Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 3 of 103)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 3 of 103)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

down with a sigh, and shakes her head.



" You seem to be sorry, Rosa."

" I am sorry for the poor old place. Some-
how, I feel as if it would miss me when I am
gone so far away, so young."

" Perhaps we had better stop short, Rosa?"

She looks up at him with a swift bright look ;
next moment shakes her head, sighs, and looks
down again.

" That is to say, is it, Pussy, that we are both
resigned ? "

She nods her head again, and, after a short
silence, quaintly bursts out with : " You know
we must be married, and married from here,
Eddy, or the poor girls will be so dreadfully
disappointed ! "

For the moment there is more of compassion,
both for her and for himself, in her affianced
husband's face, than there is of love. He checks
the look, and asks : " Shall I take you out for a
walk, Rosa dear ? "

Rosa dear does not seem at all clear on this
point, until her face, which has been comically
reflective, brightens. " Oh yes, Eddy ; let us
go for a walk ! And I tell you what we'll do.
You shall pretend that you are engaged to
somebody else, and I'll pretend that I am not
engaged to anybody, and then we shan't

" Do you think that will prevent our faUing
out, Rosa?"

" I know it will. Hush ! Pretend to look
out of window. — Mrs. Tisher ! "

Through a fortuitous concourse of accidents,
the matronly Tisher heaves in sight, says, in
rustling through the room like the legendary
ghost of a dowager in silken skirts : " I hope I
see Mr. Drood well ; though I needn't ask, if I
may judge from his complexion. I trust I dis-
turb no one, but there ivas a paper-knife — Oh,
thank you, I am sure ! " and disappears with
her prize.

" One other thing you must do, Eddy, to
oblige me," says Rosebud. "■ The moment we
get into the street, you must put me outside,
and keep close to the house yourself — squeeze
and graze yourself against it."

" By all means, Rosa, if you wish it. Might
I ask why ?"

" Oh ! because I don't want the girls to see

" It's a fine day; but would you like me to
carry an umbrella up ? "

"Don't be foolish, sir. You haven't got
polished leather boots on," pouting, with one
shoulder raised.

" Perhaps that might escape the notice of the
girls, even if they did see me," remarks Edwin,

looking down at his boots with a sudden distaste
for them.

" Nothing escapes their notice, sir. And
then I know what would happen. Some of
them would begin reflecting on me by saying
(for they are free) that they never will on any
account engage themselves to lovers without
polished leather boots. Hark ! Miss Twinkle-
ton. I'll ask for leave."

That discreet lady being indeed heard with-
out, inquiring of nobody in a blandly conversa-
tional tone as she advances : " Eh ? Indeed !
Are you quite sure you saw my mother-of-pearl
button-holder on the work-table in my room ? "
is at once solicited for walking leave, and gra-
ciously accords it. And soon the young couple
go out of the Nuns' House, taking all precau-
tions against the discovery of the so vitally
defective boots of Mr. Edwin Drood : precau-
tions, let us hope, effective for the peace of
Mrs. Edwin Drood that is to be.

'' Which way shall we take, Rosa ? "

Rosa replies, " I want to go to the Lumps-of-
Delight shop."

"To the ?"

"A Turkish sweetmeat, sir. My gracious
me, don't you understand anything? Call
yourself an Engineer, and not know that V

" Why, how should I know it, Rosa ?"

" Because I am very fond of them. But oh ! I
forgot what we are to pretend. No, you needn't
know anything about them ; never mind."

So he is gloomily borne off to the Lumps-of-
Delight shop, where Rosa makes her purchase,
and, after offering some to him (which he rather
indignantly declines), begins to partake of it
with great zest : previously taking off and rolling
up a pair of little pink gloves, like rose-leaves,
and occasionally putting her little pink fingers
to her rosy lips, to cleanse them from the Dust
of Delight that comes oft" the Lumps.

" Now, be a good-tempered Eddy, and pre-
tend. And so you are engaged ? "

" And so I am engaged."

" Is she nice ? "

" Charming."


" Immensely tall ! " (Rosa being short.)

" Must be gawky, I should think," is Rosa's
quiet commentary.

" I beg your pardon ; not at all," contradic-
tion rising in him. "What is termed a fine
woman ; a splendid woman."

" Big nose, no doubt," is the quiet commen-
tary again.

" Not a little one, certainly," is the quick
reply. (Rosa's being a little one.)



" Long pale nose, with a red knob in the
middle. / know the sort of nose," says Rosa
with a satisfied nod, and tranquilly enjoying the

" You doiit know the sort of nose, Rosa,"
with some warmth; "because it's nothing of
the kind."

