Charles Dickens.

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

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the window, and stare at it ; and then work his
way tortuously to the back of the house, and
stare at that; and then not go in, but make
similar trials of another house, with the same
result ; their progress was but slow. At length
he bethought himself of a widowed cousin, divers
times removed, of Mr. Bazzard's, who had once
solicited his influence in the lodger world, and
who lived in Southampton Street, Bloomsbury
Square. This lady's name, stated in uncompro-
mising capitals of considerable size on a brass
door-plate, and yet not lucidly as to sex or con-
dition, was BiLLICKIN.

Personal faintness, and an overpow'cring per-
sonal candour, were the distinguishing features
of Mrs. Billickin's organisation. She came lan-
guishing out of her own exclusive back-parlour,
with the air of having been expressly brought-to
for the purpose from an accumulation of several

" I hope I see you well, sir," said Mrs. Bil-
lickin, recognising her visitor with a bend.

" Thank you, quite well. And you, ma'am ? "
returned Mr. Grewgious.

" I am as well," said Mrs. Billickin, becoming
aspirational with excess of faintness, " as I hever

" My ward and an elderly lady," said Mr.
Grewgious, " wish to find a genteel lodging for
a month or so. Have you any apartments
available, ma'am ? "

" Mr. Grewgious," returned Mrs. Billickin,
" I will not deceive you ; far from it. I have
apartments available."

This with the air of adding : " Convey me to



the stake, if you will ; but, \Yhile I live, I will
be candid."

" And now, what apartments, ma'am ? " asked
Mr. Grewgious cosily. To tame a certain se-
verity a])parent on the part of Mrs. Billickin.

" There is this sitting-room — which, call it
what you will, it is the front parlour, miss,"
said Mrs. Billickin, imi)ressing Rosa into the
conversation : " the back-parlour being wliat I
cling to, and never part with ; and there is two
bedrooms at the top of the 'ouse with gas laid
on, I do not tell you that your bedroom floors
is firm, for firm they are not. The gas-fitter
himself allowed that, to make a firm job, he
must go right under your jistes, and it were not
worth the outlay as a yearly tenant so to do.
The piping is carried above your jistes, and it
is best that it should be made known to you."

Mr. Grewgious and Rosa exclianged looks of
some dismay, though they had not the least idea
what latent horrors this carriage of the piping
might involve. Mrs. Billickin put her hand to
her heart, as having eased it of a load.

" Well ! The roof is all right, no doubt,"
said Mr. Grewgious, plucking up a little.

" Mr. Grewgious," returned Mrs. Billickin,
" if I was to tell you, sir, that to have nothink
above you is to have a floor above you, I should
put a deception upon you which I will not do.
No, sir. Your slates will rattle loose at that
elewation in windy weather, do your utmost,
best or worst ! I defy you, sir, be you what you
may, to keep your slates tight, try how you
can." Here Mrs. Billickin, having been warm
with Mr. Grewgious, cooled a little, not to abuse
the moral power she held over him. " Conse-
quent," proceeded Mrs. Billickin more mildly,
but still firmly in her incorruptible candour :
" consequent it would be worse than of no use
for me to trapse and travel up to the top of the
'ouse with you, and for you to say, ' Mrs. Bil-
lickin, what stain do I notice in the ceiling, for
a stain I do consider it ?' and for me to answer,
' I do not understand you, sir.' No, sir, I will
not be so underhand. I do understand you be-
fore you pint it out. It is the wet, sir. It do
come in, and it do not come in. You may lay
dry there half your lifetime ; but the time will
come, and it is best that you should know it,
when a dripping sop would be no name for

Mr. Grewgious looked much disgraced by
being prefigured in this pickle.

" Have you any other apartments, ma'am ? "
he asked. ^

" Mr. Grewgious," returned Mrs. Billickin
with much solemnity, " I have. You ask me

have I, and my open and my honest answer air,
I have. The first and second floors is wacant,
and sweet rooms."

" Come, come ! There's nothing against
them" said Mr. Grewgious, comforting himself.

" Mr. Grewgious," replied Mrs. Billickin,
"pardon me, there is the stairs. Unless your
mind is prepared for the stairs, it will lead to
inevitable disappointment. You cannot, miss,"
said Mrs. Billickin, addressing Rosa reproach-
fully, " place a first floor, and far less a second,
on the level footing of a parlour. No, you can-
not do it, miss ; it is beyond your power, and
wherefore try ? "

Mrs. Billickin put it very feelingly, as if Rosa
had shown a headstrong determination to hold
the untenable position.

