The Mystery of Edwin Drood - 3
CHAPTER XIII—BOTH AT THEIR BEST
Miss Twinkleton’s establishment was about to undergo a serene hush. The Christmas recess was at hand. What had once, and at no remote period, been called, even by the erudite Miss Twinkleton herself, ‘the half;’ but what was now called, as being more elegant, and more strictly collegiate, ‘the term,’ would expire to-morrow. A noticeable relaxation of discipline had for some few days pervaded the Nuns’ House. Club suppers had occurred in the bedrooms, and a dressed tongue had been carved with a pair of scissors, and handed round with the curling tongs. Portions of marmalade had likewise been distributed on a service of plates constructed of curlpaper; and cowslip wine had been quaffed from the small squat measuring glass in which little Rickitts (a junior of weakly constitution) took her steel drops daily. The housemaids had been bribed with various fragments of riband, and sundry pairs of shoes more or less down at heel, to make no mention of crumbs in the beds; the airiest costumes had been worn on these festive occasions; and the daring Miss Ferdinand had even surprised the company with a sprightly solo on the comb-and-curlpaper, until suffocated in her own pillow by two flowing-haired executioners.
Nor were these the only tokens of dispersal. Boxes appeared in the bedrooms (where they were capital at other times), and a surprising amount of packing took place, out of all proportion to the amount packed. Largess, in the form of odds and ends of cold cream and pomatum, and also of hairpins, was freely distributed among the attendants. On charges of inviolable secrecy, confidences were interchanged respecting golden youth of England expected to call, ‘at home,’ on the first opportunity. Miss Giggles (deficient in sentiment) did indeed profess that she, for her part, acknowledged such homage by making faces at the golden youth; but this young lady was outvoted by an immense majority.
On the last night before a recess, it was always expressly made a point of honour that nobody should go to sleep, and that Ghosts should be encouraged by all possible means. This compact invariably broke down, and all the young ladies went to sleep very soon, and got up very early.
The concluding ceremony came off at twelve o’clock on the day of departure; when Miss Twinkleton, supported by Mrs. Tisher, held a drawing-room in her own apartment (the globes already covered with brown Holland), where glasses of white-wine and plates of cut pound-cake were discovered on the table. Miss Twinkleton then said: Ladies, another revolving year had brought us round to that festive period at which the first feelings of our nature bounded in our—Miss Twinkleton was annually going to add ‘bosoms,’ but annually stopped on the brink of that expression, and substituted ‘hearts.’ Hearts; our hearts. Hem! Again a revolving year, ladies, had brought us to a pause in our studies—let us hope our greatly advanced studies—and, like the mariner in his bark, the warrior in his tent, the captive in his dungeon, and the traveller in his various conveyances, we yearned for home. Did we say, on such an occasion, in the opening words of Mr. Addison’s impressive tragedy:
‘The dawn is overcast, the morning lowers,
And heavily in clouds brings on the day,
The great, th’ important day—?’
Not so. From horizon to zenith all was couleur de rose, for all was redolent of our relations and friends. Might we find them prospering as we expected; might they find us prospering as they expected! Ladies, we would now, with our love to one another, wish one another good-bye, and happiness, until we met again. And when the time should come for our resumption of those pursuits which (here a general depression set in all round), pursuits which, pursuits which;—then let us ever remember what was said by the Spartan General, in words too trite for repetition, at the battle it were superfluous to specify.
The handmaidens of the establishment, in their best caps, then handed the trays, and the young ladies sipped and crumbled, and the bespoken coaches began to choke the street. Then leave-taking was not long about; and Miss Twinkleton, in saluting each young lady’s cheek, confided to her an exceedingly neat letter, addressed to her next friend at law, ‘with Miss Twinkleton’s best compliments’ in the corner. This missive she handed with an air as if it had not the least connexion with the bill, but were something in the nature of a delicate and joyful surprise.
So many times had Rosa seen such dispersals, and so very little did she know of any other Home, that she was contented to remain where she was, and was even better contented than ever before, having her latest friend with her. And yet her latest friendship had a blank place in it of which she could not fail to be sensible. Helena Landless, having been a party to her brother’s revelation about Rosa, and having entered into that compact of silence with Mr. Crisparkle, shrank from any allusion to Edwin Drood’s name. Why she so avoided it, was mysterious to Rosa, but she perfectly perceived the fact. But for the fact, she might have relieved her own little perplexed heart of some of its doubts and hesitations, by taking Helena into her confidence. As it was, she had no such vent: she could only ponder on her own difficulties, and wonder more and more why this avoidance of Edwin’s name should last, now that she knew—for so much Helena had told her—that a good understanding was to be reëstablished between the two young men, when Edwin came down.
It would have made a pretty picture, so many pretty girls kissing Rosa in the cold porch of the Nuns’ House, and that sunny little creature peeping out of it (unconscious of sly faces carved on spout and gable peeping at her), and waving farewells to the departing coaches, as if she represented the spirit of rosy youth abiding in the place to keep it bright and warm in its desertion. The hoarse High Street became musical with the cry, in various silvery voices, ‘Good-bye, Rosebud darling!’ and the effigy of Mr. Sapsea’s father over the opposite doorway seemed to say to mankind: ‘Gentlemen, favour me with your attention to this charming little last lot left behind, and bid with a spirit worthy of the occasion!’ Then the staid street, so unwontedly sparkling, youthful, and fresh for a few rippling moments, ran dry, and Cloisterham was itself again.
If Rosebud in her bower now waited Edwin Drood’s coming with an uneasy heart, Edwin for his part was uneasy too. With far less force of purpose in his composition than the childish beauty, crowned by acclamation fairy queen of Miss Twinkleton’s establishment, he had a conscience, and Mr. Grewgious had pricked it. That gentleman’s steady convictions of what was right and what was wrong in such a case as his, were neither to be frowned aside nor laughed aside. They would not be moved. But for the dinner in Staple Inn, and but for the ring he carried in the breast pocket of his coat, he would have drifted into their wedding-day without another pause for real thought, loosely trusting that all would go well, left alone. But that serious putting him on his truth to the living and the dead had brought him to a check. He must either give the ring to Rosa, or he must take it back. Once put into this narrowed way of action, it was curious that he began to consider Rosa’s claims upon him more unselfishly than he had ever considered them before, and began to be less sure of himself than he had ever been in all his easy-going days.
‘I will be guided by what she says, and by how we get on,’ was his decision, walking from the gatehouse to the Nuns’ House. ‘Whatever comes of it, I will bear his words in mind, and try to be true to the living and the dead.’
Rosa was dressed for walking. She expected him. It was a bright, frosty day, and Miss Twinkleton had already graciously sanctioned fresh air. Thus they got out together before it became necessary for either Miss Twinkleton, or the deputy high-priest Mrs. Tisher, to lay even so much as one of those usual offerings on the shrine of Propriety.
‘My dear Eddy,’ said Rosa, when they had turned out of the High Street, and had got among the quiet walks in the neighbourhood of the Cathedral and the river: ‘I want to say something very serious to you. I have been thinking about it for a long, long time.’
‘I want to be serious with you too, Rosa dear. I mean to be serious and earnest.’
‘Thank you, Eddy. And you will not think me unkind because I begin, will you? You will not think I speak for myself only, because I speak first? That would not be generous, would it? And I know you are generous!’
He said, ‘I hope I am not ungenerous to you, Rosa.’ He called her Pussy no more. Never again.
‘And there is no fear,’ pursued Rosa, ‘of our quarrelling, is there? Because, Eddy,’ clasping her hand on his arm, ‘we have so much reason to be very lenient to each other!’
‘We will be, Rosa.’
‘That’s a dear good boy! Eddy, let us be courageous. Let us change to brother and sister from this day forth.’
‘Never be husband and wife?’
Neither spoke again for a little while. But after that pause he said, with some effort:
‘Of course I know that this has been in both our minds, Rosa, and of course I am in honour bound to confess freely that it does not originate with you.’
‘No, nor with you, dear,’ she returned, with pathetic earnestness. ‘That sprung up between us. You are not truly happy in our engagement; I am not truly happy in it. O, I am so sorry, so sorry!’ And there she broke into tears.
‘I am deeply sorry too, Rosa. Deeply sorry for you.’
‘And I for you, poor boy! And I for you!’
This pure young feeling, this gentle and forbearing feeling of each towards the other, brought with it its reward in a softening light that seemed to shine on their position. The relations between them did not look wilful, or capricious, or a failure, in such a light; they became elevated into something more self-denying, honourable, affectionate, and true.
‘If we knew yesterday,’ said Rosa, as she dried her eyes, ‘and we did know yesterday, and on many, many yesterdays, that we were far from right together in those relations which were not of our own choosing, what better could we do to-day than change them? It is natural that we should be sorry, and you see how sorry we both are; but how much better to be sorry now than then!’
‘When it would be too late. And then we should be angry, besides.’
Another silence fell upon them.
‘And you know,’ said Rosa innocently, ‘you couldn’t like me then; and you can always like me now, for I shall not be a drag upon you, or a worry to you. And I can always like you now, and your sister will not tease or trifle with you. I often did when I was not your sister, and I beg your pardon for it.’
‘Don’t let us come to that, Rosa; or I shall want more pardoning than I like to think of.’
‘No, indeed, Eddy; you are too hard, my generous boy, upon yourself. Let us sit down, brother, on these ruins, and let me tell you how it was with us. I think I know, for I have considered about it very much since you were here last time. You liked me, didn’t you? You thought I was a nice little thing?’
‘Everybody thinks that, Rosa.’
‘Do they?’ She knitted her brow musingly for a moment, and then flashed out with the bright little induction: ‘Well, but say they do. Surely it was not enough that you should think of me only as other people did; now, was it?’
The point was not to be got over. It was not enough.
‘And that is just what I mean; that is just how it was with us,’ said Rosa. ‘You liked me very well, and you had grown used to me, and had grown used to the idea of our being married. You accepted the situation as an inevitable kind of thing, didn’t you? It was to be, you thought, and why discuss or dispute it?’
It was new and strange to him to have himself presented to himself so clearly, in a glass of her holding up. He had always patronised her, in his superiority to her share of woman’s wit. Was that but another instance of something radically amiss in the terms on which they had been gliding towards a life-long bondage?
‘All this that I say of you is true of me as well, Eddy. Unless it was, I might not be bold enough to say it. Only, the difference between us was, that by little and little there crept into my mind a habit of thinking about it, instead of dismissing it. My life is not so busy as yours, you see, and I have not so many things to think of. So I thought about it very much, and I cried about it very much too (though that was not your fault, poor boy); when all at once my guardian came down, to prepare for my leaving the Nuns’ House. I tried to hint to him that I was not quite settled in my mind, but I hesitated and failed, and he didn’t understand me. But he is a good, good man. And he put before me so kindly, and yet so strongly, how seriously we ought to consider, in our circumstances, that I resolved to speak to you the next moment we were alone and grave. And if I seemed to come to it easily just now, because I came to it all at once, don’t think it was so really, Eddy, for O, it was very, very hard, and O, I am very, very sorry!’
Her full heart broke into tears again. He put his arm about her waist, and they walked by the river-side together.
‘Your guardian has spoken to me too, Rosa dear. I saw him before I left London.’ His right hand was in his breast, seeking the ring; but he checked it, as he thought: ‘If I am to take it back, why should I tell her of it?’
‘And that made you more serious about it, didn’t it, Eddy? And if I had not spoken to you, as I have, you would have spoken to me? I hope you can tell me so? I don’t like it to be all my doing, though it is so much better for us.’
‘Yes, I should have spoken; I should have put everything before you; I came intending to do it. But I never could have spoken to you as you have spoken to me, Rosa.’
‘Don’t say you mean so coldly or unkindly, Eddy, please, if you can help it.’
‘I mean so sensibly and delicately, so wisely and affectionately.’
‘That’s my dear brother!’ She kissed his hand in a little rapture. ‘The dear girls will be dreadfully disappointed,’ added Rosa, laughing, with the dewdrops glistening in her bright eyes. ‘They have looked forward to it so, poor pets!’
‘Ah! but I fear it will be a worse disappointment to Jack,’ said Edwin Drood, with a start. ‘I never thought of Jack!’
Her swift and intent look at him as he said the words could no more be recalled than a flash of lightning can. But it appeared as though she would have instantly recalled it, if she could; for she looked down, confused, and breathed quickly.
‘You don’t doubt its being a blow to Jack, Rosa?’
She merely replied, and that evasively and hurriedly: Why should she? She had not thought about it. He seemed, to her, to have so little to do with it.
‘My dear child! can you suppose that any one so wrapped up in another—Mrs. Tope’s expression: not mine—as Jack is in me, could fail to be struck all of a heap by such a sudden and complete change in my life? I say sudden, because it will be sudden to him, you know.’
She nodded twice or thrice, and her lips parted as if she would have assented. But she uttered no sound, and her breathing was no slower.
‘How shall I tell Jack?’ said Edwin, ruminating. If he had been less occupied with the thought, he must have seen her singular emotion. ‘I never thought of Jack. It must be broken to him, before the town-crier knows it. I dine with the dear fellow to-morrow and next day—Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—but it would never do to spoil his feast-days. He always worries about me, and moddley-coddleys in the merest trifles. The news is sure to overset him. How on earth shall this be broken to Jack?’
