Charles Dickens.

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

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have not even a name for tlie thing, you see ! —
that you have had to work upon in other young
men to whom you have been accustomed."

•' This is evidently true. But this is not
encouraging," thought Mr. Crisparkle as they
turned again.

" And, to finish with, sir, I have been brought
up among abject and servile dependants of an
inferior race, and I may easily have contracted
some affinity with them. Sometimes, I don't
know but that it may be a drop of what is tigerish
in their blood.''

'' As in the case of that remark just now,"
thought Mr. Crisparkle.

" In a last word of reference to my sister, sir
(we are twin children), you ought to know, to
her honour, that nothing in our misery ever
subdued her, though it often cowed me. When
we ran away from it (we ran away four times in
six years, to be soon brought back and cruelly
punished), the flight was always of her planning
and leading. Each time she dressed as a boy,
and showed the daring of a man. I take it we
were seven years old when we first decamped ;
but I remember, when I lost the pocket-knife
with which she was to have cut her hair short,
how^ desperately she tried to tear it out, or bite
it off. I have nothing further to say, sir, except
that I hope you will bear with me and make
allowance for me."

" Of that, Mr. Neville, you may be sure,"
returned the Minor Canon. " I don't preach
more than I can help, and I will not repay your
confidence with a sermon. But I entreat you
to bear in mind, very seriously and steadily, that
if I am to do you any good, it can only be
with your own assistance ; and that you can
only render that efficiently by seeking aid from
Heaven."

" I will try to do my part, sir."

" And, Mr. Neville, I will try to do mine.
Here is my hand on it. May God bless our
endeavours ! "

They were now standing at his house-door,
and a cheerful sound of voices and laughter was
heard within.

'•' We will take one more turn before going
in," said Mr. Crisparkle, " for I want to ask you
a question. When you said you were in a
changed mind concerning me, you spoke, not
only for yourself, but for your sister too?"

" Undoubtedly I did, sir."

" Excuse me, Mr. Neville, but I think you
kave had no opportunity of communicating with



your sister since I met you. Mr. Honeythunder
was very eloquent ; but perhaps I may venture
to say, without ill-nature, that he rather monopo-
lised the occa-sion. May you not have answered
for your sister without sufficient warrant? "

Neville shook his head with a proud smile.

" You don't know, sir, yet, what a complete
understanding can exist between my sister and
me, though no spoken word — perhaps hardly as
much as a look — may have passed between us.
She not only feels as I have described, but she
very well knows that I am taking this oj^portunity
of speaking to you, both for her and for mysulf.

Mr. Crisparkle looked in his face with some
incredulity ; but his face expressed such absolute
and firm conviction of the truth of what he said,
that Mr. Crisparkle looked at the pavement,
and mused, until they came to his door again.

" I will ask for one more turn, sir, this time,"
said the young man with a rather heightened
colour rising in his face. " But for Mr. Honey-
thunder's— I think you called it eloquence, sir ?"
(somewhat slily.)

" I — yes, I called it eloquence," said Mr.
Crisparkle.

" — But for Mr. Honeythunder's eloquence, I
might have had no need to ask you what I am
going to ask you. This Mr. Edwin Drood, sir ;
I think that's the name ? "

" Quite correct," said Mr. Crisparkle. " D-r-
double o-d."

" Does he — or did he — read with you, sir?"

" Never, Mr. Neville. He comes here visit-
ing his relation, Mr. Jasper."

" Is Miss Bud his relation too, sir ? "

C Now, why should he ask that with sudden
superciliousness?" thought Mr. Crisparkle.)
Then he explained, aloud, what he knew of the
little story of their betrothal.

" Oh, thaf's, it, is it ? " said the young man.
" I understand his air of proprietorship now ! "
This was said so evidently to himself, or to any-
body rather than Mr. Crisparkle, that the latter
instinctively felt as if to notice it would be almost
tantamount to noticing a passage in a letter
which he had read by chance over the writer's
shoulder. A moment afterwards they re-entered
the house.