" Can we see these rooms, ma'am?" inquired
her guardian.

"Mr. Grewgious," returned Mrs. Billickin,
"you can, I will not disguise it from you,
sir ; you can,"

Mrs. Billickin then sent into her back-parlour
for her shawl (it being a state fiction, dating
from immemorial antiquity, that ehe could never
go anywhere without being wrapped up), and,
having been enrolled by her attendant, led the
way. She made various genteel pauses on the
stairs for breath, and clutched at her heart in
the drawing-room as if it had very nearly got
loose, and she had caught it in the act of taking

"And the second floor?" said Mr. Grew-
gious, on finding the first satisfactory.

" Mr. Grewgious," replied Mrs. Billickin,
turning upon him with ceremony, as if the time
had now come when a distinct understanding
on a diflicult point must be arrived at, and a
solemn confidence established, " the second
floor is over this."

" Can we see that too, ma'am ? "

" Yes, sir," returned Mrs. Billickin, " it is
open as the day."

That also proving satisfactory, ]\Ir. Grewgious
retired into a window with Rosa for a few words
of consultation, and then, asking for pen and
ink, sketched out a line or two of agreement.
In the meantime Mrs. Billickin took a seat,
and delivered a kind of Index to, or Abstract of,
the general question.

" Five-and-forty shillings per week by the
month certain at the time of year," said Mrs.
Billickin, "is only reasonable to both parties.
It is not Bond Street, nor yet St. James's
Palace; but it is not pretended that it is.
Neither is it attempted to be denied — for why
should it ? — that the Arching leads to a mews.



Mewses must exist. Respecting attendance ;
two is kep', at liberal wages. Words has arisen
as to tradesmen, but dirty shoes on fresh hearth-
stoning was attributable, and no wish for a com-
mission on your orders. Coals is either by the
fire, or per the scuttle." She emphasized the
prepositions, as marking a subtle, but immense
difference. " Dogs is not viewed with faviour.
Besides litter, they gets stole, and sharing sus-
picions is apt to creep in, and unpleasantness
takes place."

By this time Mr. Grewgious had his agree-
ment-lines and his earnest-money ready. " I
have signed it for the ladies, ma'am," he said,
" and you'll have the goodness to sign it for
yourself, Christian and surname, there, if you

" Mr. Grewgious," said Mrs. Billickin in a
new burst of candour, " no, sir ! You must
excuse the Christian name."

Mr. Grewgious stared at her.

" The door-plate is used as a protection," said
Mrs. Billickin, " and acts as such, and go from
it I will not."

]\Ir. Grewgious stared at Rosa.

" No, Mr. Grewgious, you must excuse me.
So long as this 'ouse is known indefinite as Bil-
lickin's, and so long as it is a doubt with the
riffraff where Billickin may be hidin', near the
street-door or down the airy, and what his
weight and size, so long I feel safe. But com-
mit myself to a solitary female statement, no,
miss ! Nor would you for a moment wish,"
said Mrs. Billickin with a strong sense of in-
jury, " to take that advantage of your sex, if you
were not brought to it by inconsiderate ex-

Rosa, reddening as if she had made some
most disgraceful attempt to overreach the good
lady, besought ]\Ir. Grewgious to rest content
with any signature. And accordingly, in a
baronial way, the sign-manual Billickin got
appended to the document.

Details were then settled for taking posses-
sion on the next day but one, when Miss
Twinkleton might be reasonably expected ; and
Rosa went back to Furnival's Inn on her guar-
dian's arm.

Behold Mr. Tartar walking up and down
Furnival's Inn, checking himself when he saw
them coming, and advancing towards them !

" It occurred to me," hinted Mr. Tartar,
" that we might go up the river, the weather
being so delicious, and the tide serving. I have
a boat of my own at the Temple stairs."

" I have not been up the river for this many
a day," said Mr. Grewgious, tempted.

" I was never up the river," added Rosa.

