Charles Dickens.

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

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last brass farden again, upon my soul ! "

" What's the medicine ? "

" I'll be honest with you beforehand, as well
as after. It's opium."

Mr. Datchery, with a sudden change of coun-
tenance, gives her a sudden look.

" It's opium, deary. Neither more nor less.
And it's like a human creetur so far, that you

always hear what can be said against it, but sel-
dom what can be said in its praise."

Mr. Datchery begins very slowly to count out
the sum demanded of him. Greedily watching
his hands, she continues to hold forth on the
great example set him.

"It was last Christmas-eve, just arter dark,
the once that I was here afore, when the young
gentleman gave me the three-and-six."

Mr. Datchery stops in his counting, finds he
has counted wrong, shakes his money together,
and begins again.

" And the young gentleman's name," she adds,
" was Edwin."

Mr. Datchery drops some money, stoops to
pick it up, and reddens with the exertion as he
asks :

" How do you know the young gentleman's
name ? "

" I asked him for it, and he told it me. I
only asked him the two questions, what was
his Chris'en name, and whether he'd a sweet-
heart? And he answered, Edwin, and he

Mr. Datchery pauses with the selected coins
in his hand, rather as if he were falling into a
brown study of their value, and couldn't bear to
part with them. The woman looks at him dis-
trustfully, and with her anger brewing for the
event of his thinking better of the gift ; but he
bestows it on her as if he were abstracting his
mind from the sacrifice, and with many servile
thanks she goes her way.

John Jasper's lamp is kindled, and his light-
house is shining when Mr. Datchery returns
alone towards it. As mariners on a dangerous
voyage, approaching an iron-bound coast, may
look along the beams of the warning light to the
haven lying beyond it that may never be reached,
so Mr. Datchery's wistful gaze is directed to this
beacon, and beyond.

His object in now revisiting his lodging is
merely to put on the hat which seems so super-
fluous an article in his wardrobe. It is half-past
ten by the cathedral clock when he walks out
into the Precincts again ; he lingers and looks
about him, as though, the enchanted hour when
Mr. Durdles maybe stoned home having struck,
he had some expectation of seeing the Imp who
is appointed to the mission of stoning him.

In effect, that Power of Evil is abroad.
Having nothing living to stone at the moment,
he is discovered by Mr. Datchery in the unholy
office of stoning the dead, through the railings
of the churchyard. The Imp finds this a relish-
ing and piquing pursuit ; firstly, because their
resting-place is announced to be sacred ; and



secondly, because the tall headstones are suffi-
ciently like themselves, on their beat in the dark,
to justify the delicious fancy that they are hurt
when hit.

Mr. Datchery hails him with : " Halloa,
Winks ! "

He acknowledges the hail with : " Halloa,
Dick ! " Their acquaintance seemingly having
been established on a familiar footing.

" But, I say," he remonstrates, " don't yer go
a making my name public. I never means to
plead to no name, mind yer. ^Vhen they says
to me in the Lockup, a-going to put me down
in the book, ' \Vhat's your name ? ' I says to
them, ' Find out.' Likeways when they says,
'■ What's your religion ? ' I says, ' Find out.' "

Which, it may be observed in passing, it would
be immensely difficult for the State, however
statistical, to do.

"Asides which," adds the boy, "there ain't
no family of Winkses."

" I think there must be."

*' Yer lie, there ain't. The travellers give me
the name on account of my getting no settled
sleep and being knocked up all night ; whereby
I gets one eye roused open afore I've shut the
other. That's what Winks means. Deputy's the
nighest name to indict me by : but yer wouldn't
catch me pleading to that, neither."

" Deputy be it always, then. We two are good
friends ; eh. Deputy ? "

"Jolly good."

" I forgave you the debt you owed me when
we first became acquainted, and many of my
sixpences have come your way since ; eh,

" Ah ! And what's more, yer ain't no friend
o' Jarsper's. What did he go a h'isting me off
my legs for ? "

" What indeed ? But never mind him now.
A shilling of mine is going your way to-night,
Deputy. You have just taken in a lodger I
have been speaking to ; an infirm woman with a

" Puffer," assents Deputy with a shrewd leer
of recognition, and smoking an imaginary pipe,
with his head very much on one side and his
eyes very much out of their places. " Hopeum

"What is her name?"

" 'Er Royal Highness the Princess Puffer."

