Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 97 of 103)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 97 of 103)
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I wouldn't have come. I asked him not to.
It's a sick young gentleman, sir — and very poor,
I am afraid — who is too ill to go home this holi-
day-time, and lives, unknown to any one, in but
a common kind of lodging for a gentleman,
down in Jerusalem Buildings. That's all, sir."

" Why have I never heard of him?" said the
Chemist, rising hurriedly. "Why has he not
made his situation known to me ? Sick ! — Give
me my hat and cloak. Poor ! — What house ? —
what number?"

" Oh, you mustn't go there, sir ! " said Milly,
leaving her father-in-law, and calmly confronting
him with her collected little face and folded

" Not go there ? "

" Oh dear, no ! " said INIilly, shaking her
head as at a most manifest and self-evident im-
possibility. " It couldn't be thought of! "

" What do you mean ? Why not ? "

" Why, you see, sir," said Mr. William Swidger
persuasively and confidentially, " that's what I
say. Depend upon it, the young gentleman
would never have made his situation known to
one of his own sex. Mrs. William has got into
his confidence, but that's quite different. They
all confide in Mrs. William ; they all trust her.
A man, sir, couldn't have got a whisper out of

hifn; but woman, sir, and Mrs. William com-
bined !"

" There is good sense and delicacy in what
you say, William," returned Mr. Redlaw, ob-
servant of the gentle and composed face at his
shoulder. And laying his finger on his lip, he
secretly put his purse into her hand.

" Oh dear, no, sir !." cried Milly, giving it
back again. " Worse and worse ! Couldn't be
dreamed of!"

Such a staid, matter-of-fact housewife she was,
and so unruffled by the momentary haste of this
rejection, that, an instant afterwards, she was
tidily picking up a few leaves which had strayed
from between her scissors and her apron when
she had arranged the holly.

Finding, when she rose from her stooping pos-
ture, that Mr. Redlaw was still regarding her with
doubt and astonishment, she quietly repeated —
looking about, the while, for any other fragments
that might have escaped her observation :

" Oh dear, no, sir ! He said that of all the
world he would not be known to you, or receive
help from you — though he is a student in your
class. I have made no terms of secrecy with
you, but I trust to your honour cornxjletely."

" Why did he say so ?"

"Indeed I can't tell, sir," said Milly, after
thinking a little, " because I am not at all clever,
you know ; and I wanted to be useful to him in
making things neat and comfortable about him,
and employed myself that way. But I know he
is poor and lonely, and I think he is somehow
neglected too. — How dark it is ! "

The room had darkened more and more.
There was a very heavy gloom and shadow
gathering behind the Chemist's chair.

" What more about him ?" he asked.

" He is engaged to be married when he can
afford it," said Milly, " and is studying, I think,
to qualify himself to earn a living. I have seen,
a long time, that he has studied hard, and denied
himself much. — How very dark it is !"

" It's turned colder, too," said the old man,
rubbing his hands. " There's a chill and dismal
feeling in the room. Where's my son William?
William, my boy, turn the lamp, and rouse the
fire ! "'

Miily's voice resumed, like quiet music very
softly played :

" He muttered in his broken sleep yesterday
afternoon, after talking to me " (this was to her-
self), " about some one dead, and some great
wrong done that could never be forgotten ; but
whether to him or to another person, I don't
know. Not by him, I am sure."

"And, in short, Mrs. William, you see—



which she wouldn't say herself, Mr. Redlaw, if
she was to stop here till the new year after this
next one," said Mr. William, coming up to him
to speak in his ear — " has done him worlds of
good ! Bless you, worlds of good ! All at
home just the same as ever — my father made as
snug and comfortable — not a crumb of litter to
be found in the house, if you were to offer fifty
pound ready money for it — Mrs. William appa-
rently never out of the way — yet Mrs. William
backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards,
up and down, up and down, a mother to him ! ''

The room turned darker and colder, and the
gloom and shadow gathering behind the chair
was heavier.

