Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 22 of 103)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 22 of 103)
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LTHOUGH Mr.Crisparkle and John
Jasper met daily under the cathedral
roof, nothing at any time passed be-
tween them having reference to Ed-
win Drood, after the time, more than
half a year gone b)-, when Jasper
mutely showed the Minor Canon the
^^ conclusion and the resolution entered in
his Diary. It is not likely that they ever met,
though so often, without the thoughts of each
reverting to the subject. It is not likely that they
ever met, though so often, without a sensation
on the part of each that the other was a per-
plexing secret to him. Jasper as the denouncer
and pursuer of Neville Landless, and Mr. Cri-
sparkle as his consistent advocate and protector,
must at least have stood sufficiently in opposi-
tion to have speculated with keen interest on
the steadiness and next direction of the other's
designs. But neither ever broached the theme.
False pretence not being in the Minor Canon's
nature, he doubtless displayed opeiily that he
would at any time have revived the subject, and
even desired to discuss it. The determined re-
ticence of Jasper, however, was not to be so ap-
proached. Impassive, moody, solitary, resolute,
so concentrated on one idea, and on its attendant
fixed purpose, that he would share it with no
fellow-creature, he lived apart from human life.
Constantly exercising an art which brought him
into mechanical harmony with others, and which
could not have been pursued unless he and they
had been in the nicest mechanical relations and
unison, it is curious to consider that the spirit
of the man was in moral accordance or inter-
change with nothing around him. This, indeed,
he had confided to his lost nephew, before the
occasion for his present inflexibility arose.

That he must know of Rosa's abrupt depar-
ture, and that he must divine its cause, was not
to be doubted. Did he suppose that he had



tenified her into silence? or did he suppose
that she liad imparted to any one — to Mr.
Crisparkle himself, for instance — the particulars
of his last interview with her? Mr. Crisparkle
could not determine this in his mind. He
could not but admit, however, as a just man,
that it was not, of itself, a crime to fall in love
with Rosa, any more than it was a cringe to offer
to set love above revenge.

The dreadful suspicion of Jasper, which Rosa
was so shocked to have received into her imagi-
nation, appeared to have no harbour in Mr. Cri-
sparkle's. If it ever haunted Helena's thoughts
or Neville's, neither gave it one spoken word of
utterance. Mr. Grewgious took no i)ains to con-
ceal his implacable dislike of Jasper, yet he
never referred it, however distantly, to such a
source. But he was a reticent as well as an
eccentric man ; and he made no mention of a
certain evening when he warmed his hands at
the gatehouse fire, and looked steadily down
upon a certain heap of torn and miry clothes
upon the floor.

Drowsy Cloisterham, whenever it awoke to a
passing re-consideration of a story above six
months old, and dismissed by the bench of
magistrates, was pretty equally divided in opinion
whether John Jasper's beloved nephew had been
killed by his treacherously passionate rival, or
in an open struggle ; or had, for his own pur-
poses, spirited himself away. It then lifted up
its head, to notice that the bereaved Jasper was
still ever devoted to discovery and revenge ;
and then dozed off again. This was the condi-
tion of matters, all round, at the period to which
the present history has now attained.

The cathedral doors have closed for the night ;
and the Choir Master, on a short leave of ab-
sence for two or three services, sets his face
towards London. He travels thither by the
means by which Rosa travelled, and arrives, as
Rosa arrived, on a hot, dusty evening.

His travelling baggage is easily carried in his
hand, and he repairs with it on foot to a hybrid
hotel in a little square behind Aldersgate Street,
near the General Post Office. It is hotel, board-
ing-house, or lodging-house, at its visitor's option.
It announces itself, in the new Railway Adver-
tisers, as a novel enterprise, timidly beginning
to spring up. It bashfully, almost apologe-
tically, gives the traveller to understand that it
does not expect him, on the good old constitu-
tional hotel plan, to order a pint of sweet black-
ing for his drinking, and throw it away ; but
insinuates that he may have his boots blacked
instead of his stomach, and maybe also have
bed, breakfast, attendance, and a porter up all
Edwin Drood, 8.

night, for a certain fixed charge. From these
and similar premises, many true Britons in the
lowest spirits deduce that the times are levelling
times, except in the article of high-roads, of
which there will shortly be not one in England.

