Charles Dickens.

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

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a knowing air of being up to the contents of the
closet, and a musical air of intending to com-
bine all its harmonics in one delicious fugue.
No common closet with a vulgar door on hinges,
openable all at once, and leaving nothing to be
disclosed by degrees, this rare closet had a lock
in mid-air, where two perpendicular slides met :
the one falling down, and the other pushing up.
The upper slide, on being pulled down (leaving
the lower a double mystery), revealed deep
shelves of pickle-jars, jam-pots, tin canisters,
spice boxes, and agreeably outlandish vessels of
blue and white, the luscious lodgings of pre-
served tamarinds and ginger. Every benevolent
inhabitant of this retreat had his name inscribed
upon his stomach. The pickles, in a uniform
of rich brown double-breasted buttoned coat,
and yellow or sombre drab continuations, an-
nounced their portly forms, in printed capitals, as
Walnut, Gherkin, Onion, Cabbage, Cauliflower,
Mixed, and other members of that noble family.
The jams, as being of a less masculine tempera-
ment, and as wearing curl-papers, announceil
themselves in feminine caligraphy, like a soft whis-
per, to be Raspberry, Gooseberry, Apricot, Plum,
Damson, Apple, and Peach. The scene closing
on these charmers, and the lower slide ascend-
ing, oranges were revealed, attended by a mighty
japanned sugar box, to temper their acerbity if
unripe. Home-made biscuits waited at the Court
of these Powers, accompanied by a goodly frag-
ment of plum-cake, and various slender ladies'
fingers, to be dipped into sweet wine and kissed.
Lowest of all, a compact leaden vault enshrined
the sweet wine and a stock of cordials : whence
issued whispers of Seville Orange, Lemon, Al-
mond, and Caraway-seed. There was a crown-
ing air upon this closet of closets, of having
been for ages hummed through by the cathedral
bell and organ, until those venerable bees had
made sublimated honey of everything in store ;
and it was always observed that every dipper
among the shelves (deep, as has been noticed,
and swallowing up head, shoulders, and elbows)
came forth again mellow-faced, and seeming to
have undergone a saccharine transfiguration.

The Reverend Septimus yielded himself up
quite as willing a victim to a nauseous medicinal
herb-closet, also presided over by the china
shepherdess, as to this glorious cupboard. To
what amazing infusions of gentian, peppermint,
gilliflower, sage, parsley, thyme, rue, rosemary.



and dandelion, did his courageous stomach sub-
mit itself ! In what wonderful wrappers, enclos-
ing layers of dried leaves, would he swathe his
rosy and contented face, if his mother suspected
him of a toothache ! What botanical blotches
would he cheerfully stick upon his cheek or fore-
head, if the dear old lady convicteil him of an im-
perceptible pimple there ! Into this herbaceous
penitentiary, situated on an upper staircase-
landing : a low and narrow whitewashed cell,
where bunches of dried leaves hung from rusty
hooks in the ceiling, and were spread out upon
shelves, in company with portentous bottles :
would the Reverend Septimus submissively be
led, like the iiighly popular lamb who has so long
and unresistingly been led to the slaughter, and
there would he, unlike that lamb, bore nobody
but himself. Not even doing that much, so that
the old lady were busy and pleased, he would
quietly swallow what was given him, merely
taking a corrective dip of hands and face into
the great bowl of dried rose-leaves, and into the
other great bowl of dried lavender, and then
would go out as confident in the sweetening
powers of Cloisterham Weir and a wholesome
mind, as Lady Macbeth was hopeless of those
of all the seas that roll.

In the present instance the good Minor Canon
took his glass of constantia with an excellent
grace, and, so supported to his mother's satis-
faction, applied himself to the remaining duties
of the day. In their orderly and punctual ])ro-
gress they brought round Vesper Service and
twilight. The cathedral being very cold, he set
off for a brisk trot after service ; the trot to end
in a charge at his favourite fragment of ruin,
which was to be carried by storm, without a
pause for breath.

He carried it in a masterly manner, and, not
breathed even then, stood looking down upon
the river. The river at Cloisterham is suffi-
ciently near the sea to throw up oftentimes a
quantity of seaweed. An unusual quantity had
come in with the last tide, and this, and the
confusion of the water, and the restless dipping
and flapping of the noisy gulls, and an angry
light out seaward beyond the brown-sailed barges
that were turning black, foreshadowed a stormy
night. In his mind he was contrasting the wild
and noisy sea with the quiet harbour of Minor
Canon Corner, when Helena and Neville Land-
less passed below him. He had had the two
together in his thoughts all day, and at once
climbed down to speak to them together. The
footing was rough in an uncertain light for any
tread save that of a good climber ; but the Minor
Canon was as good a climber as most men, and

stood beside them before many good climbers
would have been half-way down.