" She has some other name than that. Where
does she live ? "

" Up in London. Among the Jacks."

" The sailors ? "

" I said so ; Jacks ; and Chayner men ; and
hother Knifers."

" I should like to know, through you, exactly
where she lives."

" All right. Give us 'old."

A shilling passes ; and, in that spirit of con-
fidence which should pervade all business trans-
actions between principals of honour, this piece
of business is considered done.

" But here's a lark ! " cries Deputy. " Where
did yer think 'Er Royal Highness is a-goin' to
to-morrow morning ? Blest if she ain't a-goin'
to the KiN-FREE-DER-EL ! " He greatly prolongs
the word in his ecstasy, and smites his leg, and
doubles himself up in a fit of shrill laughter.

" How do you know that. Deputy ? "

" 'Cos she told me so just now. She said
she must be hup and hout o' purpose. She ses,
' Deputy, I must 'ave a early wash, and make
myself as swell as I can, for I'm a-goin' to take
a turn at the Kin-free-der-el ! ' " He sepa-
rates the syllables with his former zest, and, not
finding his sense of the ludicrous sufficiently
relieved by stamping about on the pavement,
breaks into a slow and stately dance, perhaps
supposed to be performed by the Dean.

Mr. Datchery receives the communication
with a well-satisfied though pondering face, and
breaks up the conference. Returning lo his
quaint lodging, and sitting long over the supper
of bread and cheese and salad and ale which
Mrs. Tope has left prepared for him, he still sits
when his supper is finished. At length he rises,
throws open the door of a corner cupboard, and
refers to a few uncouth chalked strokes on its
inner side.

" I like," says Mr. Datchery, " the old tavern
way of keeping scores. Illegible except to the
scorer. The scorer not committed, the scored
debited with what is against him. Hum ! ha I
A very small score this ; a very poor score ! "

He sighs over the contemplation of its
poverty, takes a bit of chalk from one of the
cupboard shelves, and pauses with it in his hand,
uncertain what addition to make to the account.

" I think a moderate stroke," he concludes,
"is all I am justified in scoring up;" so, suits
the action to the word, closes the cupboard, and
goes to bed.

A brilliant morning shines on the old city.
It's antiquities and ruins are surpassingly beau-
tiful, with a lusty ivy gleaming in the sun, and
the rich trees waving in the balmy air. Changes
of glorious light from moving boughs, songs of
birds, scents from gardens, woods, and fields —
or rather, from the one great garden of the whole
cultivated island in its yielding time — penetrate
into the cathedral, subdue its earthy o'dour, and
preach the Resurrection and the Life. The cold



stone tombs of centuries ago grow warm ; and
flecks of brightness dart into the sternest marble
corners of the building, fluttering there like wings.

Comes Mr. Tope with his large keys, and
yawningly unlocks and sets open. Come Mrs.
Tope and attendant sweeping sprites. Come,
in due time, organist and bellows-boy, peeping
down from the red curtains in the loft, fearlessly
flapping dust from books up at that remote
elevation, and whisking it from stops and pedals.
Come sundry rooks, from various quarters of
the sky, back to the great tower; who may
be presumed to enjoy vibration, and to know
that bell and organ are going to give it them.
Come a very small and straggling congregation
indeed : chiefly from Minor Canon Corner and
the Precincts. Come Mr. Crisparkle, fresh and
bright ; and his ministering brethren, not quite
so fresh and bright. Come the choir in a hurry
(always in a hurry, and struggling into their night-
gowns at the last moment, like children shirking
bed), and comes John Jasper leading their line.
Last of all comes Mr. Datchery into a stall, one
of a choice empty collection very much at his
service, and glancing about him for Her Royal
Highness the Princess Puffer.

The service is pretty well advanced before
Mr. Datchery can discern Her Royal Highness.
But by that time he has made her out in the
shade. She is behind a pillar, carefully with-
drawn from the Choir Master's view, but regards
him with the closest attention. All unconscious
of her presence, he chants and sings. She grins
when he is most musically fervid, and — yes, Mr.
Datchery sees her do it ! — shakes her fist at him
behind the pillar's friendly shelter.

Mr. Datchery looks again, to convince him-
self. Yes, again ! As ugly and withered as one
of the fantastic carvings on the under brackets
of the stall seats, as malignant as the Evil One,
as hard as the big brass eagle holding the sacred
books upon his wings (and, according to the
sculptor's representation of his ferocious attri-
butes, not at all converted by them), she hugs
herself in her lean arms, and then shakes both
fists at the leader of the choir.