‘He must be told, I suppose?’ said Rosa.
‘My dear Rosa! who ought to be in our confidence, if not Jack?’
‘My guardian promised to come down, if I should write and ask him. I am going to do so. Would you like to leave it to him?’
‘A bright idea!’ cried Edwin. ‘The other trustee. Nothing more natural. He comes down, he goes to Jack, he relates what we have agreed upon, and he states our case better than we could. He has already spoken feelingly to you, he has already spoken feelingly to me, and he’ll put the whole thing feelingly to Jack. That’s it! I am not a coward, Rosa, but to tell you a secret, I am a little afraid of Jack.’
‘No, no! you are not afraid of him!’ cried Rosa, turning white, and clasping her hands.
‘Why, sister Rosa, sister Rosa, what do you see from the turret?’ said Edwin, rallying her. ‘My dear girl!’
‘You frightened me.’
‘Most unintentionally, but I am as sorry as if I had meant to do it. Could you possibly suppose for a moment, from any loose way of speaking of mine, that I was literally afraid of the dear fond fellow? What I mean is, that he is subject to a kind of paroxysm, or fit—I saw him in it once—and I don’t know but that so great a surprise, coming upon him direct from me whom he is so wrapped up in, might bring it on perhaps. Which—and this is the secret I was going to tell you—is another reason for your guardian’s making the communication. He is so steady, precise, and exact, that he will talk Jack’s thoughts into shape, in no time: whereas with me Jack is always impulsive and hurried, and, I may say, almost womanish.’
Rosa seemed convinced. Perhaps from her own very different point of view of ‘Jack,’ she felt comforted and protected by the interposition of Mr. Grewgious between herself and him.
And now, Edwin Drood’s right hand closed again upon the ring in its little case, and again was checked by the consideration: ‘It is certain, now, that I am to give it back to him; then why should I tell her of it?’ That pretty sympathetic nature which could be so sorry for him in the blight of their childish hopes of happiness together, and could so quietly find itself alone in a new world to weave fresh wreaths of such flowers as it might prove to bear, the old world’s flowers being withered, would be grieved by those sorrowful jewels; and to what purpose? Why should it be? They were but a sign of broken joys and baseless projects; in their very beauty they were (as the unlikeliest of men had said) almost a cruel satire on the loves, hopes, plans, of humanity, which are able to forecast nothing, and are so much brittle dust. Let them be. He would restore them to her guardian when he came down; he in his turn would restore them to the cabinet from which he had unwillingly taken them; and there, like old letters or old vows, or other records of old aspirations come to nothing, they would be disregarded, until, being valuable, they were sold into circulation again, to repeat their former round.
Let them be. Let them lie unspoken of, in his breast. However distinctly or indistinctly he entertained these thoughts, he arrived at the conclusion, Let them be. Among the mighty store of wonderful chains that are for ever forging, day and night, in the vast iron-works of time and circumstance, there was one chain forged in the moment of that small conclusion, riveted to the foundations of heaven and earth, and gifted with invincible force to hold and drag.
They walked on by the river. They began to speak of their separate plans. He would quicken his departure from England, and she would remain where she was, at least as long as Helena remained. The poor dear girls should have their disappointment broken to them gently, and, as the first preliminary, Miss Twinkleton should be confided in by Rosa, even in advance of the reappearance of Mr. Grewgious. It should be made clear in all quarters that she and Edwin were the best of friends. There had never been so serene an understanding between them since they were first affianced. And yet there was one reservation on each side; on hers, that she intended through her guardian to withdraw herself immediately from the tuition of her music-master; on his, that he did already entertain some wandering speculations whether it might ever come to pass that he would know more of Miss Landless.
The bright, frosty day declined as they walked and spoke together. The sun dipped in the river far behind them, and the old city lay red before them, as their walk drew to a close. The moaning water cast its seaweed duskily at their feet, when they turned to leave its margin; and the rooks hovered above them with hoarse cries, darker splashes in the darkening air.
‘I will prepare Jack for my flitting soon,’ said Edwin, in a low voice, ‘and I will but see your guardian when he comes, and then go before they speak together. It will be better done without my being by. Don’t you think so?’
‘We know we have done right, Rosa?’
‘We know we are better so, even now?’
‘And shall be far, far better so by-and-by.’
Still there was that lingering tenderness in their hearts towards the old positions they were relinquishing, that they prolonged their parting. When they came among the elm-trees by the Cathedral, where they had last sat together, they stopped as by consent, and Rosa raised her face to his, as she had never raised it in the old days;—for they were old already.
‘God bless you, dear! Good-bye!’
‘God bless you, dear! Good-bye!’
They kissed each other fervently.
‘Now, please take me home, Eddy, and let me be by myself.’
‘Don’t look round, Rosa,’ he cautioned her, as he drew her arm through his, and led her away. ‘Didn’t you see Jack?’
‘Under the trees. He saw us, as we took leave of each other. Poor fellow! he little thinks we have parted. This will be a blow to him, I am much afraid!’
She hurried on, without resting, and hurried on until they had passed under the gatehouse into the street; once there, she asked:
‘Has he followed us? You can look without seeming to. Is he behind?’
‘No. Yes, he is! He has just passed out under the gateway. The dear, sympathetic old fellow likes to keep us in sight. I am afraid he will be bitterly disappointed!’
She pulled hurriedly at the handle of the hoarse old bell, and the gate soon opened. Before going in, she gave him one last, wide, wondering look, as if she would have asked him with imploring emphasis: ‘O! don’t you understand?’ And out of that look he vanished from her view.
CHAPTER XIV—WHEN SHALL THESE THREE MEET AGAIN?
Christmas Eve in Cloisterham. A few strange faces in the streets; a few other faces, half strange and half familiar, once the faces of Cloisterham children, now the faces of men and women who come back from the outer world at long intervals to find the city wonderfully shrunken in size, as if it had not washed by any means well in the meanwhile. To these, the striking of the Cathedral clock, and the cawing of the rooks from the Cathedral tower, are like voices of their nursery time. To such as these, it has happened in their dying hours afar off, that they have imagined their chamber-floor to be strewn with the autumnal leaves fallen from the elm-trees in the Close: so have the rustling sounds and fresh scents of their earliest impressions revived when the circle of their lives was very nearly traced, and the beginning and the end were drawing close together.
Seasonable tokens are about. Red berries shine here and there in the lattices of Minor Canon Corner; Mr. and Mrs. Tope are daintily sticking sprigs of holly into the carvings and sconces of the Cathedral stalls, as if they were sticking them into the coat-button-holes of the Dean and Chapter. Lavish profusion is in the shops: particularly in the articles of currants, raisins, spices, candied peel, and moist sugar. An unusual air of gallantry and dissipation is abroad; evinced in an immense bunch of mistletoe hanging in the greengrocer’s shop doorway, and a poor little Twelfth Cake, culminating in the figure of a Harlequin—such a very poor little Twelfth Cake, that one would rather called it a Twenty-fourth Cake or a Forty-eighth Cake—to be raffled for at the pastrycook’s, terms one shilling per member. Public amusements are not wanting. The Wax-Work which made so deep an impression on the reflective mind of the Emperor of China is to be seen by particular desire during Christmas Week only, on the premises of the bankrupt livery-stable-keeper up the lane; and a new grand comic Christmas pantomime is to be produced at the Theatre: the latter heralded by the portrait of Signor Jacksonini the clown, saying ‘How do you do to-morrow?’ quite as large as life, and almost as miserably. In short, Cloisterham is up and doing: though from this description the High School and Miss Twinkleton’s are to be excluded. From the former establishment the scholars have gone home, every one of them in love with one of Miss Twinkleton’s young ladies (who knows nothing about it); and only the handmaidens flutter occasionally in the windows of the latter. It is noticed, by the bye, that these damsels become, within the limits of decorum, more skittish when thus intrusted with the concrete representation of their sex, than when dividing the representation with Miss Twinkleton’s young ladies.
Three are to meet at the gatehouse to-night. How does each one of the three get through the day?
Neville Landless, though absolved from his books for the time by Mr. Crisparkle—whose fresh nature is by no means insensible to the charms of a holiday—reads and writes in his quiet room, with a concentrated air, until it is two hours past noon. He then sets himself to clearing his table, to arranging his books, and to tearing up and burning his stray papers. He makes a clean sweep of all untidy accumulations, puts all his drawers in order, and leaves no note or scrap of paper undestroyed, save such memoranda as bear directly on his studies. This done, he turns to his wardrobe, selects a few articles of ordinary wear—among them, change of stout shoes and socks for walking—and packs these in a knapsack. This knapsack is new, and he bought it in the High Street yesterday. He also purchased, at the same time and at the same place, a heavy walking-stick; strong in the handle for the grip of the hand, and iron-shod. He tries this, swings it, poises it, and lays it by, with the knapsack, on a window-seat. By this time his arrangements are complete.
He dresses for going out, and is in the act of going—indeed has left his room, and has met the Minor Canon on the staircase, coming out of his bedroom upon the same story—when he turns back again for his walking-stick, thinking he will carry it now. Mr. Crisparkle, who has paused on the staircase, sees it in his hand on his immediately reappearing, takes it from him, and asks him with a smile how he chooses a stick?
‘Really I don’t know that I understand the subject,’ he answers. ‘I chose it for its weight.’
‘Much too heavy, Neville; much too heavy.’
‘To rest upon in a long walk, sir?’
‘Rest upon?’ repeats Mr. Crisparkle, throwing himself into pedestrian form. ‘You don’t rest upon it; you merely balance with it.’
‘I shall know better, with practice, sir. I have not lived in a walking country, you know.’
‘True,’ says Mr. Crisparkle. ‘Get into a little training, and we will have a few score miles together. I should leave you nowhere now. Do you come back before dinner?’
‘I think not, as we dine early.’
Mr. Crisparkle gives him a bright nod and a cheerful good-bye; expressing (not without intention) absolute confidence and ease.
Neville repairs to the Nuns’ House, and requests that Miss Landless may be informed that her brother is there, by appointment. He waits at the gate, not even crossing the threshold; for he is on his parole not to put himself in Rosa’s way.
His sister is at least as mindful of the obligation they have taken on themselves as he can be, and loses not a moment in joining him. They meet affectionately, avoid lingering there, and walk towards the upper inland country.
‘I am not going to tread upon forbidden ground, Helena,’ says Neville, when they have walked some distance and are turning; ‘you will understand in another moment that I cannot help referring to—what shall I say?—my infatuation.’
‘Had you not better avoid it, Neville? You know that I can hear nothing.’
‘You can hear, my dear, what Mr. Crisparkle has heard, and heard with approval.’
‘Yes; I can hear so much.’
‘Well, it is this. I am not only unsettled and unhappy myself, but I am conscious of unsettling and interfering with other people. How do I know that, but for my unfortunate presence, you, and—and—the rest of that former party, our engaging guardian excepted, might be dining cheerfully in Minor Canon Corner to-morrow? Indeed it probably would be so. I can see too well that I am not high in the old lady’s opinion, and it is easy to understand what an irksome clog I must be upon the hospitalities of her orderly house—especially at this time of year—when I must be kept asunder from this person, and there is such a reason for my not being brought into contact with that person, and an unfavourable reputation has preceded me with such another person; and so on. I have put this very gently to Mr. Crisparkle, for you know his self-denying ways; but still I have put it. What I have laid much greater stress upon at the same time is, that I am engaged in a miserable struggle with myself, and that a little change and absence may enable me to come through it the better. So, the weather being bright and hard, I am going on a walking expedition, and intend taking myself out of everybody’s way (my own included, I hope) to-morrow morning.’
‘When to come back?’
‘In a fortnight.’
‘And going quite alone?’
‘I am much better without company, even if there were any one but you to bear me company, my dear Helena.’
‘Mr. Crisparkle entirely agrees, you say?’
‘Entirely. I am not sure but that at first he was inclined to think it rather a moody scheme, and one that might do a brooding mind harm. But we took a moonlight walk last Monday night, to talk it over at leisure, and I represented the case to him as it really is. I showed him that I do want to conquer myself, and that, this evening well got over, it is surely better that I should be away from here just now, than here. I could hardly help meeting certain people walking together here, and that could do no good, and is certainly not the way to forget. A fortnight hence, that chance will probably be over, for the time; and when it again arises for the last time, why, I can again go away. Farther, I really do feel hopeful of bracing exercise and wholesome fatigue. You know that Mr. Crisparkle allows such things their full weight in the preservation of his own sound mind in his own sound body, and that his just spirit is not likely to maintain one set of natural laws for himself and another for me. He yielded to my view of the matter, when convinced that I was honestly in earnest; and so, with his full consent, I start to-morrow morning. Early enough to be not only out of the streets, but out of hearing of the bells, when the good people go to church.’
Helena thinks it over, and thinks well of it. Mr. Crisparkle doing so, she would do so; but she does originally, out of her own mind, think well of it, as a healthy project, denoting a sincere endeavour and an active attempt at self-correction. She is inclined to pity him, poor fellow, for going away solitary on the great Christmas festival; but she feels it much more to the purpose to encourage him. And she does encourage him.
He will write to her?
He will write to her every alternate day, and tell her all his adventures.
Does he send clothes on in advance of him?
‘My dear Helena, no. Travel like a pilgrim, with wallet and staff. My wallet—or my knapsack—is packed, and ready for strapping on; and here is my staff!’
