Charles Dickens.

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

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passers, the sound of the cathedral bell, or the
roll of the cathedral organ, seemed to render
more quiet than absolute silence. Swaggering
fighting-men had had their centuries of ramping
and raving about Minor Canon Corner, and


beaten serfs had had their centuries of drudging
and dying there, and powerful monks had had
their centuries of being sometimes useful and
sometimes harmful there, and behold they were
all gone out of Minor Canon Corner, and so
much the better. Perhaps one of the highest
uses of their ever having been there was, that
there might be left behind that blessed air of
tranquillity which pervaded Minor Canon
Corner, and that serenely romantic state of
the mind — productive, for the most part, of
pity and forbearance — which is engendered by
a sorrowful story that is all told, or a pathetic
play that is played out.

Ked brick walls harmoniously toned down in
colour by time, strong-rooted ivy, latticed win-
dows, panelled rooms, big oaken beams in little
places, and stone-walled gardens where annual
fruit yet ripened upon monkish trees, were the
principal surroundings of pretty old Mrs. Cri-
sparkle and the Reverend Septimus as they sat
at breakfast.

" And what, ma dear," inquired the Minor
Canon, giving proof of a wholesome and vigo-
rous appetite, " does the letter say ? "

The pretty old lady, after reading it, had just
laid it down upon the breakfast-cloth. She
handed it over to her son.

Now, the old lady was exceedingly proud of
her bright eyes being so clear that she could
read writing without spectacles. Her son was
also so proud of the circumstance, and so duti-
lully bent on her deriving the utmost possible
gratification from it, that he had invented the
l^retence that he himself could not read writing
without spectacles. Therefore he now assumed
a pair, of grave and prodigious proportions,
which not only seriously inconvenienced his
nose and his breakfast, but seriously impeded
his perusal of the letter. For, he had the eyes
of a microscope and a telescope combined, when
they were unassisted.

" It's from Mr. Honeythunder, of course,"
said the old lady, folding her arms.

" Of course," assented her son. He then
lamely read on :

" 'Haven of Philanthropy,
" ' Chief Offices, London, Wednesday,

" ' Dear Madam,

" ' I write in the ' In the what's this }

What does he write in ? "

" In the chair," said the old lady.

The Reverend Septimus took oft his spec-
tacles, that he might see her face, as he ex-
claimed :

" Why, what should he write in?"

" Bless me, bless me, Sept," returned the old

lady, " you don't see the context ! Give it
back to me, my dear,"

Glad to get his spectacles off (for they
always made his eyes water), her son obeyed :
murmuring that his sight for reading manuscript
got worse and worse daily,

" ' I write,' " his mother went on, reading
very perspicuously and precisely, '"from the
chair, to which I shall probably be confined for
some hours,' "

Septimus looked at the row of chairs against
the wall with a half-protesting and half-appeal-
ing countenance,

" ' We have,' " the old lady read on with a
little extra emphasis, " ' a meeting of our Con-
vened Chief Composite Committee of Central
and District Philanthropists, at our Head Haven
as above ; and it is their unanimous pleasure
that I take the chair.' "

Septimus breathed more freely, and mut-
tered : " Oh ! if he comes to that, let him."

" ' Not to lose a day's post, I take the oppor-
tunity of a long report being read, denouncing
a public miscreant — — ' "

" It is a most extraordinary thing," interposed
the gentle Minor Canon, laying down his knife
and fork to rub his ear in a vexed manner,
" that these Philanthropists are always denounc-
ing somebody. And it is another most extra-
ordinary thing that they are always so violently
flush of miscreants ! "

" ' Denouncing a public miscreant,' " the old
lady resumed, " ' to get our httle affair of busi-
ness off my mind. I have spoken with my
two wards, Neville and Plelena Landless, on
the subject of their defective education, and
they give in to the plan proposed ; as I should
have taken good care they did, whether they
liked it or not.' "

" And it is another most extraordinary thing,"
remarked the Minor Canon in the same tone as
before, " that these philanthropists are so given
to seizing their fellow-creatures by the scrufl" of
the neck, and (as one may say) bumping them
into the paths of peace. — I beg your pardon,
ma dear, for interrupting."

