Charles Dickens.

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

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to finish with, and all that, understood. Hooray,
hooray, hooray! — And now, Jack, let's have a
little talk about Pussy. Two pairs of nut-
crackers ? Pass me one, and take the other."
Crack ! " How's Pussy getting on. Jack ?"

" With her music ? Fairly."

" What a dreadfully conscientious fellow you
are. Jack ! But / know, Lord bless you ! In-
attentive, isn't she ? ''

" She can learn anything, if she will."

"7/" she will! Egad, that's it. But if she
won't ? "

Crack ! — on Mr. Jasper's part.

" How's she looking. Jack ? "

Mr. Jasper's concentrated face again includes


the portrait as he returns : " Very Hke your
sketch indeed."

" I am a Httle proud of it," says the young
fellow, glancing up at the sketch with compla-
cency, and then shutting one eye, and taking a
corrected prospect of it over a level bridge of
nut-crackers in the air. " Not badly hit off
from memory. But I ought to have caught that
expression pretty well, for I have seen it often

Crack ! — on Edwin Drood's part.

Crack ! — on Mr. Jasper's part.

" In point of fact," the former resumes after
some silent dipping among his fragments of
walnut with an air of pique, " I see it whenever
I go to see Pussy. If I don't find it on her
face, I leave it there. — You know I do. Miss
Scornful Pert. Booh ! " With a twirl of the
nut-crackers at the portrait.

Crack ! crack ! crack ! Slowly on Mr.
Jasper's part.

Crack ! Sharply on the part of Edwin Drood.

Silence on both sides.

" Have you lost your tongue, Jack ? "

" Have you found yours, Ned ? "

" No, but really ; — isn't it, you know, after
all "

Mr. Jasper lifts his dark eyebrows inquiringly.

" — Isn't it unsatisfactory to be cut off from
choice in such a matter ? There, Jack ! I tell
you ! If I could choose, I would choose Pussy
from all the pretty girls in the world."

" But you have not got to choose."

" That's what I complain of. My dead-and-
gone father and Pussy's dead-and-gone father
must needs marry us together by anticipation.
Why the — Devil, I was going to say, if it had
been respectful to their memory — couldn't they
leave us alone ? "

" Tut, tut, dear boy ! " Mr. Jasper remon-
strates in a tone of gentle deprecation.

''Tut, tut? Yes, Jack, it's all very well for
you. You can take it easily. Your life is not
laid down to scale, and lined and dotted out
for you, like a surveyor's plan. You have no
uncomfortable suspicion that you are forced
upon anybody, nor has anybody an uncomfort-
able suspicion that she is forced upon you, or
that you are forced upon her. You can choose
for yourself. Life, for you, is a plum with the
natural bloom on ; it hasn't been over-carefuUy
wiped off for you "

" Don't stop, dear fellow. Go on."

" Can I anyhow have hurt your feelings.

" How can you have hurt my feelings ? "

" Good Heaven, Jack, you look frightfully

ill ! There's a strange film come over your

Mr. Jasper, with a forced smile, stretches out
his right hand, as if at once to disarm appre-
hension and gain time to get better. After
awhile he says faintly :

" I have been taking opium for a pain — an
agony— that sometimes overcomes me. The
effects of the medicine steal over me like a
blight or a cloud, and pass. You see them in
the act of passing ; they will be gone directly.
Look away from me. They will go all the

With a scared face the younger man complies
by casting his eyes downward at the ashes on
the hearth. Not relaxing his own gaze on the
fire, but rather strengthening it with a fierce,
firm grip upon his elbow-chair, the elder sits for
a few moments rigid, and then, with thick drops
standing on his forehead, and a sharp catch of
his breath, becomes as he was before. On his
so subsiding in his chair, his nephew gently and
assiduously tends him while he quite recovers.
When Jasper is restored, he lays a tender hand
upon his nephew's shoulder, and, in a tone of
voice less troubled than the purport of his
words — indeed, with something of raillery or
banter in it — thus addresses him :

" There is said to be a hidden skeleton in
every house ; but you thought there was none
in mine, dear Ned."

" Upon my life. Jack, I did think so. How-
ever, when I come to consider that even in
Pussy's house — if she had one — and in mine —
if I had one "

"You were going to say (but that I inter-
rupted you in spite of myself) what a quiet life
mine is. No whirl and uproar around me, no
distracting commerce or calculation, no risk, no
change of place, myself devoted to the art I
pursue, my business my pleasure."