He hands it to her; she makes the same remark as Mr. Crisparkle, that it is very heavy; and gives it back to him, asking what wood it is? Iron-wood.
Up to this point he has been extremely cheerful. Perhaps, the having to carry his case with her, and therefore to present it in its brightest aspect, has roused his spirits. Perhaps, the having done so with success, is followed by a revulsion. As the day closes in, and the city-lights begin to spring up before them, he grows depressed.
‘I wish I were not going to this dinner, Helena.’
‘Dear Neville, is it worth while to care much about it? Think how soon it will be over.’
‘How soon it will be over!’ he repeats gloomily. ‘Yes. But I don’t like it.’
There may be a moment’s awkwardness, she cheeringly represents to him, but it can only last a moment. He is quite sure of himself.
‘I wish I felt as sure of everything else, as I feel of myself,’ he answers her.
‘How strangely you speak, dear! What do you mean?’
‘Helena, I don’t know. I only know that I don’t like it. What a strange dead weight there is in the air!’
She calls his attention to those copperous clouds beyond the river, and says that the wind is rising. He scarcely speaks again, until he takes leave of her, at the gate of the Nuns’ House. She does not immediately enter, when they have parted, but remains looking after him along the street. Twice he passes the gatehouse, reluctant to enter. At length, the Cathedral clock chiming one quarter, with a rapid turn he hurries in.
And so he goes up the postern stair.
Edwin Drood passes a solitary day. Something of deeper moment than he had thought, has gone out of his life; and in the silence of his own chamber he wept for it last night. Though the image of Miss Landless still hovers in the background of his mind, the pretty little affectionate creature, so much firmer and wiser than he had supposed, occupies its stronghold. It is with some misgiving of his own unworthiness that he thinks of her, and of what they might have been to one another, if he had been more in earnest some time ago; if he had set a higher value on her; if, instead of accepting his lot in life as an inheritance of course, he had studied the right way to its appreciation and enhancement. And still, for all this, and though there is a sharp heartache in all this, the vanity and caprice of youth sustain that handsome figure of Miss Landless in the background of his mind.
That was a curious look of Rosa’s when they parted at the gate. Did it mean that she saw below the surface of his thoughts, and down into their twilight depths? Scarcely that, for it was a look of astonished and keen inquiry. He decides that he cannot understand it, though it was remarkably expressive.
As he only waits for Mr. Grewgious now, and will depart immediately after having seen him, he takes a sauntering leave of the ancient city and its neighbourhood. He recalls the time when Rosa and he walked here or there, mere children, full of the dignity of being engaged. Poor children! he thinks, with a pitying sadness.
Finding that his watch has stopped, he turns into the jeweller’s shop, to have it wound and set. The jeweller is knowing on the subject of a bracelet, which he begs leave to submit, in a general and quite aimless way. It would suit (he considers) a young bride, to perfection; especially if of a rather diminutive style of beauty. Finding the bracelet but coldly looked at, the jeweller invites attention to a tray of rings for gentlemen; here is a style of ring, now, he remarks—a very chaste signet—which gentlemen are much given to purchasing, when changing their condition. A ring of a very responsible appearance. With the date of their wedding-day engraved inside, several gentlemen have preferred it to any other kind of memento.
The rings are as coldly viewed as the bracelet. Edwin tells the tempter that he wears no jewellery but his watch and chain, which were his father’s; and his shirt-pin.
‘That I was aware of,’ is the jeweller’s reply, ‘for Mr. Jasper dropped in for a watch-glass the other day, and, in fact, I showed these articles to him, remarking that if he should wish to make a present to a gentleman relative, on any particular occasion—But he said with a smile that he had an inventory in his mind of all the jewellery his gentleman relative ever wore; namely, his watch and chain, and his shirt-pin.’ Still (the jeweller considers) that might not apply to all times, though applying to the present time. ‘Twenty minutes past two, Mr. Drood, I set your watch at. Let me recommend you not to let it run down, sir.’
Edwin takes his watch, puts it on, and goes out, thinking: ‘Dear old Jack! If I were to make an extra crease in my neckcloth, he would think it worth noticing!’
He strolls about and about, to pass the time until the dinner-hour. It somehow happens that Cloisterham seems reproachful to him to-day; has fault to find with him, as if he had not used it well; but is far more pensive with him than angry. His wonted carelessness is replaced by a wistful looking at, and dwelling upon, all the old landmarks. He will soon be far away, and may never see them again, he thinks. Poor youth! Poor youth!
As dusk draws on, he paces the Monks’ Vineyard. He has walked to and fro, full half an hour by the Cathedral chimes, and it has closed in dark, before he becomes quite aware of a woman crouching on the ground near a wicket gate in a corner. The gate commands a cross bye-path, little used in the gloaming; and the figure must have been there all the time, though he has but gradually and lately made it out.
He strikes into that path, and walks up to the wicket. By the light of a lamp near it, he sees that the woman is of a haggard appearance, and that her weazen chin is resting on her hands, and that her eyes are staring—with an unwinking, blind sort of steadfastness—before her.
Always kindly, but moved to be unusually kind this evening, and having bestowed kind words on most of the children and aged people he has met, he at once bends down, and speaks to this woman.
‘Are you ill?’
‘No, deary,’ she answers, without looking at him, and with no departure from her strange blind stare.
‘Are you blind?’
‘Are you lost, homeless, faint? What is the matter, that you stay here in the cold so long, without moving?’
By slow and stiff efforts, she appears to contract her vision until it can rest upon him; and then a curious film passes over her, and she begins to shake.
He straightens himself, recoils a step, and looks down at her in a dread amazement; for he seems to know her.
‘Good Heaven!’ he thinks, next moment. ‘Like Jack that night!’
As he looks down at her, she looks up at him, and whimpers: ‘My lungs is weakly; my lungs is dreffle bad. Poor me, poor me, my cough is rattling dry!’ and coughs in confirmation horribly.
‘Where do you come from?’
‘Come from London, deary.’ (Her cough still rending her.)
‘Where are you going to?’
‘Back to London, deary. I came here, looking for a needle in a haystack, and I ain’t found it. Look’ee, deary; give me three-and-sixpence, and don’t you be afeard for me. I’ll get back to London then, and trouble no one. I’m in a business.—Ah, me! It’s slack, it’s slack, and times is very bad!—but I can make a shift to live by it.’
‘Do you eat opium?’
‘Smokes it,’ she replies with difficulty, still racked by her cough. ‘Give me three-and-sixpence, and I’ll lay it out well, and get back. If you don’t give me three-and-sixpence, don’t give me a brass farden. And if you do give me three-and-sixpence, deary, I’ll tell you something.’
He counts the money from his pocket, and puts it in her hand. She instantly clutches it tight, and rises to her feet with a croaking laugh of satisfaction.
‘Bless ye! Hark’ee, dear genl’mn. What’s your Chris’en name?’
‘Edwin, Edwin, Edwin,’ she repeats, trailing off into a drowsy repetition of the word; and then asks suddenly: ‘Is the short of that name Eddy?’
‘It is sometimes called so,’ he replies, with the colour starting to his face.
‘Don’t sweethearts call it so?’ she asks, pondering.
‘How should I know?’
‘Haven’t you a sweetheart, upon your soul?’
She is moving away, with another ‘Bless ye, and thank’ee, deary!’ when he adds: ‘You were to tell me something; you may as well do so.’
‘So I was, so I was. Well, then. Whisper. You be thankful that your name ain’t Ned.’
He looks at her quite steadily, as he asks: ‘Why?’
‘Because it’s a bad name to have just now.’
‘How a bad name?’
‘A threatened name. A dangerous name.’
‘The proverb says that threatened men live long,’ he tells her, lightly.
‘Then Ned—so threatened is he, wherever he may be while I am a-talking to you, deary—should live to all eternity!’ replies the woman.
She has leaned forward to say it in his ear, with her forefinger shaking before his eyes, and now huddles herself together, and with another ‘Bless ye, and thank’ee!’ goes away in the direction of the Travellers’ Lodging House.
This is not an inspiriting close to a dull day. Alone, in a sequestered place, surrounded by vestiges of old time and decay, it rather has a tendency to call a shudder into being. He makes for the better-lighted streets, and resolves as he walks on to say nothing of this to-night, but to mention it to Jack (who alone calls him Ned), as an odd coincidence, to-morrow; of course only as a coincidence, and not as anything better worth remembering.
Still, it holds to him, as many things much better worth remembering never did. He has another mile or so, to linger out before the dinner-hour; and, when he walks over the bridge and by the river, the woman’s words are in the rising wind, in the angry sky, in the troubled water, in the flickering lights. There is some solemn echo of them even in the Cathedral chime, which strikes a sudden surprise to his heart as he turns in under the archway of the gatehouse.
And so he goes up the postern stair.
John Jasper passes a more agreeable and cheerful day than either of his guests. Having no music-lessons to give in the holiday season, his time is his own, but for the Cathedral services. He is early among the shopkeepers, ordering little table luxuries that his nephew likes. His nephew will not be with him long, he tells his provision-dealers, and so must be petted and made much of. While out on his hospitable preparations, he looks in on Mr. Sapsea; and mentions that dear Ned, and that inflammable young spark of Mr. Crisparkle’s, are to dine at the gatehouse to-day, and make up their difference. Mr. Sapsea is by no means friendly towards the inflammable young spark. He says that his complexion is ‘Un-English.’ And when Mr. Sapsea has once declared anything to be Un-English, he considers that thing everlastingly sunk in the bottomless pit.
John Jasper is truly sorry to hear Mr. Sapsea speak thus, for he knows right well that Mr. Sapsea never speaks without a meaning, and that he has a subtle trick of being right. Mr. Sapsea (by a very remarkable coincidence) is of exactly that opinion.
Mr. Jasper is in beautiful voice this day. In the pathetic supplication to have his heart inclined to keep this law, he quite astonishes his fellows by his melodious power. He has never sung difficult music with such skill and harmony, as in this day’s Anthem. His nervous temperament is occasionally prone to take difficult music a little too quickly; to-day, his time is perfect.
These results are probably attained through a grand composure of the spirits. The mere mechanism of his throat is a little tender, for he wears, both with his singing-robe and with his ordinary dress, a large black scarf of strong close-woven silk, slung loosely round his neck. But his composure is so noticeable, that Mr. Crisparkle speaks of it as they come out from Vespers.
‘I must thank you, Jasper, for the pleasure with which I have heard you to-day. Beautiful! Delightful! You could not have so outdone yourself, I hope, without being wonderfully well.’
‘I am wonderfully well.’
‘Nothing unequal,’ says the Minor Canon, with a smooth motion of his hand: ‘nothing unsteady, nothing forced, nothing avoided; all thoroughly done in a masterly manner, with perfect self-command.’
‘Thank you. I hope so, if it is not too much to say.’
‘One would think, Jasper, you had been trying a new medicine for that occasional indisposition of yours.’
‘No, really? That’s well observed; for I have.’
‘Then stick to it, my good fellow,’ says Mr. Crisparkle, clapping him on the shoulder with friendly encouragement, ‘stick to it.’
‘I congratulate you,’ Mr. Crisparkle pursues, as they come out of the Cathedral, ‘on all accounts.’
‘Thank you again. I will walk round to the Corner with you, if you don’t object; I have plenty of time before my company come; and I want to say a word to you, which I think you will not be displeased to hear.’
‘What is it?’
‘Well. We were speaking, the other evening, of my black humours.’
Mr. Crisparkle’s face falls, and he shakes his head deploringly.
‘I said, you know, that I should make you an antidote to those black humours; and you said you hoped I would consign them to the flames.’
‘And I still hope so, Jasper.’
‘With the best reason in the world! I mean to burn this year’s Diary at the year’s end.’
‘Because you—?’ Mr. Crisparkle brightens greatly as he thus begins.
‘You anticipate me. Because I feel that I have been out of sorts, gloomy, bilious, brain-oppressed, whatever it may be. You said I had been exaggerative. So I have.’
Mr. Crisparkle’s brightened face brightens still more.
‘I couldn’t see it then, because I was out of sorts; but I am in a healthier state now, and I acknowledge it with genuine pleasure. I made a great deal of a very little; that’s the fact.’
‘It does me good,’ cries Mr. Crisparkle, ‘to hear you say it!’
‘A man leading a monotonous life,’ Jasper proceeds, ‘and getting his nerves, or his stomach, out of order, dwells upon an idea until it loses its proportions. That was my case with the idea in question. So I shall burn the evidence of my case, when the book is full, and begin the next volume with a clearer vision.’
‘This is better,’ says Mr. Crisparkle, stopping at the steps of his own door to shake hands, ‘than I could have hoped.’
‘Why, naturally,’ returns Jasper. ‘You had but little reason to hope that I should become more like yourself. You are always training yourself to be, mind and body, as clear as crystal, and you always are, and never change; whereas I am a muddy, solitary, moping weed. However, I have got over that mope. Shall I wait, while you ask if Mr. Neville has left for my place? If not, he and I may walk round together.’
‘I think,’ says Mr. Crisparkle, opening the entrance-door with his key, ‘that he left some time ago; at least I know he left, and I think he has not come back. But I’ll inquire. You won’t come in?’
‘My company wait,’ said Jasper, with a smile.