" A wild evening, Miss Landless ! Do you
not find your usual walk with your brother too
exposed and cold for the time of year ? Or, at
all events, when the sun is down, and the
weather is driving in from the sea?"

Helena thought not. It was their favourite
walk. It was very retired.

" It is very retired," assented Mr. Crisparkle,
jaying hold of his opportunity straightway, and
walking on with them. "It is a place of all
others where one can speak without interruption,
as I wish to do. Mr. Neville, I believe you
tell your sister everything that passes between

" Everything, sir."

" Consequently," said Mr. Crisparkle, " your
sister is aware that I have repeatedly urged you
to make some kind of apology for that unfor-
tunate occurrence which befell on the night of
your arrival here."

In saying it he looked to her, and not to
him : therefore it was she, and not he, who
replied :

" Yes."

" I call it unfortunate, Miss Helena," resumed
Mr. Crisparkle, "forasmuch as it certainly has
engendered a prejudice against Neville. There
is a notion about that he is a dangerously pas-
sionate fellow, of an uncontrollable and furious
temper : he is really avoided as such."

" I have no doubt he is, poor fellow," said
Helena with a look of proud compassion at her
brother, expressing a deep sense of his being
ungenerously treated. " I should be quite sure
of it, from your saying so ; but what you tell me
is confirmed by suppressed hints and references
that I meet with every day."

" Now," Mr. Crisparkle again resumed in a
tone of mild though firm persuasion, " is not
this to be regretted, and ought it not to be
amended ? These are early days of Neville's
in Cloisterham, and I have no fear of his out-
living such a prejudice, and proving himself to
have been misunderstood. But how much wiser
to take action at once than to trust to uncertain
time ! Besides, apart from its being politic, it
is right. For there can be no question that
Neville was wrong."
. " He was provoked," Helena submitted.

" He was the assailant," Mr. Crisparkle sub-

They w^alked on in silence, until Helena raised
her eyes to the Minor Canon's face, and said,
almost reproachfully : " Oh, Mr. Crisparkle,
would you have Neville throw himself at young



Diood's feet, or at Mr. Jasper's, who maligns
him every day? In your heart you cannot
mean it. From your heart you could not do it,
if his case were yours."

'' I have rei)resented to Mr. Crisparkle,
Helena,"' said Neville with a glance of deference
towards his tutor, " that if 1 could do it from
my heart, I would. But I cannot, and I revolt
from the pretence. You forget, however, that
to put the case to Mr. Crisparkle as his own, is
to suppose Mr. Crisparkle to have done what I

" I ask his pardon," said Helena.

" You see," remarked Mr. Crisparkle, again
laying hold of his opportunity, though with a
moderate and delicate touch, "you both in-
stinctively acknowledge that Neville did wrong.
Then why stop short, and not otherwise acknow-
ledge it ? ■'

" Is there no difference," asked Helena with
a little faltering in her manner, " between sub-
mission to a generous spirit and submission to a
base or trivial one ? "

Before the worthy Minor Canon was quite
ready with his argument in reference to this
nice distinction, Neville struck in :

" Help me to clear myself with Mr. Crisparkle,
Helena. Help me to convince him that I can-
not be the first to make concessions without
mockery and falsehood. My nature must be
changed before I can do so, and it is not
changed. I am sensible of inexpressible affront,
and deliberate aggravation of inexpressible
aftront, and I am angry. The plain truth is,
I am still as angry when I recall that night as I
was that night."

" Neville," hinted the Minor Canon with a
steady countenance, " you have repeated that
former action of your hands, which I so much

" I am sorry for it, sir, but it was involun-
tary. I confessed that I was still as angry."

" And I confess," said ^Ir. Crisparkle, " that
I hoped for better things."