He eats without appetite, and soon goes forth
again. Eastward, and still eastward, through
the stale streets he takes his way, until he
reaches his destination : a miserable court, spe-
cially miserable among many such.

He ascends a broken staircase, opens a door,
looks into a dark stifling room, and says : "Are
you alone here ? "

" Alone, deary ; worse luck for me, and better
for you," replies a croaking voice. " Come in,
come in, whoever you be : I can't see you till I
light a match, yet I seem to know the sound
of your speaking. I'm acquainted with you,
ain't I?"

" Light your match, and try."

" So I will, deary, so I will ; but my hand
that shakes, as I can't lay it on a match all in a
moment. And I cough so, that, put my matches
where I may, I never find 'em there. They
jump and start, as I cough and cough, like live
things. Are you off a voyage, deary ? "

" No."

" Not seafaring ? "

" No."

" Well, there's land customers, and there's
water customers. I'm a mother to both. Dif-
ferent from Jack Chinaman t'other side the
court. He ain't a father to neither. It ain't in
him. And he ain't got the true secret of mixing,
though he charges as much as me that has, and
more if he can get it. Here's a match, and
now where's the candle? If my cough takes
me, I shall cough out twenty matches afore I
gets a light."

But she finds the candle, and lights it, before
the cough comes on. It seizes her in the
moment of success, and she sits down rocking
herself to and fro, and gasping at intervals :
" Oh, my lungs is awful bad ! my lungs is wore
away to cabbage-nets ! " until the fit is over.
During its continuance she has had no power of
sight, or any other power not -absorbed in the
struggle : but, as it leaves her, she begins to
strain her eyes, and, as soon as she is able to
articulate, she cries, staring :

" Why, it's you ! "

" Are you so surprised to see me ? "

" I thought I never should have seen you
again, deary. I thought you was dead, and
gone to Heaven."

" Why ? "

" I didn't suppose you could have kept away,



alive, so long, from . the poor old soul with the
real receipt for mixing it. And you are in
mourning too ! Why didn't you come and have
a pipe or two of comfort ? Did they leave you
money, perhaps, and so you didn't want com-
fort ? "

" No."

" Who was tney as died, deary? '

" A relative."

"Died of what, lovey?"

" Probably, Death."

" We are short to-night ! " cries the woman
with a propitiatory laugh, " Short and snappish
we are ! But we're out of sorts for want of a
smoke. We've got the all-overs, haven't us,
deary ? But this is the place to cure 'em in ;
this is the place where the all-overs is smoked

"You may make ready, then," replies the
visitor, " as soon as you like."

He divests himself of his shoes, loosens his
cravat, and lies across the foot of the squalid
bed, with his head resting on his left hand.

" Now you begin to look like yourself," says
the woman approvingly. " Now I begin to
know my old customer indeed ! Been trying
to mix for yourself this long time, poppet ? "

" I have been taking it now and then in my
own way."

" Never take it your own v/ay. It ain't good
for trade, and it ain't good for you. Where's
my ink-bottle, and where's my thimble, and
Where's my little spoon ? He's going to take it
in a artful form, now, my deary dear ! "

Entering on her process, and beginning to
bubble and blow at the faint spark enclosed in
the hollow of her hands, she speaks, from time to
time, in a tone of snuffling satisfaction, without
leaving off. When he speaks, he does so with-
out looking at her, and as if his thoughts were
already roaming away by anticipation.

" I've got a pretty many smokes ready for
you, first and last, haven't I, chuckey?"

" A good many."

" When you first come you was quite new to
it, warn't ye ? "

" Yes, I was easily disposed of, then."

" But you got on in the world, and was able
by-and-by to take your pipe with the best of
'em, warn't ye ? "

"Ah ! and the worst."