The Minor Canon disappears, and in a few moments returns. As he thought, Mr. Neville has not come back; indeed, as he remembers now, Mr. Neville said he would probably go straight to the gatehouse.
‘Bad manners in a host!’ says Jasper. ‘My company will be there before me! What will you bet that I don’t find my company embracing?’
‘I will bet—or I would, if ever I did bet,’ returns Mr. Crisparkle, ‘that your company will have a gay entertainer this evening.’
Jasper nods, and laughs good-night!
He retraces his steps to the Cathedral door, and turns down past it to the gatehouse. He sings, in a low voice and with delicate expression, as he walks along. It still seems as if a false note were not within his power to-night, and as if nothing could hurry or retard him. Arriving thus under the arched entrance of his dwelling, he pauses for an instant in the shelter to pull off that great black scarf, and bang it in a loop upon his arm. For that brief time, his face is knitted and stern. But it immediately clears, as he resumes his singing, and his way.
And so he goes up the postern stair.
The red light burns steadily all the evening in the lighthouse on the margin of the tide of busy life. Softened sounds and hum of traffic pass it and flow on irregularly into the lonely Precincts; but very little else goes by, save violent rushes of wind. It comes on to blow a boisterous gale.
The Precincts are never particularly well lighted; but the strong blasts of wind blowing out many of the lamps (in some instances shattering the frames too, and bringing the glass rattling to the ground), they are unusually dark to-night. The darkness is augmented and confused, by flying dust from the earth, dry twigs from the trees, and great ragged fragments from the rooks’ nests up in the tower. The trees themselves so toss and creak, as this tangible part of the darkness madly whirls about, that they seem in peril of being torn out of the earth: while ever and again a crack, and a rushing fall, denote that some large branch has yielded to the storm.
Not such power of wind has blown for many a winter night. Chimneys topple in the streets, and people hold to posts and corners, and to one another, to keep themselves upon their feet. The violent rushes abate not, but increase in frequency and fury until at midnight, when the streets are empty, the storm goes thundering along them, rattling at all the latches, and tearing at all the shutters, as if warning the people to get up and fly with it, rather than have the roofs brought down upon their brains.
Still, the red light burns steadily. Nothing is steady but the red light.
All through the night the wind blows, and abates not. But early in the morning, when there is barely enough light in the east to dim the stars, it begins to lull. From that time, with occasional wild charges, like a wounded monster dying, it drops and sinks; and at full daylight it is dead.
It is then seen that the hands of the Cathedral clock are torn off; that lead from the roof has been stripped away, rolled up, and blown into the Close; and that some stones have been displaced upon the summit of the great tower. Christmas morning though it be, it is necessary to send up workmen, to ascertain the extent of the damage done. These, led by Durdles, go aloft; while Mr. Tope and a crowd of early idlers gather down in Minor Canon Corner, shading their eyes and watching for their appearance up there.
This cluster is suddenly broken and put aside by the hands of Mr. Jasper; all the gazing eyes are brought down to the earth by his loudly inquiring of Mr. Crisparkle, at an open window:
‘Where is my nephew?’
‘He has not been here. Is he not with you?’
‘No. He went down to the river last night, with Mr. Neville, to look at the storm, and has not been back. Call Mr. Neville!’
‘He left this morning, early.’
‘Left this morning early? Let me in! let me in!’
There is no more looking up at the tower, now. All the assembled eyes are turned on Mr. Jasper, white, half-dressed, panting, and clinging to the rail before the Minor Canon’s house.
Neville Landless had started so early and walked at so good a pace, that when the church-bells began to ring in Cloisterham for morning service, he was eight miles away. As he wanted his breakfast by that time, having set forth on a crust of bread, he stopped at the next roadside tavern to refresh.
Visitors in want of breakfast—unless they were horses or cattle, for which class of guests there was preparation enough in the way of water-trough and hay—were so unusual at the sign of The Tilted Wagon, that it took a long time to get the wagon into the track of tea and toast and bacon. Neville in the interval, sitting in a sanded parlour, wondering in how long a time after he had gone, the sneezy fire of damp fagots would begin to make somebody else warm.
Indeed, The Tilted Wagon, as a cool establishment on the top of a hill, where the ground before the door was puddled with damp hoofs and trodden straw; where a scolding landlady slapped a moist baby (with one red sock on and one wanting), in the bar; where the cheese was cast aground upon a shelf, in company with a mouldy tablecloth and a green-handled knife, in a sort of cast-iron canoe; where the pale-faced bread shed tears of crumb over its shipwreck in another canoe; where the family linen, half washed and half dried, led a public life of lying about; where everything to drink was drunk out of mugs, and everything else was suggestive of a rhyme to mugs; The Tilted Wagon, all these things considered, hardly kept its painted promise of providing good entertainment for Man and Beast. However, Man, in the present case, was not critical, but took what entertainment he could get, and went on again after a longer rest than he needed.
He stopped at some quarter of a mile from the house, hesitating whether to pursue the road, or to follow a cart track between two high hedgerows, which led across the slope of a breezy heath, and evidently struck into the road again by-and-by. He decided in favour of this latter track, and pursued it with some toil; the rise being steep, and the way worn into deep ruts.
He was labouring along, when he became aware of some other pedestrians behind him. As they were coming up at a faster pace than his, he stood aside, against one of the high banks, to let them pass. But their manner was very curious. Only four of them passed. Other four slackened speed, and loitered as intending to follow him when he should go on. The remainder of the party (half-a-dozen perhaps) turned, and went back at a great rate.
He looked at the four behind him, and he looked at the four before him. They all returned his look. He resumed his way. The four in advance went on, constantly looking back; the four in the rear came closing up.
When they all ranged out from the narrow track upon the open slope of the heath, and this order was maintained, let him diverge as he would to either side, there was no longer room to doubt that he was beset by these fellows. He stopped, as a last test; and they all stopped.
‘Why do you attend upon me in this way?’ he asked the whole body. ‘Are you a pack of thieves?’
‘Don’t answer him,’ said one of the number; he did not see which. ‘Better be quiet.’
‘Better be quiet?’ repeated Neville. ‘Who said so?’
‘It’s good advice, whichever of you skulkers gave it,’ he went on angrily. ‘I will not submit to be penned in between four men there, and four men there. I wish to pass, and I mean to pass, those four in front.’
They were all standing still; himself included.
‘If eight men, or four men, or two men, set upon one,’ he proceeded, growing more enraged, ‘the one has no chance but to set his mark upon some of them. And, by the Lord, I’ll do it, if I am interrupted any farther!’
Shouldering his heavy stick, and quickening his pace, he shot on to pass the four ahead. The largest and strongest man of the number changed swiftly to the side on which he came up, and dexterously closed with him and went down with him; but not before the heavy stick had descended smartly.
‘Let him be!’ said this man in a suppressed voice, as they struggled together on the grass. ‘Fair play! His is the build of a girl to mine, and he’s got a weight strapped to his back besides. Let him alone. I’ll manage him.’
After a little rolling about, in a close scuffle which caused the faces of both to be besmeared with blood, the man took his knee from Neville’s chest, and rose, saying: ‘There! Now take him arm-in-arm, any two of you!’
It was immediately done.
‘As to our being a pack of thieves, Mr. Landless,’ said the man, as he spat out some blood, and wiped more from his face; ‘you know better than that at midday. We wouldn’t have touched you if you hadn’t forced us. We’re going to take you round to the high road, anyhow, and you’ll find help enough against thieves there, if you want it.—Wipe his face, somebody; see how it’s a-trickling down him!’
When his face was cleansed, Neville recognised in the speaker, Joe, driver of the Cloisterham omnibus, whom he had seen but once, and that on the day of his arrival.
‘And what I recommend you for the present, is, don’t talk, Mr. Landless. You’ll find a friend waiting for you, at the high road—gone ahead by the other way when we split into two parties—and you had much better say nothing till you come up with him. Bring that stick along, somebody else, and let’s be moving!’
Utterly bewildered, Neville stared around him and said not a word. Walking between his two conductors, who held his arms in theirs, he went on, as in a dream, until they came again into the high road, and into the midst of a little group of people. The men who had turned back were among the group; and its central figures were Mr. Jasper and Mr. Crisparkle. Neville’s conductors took him up to the Minor Canon, and there released him, as an act of deference to that gentleman.
‘What is all this, sir? What is the matter? I feel as if I had lost my senses!’ cried Neville, the group closing in around him.
‘Where is my nephew?’ asked Mr. Jasper, wildly.
‘Where is your nephew?’ repeated Neville, ‘Why do you ask me?’
‘I ask you,’ retorted Jasper, ‘because you were the last person in his company, and he is not to be found.’
‘Not to be found!’ cried Neville, aghast.
‘Stay, stay,’ said Mr. Crisparkle. ‘Permit me, Jasper. Mr. Neville, you are confounded; collect your thoughts; it is of great importance that you should collect your thoughts; attend to me.’
‘I will try, sir, but I seem mad.’
‘You left Mr. Jasper last night with Edwin Drood?’
‘At what hour?’
‘Was it at twelve o’clock?’ asked Neville, with his hand to his confused head, and appealing to Jasper.
‘Quite right,’ said Mr. Crisparkle; ‘the hour Mr. Jasper has already named to me. You went down to the river together?’
‘Undoubtedly. To see the action of the wind there.’
‘What followed? How long did you stay there?’
‘About ten minutes; I should say not more. We then walked together to your house, and he took leave of me at the door.’
‘Did he say that he was going down to the river again?’
‘No. He said that he was going straight back.’
The bystanders looked at one another, and at Mr. Crisparkle. To whom Mr. Jasper, who had been intensely watching Neville, said, in a low, distinct, suspicious voice: ‘What are those stains upon his dress?’
All eyes were turned towards the blood upon his clothes.
‘And here are the same stains upon this stick!’ said Jasper, taking it from the hand of the man who held it. ‘I know the stick to be his, and he carried it last night. What does this mean?’
‘In the name of God, say what it means, Neville!’ urged Mr. Crisparkle.
‘That man and I,’ said Neville, pointing out his late adversary, ‘had a struggle for the stick just now, and you may see the same marks on him, sir. What was I to suppose, when I found myself molested by eight people? Could I dream of the true reason when they would give me none at all?’
They admitted that they had thought it discreet to be silent, and that the struggle had taken place. And yet the very men who had seen it looked darkly at the smears which the bright cold air had already dried.
‘We must return, Neville,’ said Mr. Crisparkle; ‘of course you will be glad to come back to clear yourself?’
‘Of course, sir.’
‘Mr. Landless will walk at my side,’ the Minor Canon continued, looking around him. ‘Come, Neville!’
They set forth on the walk back; and the others, with one exception, straggled after them at various distances. Jasper walked on the other side of Neville, and never quitted that position. He was silent, while Mr. Crisparkle more than once repeated his former questions, and while Neville repeated his former answers; also, while they both hazarded some explanatory conjectures. He was obstinately silent, because Mr. Crisparkle’s manner directly appealed to him to take some part in the discussion, and no appeal would move his fixed face. When they drew near to the city, and it was suggested by the Minor Canon that they might do well in calling on the Mayor at once, he assented with a stern nod; but he spake no word until they stood in Mr. Sapsea’s parlour.
Mr. Sapsea being informed by Mr. Crisparkle of the circumstances under which they desired to make a voluntary statement before him, Mr. Jasper broke silence by declaring that he placed his whole reliance, humanly speaking, on Mr. Sapsea’s penetration. There was no conceivable reason why his nephew should have suddenly absconded, unless Mr. Sapsea could suggest one, and then he would defer. There was no intelligible likelihood of his having returned to the river, and been accidentally drowned in the dark, unless it should appear likely to Mr. Sapsea, and then again he would defer. He washed his hands as clean as he could of all horrible suspicions, unless it should appear to Mr. Sapsea that some such were inseparable from his last companion before his disappearance (not on good terms with previously), and then, once more, he would defer. His own state of mind, he being distracted with doubts, and labouring under dismal apprehensions, was not to be safely trusted; but Mr. Sapsea’s was.
Mr. Sapsea expressed his opinion that the case had a dark look; in short (and here his eyes rested full on Neville’s countenance), an Un-English complexion. Having made this grand point, he wandered into a denser haze and maze of nonsense than even a mayor might have been expected to disport himself in, and came out of it with the brilliant discovery that to take the life of a fellow-creature was to take something that didn’t belong to you. He wavered whether or no he should at once issue his warrant for the committal of Neville Landless to jail, under circumstances of grave suspicion; and he might have gone so far as to do it but for the indignant protest of the Minor Canon: who undertook for the young man’s remaining in his own house, and being produced by his own hands, whenever demanded. Mr. Jasper then understood Mr. Sapsea to suggest that the river should be dragged, that its banks should be rigidly examined, that particulars of the disappearance should be sent to all outlying places and to London, and that placards and advertisements should be widely circulated imploring Edwin Drood, if for any unknown reason he had withdrawn himself from his uncle’s home and society, to take pity on that loving kinsman’s sore bereavement and distress, and somehow inform him that he was yet alive. Mr. Sapsea was perfectly understood, for this was exactly his meaning (though he had said nothing about it); and measures were taken towards all these ends immediately.
It would be difficult to determine which was the more oppressed with horror and amazement: Neville Landless, or John Jasper. But that Jasper’s position forced him to be active, while Neville’s forced him to be passive, there would have been nothing to choose between them. Each was bowed down and broken.