" I really was going to say something of the
kind. Jack ; but you see, you, speaking of your-
self, almost necessarily leave out much that I
should have put in. For instance : I should
have put in the foreground your being so much
respected as Lay Precentor, or Lay Clerk, or
whatever you call it, of this cathedral ; your
enjoying the reputation of having done such
wonders with the choir, your choosing your
society, and holding such an independent posi-
tion in this queer old place ; your gift of teach-
ing (why, even Pussy, who don't like being
taught, says there never was such a ALister as
you are !), and your connection."

"Yes; I saw what you were tending to. I
hate it."


"Hate it, Jack?" (Much bewildered.)

" I hate it. The cramped monotony of my
existence grinds me away by the grain. How
does our service sound to 3 ou ? "

" Beautiful ! Quite celestial ! "

'* It often sounds to me quite devilish. I am
so weary of it. The echoes of my own voice
among the arches seem to mock me with my
daily drudging round. No wretched monk who
droned his life away in that gloomy place, be-
fore me, can have been more tired of it than I
am. He could take for relief (and did take) to
carving demons out of the stalls and seats and
desks. What shall I do? Must I take to
carving them out of my heart ? "

" I thought you had so exactly found your
niche in life, Jack," Edwin Drood returns,
astonished, bending forward in his chair to lay
a sympathetic hand on Jasper's knee, and look-
ing at him with an anxious face.

" I know you thought so. They all think

"Well, I suppose they do," says Edwin,
meditating aloud. " Pussy thinks so."

'• When did she tell you that ?"

" The last time I w-as here. You remember
when. Three months ago."

" How did she phrase it ? "

" Oh ! she only said that she had become
your pupil, and that you were made for your

The younger man glances at the portrait.
The elder sees it in him.

" Anyhow, my dear Ned," Jasper resumes as
he shakes his head with a grave cheerfulness,
" I must subdue myself to my vocation : which
is much the same thing outwardly. It's too
late to find another now. This is a confidence
between us."

" It shall be sacredly preserved. Jack."

" I have reposed it in you because "

" I feel it, I assure you. Because we are
fast friends, and because you love and trust me,
as I love and trust you. Both hands, Jack."

As each stands looking into the other's eyes,
and as the uncle holds the nephew's hands, the
uncle thus proceeds :

" You know now, don't you, that even a poor
monotonous chorister and grinder of music — in
his niche — may be troubled with some stray
sort of ambition, aspiration, restlessness, dis-
satisfaction, what shall we call it ? "

" Yes, dear Jack."

" And you will remember? "

" My dear Jack, I only ask you, am I likely
to forget what you have said with so much
feelinsj: ? "

" Take it as a warning, then."

In the act of having his hands released, and
of moving a step back, Edwin pauses for an
instant to consider the application of these last
words. The instant over, he says, sensibly
touched :

" I am afraid I am but a shallow, surface
kind of fellow, Jack, and that my head-piece is
none of the best. But I needn't say I am
young ; and perhaps I shall not grow worse as
I grow older. At all events, I hope I have
something impressible within me which feels —
deeply feels — the disinterestedness of your pain-
fully laying your inner self bare, as a warning to

Mr. Jasper's steadiness of face and figure be-
comes so marvellous that his breathing seems
to have stopped.

" I couldn't fail to notice, Jack, that it cost
you a great effort, and that you were very much
moved, and very unlike your usual self. Of
course I knew that you were extremely fond of
me, but I really was not prepared for your, as I
may say, sacrificing yourself to me in that

Mr. Jasper, becoming a breathing man again
without the smallest stage of transition between
the two extreme states, lifts his shoulders,
laughs, and waves his right arm.

" No ; don't put the sentiment away. Jack ;
please don't ; for I am very much in earnest.
I have no doubt that that unhealthy state of
mind which you have so powerfully described
is attended with some real suffering, and is hard
to bear. But let me reassure you, Jack, as to
the chances of its overcoming me. I don't
think I am in the way of it. In some few
months less than another year, you know, I
shall carry Pussy oft" from school as Mrs.
Edwin Drood. I shall then go engineering
into the East, and Pussy with me. And
although we have our little tiffs now, arising
out of a certain unavoidable flatness that at-
tends our love-making, owing to its end being
all settled beforehand, still I have no doubt of
our getting on capitally then, when it's done
and can't be helped. In short. Jack, to go
back to the old song I was freely quoting at
dinner (and who knows old songs better than
you ?), my wife shall dance, and I will sing, so
merrily pass the day. Of Pussy's being beau-
tiful there cannot be a doubt ; — and when you
are good besides, Little Miss Impudence," once
more apostrophizing the portrait, " I'll burn
your comic likeness, and paint your music-
master another."