" ' Therefore, dear madam, you will please
prepare your son, the Reverend Mr. Septimus,
to expect Neville as an inmate to be read with,
on Monday next. On the same day Helena
will accompany him to Cloisterham, to take up
her quarters at the Nuns' House, the establish-
ment recommended by yourself and son jointly.
Please likewise to prepare for her reception and
tuition there. The terms in both cases are
understood to be exactly as stated to me in
writing by yourself, when I opened a corre-



spondence with you on this subject, after the
honour of being introduced to you at your
sister's house in town here. With compliments
to the Reverend Mr. Septimus, I am, Dear
Madam, Your affectionate brother (in Philan-

" Well, ma," said Septimus after a little more
rubbing of his ear, " we must try it. There can
be no doubt that we have room for an inmate,
and that I have time to bestow upon him, and
inclination too. I must confess to feeling rather
glad that he is not Mr. Honeythunder himself.
Though that seems wretchedly prejudiced —
does it not? — for I never saw him. Is he a
large man, ma ? "

" I should call him a large man, my dear,"
the old lady repHed after some hesitation, "but
that his voice is so much larger."

"Than himself?"

"Than anybody."

" Hah ! " said Septimus. And finished his
breakfast as if the flavour of the Superior
Family Souchong, and also of the ham and
toast and eggs, were a little on the wane.

Mrs. Crisparkle's sister, another piece of
Dresden china, and matching her so neatly
that they would have made a delightful pair of
ornaments for the two ends of any capacious
old-fashioned chimney-piece, and by right should
never have been seen apart, was the childless
wife of a clergyman holding Corporation pre-
ferment in London City. Mr. Honeythunder,
in his public character of Professor of Philan-
thropy, had come to know Mrs. Crisparkle
during the last re-matching of the china orna-
ments (in other Avords, during her last annual
visit to her sister), after a public occasion of a
philanthropic nature, when certain devoted
orphans of tender years had been glutted with
plum buns and plump bumptiousness. These
were all the antecedents known in Minor Canon
Corner of the coming pupils.

" I am sure you will agree with me, ma,"
said Mr. Crisparkle after thinking the matter
over, " that the first thing to be done is, to put
these young people as much at their ease as
possible. There is nothing disinterested in the
notion, because we cannot be at our ease with
them unless they are at their ease with us.
Now, Jasper's nephew is down here at present ;
and like takes to like, and youth takes to youth.
He is a cordial young fellow, and we will have
him to meet the brother and sister at dinner.
That's three. We can't think of asking him
without asking Jasper. That's four. Add Miss
Twinkleton and the fairy bride that is to be, and
that's six. Add our two selves, and that's eight.

Would eight at a friendly dinner at all put you
out, ma ? "

" Nine would, Sept," returned the old lady,
visibly nervous.

" My dear ma, I particularise eight."

" The exact size of the table and the room,
my dear."

So it was settled that way; and when Mr.
Crisparkle called with his mother upon Miss
Twinkleton, to arrange for the reception of
Miss Helena Landless at the Nuns' House, the
two other invitations having reference to that
establishment were proffered and accepted.
Miss Twinkleton did, indeed, glance at the
globes, as regretting that they were not formed
to be taken out into society ; but became re-
conciled to leaving them behind. Instructions
were then dispatched to the Philanthropist for
the departure and arrival, in good time for
dinner, of Mr. Neville and Miss Helena; and
stock for soup became fragrant in the air of
Minor Canon Corner.