With the earliest light of the next morning, men were at work upon the river, and other men—most of whom volunteered for the service—were examining the banks. All the livelong day the search went on; upon the river, with barge and pole, and drag and net; upon the muddy and rushy shore, with jack-boots, hatchet, spade, rope, dogs, and all imaginable appliances. Even at night, the river was specked with lanterns, and lurid with fires; far-off creeks, into which the tide washed as it changed, had their knots of watchers, listening to the lapping of the stream, and looking out for any burden it might bear; remote shingly causeways near the sea, and lonely points off which there was a race of water, had their unwonted flaring cressets and rough-coated figures when the next day dawned; but no trace of Edwin Drood revisited the light of the sun.
All that day, again, the search went on. Now, in barge and boat; and now ashore among the osiers, or tramping amidst mud and stakes and jagged stones in low-lying places, where solitary watermarks and signals of strange shapes showed like spectres, John Jasper worked and toiled. But to no purpose; for still no trace of Edwin Drood revisited the light of the sun.
Setting his watches for that night again, so that vigilant eyes should be kept on every change of tide, he went home exhausted. Unkempt and disordered, bedaubed with mud that had dried upon him, and with much of his clothing torn to rags, he had but just dropped into his easy-chair, when Mr. Grewgious stood before him.
‘This is strange news,’ said Mr. Grewgious.
‘Strange and fearful news.’
Jasper had merely lifted up his heavy eyes to say it, and now dropped them again as he drooped, worn out, over one side of his easy-chair.
Mr. Grewgious smoothed his head and face, and stood looking at the fire.
‘How is your ward?’ asked Jasper, after a time, in a faint, fatigued voice.
‘Poor little thing! You may imagine her condition.’
‘Have you seen his sister?’ inquired Jasper, as before.
The curtness of the counter-question, and the cool, slow manner in which, as he put it, Mr. Grewgious moved his eyes from the fire to his companion’s face, might at any other time have been exasperating. In his depression and exhaustion, Jasper merely opened his eyes to say: ‘The suspected young man’s.’
‘Do you suspect him?’ asked Mr. Grewgious.
‘I don’t know what to think. I cannot make up my mind.’
‘Nor I,’ said Mr. Grewgious. ‘But as you spoke of him as the suspected young man, I thought you had made up your mind.—I have just left Miss Landless.’
‘What is her state?’
‘Defiance of all suspicion, and unbounded faith in her brother.’
‘However,’ pursued Mr. Grewgious, ‘it is not of her that I came to speak. It is of my ward. I have a communication to make that will surprise you. At least, it has surprised me.’
Jasper, with a groaning sigh, turned wearily in his chair.
‘Shall I put it off till to-morrow?’ said Mr. Grewgious. ‘Mind, I warn you, that I think it will surprise you!’
More attention and concentration came into John Jasper’s eyes as they caught sight of Mr. Grewgious smoothing his head again, and again looking at the fire; but now, with a compressed and determined mouth.
‘What is it?’ demanded Jasper, becoming upright in his chair.
‘To be sure,’ said Mr. Grewgious, provokingly slowly and internally, as he kept his eyes on the fire: ‘I might have known it sooner; she gave me the opening; but I am such an exceedingly Angular man, that it never occurred to me; I took all for granted.’
‘What is it?’ demanded Jasper once more.
Mr. Grewgious, alternately opening and shutting the palms of his hands as he warmed them at the fire, and looking fixedly at him sideways, and never changing either his action or his look in all that followed, went on to reply.
‘This young couple, the lost youth and Miss Rosa, my ward, though so long betrothed, and so long recognising their betrothal, and so near being married—’
Mr. Grewgious saw a staring white face, and two quivering white lips, in the easy-chair, and saw two muddy hands gripping its sides. But for the hands, he might have thought he had never seen the face.
‘—This young couple came gradually to the discovery (made on both sides pretty equally, I think), that they would be happier and better, both in their present and their future lives, as affectionate friends, or say rather as brother and sister, than as husband and wife.’
Mr. Grewgious saw a lead-coloured face in the easy-chair, and on its surface dreadful starting drops or bubbles, as if of steel.
‘This young couple formed at length the healthy resolution of interchanging their discoveries, openly, sensibly, and tenderly. They met for that purpose. After some innocent and generous talk, they agreed to dissolve their existing, and their intended, relations, for ever and ever.’
Mr. Grewgious saw a ghastly figure rise, open-mouthed, from the easy-chair, and lift its outspread hands towards its head.
‘One of this young couple, and that one your nephew, fearful, however, that in the tenderness of your affection for him you would be bitterly disappointed by so wide a departure from his projected life, forbore to tell you the secret, for a few days, and left it to be disclosed by me, when I should come down to speak to you, and he would be gone. I speak to you, and he is gone.’
Mr. Grewgious saw the ghastly figure throw back its head, clutch its hair with its hands, and turn with a writhing action from him.
‘I have now said all I have to say: except that this young couple parted, firmly, though not without tears and sorrow, on the evening when you last saw them together.’
Mr. Grewgious heard a terrible shriek, and saw no ghastly figure, sitting or standing; saw nothing but a heap of torn and miry clothes upon the floor.
Not changing his action even then, he opened and shut the palms of his hands as he warmed them, and looked down at it.
When John Jasper recovered from his fit or swoon, he found himself being tended by Mr. and Mrs. Tope, whom his visitor had summoned for the purpose. His visitor, wooden of aspect, sat stiffly in a chair, with his hands upon his knees, watching his recovery.
‘There! You’ve come to nicely now, sir,’ said the tearful Mrs. Tope; ‘you were thoroughly worn out, and no wonder!’
‘A man,’ said Mr. Grewgious, with his usual air of repeating a lesson, ‘cannot have his rest broken, and his mind cruelly tormented, and his body overtaxed by fatigue, without being thoroughly worn out.’
‘I fear I have alarmed you?’ Jasper apologised faintly, when he was helped into his easy-chair.
‘Not at all, I thank you,’ answered Mr. Grewgious.
‘You are too considerate.’
‘Not at all, I thank you,’ answered Mr. Grewgious again.
‘You must take some wine, sir,’ said Mrs. Tope, ‘and the jelly that I had ready for you, and that you wouldn’t put your lips to at noon, though I warned you what would come of it, you know, and you not breakfasted; and you must have a wing of the roast fowl that has been put back twenty times if it’s been put back once. It shall all be on table in five minutes, and this good gentleman belike will stop and see you take it.’
This good gentleman replied with a snort, which might mean yes, or no, or anything or nothing, and which Mrs. Tope would have found highly mystifying, but that her attention was divided by the service of the table.
‘You will take something with me?’ said Jasper, as the cloth was laid.
‘I couldn’t get a morsel down my throat, I thank you,’ answered Mr. Grewgious.
Jasper both ate and drank almost voraciously. Combined with the hurry in his mode of doing it, was an evident indifference to the taste of what he took, suggesting that he ate and drank to fortify himself against any other failure of the spirits, far more than to gratify his palate. Mr. Grewgious in the meantime sat upright, with no expression in his face, and a hard kind of imperturbably polite protest all over him: as though he would have said, in reply to some invitation to discourse; ‘I couldn’t originate the faintest approach to an observation on any subject whatever, I thank you.’
‘Do you know,’ said Jasper, when he had pushed away his plate and glass, and had sat meditating for a few minutes: ‘do you know that I find some crumbs of comfort in the communication with which you have so much amazed me?’
‘Do you?’ returned Mr. Grewgious, pretty plainly adding the unspoken clause: ‘I don’t, I thank you!’
‘After recovering from the shock of a piece of news of my dear boy, so entirely unexpected, and so destructive of all the castles I had built for him; and after having had time to think of it; yes.’
‘I shall be glad to pick up your crumbs,’ said Mr. Grewgious, dryly.
‘Is there not, or is there—if I deceive myself, tell me so, and shorten my pain—is there not, or is there, hope that, finding himself in this new position, and becoming sensitively alive to the awkward burden of explanation, in this quarter, and that, and the other, with which it would load him, he avoided the awkwardness, and took to flight?’
‘Such a thing might be,’ said Mr. Grewgious, pondering.
‘Such a thing has been. I have read of cases in which people, rather than face a seven days’ wonder, and have to account for themselves to the idle and impertinent, have taken themselves away, and been long unheard of.’
‘I believe such things have happened,’ said Mr. Grewgious, pondering still.
‘When I had, and could have, no suspicion,’ pursued Jasper, eagerly following the new track, ‘that the dear lost boy had withheld anything from me—most of all, such a leading matter as this—what gleam of light was there for me in the whole black sky? When I supposed that his intended wife was here, and his marriage close at hand, how could I entertain the possibility of his voluntarily leaving this place, in a manner that would be so unaccountable, capricious, and cruel? But now that I know what you have told me, is there no little chink through which day pierces? Supposing him to have disappeared of his own act, is not his disappearance more accountable and less cruel? The fact of his having just parted from your ward, is in itself a sort of reason for his going away. It does not make his mysterious departure the less cruel to me, it is true; but it relieves it of cruelty to her.’
Mr. Grewgious could not but assent to this.
‘And even as to me,’ continued Jasper, still pursuing the new track, with ardour, and, as he did so, brightening with hope: ‘he knew that you were coming to me; he knew that you were intrusted to tell me what you have told me; if your doing so has awakened a new train of thought in my perplexed mind, it reasonably follows that, from the same premises, he might have foreseen the inferences that I should draw. Grant that he did foresee them; and even the cruelty to me—and who am I!—John Jasper, Music Master, vanishes!’—
Once more, Mr. Grewgious could not but assent to this.
‘I have had my distrusts, and terrible distrusts they have been,’ said Jasper; ‘but your disclosure, overpowering as it was at first—showing me that my own dear boy had had a great disappointing reservation from me, who so fondly loved him, kindles hope within me. You do not extinguish it when I state it, but admit it to be a reasonable hope. I begin to believe it possible:’ here he clasped his hands: ‘that he may have disappeared from among us of his own accord, and that he may yet be alive and well.’
Mr. Crisparkle came in at the moment. To whom Mr. Jasper repeated:
‘I begin to believe it possible that he may have disappeared of his own accord, and may yet be alive and well.’
Mr. Crisparkle taking a seat, and inquiring: ‘Why so?’ Mr. Jasper repeated the arguments he had just set forth. If they had been less plausible than they were, the good Minor Canon’s mind would have been in a state of preparation to receive them, as exculpatory of his unfortunate pupil. But he, too, did really attach great importance to the lost young man’s having been, so immediately before his disappearance, placed in a new and embarrassing relation towards every one acquainted with his projects and affairs; and the fact seemed to him to present the question in a new light.
‘I stated to Mr. Sapsea, when we waited on him,’ said Jasper: as he really had done: ‘that there was no quarrel or difference between the two young men at their last meeting. We all know that their first meeting was unfortunately very far from amicable; but all went smoothly and quietly when they were last together at my house. My dear boy was not in his usual spirits; he was depressed—I noticed that—and I am bound henceforth to dwell upon the circumstance the more, now that I know there was a special reason for his being depressed: a reason, moreover, which may possibly have induced him to absent himself.’
‘I pray to Heaven it may turn out so!’ exclaimed Mr. Crisparkle.
‘I pray to Heaven it may turn out so!’ repeated Jasper. ‘You know—and Mr. Grewgious should now know likewise—that I took a great prepossession against Mr. Neville Landless, arising out of his furious conduct on that first occasion. You know that I came to you, extremely apprehensive, on my dear boy’s behalf, of his mad violence. You know that I even entered in my Diary, and showed the entry to you, that I had dark forebodings against him. Mr. Grewgious ought to be possessed of the whole case. He shall not, through any suppression of mine, be informed of a part of it, and kept in ignorance of another part of it. I wish him to be good enough to understand that the communication he has made to me has hopefully influenced my mind, in spite of its having been, before this mysterious occurrence took place, profoundly impressed against young Landless.’
This fairness troubled the Minor Canon much. He felt that he was not as open in his own dealing. He charged against himself reproachfully that he had suppressed, so far, the two points of a second strong outbreak of temper against Edwin Drood on the part of Neville, and of the passion of jealousy having, to his own certain knowledge, flamed up in Neville’s breast against him. He was convinced of Neville’s innocence of any part in the ugly disappearance; and yet so many little circumstances combined so wofully against him, that he dreaded to add two more to their cumulative weight. He was among the truest of men; but he had been balancing in his mind, much to its distress, whether his volunteering to tell these two fragments of truth, at this time, would not be tantamount to a piecing together of falsehood in the place of truth.
However, here was a model before him. He hesitated no longer. Addressing Mr. Grewgious, as one placed in authority by the revelation he had brought to bear on the mystery (and surpassingly Angular Mr. Grewgious became when he found himself in that unexpected position), Mr. Crisparkle bore his testimony to Mr. Jasper’s strict sense of justice, and, expressing his absolute confidence in the complete clearance of his pupil from the least taint of suspicion, sooner or later, avowed that his confidence in that young gentleman had been formed, in spite of his confidential knowledge that his temper was of the hottest and fiercest, and that it was directly incensed against Mr. Jasper’s nephew, by the circumstance of his romantically supposing himself to be enamoured of the same young lady. The sanguine reaction manifest in Mr. Jasper was proof even against this unlooked-for declaration. It turned him paler; but he repeated that he would cling to the hope he had derived from Mr. Grewgious; and that if no trace of his dear boy were found, leading to the dreadful inference that he had been made away with, he would cherish unto the last stretch of possibility the idea, that he might have absconded of his own wild will.
