shall know better with practice, sir. I
have not lived in a walking country, you know."

"True,'' says Mr. Crisparkle. "Get into a
little training, and we will have a few score
miles together. I should leave you nowhere
now. Do you come back before dinner ? "

" I think not, as we dine early."

Mr. Crisparkle gives him a bright nod and a
cheerful good-bye ; expressing (not without in-
tention) absolute confidence and ease.

Neville repairs to the Nuns' House, and re-
quests that Miss Landless may be informed that
her brother is there by appointment. He waits
at the gate, not even crossing the threshold ;
for he is on his parole not to put himself in
Rosa's way.

^ ■ His sister is at least as mindful of the obliga-
tion they have taken on themselves as he can
be, and loses not a moment in joining him.
They meet affectionately, avoid lingering there,
and walk towards the upper inland country.

" I am not going to tread upon forbidden
ground, Helena," says Neville when they have
walked some distance and are turning ; " you
will understand in another moment that I can-
not help referring to — what shall I say ? — my

" Had you not better avoid it, Neville? You
know that I can hear nothing."

" You can hear, my dear, what Mr. Crisparkle
has heard, and heard with approval."

"Yes; I can hear so much.'

" ^^'el], it is this. I am not only unsettled
and unhappy myself, but I am conscious of un-
settling and interfering with other people. How
do I know that, but for my unfortunate pre-
sence, you, and — and — the rest of that former
party, our engaging guardian excepted, might
be dining cheerfully in Minor Canon Corner
to-morrow? Indeed, it probably would be so.
I can see too well that I am not high in the old
lady's opinion, and it is easy to understand
what an irksome clog I must be upon the hos-
pitalities of her orderly house — especially at
this time of year — when 1 must be kept asunder
from this person, and there is such a reason for
my not being brought into contact with that
person, and an unfavourable rejuitation has pre-
ceded me with such another person, and so on.
I have put this very gently to Mr. Crisparkle,
for you know his self-denying ways ; but still I
have put it. What I have laid much greater
stress upon, at the same time, is that I am en-
gaged in a miserable struggle w'ith myself, and
that a little change and absence may enable me
to come through it the better. So, the weather '
being bright and hard, I am going on a walking
expedition, and intend taking myself out of
everybody's way (my own included, I hope)
to-morrow morning."

" When to come back ?"

" \\\ a fortnight."

" And going quite alone ? "

" I am much better without company, even if
there were any one but you to bear me com-
pany, my dear Helena."

" Mr. Crisparkle entirely agrees, you say ? "

" Entirely. I am not sure but that at first
he w'as inclined to think it rather a moody
scheme, and one that might do a brooding
mind harm. But w'e took a moonlight walk
last Monday night, to talk it over at leisure,
and I represented the case to him as it really



is. I showed him that I do want to conquer
myself, and that, this evening well got over, it
is surely better that I should be away from here
just now than here. I could hardly help meet-
ing certain people walking together here, and
that could do no good, and is certainly not the
way to forget. A fortnight hence that chance
will probably be over for the time ; and when
it again arises for the last time, why, I can
again go away. Farther, I really do feel hope-
ful of bracing exercise and wholesome fatigue.
Vou know that Mr. Crisparkle allows such
things their full weight in the preservation of
his own sound mind in his own sound body,
and that his just spirit is not likely to maintain
one set of natural laws for himself and another
for me. He yielded to my view of the matter,
when convinced that I was honestly in earnest ;
and so, with his full consent, I start to-morrow
morning. Early enough to be not only out of
the streets, but out of hearing of the bells, when
the good people go to church."

Helena thinks it over, and thinks well of it.
Mr. Crisparkle doing so, she would do so ; but
she does originally, out of her own mind, think
well of it, as a healthy project, denoting a sin-
cere endeavour and an active attempt at self-
correction. She is inclined to pity him, poor
fellow, for going away solitary on the great
Christmas festival ; but she feels it much more
to the purpose to encourage him. And she
does encourage him.

He will write to her ?

He will write to her every alternate day, and
tell her all his adventures.