Within half an hour they were setting this
matter right by going up the river. The tide
was running with them, the afternoon was charm-
ing. Mr. Tartar's boat was perfect. Mr. Tartar
and Lobley (Mr. Tartar's man) pulled a pair of
oars. Mr. Tartar had a yacht, it seemed, lying
somewhere down by Greenhithe ; and Mr. Tar-
tar's man had charge of this yacht, and was
detached upon his present service. He was a
jolly-favoured man, with tawny hair and whiskers,
and a big red face. He was the dead image of
the sun in old woodcuts, his hair and whiskers
answering for rays all around him. Resplendent
in the bow of the boat, he was a shining sight,
with a man-of-war's man's shirt on — or off, ac-
cording to opinion — and his arms and breast
tattooed all sorts of patterns. Lobley seemed
to take it easily, and so did Mr. Tartar; yet
their oars bent as they pulled, and the boat
bounded under them. Mr. Tartar talked as if
he were doing nothing, to Rosa who was really
doing nothing, and to Mr. Grewgious who was
doing this much — that he steered all wrong ; but
what did that matter, when a turn of Mr. Tar-
tar's skilful wrist, or a mere grin of Mr. Lobley's
over the bow, put all to rights ? The tide bore
them on in the gayest and most sparkling man-
ner, until they stopped to dine in some ever-
lastingly-green garden, needing no matter-of-fact
identification here ; and then the tide obligingly
turned — being devoted to that party alone for
that day ; and, as they floated idly among some
osier-beds, Rosa tried what she could do in the
rowing way, and came off splendidly, being much
assisted ; and Mr. Grewgious tried what he could
do, and came off on his back, doubled up with
an oar under his chin, being not assisted at all.
Then there was an interval of rest under boughs
(such rest !) what time Mr. Lobley mopped,
and, arranging cushions, stretchers, and the hke,
danced the tight-rope the whole length of the
boat like a man to whom shoes were a supersti-
tion and stockings slavery ; and then came the
sweet return among delicious odours of limes in
bloom, and musical ripplings ; and, all too soon,
the great black city cast its shadow on the waters,
and its dark bridges spanned them as death
spans life, and the everlastingly-green garden
seemed to be left for everlasting, unregainable
and far away.

" Cannot people get through life without
gritty stages, I wonder?" Rosa thought next
day, when the town was very gritty again, and
everything had a, strange and an uncomfortable
appearance of seeming to wait for something
I that wouldn't come. No. She began to think



that, now the Cloisterham school-days had gUded
past and gone, the gritty stages would begin to
set in at intervals, and make themselves wearily
known !

Yet what did Rosa expect? Did she expect
Miss Twinkleton ? Miss Twinkleton duly came.
Forth from her back-parlour issued the Lillickin
to receive Miss Twinkleton, and War was in the
Billickin's eye from that fell moment.

Miss Twinkleton brought a quantity of lug-
gage with her, having all Rosa's as well as her
own. The Billickin took it ill that Miss Twin-
kleton's mind, being sorely disturbed by this lug-
gage, failed to take in her personal identity with
that clearness of perception which was due to
its demands. Stateliness mounted her gloomy
throne upon the Billickin's brow in consequence.
And when Miss Twinkleton, in agitation taking
stock of her trunks and packages, of which
she had seventeen, particularly counted in the
Billickin herself as number eleven, the B. found
it necessary to repudiate.

" Things cannot too soon be put upon the
footing," said she with a candour so demon-
strative as to be almost obtrusive, " that the
person of the 'ouse is not a box, nor yet a
bundle, nor a carpet bag. No, I am 'ily obleeged
to you. Miss Twinkleton, nor yet a beggar."

This last disclainier had reference to Miss
Twinkleton's distractedly pressing two-and-six-
pence on her, instead of the cabman.

Thus cast off. Miss Twinkleton wildly inquired
" which gentleman " w-as to be paid ? There
being two gentlemen in that position (Miss
Twinkleton having arrived with two cabs), each
gentleman, on being paid, held forth his two-
and-sixpence on the flat of his open hand, and,
w'ith a speechless stare and a dropped jaw, dis-
played his wrong to heaven and earth. Terrified
by this alarming spectacle. Miss Twinkleton
placed another shilling in each hand ; at the
same time appealing to the law in flurried ac-
cents, and recounting her luggage this time with
the two gentlemen in, who caused the total to
come out complicated. Meanwhile the two
gentlemen, each looking very hard at the last
shilling grumblingly, as if it might become
eighteen-pence if he kept his eyes on it, de-
scended the door-steps, ascended their carriages,
and drove away, leaving Miss Twinkleton on a
bonnet box in tears.

The Billickin beheld this manifestation of
weakness without sympathy, and gave directions
for " a young man to be got in " to wrestle with
the luggage. When that gladiator had disap-
peared from the arena, peace ensued, and the
new lodgers dined.