Now, it fell out that Mr. Crisparkle, going away from this conference still very uneasy in his mind, and very much troubled on behalf of the young man whom he held as a kind of prisoner in his own house, took a memorable night walk.
He walked to Cloisterham Weir.
He often did so, and consequently there was nothing remarkable in his footsteps tending that way. But the preoccupation of his mind so hindered him from planning any walk, or taking heed of the objects he passed, that his first consciousness of being near the Weir, was derived from the sound of the falling water close at hand.
‘How did I come here!’ was his first thought, as he stopped.
‘Why did I come here!’ was his second.
Then, he stood intently listening to the water. A familiar passage in his reading, about airy tongues that syllable men’s names, rose so unbidden to his ear, that he put it from him with his hand, as if it were tangible.
It was starlight. The Weir was full two miles above the spot to which the young men had repaired to watch the storm. No search had been made up here, for the tide had been running strongly down, at that time of the night of Christmas Eve, and the likeliest places for the discovery of a body, if a fatal accident had happened under such circumstances, all lay—both when the tide ebbed, and when it flowed again—between that spot and the sea. The water came over the Weir, with its usual sound on a cold starlight night, and little could be seen of it; yet Mr. Crisparkle had a strange idea that something unusual hung about the place.
He reasoned with himself: What was it? Where was it? Put it to the proof. Which sense did it address?
No sense reported anything unusual there. He listened again, and his sense of hearing again checked the water coming over the Weir, with its usual sound on a cold starlight night.
Knowing very well that the mystery with which his mind was occupied, might of itself give the place this haunted air, he strained those hawk’s eyes of his for the correction of his sight. He got closer to the Weir, and peered at its well-known posts and timbers. Nothing in the least unusual was remotely shadowed forth. But he resolved that he would come back early in the morning.
The Weir ran through his broken sleep, all night, and he was back again at sunrise. It was a bright frosty morning. The whole composition before him, when he stood where he had stood last night, was clearly discernible in its minutest details. He had surveyed it closely for some minutes, and was about to withdraw his eyes, when they were attracted keenly to one spot.
He turned his back upon the Weir, and looked far away at the sky, and at the earth, and then looked again at that one spot. It caught his sight again immediately, and he concentrated his vision upon it. He could not lose it now, though it was but such a speck in the landscape. It fascinated his sight. His hands began plucking off his coat. For it struck him that at that spot—a corner of the Weir—something glistened, which did not move and come over with the glistening water-drops, but remained stationary.
He assured himself of this, he threw off his clothes, he plunged into the icy water, and swam for the spot. Climbing the timbers, he took from them, caught among their interstices by its chain, a gold watch, bearing engraved upon its back E. D.
He brought the watch to the bank, swam to the Weir again, climbed it, and dived off. He knew every hole and corner of all the depths, and dived and dived and dived, until he could bear the cold no more. His notion was, that he would find the body; he only found a shirt-pin sticking in some mud and ooze.
With these discoveries he returned to Cloisterham, and, taking Neville Landless with him, went straight to the Mayor. Mr. Jasper was sent for, the watch and shirt-pin were identified, Neville was detained, and the wildest frenzy and fatuity of evil report rose against him. He was of that vindictive and violent nature, that but for his poor sister, who alone had influence over him, and out of whose sight he was never to be trusted, he would be in the daily commission of murder. Before coming to England he had caused to be whipped to death sundry ‘Natives’—nomadic persons, encamping now in Asia, now in Africa, now in the West Indies, and now at the North Pole—vaguely supposed in Cloisterham to be always black, always of great virtue, always calling themselves Me, and everybody else Massa or Missie (according to sex), and always reading tracts of the obscurest meaning, in broken English, but always accurately understanding them in the purest mother tongue. He had nearly brought Mrs. Crisparkle’s grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. (Those original expressions were Mr. Sapsea’s.) He had repeatedly said he would have Mr. Crisparkle’s life. He had repeatedly said he would have everybody’s life, and become in effect the last man. He had been brought down to Cloisterham, from London, by an eminent Philanthropist, and why? Because that Philanthropist had expressly declared: ‘I owe it to my fellow-creatures that he should be, in the words of Bentham, where he is the cause of the greatest danger to the smallest number.’
These dropping shots from the blunderbusses of blunderheadedness might not have hit him in a vital place. But he had to stand against a trained and well-directed fire of arms of precision too. He had notoriously threatened the lost young man, and had, according to the showing of his own faithful friend and tutor who strove so hard for him, a cause of bitter animosity (created by himself, and stated by himself), against that ill-starred fellow. He had armed himself with an offensive weapon for the fatal night, and he had gone off early in the morning, after making preparations for departure. He had been found with traces of blood on him; truly, they might have been wholly caused as he represented, but they might not, also. On a search-warrant being issued for the examination of his room, clothes, and so forth, it was discovered that he had destroyed all his papers, and rearranged all his possessions, on the very afternoon of the disappearance. The watch found at the Weir was challenged by the jeweller as one he had wound and set for Edwin Drood, at twenty minutes past two on that same afternoon; and it had run down, before being cast into the water; and it was the jeweller’s positive opinion that it had never been re-wound. This would justify the hypothesis that the watch was taken from him not long after he left Mr. Jasper’s house at midnight, in company with the last person seen with him, and that it had been thrown away after being retained some hours. Why thrown away? If he had been murdered, and so artfully disfigured, or concealed, or both, as that the murderer hoped identification to be impossible, except from something that he wore, assuredly the murderer would seek to remove from the body the most lasting, the best known, and the most easily recognisable, things upon it. Those things would be the watch and shirt-pin. As to his opportunities of casting them into the river; if he were the object of these suspicions, they were easy. For, he had been seen by many persons, wandering about on that side of the city—indeed on all sides of it—in a miserable and seemingly half-distracted manner. As to the choice of the spot, obviously such criminating evidence had better take its chance of being found anywhere, rather than upon himself, or in his possession. Concerning the reconciliatory nature of the appointed meeting between the two young men, very little could be made of that in young Landless’s favour; for it distinctly appeared that the meeting originated, not with him, but with Mr. Crisparkle, and that it had been urged on by Mr. Crisparkle; and who could say how unwillingly, or in what ill-conditioned mood, his enforced pupil had gone to it? The more his case was looked into, the weaker it became in every point. Even the broad suggestion that the lost young man had absconded, was rendered additionally improbable on the showing of the young lady from whom he had so lately parted; for; what did she say, with great earnestness and sorrow, when interrogated? That he had, expressly and enthusiastically, planned with her, that he would await the arrival of her guardian, Mr. Grewgious. And yet, be it observed, he disappeared before that gentleman appeared.
On the suspicions thus urged and supported, Neville was detained, and re-detained, and the search was pressed on every hand, and Jasper laboured night and day. But nothing more was found. No discovery being made, which proved the lost man to be dead, it at length became necessary to release the person suspected of having made away with him. Neville was set at large. Then, a consequence ensued which Mr. Crisparkle had too well foreseen. Neville must leave the place, for the place shunned him and cast him out. Even had it not been so, the dear old china shepherdess would have worried herself to death with fears for her son, and with general trepidation occasioned by their having such an inmate. Even had that not been so, the authority to which the Minor Canon deferred officially, would have settled the point.
‘Mr. Crisparkle,’ quoth the Dean, ‘human justice may err, but it must act according to its lights. The days of taking sanctuary are past. This young man must not take sanctuary with us.’
‘You mean that he must leave my house, sir?’
‘Mr. Crisparkle,’ returned the prudent Dean, ‘I claim no authority in your house. I merely confer with you, on the painful necessity you find yourself under, of depriving this young man of the great advantages of your counsel and instruction.’
‘It is very lamentable, sir,’ Mr. Crisparkle represented.
‘Very much so,’ the Dean assented.
‘And if it be a necessity—’ Mr. Crisparkle faltered.
‘As you unfortunately find it to be,’ returned the Dean.
Mr. Crisparkle bowed submissively: ‘It is hard to prejudge his case, sir, but I am sensible that—’
‘Just so. Perfectly. As you say, Mr. Crisparkle,’ interposed the Dean, nodding his head smoothly, ‘there is nothing else to be done. No doubt, no doubt. There is no alternative, as your good sense has discovered.’
‘I am entirely satisfied of his perfect innocence, sir, nevertheless.’
‘We-e-ell!’ said the Dean, in a more confidential tone, and slightly glancing around him, ‘I would not say so, generally. Not generally. Enough of suspicion attaches to him to—no, I think I would not say so, generally.’
Mr. Crisparkle bowed again.
‘It does not become us, perhaps,’ pursued the Dean, ‘to be partisans. Not partisans. We clergy keep our hearts warm and our heads cool, and we hold a judicious middle course.’
‘I hope you do not object, sir, to my having stated in public, emphatically, that he will reappear here, whenever any new suspicion may be awakened, or any new circumstance may come to light in this extraordinary matter?’
‘Not at all,’ returned the Dean. ‘And yet, do you know, I don’t think,’ with a very nice and neat emphasis on those two words: ‘I don’t think I would state it emphatically. State it? Ye-e-es! But emphatically? No-o-o. I think not. In point of fact, Mr. Crisparkle, keeping our hearts warm and our heads cool, we clergy need do nothing emphatically.’
So Minor Canon Row knew Neville Landless no more; and he went whithersoever he would, or could, with a blight upon his name and fame.
It was not until then that John Jasper silently resumed his place in the choir. Haggard and red-eyed, his hopes plainly had deserted him, his sanguine mood was gone, and all his worst misgivings had come back. A day or two afterwards, while unrobing, he took his Diary from a pocket of his coat, turned the leaves, and with an impressive look, and without one spoken word, handed this entry to Mr. Crisparkle to read:
‘My dear boy is murdered. The discovery of the watch and shirt-pin convinces me that he was murdered that night, and that his jewellery was taken from him to prevent identification by its means. All the delusive hopes I had founded on his separation from his betrothed wife, I give to the winds. They perish before this fatal discovery. I now swear, and record the oath on this page, That I nevermore will discuss this mystery with any human creature until I hold the clue to it in my hand. That I never will relax in my secrecy or in my search. That I will fasten the crime of the murder of my dear dead boy upon the murderer. And, That I devote myself to his destruction.’
CHAPTER XVII—PHILANTHROPY, PROFESSIONAL AND UNPROFESSIONAL
Full half a year had come and gone, and Mr. Crisparkle sat in a waiting-room in the London chief offices of the Haven of Philanthropy, until he could have audience of Mr. Honeythunder.
In his college days of athletic exercises, Mr. Crisparkle had known professors of the Noble Art of fisticuffs, and had attended two or three of their gloved gatherings. He had now an opportunity of observing that as to the phrenological formation of the backs of their heads, the Professing Philanthropists were uncommonly like the Pugilists. In the development of all those organs which constitute, or attend, a propensity to ‘pitch into’ your fellow-creatures, the Philanthropists were remarkably favoured. There were several Professors passing in and out, with exactly the aggressive air upon them of being ready for a turn-up with any Novice who might happen to be on hand, that Mr. Crisparkle well remembered in the circles of the Fancy. Preparations were in progress for a moral little Mill somewhere on the rural circuit, and other Professors were backing this or that Heavy-Weight as good for such or such speech-making hits, so very much after the manner of the sporting publicans, that the intended Resolutions might have been Rounds. In an official manager of these displays much celebrated for his platform tactics, Mr. Crisparkle recognised (in a suit of black) the counterpart of a deceased benefactor of his species, an eminent public character, once known to fame as Frosty-faced Fogo, who in days of yore superintended the formation of the magic circle with the ropes and stakes. There were only three conditions of resemblance wanting between these Professors and those. Firstly, the Philanthropists were in very bad training: much too fleshy, and presenting, both in face and figure, a superabundance of what is known to Pugilistic Experts as Suet Pudding. Secondly, the Philanthropists had not the good temper of the Pugilists, and used worse language. Thirdly, their fighting code stood in great need of revision, as empowering them not only to bore their man to the ropes, but to bore him to the confines of distraction; also to hit him when he was down, hit him anywhere and anyhow, kick him, stamp upon him, gouge him, and maul him behind his back without mercy. In these last particulars the Professors of the Noble Art were much nobler than the Professors of Philanthropy.
Mr. Crisparkle was so completely lost in musing on these similarities and dissimilarities, at the same time watching the crowd which came and went by, always, as it seemed, on errands of antagonistically snatching something from somebody, and never giving anything to anybody, that his name was called before he heard it. On his at length responding, he was shown by a miserably shabby and underpaid stipendiary Philanthropist (who could hardly have done worse if he had taken service with a declared enemy of the human race) to Mr. Honeythunder’s room.
‘Sir,’ said Mr. Honeythunder, in his tremendous voice, like a schoolmaster issuing orders to a boy of whom he had a bad opinion, ‘sit down.’
Mr. Crisparkle seated himself.