"I am sorry to disappoint you, sir, buc it
would be far worse to deceive you, and I should
deceive you grossly if I pretended that you had
softened me in this respect. The time may
come when your powerful influence will do even
that with the difficult pupil whose antecedents
you know ; but it has not come yet. Is this
so, and in spite of my struggles against myself,
Helena ? "

She, whose dark eyes were watching the effect
of what he said on Mr. Crisparkle's face, replied
— to Mr. Crisparkle, not to him : " It is so."
After a short pause, she answered the slightest

look of inquiry conceivable, in her brother's
eyes, with as slight an affirmative bend of her
own head ; and he went on :

" I have never yet had the courage to say to
you, sir, what in full openness I ought to have
said when you first talked with me on this sub-
ject. It is not easy to say, and I have been
withheld by a fear of its seeming ridiculous,
which is very strong upon me down to this last
moment, and might, but for my sister, prevent
my being quite open with you even now. — 1
admire Miss Bud, sir, so very much, that I can-
not bear her being treated with conceit or in-
difterence ; and even if I did not feel that I liad
an injury against young Drood on my own
account, I should feel that I had an injury
cigainst him on hers."

Mr. Crisparkle, in utter amazement, looked
at Helena for corroboration, and met in her
expressive face full corroboration and a pie for

" The young lady of whom you sjjeak is, as
you know, Mr. Neville, shortly to be married,"
said Mr. Crisparkle gravely ; " therefore your
admiration, if it be of that special nature wiiich
you seem to indicate, is outrageously misplaced.
Moreover, it is monstrous that you should take
upon yourself to be the young lady's champion
against her chosen husband. Besides, you have
seen them only once. The young lady has be-
come your sister's friend ; and I wonder that
your sister, even on her behalf, has not checked
you in this irrational and culpable fancy."

" She has tried, sir, but uselessly. Husband
or no husband, that fellow is incapable of the .
feeling with which I am inspired towards the
beautiful young creature whom he treats like a
doll. I say he is as incapable of it as he is un-
worthy of her. I say she is sacrificed in being
bestowed upon him. I say that I love her, and
despise and hate him ! " This with a face so
flushed, and a gesture so violent, that his sister
crossed to his sxle, and caught his arm, re-
monstrating, " Neville, Neville ! "

Thus recalled to himself, he quickly became
sensible of having lost the guard he had set upon
his passionate tendency, and covered his lace
with his hand, as one repentant and wretched.

Mr. Crisparkle, watching him attentively, and
at the same time meditating how to proceed,
walked on for some paces in silence. Then he
spoke :

" Mr. Neville, Mr. Neville, I am sorely grieved
to see in you more traces of a character as
sullen, angry, and wild as the night now closing
in. They are of too serious an aspect to leave
me the resource of treating the infatuation you



have disclosed as undeserving serious considera-
tion. I give it very serious consideration, and
I speak to you accordingly. This feud between
you and young Drood must not go on. I cannot
])erniit it to go on any longer, knowing what I
now know from you, and you living under my
roof. Whatever prejudiced and unauthorised
constructions your blind and envious wrath may
jiut upon his character, it is a frank, good-
natured character. I know I can trust to it for
that. Now, pray observe what I am about to
say. On reflection, and on your sister's repre-
sentation, I am willing to admit that, in making
{)eace with young Drood, you have a right to be
met half-way. I will engage that you shall be,
and even that young Drood shall make the first
advance. This condition fulfilled, you will pledge
me the honour of a Christian gentleman that
the quarrel is for ever at an end on your side.
What may be in your heart when you give him
your hand can only be known to the Searcher
of all hearts ; but it will never go well with you
if there be any treachery there. So far, as to
that ; next as to what I must again speak of as
your infatuation. I understand it to have been
confided to me, and to be known to no other
l^erson save your sister and yourself. Do I
understand aright ? "

Helena answered in a low voice : " It is only
known to us three who are here together."

'•It is not at all known to the young lady,
your friend ? "

" On my soul, no ! "

" I require you, then, to give me your similar
and solemn pledge, Mr. Neville, that it shall
remain the secret it is, and that you will take
no other action whatsoever upon it than endea-
vouring (and that mcst earnestly) to erase it j
from your mind. I will not tell you that it will
soon pass ; I will not tell you that it is the fancy '
of the moment ; I will not tell you that such
caprices have their rise and fall among the '
)oung and ardent every hour ; I will leave you ■
undisturbed in the belief that it has few parallels ;
or none, that it will abide with you a long time,
and that it will be very difficult to conquer. So
much the more weight shall I attach to the j
pledge I require from you, when it is unre- '
served ly given."