" It's just ready for you. Wliat a sweet
singer you was when you first come ! Used to
drop your head, and sing yourself oft" like a
bird ! It's ready for you now, deary."

He takes it from her with great care, and
puts the mouthpiece to his lips. She seats her-

self beside him, ready to refill the pipe. After
inhaling a few whiffs in silence, he doubtingly
accosts her with :

" Is it as potent as it used to be?"

" Wiiat do you speak of, deary?"

" What should I speak of, but what I have in
my mouth ? "

"It's just the same. Always the identical

" It doesn't taste so. And it's slower."

" You've got more used to it, you see."

" That may be the cause, certainly. Look
here." He stops, becomes dreamy, and seems
to forget that he has invited her attention.
She bends over him, and speaks in his ear.

"I'm attending to you. Says you just now,
Look here. Says I now, I'm attending to ye.
We was talking just before of your being used
to it."

" I know all that. I was only thinking.
Look here. Suppose you had something in
your mind ; something you were going to do."

" Yes, deary ; something I was going to

" But had not quite determined to do."

" Yes, deary."

" Might or might not do, you understand.**

" Yes." With the point of a needle she stirs
the contents of the bowl.

" Should you do it in your fancy when you
were lying here doing this ?"

She nods her head. " Over and over again."

" Just like me ! I did it over and over again.
I have done it hundreds of thousands of times
in this room."

" It's to be hoped it was pleasant to do,

" It ivas pleasant to do ! "

He says this with a savage air, and a spring
or start at her. Quite unmoved, she retouches
and replenishes the contents of the bowl with
her little spatula. Seeing her intent upon the
occupation, he sinks into his former attitude.

" It was a journey, a difficult and dangerous
journey. That was the subject in my mind. A
hazardous and perilous journey, over abysses
where a slip would be destruction. Look
down, look down ! You see what lies at the
bottom there ? "

He has darted forward to say it, and to point
at the ground, as though at some imaginary ob-
ject far beneath. The woman looks at him, as
his spasmodic face approaches close to hers,
and not at his pointing. She seems to know
what the influence of her perfect quietude would
be ; if so, she has not miscalculated it, for he
subsides again.



'' Well ; I have told you I did it here hun-
dreds of thousands of times. What do I say ?
I did it millions and billions of times. I did it
so often, and through such vast expanses of
time, that when it was really done, it seemed
not worth the doing, it was done so soon."

" That's the journey you have been away
upon," she quietly remarks.

He glares at her as he smokes ; and then,
his eyes becoming filmy, answers : " That's the

Silence ensues. His eyes are sometimes
closed and sometimes open. The woman sits
beside him, very attentive to the pipe, which is
all the while at his lips.

" I'll warrant," she observes when he has been
looking fixedly at her for some consecutive mo-
ments, with a singular appearance in his eyes of
seeming to see her a long way off, instead of so
near him : " I'll warrant you made the journey
in a many ways, when you made it so often ? "

" No, always in one way,"

" Always in the same way ? "


"In the way in which it was really made at
last ? "

" Ay."

" And always took the same pleasure in harp-
ing on it ? "

" Ay."

For the time he appears unequal to any other
reply than this lazy monosyllabic assent. Pro-
bably to assure herself that it is not the assent
of a mere automaton, she reverses the form of
her next sentence.

" Did you never get tired of it, deary, and
try to call up something else for a change ?"

He struggles into a sitting posture, and re-
torts upon her : " What do you mean ? What
did I want ? What did I come for ? "

She gently lays him back again, and, before
returning him the instrument he has dropped,
revives the fire in it with her own breath ; then
says to him coaxingly :

" Sure, sure, sure ! Yes, yes, yes ! Now I
go along with you. You was too quick for me.
I see now. You come o' purpose to take the
journey. Why, I might have known it, through
its standing by you so."