And at that moment, outside the grated door
of the choir, having eluded the vigilance of Mr.
Tope by shifty resources in which he is an
adept, I)ei)uty peeps, sharp-eyed, through the
bars, and stares astounded from the threatener
to the threatened.

The service comes to an end, and the servi-
tors disperse to breakfast. Mr. Datchery accosts
his last new acquaintance outside, when the
choir (as much in a hurry to get their bedgowns
off as they were but now to get them on) have
scuffled away.

" Well, mistress ! Good morning. You have
seen him ? "

" /'ve seen him, deary ; /'ve seen him ! "

" And you know him ?"

" Know him ! Better far than all the Reve-
rend Parsons put together know him."

Mrs. Tope's care has spread a very neat,
clean breakfast ready for her lodger. Before
sitting down to it, he opens his corner-cup-
board door ; takes his bit of chalk from its
shelf; adds one thick line to the score, ex-
tending from the top of the cupboard door
to the bottom ; and then falls to with an appe-






■ HEN the wind is blowing, and the
sleet or rain is driving against the
(lark windows, I love to sit by the
fire, thinking of what I have read
in books of voyage and travel.
Such books have had a strong
fascination for my mind from my earliest
childhood ; and I wonder it should have
come to pass that I never have been round
the world, never have been shipwrecked, 'ce-
environed, tomahawked, or eaten.

Sitting on my ruddy hearth in the twilight of
New Year's Eve, I find incidents of travel rise
around me from all the latitudes and longitudes
of the globe. They observe no order or se-

quence, but appear and vanish as they will —
"come like shadows, so depart." Columbus,
alone upon the sea with his disaffected crew,
looks over the waste of waters from his high
station on the poop of his ship, and sees the
first uncertain glimmer of the light, " rising and
falling with the waves, like a torch in the bark
of some fisherman," which is the shining star of
a new world. Bruce is caged in Abyssinia, sur-
rounded by the gory horrors which shall often
startle him out of his sleep at home when years
have passed away. Franklin, come to the end
of his unhappy overland journey — would that it
had been his last !— lies perishing of hunger with
his brave companions: each emaciated figure
stretched upon its miserable bed without the
power to rise: all dividing the weary days



between their prayers, their remembrances of
the dear ones at home, and conversation on the
pleasures of eating ; the last-named topic being
ever present to them, likewise, in their dreams.
All the African travellers, wayworn, solitary, and
sad, submit themselves again to drunken, mur-
derous, man-selling despots of the lowest order
of humanity; and INIungo Park, fainting under a
tree and succoured by a woman, gratefully re-
members how his Good Samaritan has always
come to him in woman's shape, the wide world

A shadow on the wall, in which my mind's
eye can discern some traces of a rocky sea-
coast, recalls to me a fearful story of travel
derived from that unpromising narrator of such
stories, a parliamentary blue-book. A convict
is its chief figure, and this man escapes with
other prisoners from a penal settlement. It is
an island, and they seize a boat, and get to the
mainland. Their way is by a rugged and pre-
cipitous seashore, and they have no earthly hope
of ultimate escape, for the party of soldiers dis-
patched by an easier course to cut them off,
must inevitably arrive at their distant bourne
long before them, and retake them if by any
hazard they survive the horrors of the way.
Famine, as they all must have foreseen, besets
them early in their course. Some of the party
die and are eaten ; some are murdered by the
rest and eaten. This one awful creature eats
his fill, and sustains his strength, and lives on to
be recaptured and taken back. The unrelatable
experiences through which he has passed have
been so tremendous, that he is not hanged as
he might be, but goes back to his old chained
gang-work. A little time, and he tempts one
other prisoner away, seizes another boat, and
flies once more — necessarily in the old hopeless
direction, for he can take no other. He is soon
cut off, and met by the pursuing party, face to
face, upon the beach. He is alone. In his
former journey he acquired an inappeasable
relish for his dreadful food. He urged the new
man away expressly to kill him and eat him.
In the pockets on one side of his coarse con-
vict dress are portions of the man's body on
which he is regaling ; in the pockets on the
other side is an untouched store of salted pork
{stolen before he left the island), for which he
has no appetite. He is taken back, and he is
hanged. But I shall never see that sea-beach
on the wall, or in the fire, without him, solitary
monster, eating as he prowls along, while the
sea rages and rises at him.