Mr. Jasper was seated at the piano as they
came into his drawing-room, and was accompa-
nying Miss Rosebud v>'hile she sang. It was a
consequence of his playing the accompani-
ment without notes, and of her being a heed-
less little creature, very apt to go wrong,
that he followed her lips most attentively,
with his eyes as well as hands ; carefully
and softly hinting -the key-note from time to



28



THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD.



time. Standing with an arm drawn round her,
but with a face far more intent on Mr. Jasper
than on her singing, stood Helena, between
■whom and her brother an instantaneous recog-
nition passed, in which Mr, Crisparkle saw, or
thought he saw, the understanding that had been
spoken of flash out. Mr. Neville then took his
admiring station, leaning against the piano,
opposite the singer ; Mr. Crisparkle sat down by
the china shepherdess ; Edwin Drood gallantly
furled and unfurled Miss Twinkleton's fan j and



that lady passively claimed that sort of exhi-
bitor's proprietorship in the accomplishment on
view, Avhich Mr. Tope, the verger, daily claimed
in the cathedral service.

The song went on. It was a sorrowful strain
of parting, and the fresh young voice was very
plaintive and tender. As Jasper watched the
pretty lips, and ever and again hinted the one
note, as though it were a low whisper from him-
self, the voice became less steady, until all at
once the singer broke into a burst of tears, and




AT THE PIANO.



shrieked out, with her hands over her eyes : " I
can't bear this ! I am frightened ! Take me
away 1 "

With one swift turn of her lithe figure, Helena
laid the little beauty on a sofa, as if she had
never caught her up. Then, on one knee beside
her, and with one hand upon her rosy mouth,
while with the other she appealed to all the rest,
Helena said to them : " It's nothing ; it's all
over ; don't speak to her for one minute, and
she is well ! "

Jasper's hands hud, in the same instant, lifted



themselves from the keys, and were now poised
above them, as though he waited to resume.
In that attitude he yet sat quiet; not even
looking round, when all the rest hail changed
their places and were reassuring one another,

" Pussy's not used to an audience ; that's the
fact," said Edwin Drood. " She got nervous,
and couldn't hold out. Besides, Jack, you are
such a conscientious master, and require so
much, that i ' elieve you make her afraid of
you. No wonder."

" No wonder," repeated Helena.



HELENA AND ROSA.



29



" There, Jack, you hear ! You would be
afraiil of him under similar circumstances,
wouldn't you, Miss Landless ? "

" Not under any circumstances,'' returned
Helena.

Jasper brought down his hands, looked over
his shoulder, and begged to thank Miss Land-
less for her vindication of his character. Then
he fell to dumbly playing without striking the
notes, while his little pupil was taken to an open
window for air, and was otherwise petted and
restored. When she was brought back his place
was empty. "Jack's gone, Pussy," Edwin tokl
her. " I am more than half afraid he didn't like
to be charged with being the Monster who had
frightened you." But she answered never a
word, and shivered, as if they had made her a
little too cold.

Miss Twinkleton now opining that Indeed
these were late hours, Mrs. Crisparkle, for
finding ourselves outside the walls of the Nuns'
House, and that we who undertook the forma-
tion of the future wives and mothers of England
(the last words in a lower voice, as requiring to
be communicated in confidence) were really
bound (voice coming up again) to set a better
example than one of rakish habits, wrappers
were put in requisition, and the two young cava-
liers volunteered to see the ladies home. It
was soon done, and the gate of the Nuns' House
closed upon them.

The boarders had retired, and only Mrs.
Tisher in solitary vigil awaited the new pupil.
Her bedroom being within Rosa's, very little
introduction or explanation was necessary before
she was placed in charge of her new friend, and
left for the night.

" This is a blessed relief, my dear," said
Helena;' '•' I have been dreading all day that I
should be brought to bay at this time."

"There are not many of us," returned Rosa,
" and we are good-natured girls ; at least, the
others are ; I can answer for them."

" I can answer for you," laughed Helena,
searching the lovely little face with her dark
fiery eyes, and tenderly caressing the small
tigure. " You will be a friend to me, won't
you ? "

" I hope so. But the idea of my being a
friend to you seems too absurd, though."

" Why ? "

" Oh ! I am such a mite of a thing, and you
are so womanly and handsome. You seem to
have resolution and power enough to crush me.
I shrink into nothing by the side of your pie-
sence even."

" I am a neglected creature, my dear, unac-



quainted with all accomplishments, sensitively
conscious that I have everything to learn, and
deeply ashamed to own my ignorance.''

" And yet you acknowledge everything to
me ! " said Rosa.

" My pretty one, can I help it ? There is a
fascination in you."

" Oh ! is there, though ? " pouted Rosa, half
in jest, and half in earnest. " What a pity
Master Eddy doesn't feel it more ! "

Of course her relations towards that young
gentleman had been already imparted in Minor
Canon Corner.

" Why, surely he must love you with all his
heart!" cried Helena with an earnestness that
threatened to blaze into ferocity if he didn't.