" Not a pale nose, Eddy?"

" No." Determined not to assent.

"A red nose? Oh! I don't like red noses.
However, to be sure she can always powder

" She would scorn to powder it," says Edwin,
becoming heated.

" Would she? What a stupid thing she must
be ! Is she stupid in everything ? "

" No ; in nothing."

Alter a pause, in which the whimsically
wicked face has not been unobservant of him,
Rosa says :

" And this most sensible of creatures likes
the idea of being carried off to Eg>'pt ; does she,
Eddy ? "

" Yes. She takes a sensible interest in
triumphs of engineering skill : especially when
they are to change the whole condition of an
undeveloped country."

" Lor!" says Rosa, shrugging her shoulders,
with a little laugh of wonder.

" Do you object," Edwin inquires, with a
majestic turn of his eyes downward upon the
fairy figure : " do you object, Rosa, to her
feeling that interest ? "'

"Object? My dear Eddy! But really,
doesn't she hate boilers and things ?"

" I can answer for her not being so idiotic as
to hate Boilers," he returns with angry em-
phasis ; " though I cannot answer for her views
about Things ; really not understanding what
Things are meant."

" But don't she hate Arabs, and Turks, and
Fellahs, and people ? "

" Certainly not." Very firmly.

" At least she must hate the Pyramids ?
Come, Eddy ? "

"Why should she be such a little — tall, I
mean — goose, as to hate the Pyramids, Rosa?"

" Ah ! you should hear Miss Twinkleton,"
often nodding her head, and much enjoying
the Lumps, " bore about them, and then you
wouldn't ask. Tiresome old burying-grounds !
Isises, and Ibises, and Cheopses, and Pha-
raohses ; who cares about them ? And then
there was Belzoni, or somebody, dragged out
by the legs, half choked with bats and dust.
All the girls say : Serve him right, and hope it
hurt him, anJ wish he had been quite choked."

The two youthful figures, side by side, but
not now arm in-arm, wander discontentedly
about the old Close ; and each sometimes stops
and slowly imprints a deeper footstep in the
fallen leaves.

" Well ! " says Edwin after a lengthy silence.
"According to custom. We can't get on,

Rosa tosses her head, and says she don't
want to get on.

"That's a pretty sentiment, Rosa, consider-

" Considering what ? "

" If I say what, you'll go wrong again."

" K'//"ll go wrong, you mean, Eddy. Don't
be ungenerous."

" Ungenerous ! I like that ! "

"Then I doiit like that, and so I tell you
plainly," Rosa pouts.

" Now, Rosa, I put it to you. Who dis-
paraged my profession, my destination "

" You are not going to be buried in the
Pyramids, I hope ? " she interrupts, arching her
delicate eyebrows. " You never said you were.
If ycu are, why haven't you mentioned it to
me ? I can't find out your plans by instinct."

" Now, Rosa, you know very well what I
mean, my dear."

" Well, then, why did you begin with your
detestable red-nosed giantesses ? And she
would, she would, she would, she would, she
WOULD powder it ! " cries Rosa, in a little burst
of comical contradictory spleen.

" Somehow or other, I never can come right
in these discussions," says Edwin, sighing and
becoming resigned.

" How is it possible, sir, that you ever can
come right when you're always wrong? And
as to Belzoni, I suppose he's dead ; — I'm sure I
hope he is ; — and how can his legs or his chokes
concern you ? "

" It is nearly time for your return, Rosa. We
have not had a very happy walk, have we?"

"A happy walk? A detestably unhappy
walk, sir. If I go up-stairs the moment I get
in, and cry till I can't take my dancing lesson,
you are responsible, mind !"

" Let us be friends, Rosa."

" Ah ! " cries Rosa, shaking her head and
bursting into real tears, " I wish we could be
friends ! It's because we can't be friends that
we try one another so. I am a young little
thing, Eddy, to have an old heartache ; but I
really, really have, sometimes. Don't be angry.
I know you have one yourself too often. We
should both of us have done better if What is to
be had been left What miiiht have been. I am



quite a little serious thing now, and not teasing
you. Let each of us forbear, this one time, on
our own account, anil on the other's ! "
" Disarmeil by this glimpse of a woman's nature
in the spoilt child, though for an instant disposed
to resent it as seeming to involve the enforced
infliction of himself upon her, Edwin Drood
stands watching her as she childishly cries and
sobs, with both hands to the handkerchief at
her eyes, and then — she becoming more com-

posed, and indeed beginning, in her young
inconstancy, to laugh at herself for having been
so moved — leads her to a seat hard by, under
the elm-trees.