Captain IJligh (a worse man to be intrusted
with arbitrary power there could scarcely be) is

handed over the side of the Bounty, and turned
adrift on the wide ocean in an open boat by
order of Fletcher Christian, one of his officers,
at this very minute. Another flash of my fire,
and " Thursday October Christian," five-and-
twenty years of age, son of the dead-and-gone
Fletcher by a savage mother, leaps aboard his
Majesty's ship Briton, hove to off Pitcairn's
Island ; says his simple grace, before eating, in
good English; and knows that a pretty little
animal on board is called a dog, because in his
childhood he had heard of such strange crea-
tures from his father and the other mutineers,
grown grey under the shade of the bread-fruit
trees, speaking of their lost country far away.

See the Halsewell, East Indiaman outward
bound, driving madly on a January night
towards the rocks near Seacombe, on the island
of Purbeck ! The captain's two dear daughters
are aboard, and live other ladies. The ship has
been driving many hours, has seven feet water
in her hold, and her mainmast has been cut
away. The description of her loss, familiar to
me from my early boyhood, seems to be read
aloud as she rushes to her destiny.

"About two in the morning of Friday, the
sixth of January, the ship still driving, and
approaching very fast to the shore, Mr. Henry
Meriton, the second mate, went again into the
cuddy, where the captain then was. Another
conversation taking place. Captain Pierce ex-
pressed extreme anxiety for the preservation of
his beloved daughters, and earnestly asked the
officer if he could devise any method of saving
them. On his answering, with great concern,
that he feared it would be impossible, but that
their only chance would be to wait for morning,
the captain lifted up his hands in silent and
distressful ejaculation.

"At this dreadful moment the ship struck,
with such violence as to dash the heads of those
standing in the cuddy against the deck above
them, and the shock was accompanied by a
shriek of horror that burst at one instant from
every quarter of the ship.

" Many of the seamen, who had been re-
markably inattentive and remiss in their duty
during great part of the storm, now poured
upon deck, where no exertions of the officers
could keep them while their assistance might
have been useful. They had actually skulked
in their hammocks, leaving the working of the
pumps and other necessary labours to the
officers of the ship, and the soldiers, who had
made uncommon exertions. Roused by a sense
of their danger, the same seamen, at this mo-



ment, in frantic exclamations, demanded of
Heaven and their fellow-sufterers that succour
which their own etibrts, timely made, might
possibly have procured.

"The ship continued to beat on the rocks;
and soon bilging, fell with her broadside towards
the shore. When she struck, a number of the
men climbed up the ensign-staff, under an
apprehension of her immediately going to

" Mr. Meriton, at this crisis, offered to these
unhappy beings the best advice which could be
given ; he recommended that all should come
to the side of the ship lying lowest on the rocks,
and singly to take the opportunities which might
then offer of escaping to the shore.

" Having thus provided, to the utmost of his
power, for the safety of the desponding crew,
he returned to the round-house, where, by this
time, all the passengers and most of the officers
had assembled. The latter were employed in
offering consolation to the unfortunate ladies ;
and, with unparalleled magnanimity, suffering
their compassion for the fair and amiable com-
panions of their misfortunes to prevail over the
sense of their own danger.

" In this charitable work of comfort Mr. Meri-
ton now joined, by assurances of his opinion
that the ship would hold together till the morn-
ing, when all would be safe. Captain Pierce,
observing one of the young gentlemen loud in
his exclamations of terror, and frequently cry
that the ship was parting, cheerfully bid him be
quiet, remarking that though the ship should go
to pieces, he would not, but would be safe

" It is difficult to convey a correct idea of the
scene of this deplorable catastrophe, without
describing the place where it happened. The
Halsewell struck on the rocks at a part of the
shore where the cliff is of vast height, and rises
almost perpendicular from its base. But, at this
particular spot, the foot of the cliff is excavated
into a cavern of ten or twelve yards in depth,
and of breadth equal to the length of a large
ship. The sides of the cavern are so nearly
upright as to be of extremely difficult access;
and the bottom is strewed with sharp and un-
even rocks, which seem, by some convulsion of
the earth, to have been detached from its roof.