Mr. Jasper, with his hand to his chin, and



with an expression of musing benevolence on
his face, has attentively watched every ani-
mated look and gesture attending the delivery
of these words. He remains in that attitude
after they are spoken, as if in a kind of fascina-
tion attendant on his strong interest in the
youthful spirit that he loves so well. Then he
says with a quiet smile :

" You won't be warned, then ? "

" No, Jack."

" You can't be warned, then ? "

" No, Jack, not by you. Besides that I don't
really consider myself in danger, I don't like
your putting yourself in that position."

" Shall we go and walk in the churchyard ? "

" By all means. You won't mind my slipping
out of it for half a moment to the Nuns' House,
and leaving a parcel there? Only gloves for
Pussy ; as many pairs of gloves as she is years
old to-day. Rather poetical, Jack ? "

Mr. Jasper, still in the same attitude, mur-
murs : " ' Nothing half so sweet in life,'
Ned ! "

" Here's the parcel in my great-coat pocket.
They must be presented to-night, or the poetry
is gone. It's against regulations for me to call
at night, but not to leave a packet. I am
ready, Jack ! "

Mr. Jasper dissolves his attitude, and they go
out together.


THE nuns' house.

lOR sufficient reasons, which this
narrative will itself unfold as it
advances, a fictitious name must be
bestowed upon the old cathedral
town. Let it stand in these pages
as Cloisterham. It was once pos-
sibly known to the Druids by another
name, and certainly to the Romans by
another, and to the Saxons by another, and to
the Normans by another ; and a name more or
less in the course of many centuries can be of
little moment to its dusty chronicles.

An ancient city, Cloisterham, and no meet
dwelling-place for any one with hankerings after
the noisy world. A monotonous, silent city,
deriving an earthy flavour throughout from its
cathedral crypt, and so abounding in vestiges
of monastic graves, that the Cloisterham chil-
dren grow small salad in the dust of abbots and
abbesses, and make dirt-pies of nuns and friars ;
while every ploughman in its outlying fields

renders to once puissant Lord Treasurers,
Archbishops, Bishops, and such-like, the atten-
tion which the ogre in the story book desired to
render to his unbidden visitor, and grinds their
bones to make his bread.

A drowsy city, Cloisterham, whose inhabit-
ants seem to suppose, with an inconsistency-
more strange than rare, that all its changes lie
behind it, and that there are no more to come.
A queer moral to derive from antiquity, yet
older than any traceable anti(iuity. So silent
are the streets of Cloisterham (though prone to
echo on the smallest provocation), that of a
summer day the sun-blinds of its shops scarce
dare to flap in the south wind ; while the sun-
browned tramps, who pass along and stare,
quicken their limp a little, that they may the
sooner get beyond the confines of its oppressive
respectability. This is a feat not difficult of
achievement, seeing that the streets of Cloister-
ham city are little more than one narrow street
by which you get into it and get out of it : the
rest being mostly disappointing yards with
pumps in them, and no thoroughfare — excep-
tion made of the Cathedral Close, and a paved
Quaker settlement, in colour and general con-
formation very like a Quakeress's bonnet, up in
a shady corner.

In a word, a city of another and a bygone
time is Cloisterham, with its hoarse cathedral
bell, its hoarse rooks hovering about the cathe-
dral tower, its hoarser and less distinct rooks
in the stalls far beneath. Fragments of old
wall, saint's chapel, chapter-house, convent and
monastery, have got incongruously or obstruc-
tively built into many of its houses and gardens,
much as kindred jumbled notions have become
incorporated into many of its citizens' minds.
All things in it are of the past. Even its single
pawnbroker takes in no pledges, nor has he for
a long time, but offers vainly an unredeemed
stock for sale, of which the costlier articles are
dim and pale old watches apparently in a slow
perspiration, tarnished sugar-tongs with ineft'ec-
tual legs, and odd volumes of dismal books.
The most abundant and the most agreeable evi-
dences of progressing life in Cloisterham are
the evidences of vegetable life in many gardens ;
even its drooping and despondent little theatre
las its poor strip of garden, receiving the foul
fiend, when he ducks from its stage into the
infernal regions, among scarlet-beans or oyster
shells, according to the season of the year.

In the midst of Cloisterham stands the Nuns'
House : a venerable brick edifice, whose present
appellation is doubtless derived from the legend
of its conventual uses. On the trim gate en-


closing its old courtyard is a resplendent brass
plate flashing forth the legend : " Seminary for
Young Ladies. Miss Twinkleton." The house-
front is so old and worn, and the brass plate is
so shining and staring, that the general result
has reminded imaginative strangers of a battered
old beau with a large modern eye-glass stuck in
his blind eye.