" Eh ? Oh ! well, I suppose he does," said
Rosa, pouting again. " I am sure I have no
right to say he doesn't. Perhaps it's my fault.
Perhaps I am not as nice to him as I ought to
be. I don't think I am. But it is so ridi-
culous ! "

Helena's eyes demanded what was.

" We are," said Rosa, answering as if she had
spoken. "We are such a ridiculous couple.
And we are always quarrelling."

" Why ? "

" Because we both know we are ridiculous,
my dear ! " Rosa gave that answer as if it were
the most conclusive answer in the world.

Helena's masterful look was intent upon her
face for a few moments, and then she impul-
sively put out both her hands and said :

" You will be my friend and help me ? "

" Indeed, my dear, I will," replied Rosa in a
tone of affectionate childishness that went
straight and true to her heart. " I will be as good
a friend as such a mite of a thing can be to such
a noble creature as you. And be a friend to me,
please. I don't understand myself : and I want
a friend who can understand me, very much
indeed,"

Helena Landless kissed her, and, retaining
both her hands, said :

" Who is Mr. Jasper ? "

Rosa turned aside her head in answering :
" Eddy's uncle, and my music-master."

" You do not love him ? "

" Ugh ! " She put her hands up to her face,
and shook with fear or horror.

" You know that he loves you ? "

" Oh, don't, don't, don't ! " cried Rosa, drop-
ping on her knees, and clinging to her new re-
source. " Don't tell me of it ! He terrifies me.
He haunts my thoughts like a dreadful ghost. I
feel that I am never safe from him. I feel as if
he could pass in through the wall when he is



30



THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD.



spoken of." She actually did look round, as if
she dreaded to see him standing in the shadow
behind her.

" Try to tell me more about it, darling."

" Yes, I will, I will ! Because you are so
strong. But hold me the while, and stay with
me afterwards."

" My child ! You speak as if he had threat-
ened you in some dark way."

" He has never spoken to me about — that.
Never."

" What has he done ? "

" He has made a slave of me with his looks.
He has forced me to understand him without
his saying a word ; and he has forced me to keep
silence without his uttering a threat. When I
play, he never moves his eyes from my hands.
When I sing, he never moves his eyes from my
lips. When he corrects me, and strikes a note,
or a chord, or plays a passage, he himself is in
the sounds, whispering that he pursues me as a
lover, and commanding me to keep his secret.
I avoid his eyes, but he forces me to see them
without looking at them. Even when a glaze
comes over them (which is sometimes the case),
and he seems to wander away into a frightful
sort of dream in which he threatens most, he
obliges me to know it, and to know that he is
sitting close at my side, more terrible to me
than ever."

" What is this imagined threatening, pretty
one ? What is threatened ? "

" I don't know. I have never even dared to
think or wonder what it is."

" And was this all to-night ? "

" This was all ; except that to-night, when he
watched my lips so closely as I was singing,
besides feeling terrified, I felt ashamed and pas-
sionately hurt. It was as if he kissed me, and
I couldn't bear it, but cried out. You must
never breathe this to any one. Eddy is devoted
to him. But you said to-night that you would
not be afraid of him under any circumstances,
and that gives me — who am so much afraid of
him — courage to tell only you. Hold me ! Stay
with me ! I am too frightened to be left by
myself."

The lustrous gipsy -face drooped over the
clinging arms and bosom, and the wild black hair
fell down protectingly over the childish form.
There was a slumbering gleam of fire in the
intense dark eyes, though they were then soft-
ened with compassion and admiration. Let
whomsoever it most concerned look well to it !




CHAPTER Vni.

DAGGERS DRAWN.

_HE two young men, having seen
-^ the damsels, their charges, enter the
courtyard of the Nuns' House, and
finding themselves coldly stared at
by the brazen door-plate, as if the
battered old beau with the glass in his
eye were insolent, look at one another,
look along the perspective of the moonlit
street, and slowly walk away together.

" Do you stay here long, Mr. Drood ? " says
Neville.

" Not this time," is the careless answer. " I
leave for London again to-morrow. But I
shall be here, off and on, until next midsum-
mer ; then I shall take my leave of Cloisterham,
and England too ; for many a long day, I ex-
pect."

" Are you going abroad ? "

" Going to wake up Egypt a Httle," is the
condescending answer.

" Are you reading ?"

" Reading ! " repeats Edwin Drood with a
touch of contempt. " No. Doing, working,
engineering. My small patrimony was left a part
of the capital of the Firm I am with, by my
father, a former partner ; and I am a charge
upon the Firm until I come of age ; and then I
step into my modest share in the concern. Jack
— you met him at dinner — is, until then, my
guardian and trustee."