But the Billickin had somehow come to the
knowledge that Miss Twinkleton kept a school.
The leap from that knowledge to the inference
that Miss Twinkleton set herself to teach her
something was easy. " But you don't do it,"
soliloquised the Billickin; " /am not your pupil,
whatever she," meaning Rosa, " may be, poor

]\Iiss Twinkleton, on the other hand, having
changed her dress and recovered her spirits, was
animated by a bland desire to improve the occa-
sion in all ways, and to be as serene a model as
possible. In a happy compromise between her
two states of existence, she had already become,
with her work-basket before her, the equably
vivacious companion with a slight judicious
flavouring of information, when the Billickin
announced herself.

" I will not hide from you, ladies," said the
B., enveloped in the shawl of state, " for it is
not my character to hide neither my motives nor
my actions, that I take the liberty to look in
upon you to express a 'ope that your dinner was
to your liking. Though not Professed but Plain,
still her wages should be a sufficient object to
her to stimulate to soar above mere roast and

" We dined very well indeed," said Rosa,
" thank you."

" Accustomed," said INIiss Twinkleton with a
gracious air, which to the jealous ears of the
Billickin seemed to add " my good woman" —
" accustomed to a liberal and nutritious, yet
plain and salutary diet, we have found no reason
to bemoan our absence from the ancient city,
and the methodical household, in which the
quiet routine of our lot has been hitherto cast."

" I did think it well to mention to my cook,"
observed the Billickin with a gush of candour,
" which I 'ope you will agree with. Miss Twinkle-
ton, was a right precaution, that the young lady
being used to what we should consider here but
poor diet, had better be brouglit forward by
degrees. For, a rush from scanty feeding to
generous feeding, and from what you may call
messing to what you may call method, do re-
quire a power of constitution which is not often
found in youth, particular when undermined by
boarding-school ! "

It will be seen that the Billickin now openly
pitted herself against Miss Twinkleton, as one
whom she had fully ascertained to be her natural

" Your remarks," returned INIiss Twinkleton,
from a remote moral eminence, " are well meant,
I have no doubt ; but you will permit me to
observe that they develop a mistaken view of


the subject, which can only be imputed to your
extreme want of accurate information."

" My informiation,'' retorted the BiUickin
throwing in an extra syllable for the sake of
emphasis at once polite and powerful — " my
informiation, Miss Twinklcton, were my own
experience, which I believe is usually considered
to be good guidance. But whether so or not, I
was put in youth to a very genteel boarding-
school, the mistress being no less a lady than
yourself, of about your own age, or it may be
some years younger, and a poorness of blood
flowed from the table which has run through my

"Very likely," said Miss Twinkleton, still
from her distant eminence ; " and very much to
be deplored. — Rosa, my dear, how are you get-
ting on with your work ? "

"Miss Twinkleton," resumed the BiUickin in
a courtly manner, " before retiring on the 'int,
as a lady should, I wish to ask of yourself, as a
lady, whether I am to consider that my words is
doubted ? "

" I am not aware on what ground you cherish
such a supposition -" began Miss Twinkle-
ton, when the BiUickin neatly stopped her.

" Do not, if you please, put suppositions be-
twixt my lips where none such have been im-
parted by myself. Your flow of words is great.
Miss Twinkleton, and no doubt is expected from
you b)' your pupils, and no doubt is considered
worth the money. No doubt, I am sure. But
not paying for flows of words, and not asking to
be favoured with them here, I wish to repeat my

" If you refer to the poverty of your circula-
tion " began Miss Twinkleton, when again

the BiUickin neatly stopped her.

" I have used no such expressions."

" If you refer, then, to the poorness of your
blood "

" Brought upon me," stipulated the BiUickin
expressly, " at a boarding-school "

" — Then," resumed Miss Twinkleton, "all I
can say is, that I am bound to believe, on your
asseveration, that it is very poor indeed. I can-
not forbear adding, that if that unfortunate cir-
cumstance influences your conversation, it is
much to be lamented, and it is eminently desir-
able that your blood were richer. — Rosa, my
dear, how are you getting on with your work ? "

" Hem ! Before retiring, miss," proclaimed
the BiUickin to Rosa, loftily cancelHng Miss
Twinkleton, " I should wish it to be understood
between yourself and me that my transactions in
iuture is with you alone. I know no elderly
lady here, miss, none older than yourself."

" A highly desirable arrangement, Rosa, my
dear," observed Miss Twinkleton.

" It is not, miss," said the BiUickin witli a
sarcastic smile, " that I possess the Mill I have
heard of, in which old single ladies could be
ground up young (what a gift it would be to
some of us !), but that I limit myself to you

" When I have any desire to communicate a
request to the person of the house, Rosa my
dear," observed Miss Twinkleton with majestic
cheerfulness, " I will make it known to you, and
you will kindly undertake, I am sure, that it is
conveyed to the proper quarter."