Does he send clothes on in advance of him ?

" My dear Helena, no. Travel like a pil-
grim, with Avallet and staff. My wallet — or my
knapsack — is packed, and ready for strapping
on ; and here is my staff ! "

He hands it to her ; she makes the same
remark as Mr. Crisparkle, that it is very heavy ;
and gives it back to him, asking what wood it
is ? Iron-wood.

Up to this point he has been extremely cheer-
ful. Perhaps the having to carry his case with
her, and therefore to present it in its brightest
aspect, has roused his spirits. Perhaps the
having done so with success is followed by a
revulsion. As the day closes in, and the city
lights begin to spring up before them, he grows

" I wish I were not going to this dinner,

" Dear Neville, is it worth Mhile to care
much about it ? Think how soon it will be

" How soon it will be over ! " he repeats
gloomily. " Yes. Put I don't like it."

There may be a moment's awkwardness, she
cheeringly represents to him, but it can only
last a moment. He is quite sure of himself?

" I wish I felt as sure of everything else as I
feel of myself," he answers her.

'• How strangely you speak, dear ! What do
you mean ? "

" Helena, I don't know. I only know that I
don't like it. What a strange dead weight there
is in the air ! "

She calls his attention to those copperous
clouds beyond the river, and says that the wind
is rising. He scarcely speaks again until he
takes leave of her at the gate of the Nuns'
House. She does not immediately enter when
they have parted, but remains looking after him
along the street. Twice he passes the gate-
house, reluctant to enter. At length, the
cathedral clock chiming one (juarter, with a
rapid turn he hurries in.

And so he goes up the postern stair.

Edwin Drood passes a solitary day. Some-
thing of deeper moment than he had thought
has gone out of his life; and in the silence of
his own chamber he wept for it last night.
Though the image of Miss Landless still hovers
in the background of his mind, the pretty little
affectionate creature, so much firmer and wiser
than he had supposed, occupies its stronghold.
It is with some misgiving of his own unworthi-
ness that he thinks of her, and of what they
might have been to one another, if he had beea
more in earnest some time ago ; if he had set a
higher value on her ; if, instead of accepting his
lot in life as an inheritance of course, he had
studied the right way to its appreciation and
enhancement. And still, for all this, and
though there is a sharp heartache in all this,
the vanity and caprice of youth sustain that
handsome figure of Miss Landless in the back-
ground of his mind.

That was a curious look of Rosa's when they
parted at the gate. Did it mean that she saw
below the surface of his thoughts, and dowa
into their twilight depths ? Scarcely that, for it
was a look of astonished and keen inquiry. He
decides that he cannot understand it, though it
was remarkably expressive.

As he only waits for Mr. Grewgious now, and
will depart immediately after having seen him,
he takes a sauntering leave of the ancient city
and its neighbourhood. He recalls the time
when Rosa and he walked here or there, mere
children, full of the dignity of being engaged.



Poor children ! he thinks with a pitying sad-

Finding that his watch had stopped, he turns
into the jeweller's shop, to have it wound and
set. The jeweller is knowing on the subject of
a bracelet, which he begs leave to submit in a
general and quite aimless way. It Avould suit
(he considers) a young bride to perfection ;
especially if of a rather diminutive style of beauty.
Finding the bracelet but coldly looked at, the
jeweller invites attention to a tray of rings for
gentlemen ; here is a style of ring, now, he re-
marks — a very chaste signet — which gentlemen
are much given to purchasing when changing
their condition. A ring of a very responsible
appearance. With the date of their wedding-
day engraved inside, several gentlemen have
preferred it to any other kind of memento.

The rings are as coldly viewed as the brace-
let. Edwin tells the tempter that he wears no
jewellery but his watch and chain, which were
his father's, and his shirt-pin.

" That I was aware of," is the jeweller's reply,
" for ]Mr. Jasper dropped in for a watch-glass
the other day, and, in fact, I showed these
articles to him, remarking that if he should wish
to make a present to a gentleman relative, on

any particular occasion But he said with

a smile that he had an inventory in his mind of

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 13 of 103)