Mr. Honeythunder having signed the remaining few score of a few thousand circulars, calling upon a corresponding number of families without means to come forward, stump up instantly, and be Philanthropists, or go to the Devil, another shabby stipendiary Philanthropist (highly disinterested, if in earnest) gathered these into a basket and walked off with them.
‘Now, Mr. Crisparkle,’ said Mr. Honeythunder, turning his chair half round towards him when they were alone, and squaring his arms with his hands on his knees, and his brows knitted, as if he added, I am going to make short work of you: ‘Now, Mr. Crisparkle, we entertain different views, you and I, sir, of the sanctity of human life.’
‘Do we?’ returned the Minor Canon.
‘We do, sir?’
‘Might I ask you,’ said the Minor Canon: ‘what are your views on that subject?’
‘That human life is a thing to be held sacred, sir.’
‘Might I ask you,’ pursued the Minor Canon as before: ‘what you suppose to be my views on that subject?’
‘By George, sir!’ returned the Philanthropist, squaring his arms still more, as he frowned on Mr. Crisparkle: ‘they are best known to yourself.’
‘Readily admitted. But you began by saying that we took different views, you know. Therefore (or you could not say so) you must have set up some views as mine. Pray, what views have you set up as mine?’
‘Here is a man—and a young man,’ said Mr. Honeythunder, as if that made the matter infinitely worse, and he could have easily borne the loss of an old one, ‘swept off the face of the earth by a deed of violence. What do you call that?’
‘Murder,’ said the Minor Canon.
‘What do you call the doer of that deed, sir?
‘A murderer,’ said the Minor Canon.
‘I am glad to hear you admit so much, sir,’ retorted Mr. Honeythunder, in his most offensive manner; ‘and I candidly tell you that I didn’t expect it.’ Here he lowered heavily at Mr. Crisparkle again.
‘Be so good as to explain what you mean by those very unjustifiable expressions.’
‘I don’t sit here, sir,’ returned the Philanthropist, raising his voice to a roar, ‘to be browbeaten.’
‘As the only other person present, no one can possibly know that better than I do,’ returned the Minor Canon very quietly. ‘But I interrupt your explanation.’
‘Murder!’ proceeded Mr. Honeythunder, in a kind of boisterous reverie, with his platform folding of his arms, and his platform nod of abhorrent reflection after each short sentiment of a word. ‘Bloodshed! Abel! Cain! I hold no terms with Cain. I repudiate with a shudder the red hand when it is offered me.’
Instead of instantly leaping into his chair and cheering himself hoarse, as the Brotherhood in public meeting assembled would infallibly have done on this cue, Mr. Crisparkle merely reversed the quiet crossing of his legs, and said mildly: ‘Don’t let me interrupt your explanation—when you begin it.’
‘The Commandments say, no murder. NO murder, sir!’ proceeded Mr. Honeythunder, platformally pausing as if he took Mr. Crisparkle to task for having distinctly asserted that they said: You may do a little murder, and then leave off.
‘And they also say, you shall bear no false witness,’ observed Mr. Crisparkle.
‘Enough!’ bellowed Mr. Honeythunder, with a solemnity and severity that would have brought the house down at a meeting, ‘E-e-nough! My late wards being now of age, and I being released from a trust which I cannot contemplate without a thrill of horror, there are the accounts which you have undertaken to accept on their behalf, and there is a statement of the balance which you have undertaken to receive, and which you cannot receive too soon. And let me tell you, sir, I wish that, as a man and a Minor Canon, you were better employed,’ with a nod. ‘Better employed,’ with another nod. ‘Bet-ter em-ployed!’ with another and the three nods added up.
Mr. Crisparkle rose; a little heated in the face, but with perfect command of himself.
‘Mr. Honeythunder,’ he said, taking up the papers referred to: ‘my being better or worse employed than I am at present is a matter of taste and opinion. You might think me better employed in enrolling myself a member of your Society.’
‘Ay, indeed, sir!’ retorted Mr. Honeythunder, shaking his head in a threatening manner. ‘It would have been better for you if you had done that long ago!’
‘I think otherwise.’
‘Or,’ said Mr. Honeythunder, shaking his head again, ‘I might think one of your profession better employed in devoting himself to the discovery and punishment of guilt than in leaving that duty to be undertaken by a layman.’
‘I may regard my profession from a point of view which teaches me that its first duty is towards those who are in necessity and tribulation, who are desolate and oppressed,’ said Mr. Crisparkle. ‘However, as I have quite clearly satisfied myself that it is no part of my profession to make professions, I say no more of that. But I owe it to Mr. Neville, and to Mr. Neville’s sister (and in a much lower degree to myself), to say to you that I know I was in the full possession and understanding of Mr. Neville’s mind and heart at the time of this occurrence; and that, without in the least colouring or concealing what was to be deplored in him and required to be corrected, I feel certain that his tale is true. Feeling that certainty, I befriend him. As long as that certainty shall last, I will befriend him. And if any consideration could shake me in this resolve, I should be so ashamed of myself for my meanness, that no man’s good opinion—no, nor no woman’s—so gained, could compensate me for the loss of my own.’
Good fellow! manly fellow! And he was so modest, too. There was no more self-assertion in the Minor Canon than in the schoolboy who had stood in the breezy playing-fields keeping a wicket. He was simply and staunchly true to his duty alike in the large case and in the small. So all true souls ever are. So every true soul ever was, ever is, and ever will be. There is nothing little to the really great in spirit.
‘Then who do you make out did the deed?’ asked Mr. Honeythunder, turning on him abruptly.
‘Heaven forbid,’ said Mr. Crisparkle, ‘that in my desire to clear one man I should lightly criminate another! I accuse no one.’
‘Tcha!’ ejaculated Mr. Honeythunder with great disgust; for this was by no means the principle on which the Philanthropic Brotherhood usually proceeded. ‘And, sir, you are not a disinterested witness, we must bear in mind.’
‘How am I an interested one?’ inquired Mr. Crisparkle, smiling innocently, at a loss to imagine.
‘There was a certain stipend, sir, paid to you for your pupil, which may have warped your judgment a bit,’ said Mr. Honeythunder, coarsely.
‘Perhaps I expect to retain it still?’ Mr. Crisparkle returned, enlightened; ‘do you mean that too?’
‘Well, sir,’ returned the professional Philanthropist, getting up and thrusting his hands down into his trousers-pockets, ‘I don’t go about measuring people for caps. If people find I have any about me that fit ’em, they can put ’em on and wear ’em, if they like. That’s their look out: not mine.’
Mr. Crisparkle eyed him with a just indignation, and took him to task thus:
‘Mr. Honeythunder, I hoped when I came in here that I might be under no necessity of commenting on the introduction of platform manners or platform manœuvres among the decent forbearances of private life. But you have given me such a specimen of both, that I should be a fit subject for both if I remained silent respecting them. They are detestable.’
‘They don’t suit you, I dare say, sir.’
‘They are,’ repeated Mr. Crisparkle, without noticing the interruption, ‘detestable. They violate equally the justice that should belong to Christians, and the restraints that should belong to gentlemen. You assume a great crime to have been committed by one whom I, acquainted with the attendant circumstances, and having numerous reasons on my side, devoutly believe to be innocent of it. Because I differ from you on that vital point, what is your platform resource? Instantly to turn upon me, charging that I have no sense of the enormity of the crime itself, but am its aider and abettor! So, another time—taking me as representing your opponent in other cases—you set up a platform credulity; a moved and seconded and carried-unanimously profession of faith in some ridiculous delusion or mischievous imposition. I decline to believe it, and you fall back upon your platform resource of proclaiming that I believe nothing; that because I will not bow down to a false God of your making, I deny the true God! Another time you make the platform discovery that War is a calamity, and you propose to abolish it by a string of twisted resolutions tossed into the air like the tail of a kite. I do not admit the discovery to be yours in the least, and I have not a grain of faith in your remedy. Again, your platform resource of representing me as revelling in the horrors of a battle-field like a fiend incarnate! Another time, in another of your undiscriminating platform rushes, you would punish the sober for the drunken. I claim consideration for the comfort, convenience, and refreshment of the sober; and you presently make platform proclamation that I have a depraved desire to turn Heaven’s creatures into swine and wild beasts! In all such cases your movers, and your seconders, and your supporters—your regular Professors of all degrees, run amuck like so many mad Malays; habitually attributing the lowest and basest motives with the utmost recklessness (let me call your attention to a recent instance in yourself for which you should blush), and quoting figures which you know to be as wilfully onesided as a statement of any complicated account that should be all Creditor side and no Debtor, or all Debtor side and no Creditor. Therefore it is, Mr. Honeythunder, that I consider the platform a sufficiently bad example and a sufficiently bad school, even in public life; but hold that, carried into private life, it becomes an unendurable nuisance.’
‘These are strong words, sir!’ exclaimed the Philanthropist.
‘I hope so,’ said Mr. Crisparkle. ‘Good morning.’
He walked out of the Haven at a great rate, but soon fell into his regular brisk pace, and soon had a smile upon his face as he went along, wondering what the china shepherdess would have said if she had seen him pounding Mr. Honeythunder in the late little lively affair. For Mr. Crisparkle had just enough of harmless vanity to hope that he had hit hard, and to glow with the belief that he had trimmed the Philanthropic Jacket pretty handsomely.
He took himself to Staple Inn, but not to P. J. T. and Mr. Grewgious. Full many a creaking stair he climbed before he reached some attic rooms in a corner, turned the latch of their unbolted door, and stood beside the table of Neville Landless.
An air of retreat and solitude hung about the rooms and about their inhabitant. He was much worn, and so were they. Their sloping ceilings, cumbrous rusty locks and grates, and heavy wooden bins and beams, slowly mouldering withal, had a prisonous look, and he had the haggard face of a prisoner. Yet the sunlight shone in at the ugly garret-window, which had a penthouse to itself thrust out among the tiles; and on the cracked and smoke-blackened parapet beyond, some of the deluded sparrows of the place rheumatically hopped, like little feathered cripples who had left their crutches in their nests; and there was a play of living leaves at hand that changed the air, and made an imperfect sort of music in it that would have been melody in the country.
The rooms were sparely furnished, but with good store of books. Everything expressed the abode of a poor student. That Mr. Crisparkle had been either chooser, lender, or donor of the books, or that he combined the three characters, might have been easily seen in the friendly beam of his eyes upon them as he entered.
‘How goes it, Neville?’
‘I am in good heart, Mr. Crisparkle, and working away.’
‘I wish your eyes were not quite so large and not quite so bright,’ said the Minor Canon, slowly releasing the hand he had taken in his.
‘They brighten at the sight of you,’ returned Neville. ‘If you were to fall away from me, they would soon be dull enough.’
‘Rally, rally!’ urged the other, in a stimulating tone. ‘Fight for it, Neville!’
‘If I were dying, I feel as if a word from you would rally me; if my pulse had stopped, I feel as if your touch would make it beat again,’ said Neville. ‘But I have rallied, and am doing famously.’
Mr. Crisparkle turned him with his face a little more towards the light.
‘I want to see a ruddier touch here, Neville,’ he said, indicating his own healthy cheek by way of pattern. ‘I want more sun to shine upon you.’
Neville drooped suddenly, as he replied in a lowered voice: ‘I am not hardy enough for that, yet. I may become so, but I cannot bear it yet. If you had gone through those Cloisterham streets as I did; if you had seen, as I did, those averted eyes, and the better sort of people silently giving me too much room to pass, that I might not touch them or come near them, you wouldn’t think it quite unreasonable that I cannot go about in the daylight.’
‘My poor fellow!’ said the Minor Canon, in a tone so purely sympathetic that the young man caught his hand, ‘I never said it was unreasonable; never thought so. But I should like you to do it.’
‘And that would give me the strongest motive to do it. But I cannot yet. I cannot persuade myself that the eyes of even the stream of strangers I pass in this vast city look at me without suspicion. I feel marked and tainted, even when I go out—as I do only—at night. But the darkness covers me then, and I take courage from it.’
Mr. Crisparkle laid a hand upon his shoulder, and stood looking down at him.
‘If I could have changed my name,’ said Neville, ‘I would have done so. But as you wisely pointed out to me, I can’t do that, for it would look like guilt. If I could have gone to some distant place, I might have found relief in that, but the thing is not to be thought of, for the same reason. Hiding and escaping would be the construction in either case. It seems a little hard to be so tied to a stake, and innocent; but I don’t complain.’
‘And you must expect no miracle to help you, Neville,’ said Mr. Crisparkle, compassionately.
‘No, sir, I know that. The ordinary fulness of time and circumstances is all I have to trust to.’
‘It will right you at last, Neville.’
‘So I believe, and I hope I may live to know it.’
But perceiving that the despondent mood into which he was falling cast a shadow on the Minor Canon, and (it may be) feeling that the broad hand upon his shoulder was not then quite as steady as its own natural strength had rendered it when it first touched him just now, he brightened and said:
‘Excellent circumstances for study, anyhow! and you know, Mr. Crisparkle, what need I have of study in all ways. Not to mention that you have advised me to study for the difficult profession of the law, specially, and that of course I am guiding myself by the advice of such a friend and helper. Such a good friend and helper!’
He took the fortifying hand from his shoulder, and kissed it. Mr. Crisparkle beamed at the books, but not so brightly as when he had entered.
‘I gather from your silence on the subject that my late guardian is adverse, Mr. Crisparkle?’