Whether the nuns of yore, being of a submis-
sive rather than a stiff-necked generation, habi-
tually bent their contemplative heads to avoid
collision with the beams in the low ceilings of
the many chambers of their House ; whether
they sat in its long low windows telling their
beads for their mortification, instead of making
necklaces of tliem for their adornment ; whether ,
they were ever walled up alive in odd angles
and jutting gables of the building for having
some ineradicable leaven of busy mother Nature
in them which has kept the fermenting world
alive ever since; these may be matters of interest
to its haunting ghosts (if any), but constitute no
item in Miss Twinkleton's half-yearly accounts.
They are neither of Miss Twinkleton's inclusive
regulars, nor of her extras. The lady who
undertakes the poetical department of the esta-
blishment at so much (or so little) a quarter
has no pieces in her list of recitals bearing on
such unprofitable questions.

As, in some cases of drunkenness, and in
others of animal magnetism, there are two states
of consciousness which never clash, but each of
which pursues its separate course as though it
were continuous instead of broken (thus if 1 hide
my watch when I am drunk, I must be drunk
again before I can remember where), so Miss
Twinkleton has two distinct and separate phases
of being. Every night, the moment the young
ladies have retired to rest, does Miss Twinkle-
ton smarten up her curls a little, brighten up
her eyes a little, and become a sprightlier Miss
Twinkleton than the young ladies have ever
seen. Every night, at the same hour, does INIiss
Twinkleton resume the topics of the previous
night, comprehending the tenderer scandal of
Cloisterham, of which she has no knowledge
whatever by day, and references to a certain
season at Tunbridge Wells (airily called by Miss
Twinkleton, in this state of her existence, " The
Wells "), notably the season wherein a certain
finished gentleman (compassionately called by
Miss Twinkleton, in this stage of her existence,
" Foolish Mr. Porters ") revealed a homage of
the heart, whereof Miss Twinkleton, in her
scholastic state of existence, is as ignorant as a
granite pillar. Miss Twinkleton's companion
in both states of existence, and equally adapt-

able to either, is one Mrs. Tisher : a deferential
widow with a weak back, a chronic sigh, and a
suppressed voice, who looks after the young
ladies' wardrobes, and leads them to infer that
she has seen better days. Perhaps this is the
reason why it is an article of faith with the ser-
vants, handed down from race to race, that the
departed Tisher was a hairdresser.

The pet pupil of the Nuns' House is Miss
Rosa Bud, of course called Rosebud ; wonder-
fully pretty, wonderfully childish, wonderfully
whimsical. An awkward interest (awkward be-
cause romantic) attaches to ]\Iiss Bud in the
minds of the young ladies, on account of its
being known to them that a husband has been
chosen for her by will and bequest, and that her
guardian is bound down to bestow her on that
husband when he comes of age. Miss Twinkle-
ton, in her seminarial state of existence, has
combated the romantic aspect of this destiny by
affecting to shake her head over it behind Miss
Bud's dimpled shoulders, and to brood on the
unhappy lot of that doomed litde victim. But
with no better effect — possibly some unfelt touch
of foolish Mr. Porters has undermined the en-
deavour — than to evoke from the young ladies
a unanimous bedchamber cry of '' Oh, what a
pretending old thing Miss Twinkleton is, my
dear ! "

The Nuns' House is never in such a state of
flutter as when this allotted husband calls to see
little Rosebud. (It is unanimously understood
by the young ladies that he is lawfully entitled
to this privilege, and that, if Miss Twinkleton
disputed it, she would be instantly taken up
and transported.) When his ring at the gate
bell is expected, or takes place, every young
lady who can, under any pretence, look out of
window, looks out of window; while every young
lady who is " practising," practises out of time ;
and the French class becomes so demoralised
that the mark goes round as briskly as the
bottle at a convivial party in the last century.

On the afternoon of the day next after the
dinner of two at the gatehouse, the bell is rung
with the usual fluttering results.

" Mr. Edwin Drood to see Miss Rosa."

This is the announcement of the parlour-maid
in chief. Miss Twinkleton, with an exemplary
air of melancholy on her, turns to the sacrifice,
and says : " You may go down, my dear." Miss
Bud goes down, followed by all eyes.