" I heard from Mr. Crisparkle of your other
good fortune."

" What do you mean by my other good
fortune ? "

Neville has made his remark in a watchfully
advancing, and yet furtive and shy manner, very
expressive of that peculiar air, already noticed,
of being at once hunter and hunted. Edwin
has made his retort with an abruptness not at
all polite. They stop, and interchange a rather
heated look.

" I hope," says Neville, " there is no offence,
Mr. Drood, in my innocently referring to your
betrothal ? "

" By George ! " cries Edwin, leading on again
at a somewhat quicker pace, " everybody in this
chattering old Cloisterham refers to it. I wonder
no public-house has been set up, with my por-
trait for the sign of The Betrothed's Head. Or
Pussy's portrait. One or the other."'

" I am not accountable for Mr. Crisparkle's
mentioning the matter to me quite openly,"
Neville begins.



HIGH WORDS.



3*



" No ; that's true ; you are not," Edwin Drood
assents.

" But," resumed Neville, " I am accountable
for mentioning it to you. And I did so on the
supposition that you could not fail to be highly
proud of it."

Now, there are these two curious touches of
human nature working the secret springs of this
dialogue. Neville Landless is already enough
impressed by Little Rosebud to feel indignant
that Edwin Drood (far below her) should hold
his prize so lightly. Edwin Drood is already
enough impressed by Helena to feel indignant
that Helena's brother (for below her) should dis-
pose of him so coolly, and put him out of the
way so entirely.

However, the last remark had better be
answered. So says Edwin :

" I don't know, Mr. Neville " (adopting that
mode of address from Mr. Crisparkle), " that
what people are proudest of, they usually talk
most about; I don't know, either, that what
they are proudest of, they most like other people
to talk about. But I live a busy life, and I speak
under correction by you readers, who ought to
know everything, and I dare say do."

By this time they had both become savage ;
Mr. Neville out in the open ; Edwin Drood
under the transparent cover of a popular tune,
and a stop now and then to pretend to admire
picturesque effects in the moonlight before him.

" It does not seem to me very civil in you,"
remarks Neville at length, "to reflect upon a
stranger who comes here, not having had your
advantages, to try to make up for lost time.
But, to be sure, /was not brought up in 'busy
life,' and my ideas of civility were formed among
Heathens."

" Perhaps the best civility, whatever kind of
people we are brought up among," retorts Edwin
Drood, " is to mind our own business. If you
will set me that example, I promise to follow it."

" Do you know that you take a great deal too
much upon yourself?" is the angry rejoinder,
" and that, in the part of the world I come
from, you would be called to account for it ? "

" By whom, for instance ?" asks Edwin Drood,
coming to a halt, and surveying the other with a
look of disdain.

But, here a startling light hand is laid on
Edwin's shoulder, and Jasper stands between
them. For, it would seem that he, too, has
strolled round by the Nuns' House, and has
come up behind them on the shadowy side of
the road.

" Ned, Ned, Ned !" he says ; " we must have
no more of this. I don't like this. I have over-



heard high words between you two. Remember,
my dear boy, you are almost in the position oi
host to-night. You belong, as it were, to the
place, and in a manner represent it towards a
stranger. Mr. Neville is a stranger, and you
should respect the obligations of hospitality.
And, Mr. Neville," laying his left hand on the
inner shoulder of that young gentleman, and
thus walking on between them, hand to shoulder
on either side, " you will pardon me ; but I
appeal to you to govern your temper too. Now,
what is amiss ? But why ask ? Let there be
nothing amiss, and the question is superfluous.
We are all three on a good understanding, are
we not ? "

After a silent struggle between the two young
men who shall speak last, Edwin Drood strikes
in with : "So far as I am concerned, Jack, there
is no anger in me."

" Nor in me," says Neville Landless, though
not so freely, or perhaps so carelessly. " But if
Mr. Drood knew all that lies behind me, far
away from here, he might know better how it is
that sharp-edged words have sharp edges to
wound me."

"Perhaps," saysjasper in a smoothing manner,
" we had better not qualify our good understand-
ing. We had better not say anything having the
appearance of a remonstrance or condition ; it
might not seem generous. Frankly and freely,
you see there is no anger in Ned. Frankly and
freely, there is no anger in you, Mr. Neville ? "

" None at all, Mr. Jasper." Still, not quite so
frankly or so freely ; or, be it said once again,
not quite so carelessly, perhaps.

" All over, then ! Now, my bachelor gate-
house is a few yards from here, and the heater
is on the fire, and the wine and glasses are on
the table, and it is not a stone's throw from
Minor Canon Corner. Ned, you are up and
away to-morrow. We will carry Mr. Neville in
with us, to take a stirrup-cup."

" With all my heart, Jack."

"And with all mine, Mr. Jasper." Neville
feels it impossible to say less, but would rather
not go. He has an impression upon him that
he has lost hold of his temper ; feels that Edwin
Drood's coolness, so far from being infectious,
makes him red-hot.

Mr. Jasper, still walking in the centre, hand
to shoulder on either side, beautifully turns the
Refrain of a drinking song, and they all go up
to his rooms. There, the first object visible,
when he adds the light of a lamp to that of the
fire, is the portrait over the chimney-piece. It is
not an object calculated to improve the under-
standing between the two young men, as rather



32



THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD.



awkwardly reviving the subject of their differ-
ence. Accordingly, they both glance at it con-
sciously, but say nothing. Jasper, however (who
would appear, from his conduct, to have gained
but an imperfect clue to the cause of their late
high words), directly calls attention to it.

" You recognise that picture, Mr. Neville ? "
shading the lamp to throw the light upon it.

" I recognise it, but it is far from flattering
the original."

" Oh, you are hard upon it ! It was done by
Ned, who made me a present of it ! "

" I am sorry for that, Mr. Drood," Neville
apologises, with a real intention to apologise ;
" if I had known I was in the artist's pre-
sence "

" Oh, a joke, sir, a mere joke ! " Edwin cuts
in with a provoking yawn. " A little humouring
of Pussy's points ! I'm going to paint her gravely
one of these days, if she's good."

The air of leisurely patronage and indifference
with which this is said, as the speaker throws
himself back in a chair and clasps his hands at
the back of his head, as a rest for it, is very
exasperating to the excitable and excited Neville.
Jasper looks observantly from the one to the
other, slightly smiles, and turns his back to mix
a jug of mulled wine at the fire. It seems to
require much mixing and compounding.

" I suppose, Mr. Neville," says Edwin, quick
to resent the indignant protest against himself
in the face of young Landless, which is fully as
visible as the portrait, or the fire, or the lamp :
" I suppose that if you painted the picture of
your lady love "

" I can't paint," is the hasty interruption.

" That's your misfortune, and not your fault.
You would if you could. But if you could, I
suppose you would make her (no matter what
she was in reality), Juno, Minerva, Diana, and
Venus, all in one. Eh ?"

" I have no lady love, and I can't say."

" If I were to try my hand," says Edwin,
with a boyish boastfulness getting up in him,
" on a portrait of Miss Landless — in earnest,
mind you ; in earnest — you should see what I
could do ! "

" My sister's consent to sit for it bei\ig first
got, I suppose ? As it never will be got, I am
afraid I shall never see what you can do. I
must bear the loss."

Jasper turns round from the fire, fills a large
goblet glass for Neville, fills a large goblet glass
for Edwin, and hands each his own ; then fills
for himself^, saying :

" Come, Mr. Neville, we are to drink to my
nephew, Ned. As it is his foot that is in the



stirrup — metaphorically — our stirrup-cup is to
be devoted to him. Ned, my dearest fellow,
my love I "

Jasper sets the example of nearly emptying
his glass, and Neville follows it. Edwin Drood
says, " Thank you both very much," and follows
the double example.

" Look at him," cries Jasper, stretching out
his hand admiringly and tenderly, though rally-
ingly too. " See where he lounges so easily,
Mr. Neville ! The world is all before him where
to choose. A life of stirring work and interest,
a life of change and excitement, a life of domes-
tic ease and love ! Look at him ! "

Edwin Drood's face has become quickly and
remarkably flushed with the w-ine ; so has the
face of Neville Landless. Edwin still sits thrown
back in his chair, making that rest of clasped
hands for his head.

" See how little he heeds it all I " Jasper pro-
ceeds in a bantering vein. " It is hardly worth
his while to pluck the golden fruit that hangs
ripe on the tree for him. And yet consider the
contrast, Mr. Neville. You and I have no
prospect of stirring work and interest, or of
change and excitement, or of domestic ease and
love. You and I have no prospect (unless you
are more fortunate than I am, which may easily
be), but the tedious unchanging round of this
dull place."

" Upon my soul. Jack," says Edwin com-



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 6 of 103)