He answers first with a laugh, and then with
a passionate setting of his teeth : " Yes, I came
on purpose. When I could not bear my life, I
came to get the relief, and I got it. It was
one ! It WAS one ! " This repetition with ex-
traordinary vehemence, and the snarl of a

She observes him very cautiously, as though

mentally feeling her way to her next remark.
It is : " There was a fellow-traveller, deary."

" Ha, ha, ha ! " He breaks into a ringing
laugh, or rather yell.

" To think," he cries, " how often fellow-
traveller, and yet not know it ! To think how
many times he went the journey, and never saw
the road ! "

The woman kneels upon the floor, with her
arms crossed on the coverlet of the bed, close
by him, and her chin upon them. In this
crouching attitude she watches him. The pipe
is falling from his mouth. She puts it back,
and, laying her hand upon his chest, moves him
slightly from side to side. Upon that he speaks,
as if she had spoken.

" Yes ! I always made the journey first, be-
fore the changes of colours and the great land-
scapes and glittering processions began. They
couldn't begin till it was off my mind. I had
no room till then for anything else."

Once more he lapses into silence. Once more
she lays her hand upon his chest, and moves
him slightly to and fro, as a cat might stimulate
a half-slain mouse. Once more he speaks, as if
she had spoken.

" What ? I told you so. When it comes to
be real at last, it is so short that it seems unreal
for the first time. Hark ! "

" Yes, deary. I'm listening."

" Time and place are both at hand."

He is on his feet, speaking in a whisper, and
as if in the dark.

" Time, place, and fellow-traveller," she sug-
gests, adopting his tone, and holding liim softly
by the arm.

" How could the time be at hand unless the
fellow-traveller was ? Hush ! The journey's
made. It's over."

" So soon ? "

" That's Avhat I said to you. So soon. Wait
a little. This is a vision. I shall sleep it off.
It has been too short and easy. I must have a
better vision than this ; this is the poorest of aU.
No struggle, no consciousness of peril, no en-
treaty — and yet I never saw that before." With
a start.

" Saw what, deary ? "

"Look at it. Look what a poor, mean,
miserable thing it is ! That must be real. It's

He has accompanied this incoherence with
some wild unmeaning gestures ; but they trail off
into the progressive inaction of stupor, and he
Hes a log upon the bed.

The woman, however, is still inquisitive.
With a repetition of her cat-like action, she



slightly stirs his body again, and listens ; stirs
again, and listens ; whispers to it, and listens.
Finding it past all rousing for the time, she
slowly gets upon her feet with an air of disap-
pointment, and nicks the face with the back of
her hand in turning from it. ■-•

But she goes no further away from it than the
chair upon the hearth. She sits in it, with an
elbow on one of its arms, and her chin upon her
hand, intent upon him. " I heard ye say once,"
she croaks under her breath, " I heard ye say

once, when I was lying where you're lying, and
you were making your speculations upon me,
' Unintelligible ! ' I heard you say so of twc
more than me. But don't ye be too sure always ;
don't ye be too sure, beauty ! "

Unwinking, cat-like, and intent, she presently
adds: "Not so potent as it once was? Ah!
Perhaps not at first. You may be more right
there. Practice makes perfect. I may have
learned the secret how to make ye talk, deary."

He talks no more, whether or no. Twitching


in an ugly way from time to time, both as to his
face and limbs, he lies heavy and silent. The
wretched candle burns down ; the woman takes
its expiring end between her fingers, lights
another at it, crams the guttering frying morsel
deep into the candlestick, and rams it home
with the new candle, as if she were loading some
ill-savoured and unseemly weapon of witch-
craft ; the new candle in its turn burns down ;
and still he lies insensible. At length what
remains of the last candle is blown out, and day-
light looks into the room.

It has not looked very long when he sits up,
chilled and shaking, slowly recovers conscious-
ness of where he is, and makes himself ready to
depart. The woman receives what he pays her
with a grateful, " Bless ye, bless ye, deary ! " and
seems, tired out, to begin making herself ready
for sleep as he leaves the room.

But seeming may be false or ttxi

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 22 of 103)