The young man twice or thrice essayed to
speak, but fliiled.

'■ Let me leave }'Ou with your sister, whom it
is time you took home," said Wx. Crisparkle. j
" Vou wdl find me alone in my room by-and-by."

" Pray do not leave us yet," Helena implored
him. " Another minute."
, '• I should not,'' said Neville, pressing his

hand upon his face, " have needed so much as
another minute, if you had been less patient
with me, Mr. Crisparkle, less considerate of me,
and less unpretendingly good and true. Oh, if
in my childhood I had known such a guide ! "

" Follow your guide now, Neville," murmured
Helena, " and follow him to Heaven ! "

There was that in her tone which broke the
good Minor Canon's voice, or it would have
repudiated her exaltation of him. As it was, he
laid a finger on his lips, and looked towards her

" To say that I give both pledges, Mr. Cri-
sparkle, out of my innermost heart, and to say
that there is no treachery in it, is to say no-
thing ! " Thus Neville, greatly moved. " I beg
your forgiveness for my miserable lapse into a
burst of passion."

" Not mine, Neville, not mine. You know
with whom forgiveness lies, as the highest attri-
bute conceivable. Miss Helena, you and your
brother are twin children. You cam.e into this
world with the same dispositions, and you passed
your younger days together, surrounded by the
same adverse circumstances. What you have
overcome in yourself can you not overcome in
him ? You see the rock that lies in his course.
Who but you can keep him clear of it ? "

" Who but you, sir ? " replied Helena. " What
is my influence, or my weak wisdom, compared
with yours ? ''

" You have the wisdom of Love,'' returned
the Minor Canon, " and it was the highest wis-
dom ever known upon this earth, remember.
As to mine But the less said of that com-
monplace commodity the better. Good night !"

She took the hand he oftered her, and grate-
fully and almost reverently raised it to her lips.

" Tut ! " said the Minor Canon softly, " I am
much overpaid ! " and turned away.

Retracing his steps towards the Cathedral
Close, he tried, as he went along in the dark, to
think out the best means of bringing to pass
what he had promised to eftect, and what must
somehow be done. " I shall probably be asked
to marr}- them," he reflected, " and I would they
were married and gone 1 But this presses first."
He debated principally whether he should write
to young Drood, or whether he should speak to
Jasper. The consciousness of being popular
with the whole cathedral establishment inclined
him to the latter course, and the well-timed sight
of the lighted gatehouse decided him to take it.
" I will strike while the iron is hot," he said,
" and see him now."

Jasper was lying asleep on a couch before the
fire, when, having ascended the postern-stair,



and received no answer to his knock at the
door, Mr. Crisparkle gently turned the handle
and looked in. Long afterwards he had cause
to remember how Jasper sprang from the couch
in a delirious state between sleeping and waking,
and crying out : " What is the matter ? Who
did it?"

" It is only I, Jasper. I atn sorry to have
disturbed you."

The glare of his eyes settled down into a look
of recognition, and he moved a chair or two, to
make a way to the fueside.

" I was dreaming at a great rate, and am
glad to be disturbed from an indigestive after-
dinner sleep. Not to mention that you are
always welcome."

" Thank you. I am not confident,'' returned
Mr. Crisparkle as he sat himself down in the
easy-chair placed for him, " that my subject will
at first sight be quite as welcome as myself; but
I am a minister of peace, and I pursue my sub-
ject in the interests of peace. In a word, Jasper,
I want to establish peace between these two
young fellows."

A very perplexed expression took hold of
Mr. Jasper's face ; a very perplexing expression
too, ibr Mr. Crisparkle could make nothing of it.

"How?" was Jasper's inquiry, in a low and
slow voice, after a silence,

" For the ' How' I come to you. I want to
ask you to do me the great favour and service
of interposing with your nephew (I have already
interposed with Mr. Neville), and getting him to
write you a short note, in his lively way, saying
that he is willing to shake hands. I know what
a good-natured fellow he is, and what influence
you have with him. And, without in the least
defending Mr. Neville, we must all admit that
he was bitterly stung."

Jasper turned that perplexed face towards the
fire. Mr. Crisparkle, continuing to observe it,
found it even more perplexing than before, inas-
much as it seemed to denote (which could hardly
be) some close internal calculation.

" I know that you are not prepossessed in
Mr. Neville's favour," the Minor Canon was
going on, when Jasper stopped him.