In those days there was no railway to Clois-
terham, and ]\Ir. Sapsea said there never would
be. Mr, Sapsea said more ; he said there never
should be. And yet, marvellous to consider, it
has come to pass, in these days, that Express
Trains don't think Cloisterham worth stopping
at, but yell and whirl through it on their larger
errands, casting the dust off their wheels as a
testimony against its insignificance. Some re-
mote fragment of Main Line to somewhere else,
there was, which was going to ruin the Money
Market if it failed, and Church and State if it
succeeded, and (of course) the Constitution,
whether or no ; but even that had already so
unsettled Cloisterham traffic, that the traffic,
deserting the high-road, came sneaking in from
an unprecedented part of the country by a back
stable-way, for many years labelled at the corner :
" Beware of the Dog."

To this ignominious avenue of approach Mr.
Crisparkle repaired, awaiting the arrival of a
short squat omnibus, with a disproportionate
heap of luggage on the roof — like a little Ele-
phant with infinitely too much Castle— which
was then the daily service between Cloisterham
and external mankind. As this vehicle lum-
bered up, Mr. Crisparkle could hardly see any-
thing else of it for a large outside passenger
seated on the box, with his elbows squared, and
his hands on his knees, compressing the driver
into a most uncomfortably small compass, and
glowering about him with a strongly-marked

"Is this Cloisterham?" demanded the pas-
senger in a tremendous voice.



" It is," replied the driver, rubbing himself as
if he ached, after throwing the reins to the
hostler, "And I never was so glad to see it."

"Tell your master to make his box-seat
wider, then," returned the passenger. " Your
master is morally bound — and ought to be
legally, under ruinous penalties — to provide for
the comfort of his fellow-man."

The driver instituted, with the palms of his
hands, a superficial perquisition into the state
of his skeleton ; which seemed to make him

" Have I sat upon you ? " asked the pas-

" You have," said the driver, as if he didn't
like it at all.

"Take that card, my friend."

" I think I won't deprive you on it," returned
the driver, casting his eyes over it with no great
favour, without taking it. " What's the good of
it to me ? "

** Be a Member of that Society," said the

"What shall I get by it?" asked the driver.

" Brotherhood," returned the passenger in a
ferocious voice.

" Thankee," said the driver very deliberately,
as he got down; "my mother was contented
with myself, and so am I. I don't want no

" But you must have them," replied the pas-
senger, also descending, " whether you like it or
not. I am your brother."

" I say ! " expostulated the driver, becoming
more chafed in temper, "not too fur ! The
worm 7c>t// when "

But here Mr. Crisparkle interposed, remon-
strating aside, in a friendly voice : " Joe, Joe,
Joe ! don't forget yourself, Joe, my good fel-
low ! " and then, when Joe peaceably touched
his hat, accosting the passenger with : " Mr.

" That is my name, sir."

" My name is Crisparkle."

" Reverend Mr. Septimus ? Glad to see you,
sir. Neville and Helena are inside. Having a
little succumbed of late, under the pressure of
my public labours, I thought I would take a
mouthful of fresh air, and come down with
them, and return at night. So you are the
Reverend Mr. Septimus, are you ?" surveying
him on the whole with disappointment, and
twisting a double eye-glass by its ribbon, as if
he were roasting it, but not otherwise using it.
" Hah ! I expected to see you older, sir."

" I hope you will," was the good-humoured

" Eh ?" demanded Mr. Honeythunder.

" Only a poor little joke. Not worth repeat-

" Joke ? Ay ; I never see a joke," Mr.
Honeythunder frowningly retorted. " A joke
is wasted upon me, sir. Where are they?
Helena and Neville, come here ! Mr. Cri-
sparkle has come down to meet you."