" The ship lay with her broadside opposite to
the mouth of this cavern, with her whole length
stretched almost from side to side of it. But when
she struck, it was too dark for the unfortunate
persons on board to discover the real magnitude
of their danger, and the extreme horror of such a

"In addition to the company already in the

round-house, they had admitted three black
women and two soldiers' wives ; who, with the
husband of one of them, had been allowed to
come in, though the seamen, who had tumul-
tuously demanded entrance to get the lights, had
been opposed and kept out by Mr. Rogers and
Mr. Brimer, the third and fifth mates. The
numbers there were, therefore, now increased to
near fifty. Captain Pierce sat on a chair, a cot,
or some other movable, with a daughter on each
side, whom he alternately pressed to his affec-
tionate breast. The rest of the melancholy
assembly were seated on the deck, which was
strewed with musical instruments, and the wreck
of furniture and other articles.

" Here also Mr. Meriton, after having cut
several wax candles in pieces, and stuck them
up in various parts of the round-house, and
lighted up all the glass lanterns he could find,
took his seat, intending to wait the approach of
dawn ; and then assist the partners of his dangers
to escape. But observing that the poor ladies
appeared parched and exhausted, he brought a
basket of oranges, and prevailed on some of
them to refresh themselves by sucking a little of
the juice. At this time they were all tolerably
composed, except Miss IVIansel, who was in
hysteric fits on the floor of the deck of the

'* But on Mr. Meriton's return to the company,
he perceived a considerable alteration in the ap-
pearance of the ship ; the sides were visibly
giving way ; the deck seemed to be lifting, and
he discovered other strong indications that she
could not hold much longer together. On this
account, he attempted to go forward to look
out, but immediately saw that the ship had sepa-
rated in the middle, and that the fore-part, hav-
ing changed its position, lay rather further out
towards the sea. In such an emergency, when
the next moment might plunge him into eternity,
he determined to seize the present opportunity,
and follow the example of the crew and the sol-
diers, who were now quitting the ship in num-
bers, and making their way to the shore, though
quite ignorant of its nature and description.

" Among other expedients, the ensign-staff
had been unshipped, and attempted to be laid
between the ship's side and some of the rocks,
but without success, for it snapped asunder be-
fore it reached them. However, by the light of
a lantern, which a seaman handed through the
sky-light of the round-house to the deck, Mr.
Meriton discovered a spar which appeared to be
laid from the ship's side to the rocks, and on
this spar he resolved to attempt his escape.



" Accordingly, lying down upon it, he thrust
himself forward ; however, he soon found that it
had no communication with the rock ; he reached
the end of it, and then slipped off, receiving a
very violent bruise in his fall, and before he
could recover his legs, he was washed off by the
surge. He now supported himself by swim-
ming, until a returning wave dashed him against
the back part of the cavern. Here he laid hold
of a small projection in the rock, but was so
much benumbed that he was on the point of
quitting it, when a seaman, who had already
gained a footing, extended his hand, and assisted
him until he could secure himself a little on the
rock ; from which he clambered on a shelf still
higher, and out of the reach of the surf.

" Mr. Rogers, the third mate, remained with
the captain and the unfortunate ladies and their
companions nearly twenty minutes after Mr.
]\Ieriton had quitted the ship. Soon after the
latter left the round-house, the captain asked
what was become of him, to which Mr. Rogers
replied, that he was gone on deck to see what
could be done. After this, a heavy sea breaking
over the ship, the ladies exclaimed, ' Oh, poor
Meriton ! he is drowned ! had he stayed with us
he would have been safe ! ' and they all, parti-
cularly Miss j\Iary Pierce, expressed great con-
cern at the apprehension of his loss.

" The sea was now breaking in at the fore-
part of the ship, and reached as far as the main-
mast. Captain Pierce gave j\Ir. Rogers a nod,
and they took a lamp and Avent together into the
stern-gallery, where, after viewing the rocks for
some time, Captain Pierce asked Mr, Rogers if
he thought there was any possibility of saving
the girls ; to which he replied, he feared there
was none ; for they could only discover the black
face of the perpendicular rock, and not the
cavern which afforded shelter to those who
escaped. They then returned to the round-
house, where INIr. Rogers hung up the lamp, and
Captain Pierce sat down between his two

" The sea continuing to break in very fast,
Mr. Macmanus, a midshipman, and Mr. Schutz,

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 23 of 103)