" One clear word of understanding. Pussy
dear. I am not clever out of my own line —
now I come to think of it, I don't know that I
am particularly clever in it — but I want to do
right. There is not — there may be — I really
don't see my way to what I want to say, but I

V/ - ^/.^^//



must say it before we part— there is not any
other young "

" Oh no, Eddy ! It's generous of you to ask
me ; but no, no, no ! "

They have come very near to the cathedral
windows, and at this moment the organ and the
choir sound out sublimely. As they sit listen-
ing to the solemn swell, the confidence of last
night rises in young Edwin Drood's mind, and
he thinks how unlike this music is to that dis-

" I fancy I can distinguish Jack's voice," is
his remark in a low tone in connection with the
train of thought.

" Take me back at once, please," urges his
affianced, quickly laying her light hand upon
his wrist. " They will all be coming out
directly ; let us get away. Oh, what a re-
sounding chord ! But don't let us stop to listen
to it ; let us get away ! "

Her hurry is over as soon as they have passed
out of the Close. They go arm-in-arm now,
gravely and deliberately enough, along the old
High Street, to tlie Nuns' House. At the gate,
the street being within sight empty, Edwin
bends down his face to Rosebud's.

She remonstrates, laughing, and is a childish
school-girl again. v



" Eddy, no ! I'm too sticky to be kissed.
But give me your hand, and I'll blow a kiss into

He does so. She breathes a light breath
into it, and asks, retaining it and looking
into it :

" Now say, what do you see ?"

'" See, Rosa ? "

" Why, I thought you p:gyptian boys could
look into a hand and see all sorts of phantoms.
Can't you see a happy Future ? "

For certain, neither of them sees a happy
Present, as the gate opens and closes, and one
goes in, and the other goes away.



'CCEPTING the Jackass as the type
of self-sufficient stupidity and con-
ceit — a custom, perhaps, like some
few other customs, more conven-
tional than fair — then the purest
Jackass in Cloisterham is Mr. Tho-
mas Sapsea, Auctioneer.
Mr. Sapsea "dresses at" the Dean;
been bowed to for the Dean in mistake ;
has even been spoken to in the street as My
Lord, under the impression that he was the
Bishop come down unexpectedly, without his
chaplain. Mr. Sapsea is very proud of this, and
of his voice, and of his style. He has even (in
selling landed property) tried the experiment of
slightly intoning in his pulpit, to make himself
more like what he takes to be the genuine eccle-
siastical article. So, in ending a Sale by Public
Auction, Mr. Sapsea finishes off with an air of
bestowing a benediction on the assembled bro-
kers, which leaves the real Dean — a modest and
worthy gentleman — far behind.

Mr. Sapsea has many admirers ; indeed, the
proposition is carried by a large local majority,
even including non-believers in his wisdom, that
he is a credit to Cloisterham. He possesses the
great qualities of being portentous and dull, and
of having a roll in his speech, and another roll
in his gait ; not to mention a certain gravely-
flowing action with his hands, as if he were pre-
sently going to Confirm the individual with
whom he holds discourse. Much nearer sixty
years of age than fifty, with a flowing outline of
stomach, and horizontal creases in his waistcoat ;
reputed to be rich ; voting at elections in the
strictly respectable interest; morally satisfied

that nothing but he himself has grown since he
was a baby ; how can dunder-headed Mr. Sapsea
be otherwise than a credit to Cloisterham, and
society ? ^

Mr. Sapsea's premises are in the High Street,
over against the Nuns' House. They are of
about the period of the Nuns' House, irregu-
larly modernised here and there, as steadily-
deteriorating generations found, more and more,
that they preferred air and light to Fever and
the Plague. Over the doorway is a wooden
eftigy, about half life-size, representing Mr. Sap-
sea's father, in a curly wig and toga, in the act
of selling. The chastity of the idea, and the
natural appearance of the little finger, hammer,
and pulpit, have been much admired.

Mr. Sapsea sits in his dull ground-floor sit-
ting-room, giving first on his paved back-yard ;
and then on his railed-off garden. Mr. Sapsea
has a bottle of port wine on a table before the
fire — the fire is an early luxury, but pleasant on
the cool, chilly autumn evening — and is charac-
teristically attended by his portrait, his eight-
day clock, and his weather-glass. Characteris-
tically, because he would uphold himself against
mankind, his weather-glass against weather, and
his clock against time.