]\Ir. Edwin Drood is waiting in Miss Twinkle-
ton's own parlour : a dainty room, with nothing
more directly scholastic in it than a terrestrial
and a celestial globe. These expressive machines
imply (to parents and guardians) that even when


Miss Twinkleton retires into the bosom of pri-
vacy, duty may at any moment compel her to
become a sort of Wandering Jewess, scouring
the earth and soaring through the skies in search
of knowledge for her pupils.

The last new maid, who has never seen the
young gentleman Miss Rosa is engaged to, and
who is making his acquaintance between the
hinges of the open door, left open for the pur-
pose, stumbles guiltily down the kitchen stairs,
as a charming little apparition, with its face
concealed by a little silk apron thrown over its
head, glides into the parlour.

" Oh ! it is so ridiculous ! " says the appa-
rition, stopping and shrinking. " Don't,
Eddy ! "

" Don't what, Rosa ? "

" Don't come any nearer, please. It is so

" What is absurd, Rosa ? "

" The whole thing is. It is so absurd to be
an engaged orphan ; and it is so absurd to have
the girls and the servants scuttling about after '
one, like mice in the wainscot ; and it is so
absurd to be called upon ! "

The apparition appears to have a thumb in
the corner of its mouth while making this com-

" You give me an affectionate reception.
Pussy, I must say."

" Well, I will in a minute, Eddy, but I can't
just yet. How are you ? " (very shortly.)

" I am unable to reply that I am much the.
better for seeing you. Pussy, inasmuch as I see
nothing of you."

This second remonstrance brings a dark bright
pouting eye out from a corner of the apron ; but
it swiftly becomes invisible again as the appari-
tion exclaims : " Oh, good gracious ! you have
had half your hair cut off ! "

" I should have done better to have had my
head cut off, I think," says Edwin, rumpling the
hair in question, with a fierce glance at the
looking-glass, and giving an impatient stamp.
" Shall I go ? "

" No ; you needn't go just yet, Eddy. The
girls would all be asking questions why you

" Once for all, Rosa, will you uncover that
ridiculous little head of yours and give me a
welcome ? "

The apron is pulled off the childish head as
its wearer replies : " You're very welcome,
Eddy. There ! I'm sure that's nice. Shake
hands. No, I can't kiss you, because 'I've got
an acidulated drop in my mouth."

" Are you at allglad to see me, Pussy?"

*' Oh yes, I'm dreadfully glad ! — Go and sit
down. — Miss Twinkleton."

It is the custom of that excellent lady, when
these visits occur, to appear every three minutes,
either in her own person or in that of Mrs.
Tisher, and lay an offering on the shrine of
Propriety by affecting to look for some desi-
derated article. On the present occasion Miss
Twinkleton, gracefully gliding in and out, says
in passing : " How do you do, Mr. Drood ?
Very glad indeed to have the pleasure. Pray
excuse me. Tweezers. Thank you ! "

" I got the gloves last evening, Eddy, and I
like them very much. They are beauties."

" Well, that's something," the affianced re-
plies, half grumbling. " The smallest encourage-
ment thankfully received. And how did you
pass your birthday, Pussy?"

" Delightfully ! Everybody gave me a pre-
sent. And we had a feast. And we had a ball
at night."

"A feast and a ball, eh? These occasions
seem to go off tolerably well without me. Pussy."

" De-lightfully ! " cries Rosa in a quite spon-
taneous manner, and without the least pretence
of reserve.

" Hah ! And what was the feast ?"

" Tarts, oranges, jellies, and shrimps."

" Any partners at the ball ?"

'' We danced with one another, of course, sir.
But some of the girls made game to be their
brothers. It was so droll ! "

" Did anybody make game to be "

" To be you ? Oh dear yes ! " cries Rosa,
laughing with great enjoyment. " That was the
first thing done."

" I hope she did it pretty well," says Edwin
rather doubtfully.

" Oh, it was excellent ! — I wouldn't dance
with you, you know."

Edwin scarcely seems to see the force of this ;
begs to know if he may take the liberty to askw^hy?

" Because I was so tired of you," returns
Rosa. But she quickly adds, and pleadingly
too, seeing displeasure in his face : " Dear
Eddy, you were just as tired of me, you know."

" Did I say so, Rosa ? "

" Say so ! Do you ever say so ? No, you
only showed it. Oh, she did it so well ! " cries
Rosa in a sudden ecstasy with her counterfeit

" It strikes me that she must be a devilish
impudent girl," says Edwin Drood. "And so,
Pussy, you have passed your last birthday in this
old house."

"Ah, yes!" Rosa clasps her hands, looks

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 2 of 103)