" Not content with this, sir, Mrs. William
goes and finds, this very night, when she was
coming home (why, it's not above a couple of
hours ago), a creature more like a young wild
beast than a young child, shivering upon a door-
step. What does Mrs. William do, but brings
it home to dry it, and feed it, and keep it till
our old Bounty of food and flannel is given away
on Christmas morning ! If it ever felt a fire be-
fore, it's as much as it ever did; for it's sitting
in the old Lodge chimney, staring at ours as if
its ravenous eyes would never shut again. It's
sitting there, at least," said Mr. William, correct-
ing himself, on reflection, " unless it's bolted ! "

" Heaven keep her happy ! " said the Chemist
aloud, " and you too, Philip ! and you, William !
I must consider what to do in this. I may
desire to see this student, I'll not detain you
longer now. Good night ! " - -

" I thankee, sir, I thankee ! " said the old
man, " for Mouse, and for my son William, and
for myself. Where's my son William ? William,
you take the lantern, and go on first, through
them long dark passages, as you did last year
and the year afore. Ha, ha ! / remember —
though I'm eighty-seven ! ' Lord, keep my
memory green ! ' It's a very good prayer, Mr.
Redlaw, that of the learned gentleman in the
peaked beard, with a ruff round his neck — hangs
up, second on the right above the panelling, in
what used to be, afore our ten poor gentlemen
commuted, our great Dinner Hals. ' Lord,
keep my memory green ! ' It's very good and
pious, sir. Amen ! Amen !"

As they passed out and shut the heavy door,
which, however carefully withheld, fired a long
train of thundering reverberations when it shut
at last, the room turned darker.

As he fell a musing in his chair alone, the
healthy holly withered on the wall, and dropped
— dead branches.

As the doom and shadow thickened behind

him, in that place where it had been gathering
so darkly, it took, by slow degrees, — or out of
it there came, by some unreal, unsubstantial
process, — not to be traced by any human sense,
an awful likeness of himself.

Ghastly and cold, colourless in its leaden
face and hands, but with his features, and his
brigh; eyes, and his grizzled hair, and dressed
in the gloomy shadow of his dress, it came into
its terrible appearance of existence, motionless,
without a sound. As he leaned his arm upon
the elbow of his chair, ruminating before the
fire, // leaned upon the chair-back, close above
him, with its appalling copy of his face looking
where his face looked, and bearing the expres-
sion his face bore.

This, then, was the Something that had
passed and gone already. This was the dread
companion of the haunted man !

It took, for some moments, no more apparent
heed of him than he of it. The Christmas
Waits were playing somewhere in the distance,
and, through his thoughtfulness, he seemed to
listen to the music. It seemed to listen too.

At length he spoke j without moving or lift-
ing up his face.

" Here again ! " he said.

" Here again ! " replied the Phantom.

" I see you in the fire," said the haunted man.
" I hear you in music, in the wind, in the dead
stillness of the night."

The Phantom moved his head, assenting.

"Why do you come to haunt me thus?"

" I come as I am called," replied the Ghost.

" No. Unbidden !" exclaimed the Chemist.

" Unbidden be it," said the Spectre. " It is
enough. I am here."

Hitherto the light of the fire had shone on
the two faces — if the dread lineaments behind
the chair might be called a face — both addressed
towards it, as at first, and neither looking at the
other. But;, now, the haunted man turned sud-
denly, and stared upon the Ghost. The Ghost,
as sudden in its motion, passed to before the
chair, and stared on him.

The living man, and the animated image of
himself dead, might so have looked, the one
upon the other. An awful survey, in a lonely
and remote part of an empty old pile of build-
ing, on a winter night, with the loud wind going
by upon its journey of mystery — whence, or
whither, no man knowing since the world began
— and the stars, in unimaginable millions, glit-
tering through it, from eternal space, where the
world's bulk is as a grain, and its hoary age is

" Look upon me ! " said the Spectre. " I am



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 97 of 103)