The Minor Canon answered: ‘Your late guardian is a—a most unreasonable person, and it signifies nothing to any reasonable person whether he is adverse, perverse, or the reverse.’
‘Well for me that I have enough with economy to live upon,’ sighed Neville, half wearily and half cheerily, ‘while I wait to be learned, and wait to be righted! Else I might have proved the proverb, that while the grass grows, the steed starves!’
He opened some books as he said it, and was soon immersed in their interleaved and annotated passages; while Mr. Crisparkle sat beside him, expounding, correcting, and advising. The Minor Canon’s Cathedral duties made these visits of his difficult to accomplish, and only to be compassed at intervals of many weeks. But they were as serviceable as they were precious to Neville Landless.
When they had got through such studies as they had in hand, they stood leaning on the window-sill, and looking down upon the patch of garden. ‘Next week,’ said Mr. Crisparkle, ‘you will cease to be alone, and will have a devoted companion.’
‘And yet,’ returned Neville, ‘this seems an uncongenial place to bring my sister to.’
‘I don’t think so,’ said the Minor Canon. ‘There is duty to be done here; and there are womanly feeling, sense, and courage wanted here.’
‘I meant,’ explained Neville, ‘that the surroundings are so dull and unwomanly, and that Helena can have no suitable friend or society here.’
‘You have only to remember,’ said Mr. Crisparkle, ‘that you are here yourself, and that she has to draw you into the sunlight.’
They were silent for a little while, and then Mr. Crisparkle began anew.
‘When we first spoke together, Neville, you told me that your sister had risen out of the disadvantages of your past lives as superior to you as the tower of Cloisterham Cathedral is higher than the chimneys of Minor Canon Corner. Do you remember that?’
‘I was inclined to think it at the time an enthusiastic flight. No matter what I think it now. What I would emphasise is, that under the head of Pride your sister is a great and opportune example to you.’
‘Under all heads that are included in the composition of a fine character, she is.’
‘Say so; but take this one. Your sister has learnt how to govern what is proud in her nature. She can dominate it even when it is wounded through her sympathy with you. No doubt she has suffered deeply in those same streets where you suffered deeply. No doubt her life is darkened by the cloud that darkens yours. But bending her pride into a grand composure that is not haughty or aggressive, but is a sustained confidence in you and in the truth, she has won her way through those streets until she passes along them as high in the general respect as any one who treads them. Every day and hour of her life since Edwin Drood’s disappearance, she has faced malignity and folly—for you—as only a brave nature well directed can. So it will be with her to the end. Another and weaker kind of pride might sink broken-hearted, but never such a pride as hers: which knows no shrinking, and can get no mastery over her.’
The pale cheek beside him flushed under the comparison, and the hint implied in it.
‘I will do all I can to imitate her,’ said Neville.
‘Do so, and be a truly brave man, as she is a truly brave woman,’ answered Mr. Crisparkle stoutly. ‘It is growing dark. Will you go my way with me, when it is quite dark? Mind! it is not I who wait for darkness.’
Neville replied, that he would accompany him directly. But Mr. Crisparkle said he had a moment’s call to make on Mr. Grewgious as an act of courtesy, and would run across to that gentleman’s chambers, and rejoin Neville on his own doorstep, if he would come down there to meet him.
Mr. Grewgious, bolt upright as usual, sat taking his wine in the dusk at his open window; his wineglass and decanter on the round table at his elbow; himself and his legs on the window-seat; only one hinge in his whole body, like a bootjack.
‘How do you do, reverend sir?’ said Mr. Grewgious, with abundant offers of hospitality, which were as cordially declined as made. ‘And how is your charge getting on over the way in the set that I had the pleasure of recommending to you as vacant and eligible?’
Mr. Crisparkle replied suitably.
‘I am glad you approve of them,’ said Mr. Grewgious, ‘because I entertain a sort of fancy for having him under my eye.’
As Mr. Grewgious had to turn his eye up considerably before he could see the chambers, the phrase was to be taken figuratively and not literally.
‘And how did you leave Mr. Jasper, reverend sir?’ said Mr. Grewgious.
Mr. Crisparkle had left him pretty well.
‘And where did you leave Mr. Jasper, reverend sir?’ Mr. Crisparkle had left him at Cloisterham.
‘And when did you leave Mr. Jasper, reverend sir?’ That morning.
‘Umps!’ said Mr. Grewgious. ‘He didn’t say he was coming, perhaps?’
‘Anywhere, for instance?’ said Mr. Grewgious.
‘Because here he is,’ said Mr. Grewgious, who had asked all these questions, with his preoccupied glance directed out at window. ‘And he don’t look agreeable, does he?’
Mr. Crisparkle was craning towards the window, when Mr. Grewgious added:
‘If you will kindly step round here behind me, in the gloom of the room, and will cast your eye at the second-floor landing window in yonder house, I think you will hardly fail to see a slinking individual in whom I recognise our local friend.’
‘You are right!’ cried Mr. Crisparkle.
‘Umps!’ said Mr. Grewgious. Then he added, turning his face so abruptly that his head nearly came into collision with Mr. Crisparkle’s: ‘what should you say that our local friend was up to?’
The last passage he had been shown in the Diary returned on Mr. Crisparkle’s mind with the force of a strong recoil, and he asked Mr. Grewgious if he thought it possible that Neville was to be harassed by the keeping of a watch upon him?
‘A watch?’ repeated Mr. Grewgious musingly. ‘Ay!’
‘Which would not only of itself haunt and torture his life,’ said Mr. Crisparkle warmly, ‘but would expose him to the torment of a perpetually reviving suspicion, whatever he might do, or wherever he might go.’
‘Ay!’ said Mr. Grewgious musingly still. ‘Do I see him waiting for you?’
‘No doubt you do.’
‘Then would you have the goodness to excuse my getting up to see you out, and to go out to join him, and to go the way that you were going, and to take no notice of our local friend?’ said Mr. Grewgious. ‘I entertain a sort of fancy for having him under my eye to-night, do you know?’
Mr. Crisparkle, with a significant need complied; and rejoining Neville, went away with him. They dined together, and parted at the yet unfinished and undeveloped railway station: Mr. Crisparkle to get home; Neville to walk the streets, cross the bridges, make a wide round of the city in the friendly darkness, and tire himself out.
It was midnight when he returned from his solitary expedition and climbed his staircase. The night was hot, and the windows of the staircase were all wide open. Coming to the top, it gave him a passing chill of surprise (there being no rooms but his up there) to find a stranger sitting on the window-sill, more after the manner of a venturesome glazier than an amateur ordinarily careful of his neck; in fact, so much more outside the window than inside, as to suggest the thought that he must have come up by the water-spout instead of the stairs.
The stranger said nothing until Neville put his key in his door; then, seeming to make sure of his identity from the action, he spoke:
‘I beg your pardon,’ he said, coming from the window with a frank and smiling air, and a prepossessing address; ‘the beans.’
Neville was quite at a loss.
‘Runners,’ said the visitor. ‘Scarlet. Next door at the back.’
‘O,’ returned Neville. ‘And the mignonette and wall-flower?’
‘The same,’ said the visitor.
‘Pray walk in.’
Neville lighted his candles, and the visitor sat down. A handsome gentleman, with a young face, but with an older figure in its robustness and its breadth of shoulder; say a man of eight-and-twenty, or at the utmost thirty; so extremely sunburnt that the contrast between his brown visage and the white forehead shaded out of doors by his hat, and the glimpses of white throat below the neckerchief, would have been almost ludicrous but for his broad temples, bright blue eyes, clustering brown hair, and laughing teeth.
‘I have noticed,’ said he; ‘—my name is Tartar.’
Neville inclined his head.
‘I have noticed (excuse me) that you shut yourself up a good deal, and that you seem to like my garden aloft here. If you would like a little more of it, I could throw out a few lines and stays between my windows and yours, which the runners would take to directly. And I have some boxes, both of mignonette and wall-flower, that I could shove on along the gutter (with a boathook I have by me) to your windows, and draw back again when they wanted watering or gardening, and shove on again when they were ship-shape; so that they would cause you no trouble. I couldn’t take this liberty without asking your permission, so I venture to ask it. Tartar, corresponding set, next door.’
‘You are very kind.’
‘Not at all. I ought to apologise for looking in so late. But having noticed (excuse me) that you generally walk out at night, I thought I should inconvenience you least by awaiting your return. I am always afraid of inconveniencing busy men, being an idle man.’
‘I should not have thought so, from your appearance.’
‘No? I take it as a compliment. In fact, I was bred in the Royal Navy, and was First Lieutenant when I quitted it. But, an uncle disappointed in the service leaving me his property on condition that I left the Navy, I accepted the fortune, and resigned my commission.’
‘Lately, I presume?’
‘Well, I had had twelve or fifteen years of knocking about first. I came here some nine months before you; I had had one crop before you came. I chose this place, because, having served last in a little corvette, I knew I should feel more at home where I had a constant opportunity of knocking my head against the ceiling. Besides, it would never do for a man who had been aboard ship from his boyhood to turn luxurious all at once. Besides, again; having been accustomed to a very short allowance of land all my life, I thought I’d feel my way to the command of a landed estate, by beginning in boxes.’
Whimsically as this was said, there was a touch of merry earnestness in it that made it doubly whimsical.
‘However,’ said the Lieutenant, ‘I have talked quite enough about myself. It is not my way, I hope; it has merely been to present myself to you naturally. If you will allow me to take the liberty I have described, it will be a charity, for it will give me something more to do. And you are not to suppose that it will entail any interruption or intrusion on you, for that is far from my intention.’
Neville replied that he was greatly obliged, and that he thankfully accepted the kind proposal.
‘I am very glad to take your windows in tow,’ said the Lieutenant. ‘From what I have seen of you when I have been gardening at mine, and you have been looking on, I have thought you (excuse me) rather too studious and delicate. May I ask, is your health at all affected?’
‘I have undergone some mental distress,’ said Neville, confused, ‘which has stood me in the stead of illness.’
‘Pardon me,’ said Mr. Tartar.
With the greatest delicacy he shifted his ground to the windows again, and asked if he could look at one of them. On Neville’s opening it, he immediately sprang out, as if he were going aloft with a whole watch in an emergency, and were setting a bright example.
‘For Heaven’s sake,’ cried Neville, ‘don’t do that! Where are you going Mr. Tartar? You’ll be dashed to pieces!’
‘All well!’ said the Lieutenant, coolly looking about him on the housetop. ‘All taut and trim here. Those lines and stays shall be rigged before you turn out in the morning. May I take this short cut home, and say good-night?’
‘Mr. Tartar!’ urged Neville. ‘Pray! It makes me giddy to see you!’
But Mr. Tartar, with a wave of his hand and the deftness of a cat, had already dipped through his scuttle of scarlet runners without breaking a leaf, and ‘gone below.’
Mr. Grewgious, his bedroom window-blind held aside with his hand, happened at the moment to have Neville’s chambers under his eye for the last time that night. Fortunately his eye was on the front of the house and not the back, or this remarkable appearance and disappearance might have broken his rest as a phenomenon. But Mr. Grewgious seeing nothing there, not even a light in the windows, his gaze wandered from the windows to the stars, as if he would have read in them something that was hidden from him. Many of us would, if we could; but none of us so much as know our letters in the stars yet—or seem likely to do it, in this state of existence—and few languages can be read until their alphabets are mastered.
CHAPTER XVIII—A SETTLER IN CLOISTERHAM
At about this time a stranger appeared in Cloisterham; a white-haired personage, with black eyebrows. Being buttoned up in a tightish blue surtout, with a buff waistcoat and gray trousers, he had something of a military air, but he announced himself at the Crozier (the orthodox hotel, where he put up with a portmanteau) as an idle dog who lived upon his means; and he farther announced that he had a mind to take a lodging in the picturesque old city for a month or two, with a view of settling down there altogether. Both announcements were made in the coffee-room of the Crozier, to all whom it might or might not concern, by the stranger as he stood with his back to the empty fireplace, waiting for his fried sole, veal cutlet, and pint of sherry. And the waiter (business being chronically slack at the Crozier) represented all whom it might or might not concern, and absorbed the whole of the information.
This gentleman’s white head was unusually large, and his shock of white hair was unusually thick and ample. ‘I suppose, waiter,’ he said, shaking his shock of hair, as a Newfoundland dog might shake his before sitting down to dinner, ‘that a fair lodging for a single buffer might be found in these parts, eh?’
The waiter had no doubt of it.
‘Something old,’ said the gentleman. ‘Take my hat down for a moment from that peg, will you? No, I don’t want it; look into it. What do you see written there?’
The waiter read: ‘Datchery.’
‘Now you know my name,’ said the gentleman; ‘Dick Datchery. Hang it up again. I was saying something old is what I should prefer, something odd and out of the way; something venerable, architectural, and inconvenient.’
‘We have a good choice of inconvenient lodgings in the town, sir, I think,’ replied the waiter, with modest confidence in its resources that way; ‘indeed, I have no doubt that we could suit you that far, however particular you might be. But a architectural lodging!’ That seemed to trouble the waiter’s head, and he shook it.
‘Anything Cathedraly, now,’ Mr. Datchery suggested.
‘Mr. Tope,’ said the waiter, brightening, as he rubbed his chin with his hand, ‘would be the likeliest party to inform in that line.’
‘Who is Mr. