Charles Dickens.

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

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placently, " I feel quite apologetic for having
my way smoothed as you describe. But you
know what I know. Jack, and it may not be so
very easy as it seems, after all. May it. Pussy?"
To the portrait, with a snap of his thumb and
finger. " We have got to hit it oft" yet ; haven't
we. Pussy? You know what I mean. Jack?"

His speech has become thick and indistinct.
Jasper, quiet and self-possessed, looks to Neville,
as expecting his answer or comment. When
Neville speaks, his speech is also thick and in-
distinct.

" It might have been better for Mr. Drood to
have known some hardships," he says defiantly.

" Pray," retorts Edwin, turning merely his
eyes in that direction, " pray why might it have
been better for Mr. Drood to have known some
hardships ? "

" Ay," Jasper assents with an air of interest ;
" let us know why ? "

" Because they might have made him more
sensible," says Neville, " of good fortune that is
not by any means necessarily the result of his
own merits."

Mr. Jasper quickly looks to his nephew for
his rejoinder.



AFTER THE STIRRUP-CUP.



Zl



''Have you known hardships, may I ask?"

says Edwin Drood, sitting upright.

Mr. Jasper quickly looks to the other for his

retort.

" I have."'

" And what have they madejw/ sensiole of?"

Mr. Jasper's play of eyes between the two

holds good throughout the dialogue to the end.
" I have told you once before to-night."'
" You have done nothing of the sort."
" I tell you I have. That you take a great

deal too much upon yourself."'



" You added something else to that, if I re-
member ? "

" Yes, I did say something else."

*' Say it again."

" I said that, in the part of the world I come
from, you would be called to account for it."

"Only there?" cries Edwin Drood with a
contemptuous laugh. " A long way off, I be-
lieve ? Yes ; I see ! That part of the world
is at a safe distance."

" Say here, then," rejoins the other, rising in
a fury. " Say anywhere ! Your vanity is in-




ON DANGEROUS GROUND.



tolerable, your conceit is beyond endurance ;
you talk as if you were some rare and precious
^prize, instead of a coaimon boaster. You are a
common fellow, and a common boaster."

" Pooh, pooh ! " says Edwin Drood, equally
furious, but more collected ; " how should you
know ? You may know a black common fellow,
or a black common boaster, when you see him
(and no doubt you have a large acquaintance
that way), but you are no judge of white men."

This insulting allusion to his dark skin in-
Edwin Drood, 3.



furiates Neville to that violent degree, that he
flings the dregs of his wine at Edwin Drood,
and is in the act of flinging the goblet after it,
when his arm is caught in the nick of time by
Jasper.

" Ned, my dear fellow !" he cries in a loud
voice ; " I entreat you, I command you to be
still ! " There has been a rush of all the three,
and a clattering of glasses and overturning of
chairs. " Mr. Neville, for shame ! Give this glass
to me. Open your hand, sir. I will have it ! "



34



THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN BROOD.



But Neville throws him off", and pauses for ,
an instant, in a raging passion, with the goblet
yet in his uplifted hand. Then, he dashes it
down under the grate, with such force that the
broken splinters fly out again in a shower; and
he leaves the house.

When he first emerges into the nigb'c'~air,
nothing around him is still or steady ; nothing
around him shows like what it is ; he only
knows that he stands with a bare head in the midst
of a blood-red whirl, waiting to be struggled
Avith, and to struggle to the death.

But, nothing happening, and the moon look-
ing down upon him as if he were dead after a
fit of wrath, he holds his steam-hammer-beating
head and heart, and staggers away. Then, he
becomes half conscious of having heard himself
bolted and barred out, like a dangerous animal ;
and thinks, what shall he do ?

Some wildly passionate ideas of the river dis-
solve under the spell of the moonlight on the
cathedral and the graves, and the remembrance
of his sister, and the thought of what he owes to
the good man who has but that very day won
his confidence and given him his pledge. He
repairs to Minor Canon Corner, and knocks
softly at the door.

It is Mr. Crisparkle's custom to sit up last of
the early household, very softly touching his
piano and practising his favourite parts in con-
certed vocal music. The south wind that goes
where it lists, by way of Minor Canon Corner
on a still night, is not more subdued than Mr.
Crisparkle at such times, regardful of the slum-
bers of the china shepherdess.

His knock is immediately answered by Mr.
Crisparkle himself. When he opens the door,
candle in hand, his cheerful face falls, and dis-
appointed amazement is in it.

" Mr. Neville ! In this disorder ! Where have
you been ?"

" I have been to Mr. Jasper's, sir. With his
nephew."

" Come in."

The Minor Canon props him by the elbow
with a strong hand (in a strictly scientific manner,
worthy of his morning trainings) and turns him
into his own little book-room, and shuts the
door.

" I have begun ill, sir. I have begun dread-
fully ill."

" Too true. You are not sober, Mr. Neville."

" I am afraid I am not, sir, though I can
satisfy you at another time that I have had a
very little indeed to drink, and that it overcame
me in the strangest and most sudden manner."

" Mr. Neville, Mr. Neville," says the Minor



Canon, shaking his head with a sorrowful smile :

" I have heard that said before."

" I think — my mind is much confused, but I
think — it is equally true of Mr. Jasper's nephew,
sir."

" Very likely," is the dry rejoinder.

" We quarrelled, sir. He insulted me most
grossly. He had heated that tigerish blood I
told you of to-day, before then."

" Mr. Neville," rejoins the Minor Canon
mildly, but firmly, " I request you not to speak
to me with that clenched right hand. Unclench
it, if you please."

" He goaded me, sir," pursues the young man,
instantly obeying, " beyond my power of en-
durance. I cannot say whether or no he meant
it at first, but he did it. He certainly meant it
at last. In short, sir," with an irrepressible out-
burst, " in the passion into which he lashed me,
I would have cut him down if I could, and I
tried to do it."

" You have clenched that hand again," is Mr.
Crisparkle's quiet commentary,

" I beg your pardon, sir."

" You know your room, for I showed it you
before dinner ; but I will accompany you to it
once more. Your arm, if you jDlease. Softl}-,
for the house is all abed."

Scooping his hand into the same scientific
elbow-rest as before, and backing it up with the
inert strength of his arm as skilfully as a Police
Expert, and with an apparent repose quite un-
attainable by novices, Mr. Crisparkle conducts
his pupil to the pleasant and orderly old room
prepared for him. Arrived there, the young
man throws himself into a chair, and, flinging
his arms upon his reading-table, rests his head
upon them with an air of wretched self-reproach.

The gentle Minor Canon has had it in his
thoughts to leave the room without a word.
But looking round at the door, and seeing this
dejected figure, he turns back to it, touches it
with a mild hand, and says " Good night ! " A
sob is his only acknowledgment. He might
have had many a worse ; i:'erhaps could have
had few better.

Another soft knock at the outer door attracts
his attention as he goes down-stairs. He opens
it to Mr. Jasper, holding in his hand the pupil's
hat.

" We have had an awful scene with him," says
Jasper in a low voice.

" Has it been so bad as that ? "

" Murderous ! "

Mr. Crisparkle remonstrates : " No, no, no !
Do not use such strong words."

" He might have laid my dear boy dead at



STARTLING NEWS REACHES THE NUNS' HOUSE.



35



my feet. It is no fault of his that he did not.
But tliat I was, through the mercy of God, swift
and strong with him, he would have cut him
down on my hearth."

The phrase smites home. " Ah ! " thinks
i\Ir. Crisparklc, " his own words !"

'* Seeing what I have seen to-night, and hear-
ing what 1 have heard," adds Jasper with great
earnestness, " I shall never know peace of mind
when there is danger of those two coming to-
gether, with no one else to interfere. It was
horrible. There is something of the tiger in his
dark blood."

" Ah ! " thinks Mr. Crisparkle, " so he said !"

" You, my dear sir," pursues Jasper, taking
his hand, " even you, have accepted a dangerous
charge."

" You need have no fear for me, Jasper,"
returns Mr. Crisparkle with a quiet smile. " I
have none for myself."

" I have none for myself," returns Jasper with
an emphasis on the last pronoun, " because I
am not, nor am I in the way of being, the object
of his hostility. But you may be, and my dear
boy has been. Goodnight!"

Mr. Crisparkle goes in, Avith the hat that has
so easily, so almost imperceptibly, acquired the
right to be hung up in his hall ; hangs it up ;
and goes thoughtfully to bed.



CHAPTER IX.



BIRDS IN THE BUSH.




OSA, having no relation that she
knew of in the world, had, from the
seventh year of her age, known no
home but the Nuns' House, and no
mother but Miss Twinkleton. Her
remembrance of her own mother
was of a pretty little creature like herself
(not much older than herself it seemed to
her), who had been brought home in her father's
arms, drowned. The fatal accident had hap-
pened at a party of pleasure. Every fold and
colour in the pretty summer dress, and even the
long wet hair, with scattered petals of ruined
flowers still clinging to it, as the dead young
figure, in its sad, sad beauty lay upon the bed,
were fixed indelibly in Rosa's recollection. So
were the wild despair and the subsequent
bowed-down grief of her poor young father,
who died broken-hearted on the first anniver-
sary of that hard day.

The betrothal of Rosa grew out of the sooth-



ing of his year of mental distress by his fast
friend and old college companion, Drood : who
likewise had been left a widower in his youth.
But he, too, went the silent road into which all
earthly pilgrimages merge, some sooner, and
some later; and thus the young couple had
come to be as they were.

The atmosphere of \)\\.y surrounding the little
orphan girl when she first came to Cloisterham
had never cleared away. It had taken brighter
hues as she grew older, happier, prettier ; now
it had been golden, now roseate, and now
azure; but it had always adorned her with
some soft light of its own. The general desire
to console and caress her had caused her to be
treated, in the beginning, as a child much
younger than her years ; the same desire had
caused her to be still petted when she was a
child no longer. Who should be her favourite,
who should anticipate this or that small present,
or do her this or that small service ; who should
take her home for the holidays ; who should
write to her the oftenest when they were sepa-
rated, and whom she would most rejoice to see
again when they were reunited ; even these
gentle rivalries were not without their slight
dashes of bitterness in the Nuns' House. Well
for the poor Nuns, in their day, if they hid no
harder strife under their veils and rosaries !

Thus Rosa had grown to be an amiable,
giddy, wilful, winning little creature ; spoilt, in
the sense of counting upon kindness from all
around her ; but not in the sense of repaying it
with indifference. Possessing an exhaustless
well of affection in her nature, its sparkling
waters had freshened and brightened the Nuns'
House for years, and yet its depths had never
yet been moved. What might betide when that
came to pass ; what developing changes miglit
fall upon the heedless head and light heart,
then ; remained to be seen.

By what means the news that there had been
a quarrel between the two young men over-
night, involving even some kind of onslaught by
Mr. Neville upon Edwin Drood, got into Miss
Twinkleton's establishment before breakfast, it
is impossible to say. Whether it was brought
in by the birds of the air, or came blowing in
with the very air itself, when the casement
windows were set open ; whether the baker
brought it kneaded into the bread, or the milk-
man delivered it as part of the adulteration of
his milk ; or the housemaids, beating the dust
out of their mats against t!ie gate-posts, received
it in exchange deposited on the mats by the
town atmosphere; certain it is that the news
permeated every gable of the old building be-



3(^



THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN BROOD.



fore Miss Twinkleton was down, and that Miss
'rwinkleton herself received it, through Mrs.
'risher, while yet in the act of dressing ; or (as
she might have expressed the phrase to a i)arent
or guardian of a mythological turn) of sacrificing
to the Graces.

Miss Landless's brother had thrown a bottle
at Mr. Edwin Drood.

Miss Landless's brother had thrown a knife
at Mr. Edwin Drood.

A knife became suggestive of a fork ; and
Miss Landless's brother had thrown a fork at
Mr. Edwin Drootl.

As in the governing precedence of Peter
Piper, alleged to have picked the peck of
pickled pepper, it was held physically desirable
to have evidence of the existence of the peck of
pickled pepper which Peter Piper was alleged
to have picked ; so, in this case, it was held
psychologically important to know why Miss
Landless's brother threw a bottle, knife, or fork
— or bottle, knife, and fork — for the cook had
been given to understand it was all three — at
Mr. Edwin Drood.

\\"ell, then ! Miss Landless's brother had
said he admired Miss Bud. Mr. Edwin Drood
had said to I^Iiss Landless's brother that he had
no business to admire Miss Bud. Miss Land-
less's brother had then " up'd " (this was the
cook's exact information) with the bottle, knife,
fork, and decanter (the decanter now coolly
flying at everybody's head, without the least
introduction), and thrown them all at Mr.
Edwin Drood.

Poor little Rosa put a forefinger into each of
her ears when these rumours began to circulate,
and retired into a corner, beseeching not to be
told any more ; but Miss Landless, begging
permission of Miss Twinkleton to go and speak
with her brother, and pretty plainly showing
that she would take it if it were not given,
struck out the more definite course of going to
Mr. Crisparkle's for accurate intelligence.

When she came back (being first closeteu
with Miss Twinkleton, in order that anything
objectionable in her tidings might be retained
by that discreet filter), she imparted to Rosa
only what had taken place ; dwelling with a
flushed cheek on the provocation her brother
had received, but almost limiting it to that last
gross affront as crowning " some other words
between them," and, out of consideration for
her new friend, passing lightly over the fact that
the other words had originated in her lover's
taking things in general so very easily. To
Rosa direct, she brought a petition from her
brother that she would forgive him ; and,



having delivered it with sisterly earnestness,
made an end of the subject.

It was reserved for Miss Twinkleton to tone
down the public mind of the Nuns' House.
That lady, therefore, entering in a stately man-
ner what plebeians might have called the school-
room, but what, in the patrician language of the
head of the Nuns' House, was euphuistically,
not to say roundaboutedly, denominated " the
apartment allotted to study," and saying, with a
forensic air, " Ladies ! " all rose. Mrs. Tisher
at the same time grouped herself behind her
chief, as representing Queen Elizabeth's first
historical female friend at Tilbury Fort. Miss
Twinkleton then proceeded to remark that
Rumour, Ladies, had been represented by the
bard of Avon — needless were it to mention the
immortal Shakspeare, also called the Swan of
his native river, not improbably with some
reference to the ancient superstition that that
bird of graceful plumage (Miss Jennings will
please stand upright) sang sweetly on the ap-
proach of death, for which we have no ornitho-
logical authority, — Rumour, Ladies, had been
represented by tnat bard — hem !-

" Who drew
The celebiated Jew,"

as painted full of tongues. Rumour in Cloister-
ham (Miss Ferdinand will honour me with her
attention) was no exception to tiie great limnefs
portrait of Rumour elsewhere. A slight fracas
between two young gentlemen occurring last
night within a hundred miles of these peaceful
walls (Miss Ferdinand, being apparently incor-
rigible, will have the kindness to write out this
evening, in the original language, the first four
fables of our vivacious neighbour, IMonsieur La
Fontaine) had been very grossly exaggerated by
Rumour's voice. In the first alarm and anxiety
arising from our sympathy with a sweet young
friend, not wholly to be dissociated from one of
the gladiators in the bloodless arena in question
(the impropriety of Miss Reynolds's appearing
to stab herself in the band with a pin is far too
obvious, and too glaringly unlady-like, to be
pointed out), we descended from our maiden
elevation to discuss this uncongenial and this
unfit theme. Responsible inquiries having
assured us that it was but one of those " airy
nothings " pointed at by the Poet (whose name
and date of birth Miss Giggles will supply within
half an hour), we Avould now discard the sub-
ject, and concentrate our minds upon the grateful
labours of the day.

But the subject so surviveil all day, neverthe-
less, that Miss Ferdinand got into new trouble
by surreptitiously clapping on a paper moustache



ROSA 'S GUARDIAN.



at dinner-time, and going through the motions
of aiming a water bottle at Miss Giggles, who
drew a table-spoon in defence.

Now, Rosa thought of this unlucky quarrel a
great deal, and thought of it with an uncomfort-
able feeling that she was involved in it, as cause,
or consequence, or what not, through being in a
false position altogether as to her marriage en-
gagement. Never free from such uneasiness
when she v.-as with her affianced hnsband, it
was not likely that she would be free from it
\\hen they were apart. To-day, too, she was
cast in upon herself, and deprived of the relief of
talking freely with her new friend, because the
quarrel had been with Helena's brother, and
Helena undisguisedly avoided the subject as a
delicate and difficult one to herself. At this
critical time, of all times, Rosa's guardian was
announced as having come to see her.

Mr. Grewgious had been well selected for his
trust, as a man of incorruptible integrity, but
certainly for no other appropriate quality dis-
cernible on the surface. He was an arid, sandy
man, who, if he had been put into a grinding-
mill, looked as if he would have ground imme-
diately into high-dried snuff. He had a scanty
flat crop of hair, in colour and consistency like
some very mangy yellow fur tippet ; it was so
unlike hair, that it must have been a wig, but
for the stupendous improbabiHty of anybody's
voluntarily sporting such a head. The little
play of feature that his face presented was cut
deep into it, in a few hard curves that made it
more like work ; and he had certain notches in
his forehead, which looked as though Nature
had been about to touch them into sensibility
or refinement, when she had impatiently thrown
away the chisel, and said : " I really cannot be
worried to finish off this man ; let him go as
he is."

With too great length of throat at his upper
end, and too much ankle-bone and heel at his
lower ; with an awkward and hesitating manner ;
with a shambling walk ; and with what is called
a near sight — which perhaps prevented his
observing how much white cotton stocking he
displayed to the public eye, in contrast with
his black suit — Mr. Grewgious still had some
strange capacity in him of making on the whole
an agreeable impression.

Mr. Grewgious was discovered by his ward,
much discomfited by being in Miss Twinkleton's
company in Miss Twinkleton's own sacred
room. Dim forebodings of being examined in
something, and not coming well out of it,
seemed to oppress the poor gentleman when
found in these circumstances.



" My dear, how do you do ? I am giad to
see you. My dear, how much improved you
are ! Permit me to hand you a chair, my dear."

Miss Twinkleton rose at her little writing-
table, saying, with general sweetness, as to the
j)olite Universe : " \\'ill you permit me to re-
tire ? "

" By no means, madam, on my account. I
beg that you will not move."

" I must entreat permission to move" re-
turned Miss Twinkleton, rei)eating the word
with a charming grace; "but I will not wiiTi-
draw, since you are so obliging. If I wheel my
desk to this corner window, shall I be in the
way ? "

" Madam ! In the way ! "

" You are very kind. Rosa, my dear, you
will be under no restraint, I am sure."

Here Mr. Grewgious, left by the fire with
Rosa, said again : " My dear, how do you do ?
I am glad to see you, my dear." And, having
waited for her to sit down, sat down himself.

" My visits," said Mr. Grewgious, " are, like
those of the angels — iiot that 1 compare myself
to an angel."

" No, sir," said Rosa.

" Not by any means," assented Mr. Grew-
gious. " I merely refer to my visits, which are
few and far between. The angels are, we know
very well, up-stairs."

Miss Twinkleton looked round with a kind of
stiff stare.

" I refer, my dear," said Mr, Grewgious, lay-
ing his hand on Rosa's, as the possibility thrilled
through his frame of his otherwise seeming to
take the awful liberty of calling Miss Twinkleton
my dear ; " I refer to the other young ladies."

Miss Twinkleton resumed her writing.

Mr. Grewgious, with a sense of not having
managed his opening point quite as neatly as
he might have desired, smoothed his head from
back to front as if he had just dived, and were
pressing the water out — this smoothing action,
however superfluous, was habitual with him —
and took a pocket-book from his coat pocket,
and a stump of black-lead pencil from his waist-
coat pocket.

" I made," he said, turning the leaves : " I
made a guiding memorandum or so — as I
usually do, for I have no conversational powers
whatever — to which I will, witii your permis-
sion, my dear, refer. ' Well and happy.' Truly.
You are well and happy, my dear ? You look
so."

" Yes, indeed, sir," answered Rosa.

" For which," said Mr. Grewgious, with a
bend of his head towards the corner window,



38



THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD.



"our warmest acknowledgments are due, and I
am sure are rendered, to the maternal kindness
and the constant care and consideration of the
lady whom I have now the honour to see before
me."

This point, again, made but a lame departure
from Mr. Grewgious, and never got to its desti-
nation ; for. Miss Twinkleton, feeling that the
courtesies required her to be by this time quite
outside the conversation, was biting the end of
her pen, and looking upward, as waiting for the
descent of an idea from any member of the
Celestial Nine who might have one to spare.

Mr. Grewgious smoothed his smooth head
again, and then made another reference to his
pocket-book ; lining out " well and ha2:)py," as
disposed of.

" ' Pounds, shillings, and pence,' is my next
note. A dry subject for a young lady, but an
important subject too. Life is pounds, shil-
lings, and pence. Death is " A sudden

recollection of the death of her two parents
seemed to stop him, and he said in a softer
tone, and evidently inserting the negative as an
after-thought : " Death is 7iot pounds, shillings,
and pence."

His voice was as hard and dry as himself,
and Fancy might have ground it straight, like
himself, into high-dried snuff. And yet, through
the very limited means of expression that he
possessed, he seemed to express kindness. If
Nature had but finished him off, kindness
might have been recognisable in his face at
this moment. But if the notches in his fore-
head wouldn't fuse together, and if his face
would work and couldn't play, what could he
do, poor man ?

•• ' Pounds, shillings, and pence.' You find
your allowance always sufficient for your wants,
my dear ? ''

Rosa wanted for nothing, and therefore it was
ample.

" And you are not in debt } "

Rosa laughed at the idea of being in debt.
It seemed, to her inexperience, a comical vagary
of the imagination. Mr. Grewgious stretched
his near sight to be sure that this was her view
of the case. " Ah ! " he said, as comment, with
a furtive glance towards Miss Twinkleton, and
lining out pounds, shillings, and pence : " I



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 7 of 103)