An unusually handsome lithe young fellow,
and an unusually handsome lithe girl; much
alike ; both very dark, and very rich in colour ;
she of almost the gipsy type ; something un-
tamed about them both ; a certain air upon
them of hunter and huntress ; yet withal a cer-
tain air of being the objects of the chase, rather
than the followers. Slender, supple, quick of
eye and limb ; half shy, half defiant ; fierce of
look ; an indefinable kind of pause coming and
going on their whole expression, both of face
and form, which might be equally likened to
the pause before a crouch or a bound. The
rough mental notes made in the first five
minutes by Mr. Crisparkle would have read
thus verbatim.

He invited Mr. Honeythunder to dinner with
a troubled mind (for the discomfiture of the
dear old china shepherdess lay heavy on it),
and gave his arm to Helena Landless. Both
she and her brother, as they walked all together
through the ancient streets, took great delight
in what he pointed out of the Cathedral and the
Monastery ruin, and wondered — so his notes
ran on — much as if they were beautiful barbaric
captives brought from some wild tropical do-
minion. Mr. Honeythunder walked in the
middle of the road, shouldering the natives out
of his way, and loudly develoi)ing a scheme he
had for making a raid on all the unemployed
persons in the United Kingdom, laying them
every one by the heels in gaol, and forcing
them, on pain of prompt extermination, to
become philanthropists.

Mrs. Crisparkle had need of her own share of
philanthropy when she beheld this very large
and very loud excrescence on the little party.
Always something in the nature of a Boil upon
the face of society, Mr. Honeythunder expanded
into an inflammatory Wen in Minor Canon
Corner. Though it was not literally true, as
was facetiously charged against him by public
unbelievers, that he called aloud to his fellow-
creatures : " Curse your souls and bodies, come
here and be blessed ! " still his philanthropy
was of that gunpowderous sort, that the differ-
ence between it and animosity was hard to
determine. You were to abolish military force,
but you were first to bring all commanding



officers who had done their duty to trial by
court-martial for that offence, and shoot them.
You were to abolish war, but were to make
converts by making war upon them, and charg-
ing them with loving war as the apple of tlieir
eye. You were to have no capital punishment,
but were first to sweep off the face of the earth
all legislators, jurists, and judges who were of
the contrary opinion. You were to have uni-
versal concord, and were to get it by eliminating
all the people who wouldn't, or conscientiously
couldn't, be concordant. You were to love
your brother as yourself, but after an indefinite
interval of maligning him (very much as if you
hated him), and calling him all manner of
names. Above all things, you were to do
nothing in private, or on your own account.
You were to go to the offices of the Haven of
Philanthropy, and put your name down as a
Member and a Professing Philanthropist. Then,
you were to pay up your subscription, get your
card of membership and your ribbon and medal,
and were evermore to live upon a platform, and
evermore to say what Mr. Honeythunder said,
and what the Treasurer said, and what the Sub-
Treasurer said, and what the Committee said,
and what the Sub-Committee said, and what
the Secretary said, and what the Vice-Secretary
said. And this was usually said in the unani-
mously-carried resolution under hand and seal,
to the effect : " That this assembled Body of
Professing Philanthropists views, with indignant
scorn and contempt, not unmixed with utter

detestation and loathing abhorrence " in

short, the baseness of all those who do not
belong to it, and pledges itself to make as
many obnoxious statements as possible about
them, without being at all particular as to facts.
The dinner was a most doleful break-down.
The philanthropist deranged the symmetry of
the table, sat himself in the way of the waiting,
blocked up the thoroughfare, and drove Mr.
Tope (who assisted the parlour-maid) to the
verge of distraction by passing plates and dishes
on over his own head. Nobody could talk to
anybody, because he held forth to everybody at
once, as if the company had no individual exist-
ence, but were a Meeting. He impounded the
Reverend ISIr. Septimus, as an official personage
to be addressed, or kind of human peg to hang
his oratorical hat on, and fell into the exasperat-
ing habit, common among such orators, of im-
personating him as a wicked and weak opponent.
Thus, he would ask : " And will you, sir, now

stultify yourself by telling me " and so forth,

when the innocent man ^.z

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 5 of 103)