By Mr. Sapsea's side on^ the table are a writ-
ing-desk and writing materials. Glancing at a
scrap of manuscript, Mr. Sapsea reads it to him-
self with a lofty air, and then, slowly pacing the
room with his thumbs in the armholes of his
waistcoat, repeats it, from memory : so inter-
nally, though with much dignity, that the word
" Ethelinda " is alone audible.

There are three clean wine-glasses in a tray
on the table. His servant-maid entering and
announcing " Mr. Jasper is come, sir," Mr.
Sapsea waves " Admit him," and draws two
wine-glasses from the rank, as being claimed.

" Glad to see you, sir. I congratulate myself
on having the honour of receiving you here for
the first time." Mr. Sapsea does the honours
of his house in this wise.

" You are very good. The honour is mine,
and the self- congratulation is mine."

" You are pleased to say so, sir. But I do
assure you that it is a satisfaction to me to re-
ceive you in my humble home. And that is
what I would not say to everybody." Ineffable
loftiness on Mr. Sapsea's part accompanies these
words, as leaving the sentence to be understood :
" You will not easily believe that your society
can be a satisfaction to a man like myself;
nevertheless, it is."

" I have for some time desired to know you,
Mr. Sapsea."



" And I, sir, have long known you by reputa-
tion as a man of taste. Let me fill your glass.
I will give you, sir," says Mr. Sapsea, filling his
own ;

" ' When the French come over,
May we meet them at Dover ! ' "

This was a patriotic toast in Mr. Sapsea's in-
fancy, and he is therefore fully convinced of its
being appropriate to any subsequent era.

" You can scarcely be ignorant, Mr. Sapsea,"
observes Jasper, watching the auctioneer with a
smile as the latter stretches out his legs before
the fire, " that you know tlic world."

" Well, sir," is the chuckling reply, " I think
I know something of it ; something of it."

" Your reputation for that knowledge has
always interested and surprised me, and made
me wish to know you. For Cloisterham is a
Httle place. Cooped up in it myself, I know
nothing beyond it, and feel it to be a very little

" If I have not gone to foreign countries,

young man " Mr. Sapsea begins, and then

stops. " You will excuse me calling you young
man, Mr. Jasper ? You are much my junior."

" By all means."

" — If I have not gone to foreign countries,
young man, foreign countries have come to me.
They have come to me in the way of business,
and I have improved upon my opportunities.
Put it that I take an inventory, or make a cata-
logue. I see a French clock. I never saw him
before in my life, but I instantly lay my finger
on him and say, ' Paris ! ' I see some cups and
saucers of Chinese make, equally strangers to
me personally : I put my finger on them, then
and there, and I say, ' Pekin, Nankin, and Can-
ton.' It is the same with Japan, with Egypt,
and with bamboo and sandal-wood from the
East Indies ; I put my finger on them all. I
have put my finger on the North Pole before
now, and said, ' Spear of Esquimaux make, for
half a pint of pale sherry ! ' "

" Really ? A very remarkable way, Mr. Sap-
sea, of acquiring a knowledge of men and things."

" I mention it, sir," Mr. Sapsea rejoins with
unspeakable complacency, "because, as I say,
it don't do to boast of what you are ; but show
how you came to be it, and then you prove it."

" Most interesting. We were to speak of the
late Mrs. Sapsea."

" We were, sir." Mr. Sapsea fills both glasses,
and takes the decanter into safe keeping again.
"Before I consult your opinion as a man of
laste on this little trifle " — holding it up —
''which is but a trifle, and still has required

some thought, sir, some little fever of the brow,
I ought perhaps to describe the character of
the late Mrs. Sapsea, now dead three-quarters
of a year."

Mr. Jasper, in the act of yawning behind his
wine-glass, puts down that screen and calls up a
look of interest. It is a little impaired in its
expressiveness by his having a shut-up gape still
to dispose of, with watering eyes.

" Haifa-dozen years ago, or so," Mr. Sapsea
proceeds, " when I had enlarged my mind up to
— I will not say to what it now is, for that might
seem to aim at too much, but up to the pitch of
wanting another mind to be absorbed in it — I cast
my eye about me for a nuptial partner. Because,
as I say, it is not good for man to be alone."

Mr. Jasper appears to commit this original
idea to memory.