"Good evening, miss," said the BiUickin, at
once affectionately and distantly. " Being alone
in my eyes, I wish you good evening with best
wishes, and do not find myself drove, I am truly
'appy to say, into expressing my contempt for
an indiwidual, unfortunately for yourself, be-
longing to you.

The BiUickin gracefully withdrew with this
parting speech, and from that time Rosa occu-
pied the restless position of shuttlecock between
these two battledores. Nothing could be done
without a smart match being played out. Thus,
on the daily-arising question of dinner, Miss
Twinkleton would say, the three being present
together :

" Perhaps, my love, you will consult with the
person of the house whether she can procure us
a lamb's fry ; or, failing that, a roast fowl."

On which the BiUickin would retort (Rosa not
having spoken a word), " If you was better ac-
customed to butcher's meat, miss, you would
not entertain the idea of a lamb's fry. Firstly,
because lambs has long been sheep, and
secondly, because there is such things as killing
days, and there is not. As to roast fowls, miss,
why you must be quite surfeited with roast fowls,
letting alone your buying, when you market for
yourself, the agedest of poultry with the scaliest
of legs, quite as if you was accustomed to picking
'em out for cheapness. Try a little inwention,
miss. Use yourself to 'ousekeeping a bit. Come,
now, think of somethink else."

To this encouragement, offered with the in-
dulgent toleration of a wise and liberal expert,
Miss Twinkleton would rejoin, reddening :

" Or, my dear, you might propose to the per-
son of the house a duck."

"Well, miss!" the BiUickin would exclaim
(still no word being spoken by Rosa), "you do
surprise me when you speak of ducks ! Not to
mention that they're getting out of season and
very dear, it really strikes to my heart to see you
have a duck : for the breast, which is the only



delicate cuts in a duck, always goes in a direc-
tion which I cannot imagine where, and your own
plate comes down so miserably skin-and-bony !
Try again, miss. Think more of yourself, and
less of others. A dish of sweetbreads, now, or
a bit of mutton. Something at which you can
get your equal chance."

Occasionally the game would wax very brisk
indeed," and would be kept up with a smartness
rendering such an encounter as this quite tame.
But the Billickin almost invariably made by far
the higher score ; and would come in with side-
hits of the most unexpected and extraordinary
description, when she seemed without a chance.

All this did not improve the gritty state of
things in London, or the air that London had
acquired in Rosa's eyes of waiting for something
that never came. Tired of working and convers-
ing with IMissTwinkleton, she suggested working
and reading : to which Miss Twinkleton readily
assented, as an admirable reader, of tried powers.
But Rosa soon made the discovery that Miss
Twinkleton didn't read fairly. She cut out the
love scenes, interpolated passages in praise of
female celibacy, and was guilty of other glaring
pious frauds. As an instance in point, take the
glowing passage : " Ever dearest and best
adored, — said Edward, clasping the dear head
to his breast, and drawing the silken hair through
his caressing fingers, from which he suffered it to
fall like golden rain, — ever dearest and best
adored, let us fly from the unsympathetic world
and the sterile coldness of the stony-hearted, to
the rich warm Paradise of Trust and Love."
Miss Twinkleton's fraudulent version tamely ran
thus : " Ever engaged to me with the consent of
our parents on both sides, and the approbation
of the silver-haired rector of the district, — said
Edward, respectfully raising to his lips the taper
fingers so skilful in embroidery, tambour, crochet,
and other truly feminine arts, — let me call on
thy papa ere to-morrow'^ dawn has sunk into the
west, and propose a suburban establishment,
lowly it may be, but within our means, where he
will be always welcome as an evening guest, and
where every arrangement shall invest economy,
and constant interchange of scholastic acquire-
ments, with the attributes of the ministering
angel to domestic bliss."

As the days crept on, and nothing happened,
the neighbours began to say that the pretty girl
at Billickin's, who looked so wistfully and so
much out of the gritty windows of the drawing-
room, seemed to be losing her spirits. The
pretty girl might have lost them but for the acci-
dent of lighting on some books of voyages and
sea adventure. As a compensation against their

romance, Miss Twinkleton, reading aloud, made
the most of all the latitudes and longitudes,
bearings, winds, currents, offsets, and other sta-
tistics (which she felt to be none the less im-
proving because they expressed nothing whatever
to her) ; while Rosa, listening intently, made the
most of what was nearest to her heart. So they
both did better than before.

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 21 of 103)