" You have cause to say so, I am not,

"Undoubtedly; and I admit his lamentable
violence of temper, though I hope he and I will
get the better of it between us. But I have
exacted a very solemn promise from him as to
his future demeanour towards your nephew, if
you do kindly interpose ; and I am sure he will
keep it."

" You are always responsible and trustworthy,

Mr. Crisparkle. Do you really feel sure that
you can answer for him so confidently ?"

'•' I do."

The perplexed and perplexing look vanished.

" Then you relieve my mind of a great dread
and a heavy weight," said Jasper. " I will do it."

Mr. Crisparkle, delighted by the swiftness and
completeness of his success, acknowledged it in
the handsomest terms.

" I will do it," repeated Jasper, "for the com-
fort of having your guarantee against my vague
and unfounded fears. You will laugh — but do
you keep a Diary ? "

" A line for a day ; not more."

" A line for a day would be quite as m.uch as
my uneventful life would need. Heaven knows,"
said Jasper, taking a book from a desk, " but
that my Diary is, in fact, a Diary of Ned's life
too. You will laugh at this entry; you will
guess when it was made :

" * Past midnight. — After what I liave just now seen,
I have a morbid dread upon me of some horrible conse-
quences resulting to my dear boy, that I cannot reason
with or in any way contend against. All my efforts are
vain. The demoniacal passion of this Neville Landless,
his strength in his fury, and his savage rage for the
destruction of its object, appal me. So profound is the
impression, that twice since I have gone into my dear boy's
room, to assure myself of his sleeping safely, and not
lying dead in his blood.'

Here is another entry next morning :

" ' Ned up and away. Light-hearted and unsuspicious
as ever. He laughed when I cautioned him, and said he
was as good a man as Neville Landless any day. I told
him that might be, but he was not as bad a man. He
continued to make light of it, but I travelled with him as
far as I could, and left him most unwillingly. I am
unable to shake off these dark intangible presentiments
of evil — if feelings founded upon staring facts are to be
so called.'

Again and again," said Jasper, in conclusion,
twirling the leaves of the book before putting it
by, " I have relapsed into these moods, as other
entries show. But I have now your assurance
at my back, and shall put it in my book, and
make it an antidote to my black humours."

" Such an antidote, I hope," returned Mr.
Crisparkle, " as will induce you before long to
consign the black humours to the flames. I
ought to be the last to find any fault with you
this evening, when you have met my wishes so
freely ; but I must say, Jasper, that your devotion
to your nephew has made you exaggerative here."

" You are my witness," said Jasper, shrugging
his shoulders, "what my state of mind honestly
was that night, before I sat down to write, and
in what words I exi)ressed it. You remember
objecting to a word I used, as being too strong?
It was a stronger word than any in my Diary."



" Well, well ! Try the antidote," rejoined
Mr. Crisparkle ; " and may it give you a brighter
and better view of the case ! We will discuss it
no more now. I have to thank you for myself,
and I thank you sincerely."' '

" You shall find," said Jasper as they shook
hands, " that I will not do the thing you wish
me to do by halves. I will take care that Ned,
giving way at all, shall give way thoroughly."

On the third day after this conversation, he
called on Mr. Crisparkle with the following letter :

" My Jack,

" I am touched by your account of
your interview with Mr. Crisparkle, whom I
much respect and esteem. At once I openly
say that 1 forgot myself on that occasion quite
as much as Mr. Landless did, and that I wish
that bygone to be a bygone, and all to be right

" Look here, dear old boy. Ask Mr. Land-
less to dinner on Christmas-eve (the better the
day the better the deed), and let there be only


we three, and let us shake hands all round there
and then, and say no more about it.
" My dear Jack,

" Ever your most affectionate

" Edwin Drood,

" P.S. — Love to Miss Pussy at the next music

"You expect Mr. Neville, then ? " said Mr.

" 1 count upon his coming," said Mr. Jas-



EHIND the most ancient part of
Holborn, London, where certain
gabled houses some centuries of age
still stand looking on the public way,
as if disconsolately looking for the
Old Bourne that has long run dry, is
a little nook composed of two irregular
quadrangles, calletl Sta])le Inn. It is
one of those nooks, the turning into which, out



of the clashing street, imparts to the reheved
l)edcstrian the sensation of having put cotton in
his ears, and velvet soles on his boots. It is
one of those nooks where a few smoky sparrows

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 9 of 103)