" Miss Brobity at that time kept, I will not
call it the rival estabHshment to the establish-
ment at the Nuns' House opposite, but I will
call it the other parallel establishment down
town. The world did have it that she showed
a passion for attending my sales, when they took
place on half-holidays, or in vacation-time. The
world did put it about that she admired my
style. The world did notice that, as time flowed
by, my style became traceable in the dictation
exercises of Miss Brobity's pupils. Young man,
a whisper even sprang up in obscure malignity,
that one ignorant and besotted Churl (a parent)
so committed himself as to object to it by name.
But I do not believe this. For is it likely that
any human creature in his right senses would so
lay himself open to be pointed at by what I call
the finger of scorn ? "

Mr. Jasper shakes his head. Not in the least
likely. Mr. Sapsea, in a grandiloquent state of
absence of mind, seems to refill his visitor's
glass, which is full already ; and does really re-
fill his own, which is empty.

" Miss Brobity's Being, young man, was
deeply imbued with homage to Mind. She
revered Mind, when launched, or, as I say, pre-
cipitated, on an extensive knowledge of the
world. When I made my proposal, she did me
the honour to be so overshadowed with a species
of Awe as to be able to articulate only the two
words, " O Thou ! " meaning myself. Her
limpid blue eyes were fixed upon me, her semi-
transparent hands were clasped together, pallor
overspread her aquiline features, and, though
encouraged to proceed, she never did proceed a
word further. I disposed of the parallel esta-
blishment by private contract, and we became
as nearly one as could be expected under the
circumstances. But she never could, and she



never did, find a phrase satisfactory to her
perhaps-too-favourable estimate of my intellect.
To the very last (feeble action of liver), she
addressed me in the same unfinished terms."

Mr. Jasper has closed his eyes as the auc-
tioneer has deepened his voice. He now ab-
ruptly opens them, and says, in unison with the
deepened voice, " Ah ! " — rather as if stopping
himself on the extreme verge of adding —
"men ! "

" I have been since," says Mr. Sapsea, with
his legs stretched out, and solemnly enjoying
himself with the wine and the fire, " what you
behold me ; I have been since a solitary
mourner ; I have been since, as I say, wasting
my evening conversation on the desert air. I
will not say that I have reproached myself; but
there have been times when I have asked myself
the question : What if her husband had been
nearer on a level with her ? If she had not had
to look up quite so high, what might the stimu-
lating action have been upon the liver ? "

Mr. Jasper says, with an appearance of having
fallen into dreadfully low spirits, that he " sup-
poses it was to be."

" We can only suppose so, sir," Mr. Sapsea
coincides. " As I say, Man proposes. Heaven
disposes. It may or may not be putting the
same thought in another form ; but taat is the
way I put it."

^Ir, Jasper murmurs assent.

" And now, Mr. Jasper," resumes the auc-
tioneer, producing his scrap of manuscript, "Mrs.
Sapsea's monument having had full time to settle
and dry, let me take your opinion, as a man of
taste, on the inscription 1 have (as I before
remarked, not without some little fever of the
brow) drawn out for it. Take it in your own
hand. The setting out of the lines requires to
be followed with the eye, as well as the contents
with the mind."

]\Ir. Jasper, complying, sees and reads as
follows :

Reverential Wife of



Whose Knowledge of the World,

Though somewhat extensive,

Never brought him acquainted with


More capable of



And ask thyself the Question,


If Not,


Mr. Sapsea having risen and stationed himself
with his back to the fire, for the purpose of
observing the effect of these lines on the coun-
tenance of a man of taste, consequently has his
face towards the door, when his serving- maid,
again appearing, announces, " Durdles is come,
sir ! " He promptly draws forth and fills the
third wine-glass, as being now claimed, and
replies, "Show Durdles in."

" Admirable ! " quoth Mr. Jasper, handing
back the paper.

" You approve, sir ? "

"Impossible not to approve. Striking, cha-
racteristic, and complete."

The auctioneer inclines his head, as one
accepting his due and giving a receipt ; and
invites the entering Durdles to take off that
glass of wine (handing the same), for it will
warm him.

Durdles is a stonemason ; chiefly in the grave-
stone, tomb, and monument way, and wholly of
their colour from head to foot. No man is
better known in Cloisterham. He is the char-
tered libertine of the place. Fame trumpets
him a wonderful workman — which, for aught
that anybody knows, he may be (as he never
works) ; and a wonderful sot — which everybody
knows he is. With the cathedral cryj^t he is
better acquainted than any living authority; it
may even be than any dead one. It is said
that the intimacy of this acquaintance began in
his habitually resorting to that secret place, to
lock out the Cloisterham boy-populace, and
sleep oft' the fumes of liquor : he having ready
access to the cathedral, as contractor for rough
repairs. Be this as it may, he does know much
about it, and, in the demolition of impedimental

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 3 of 103)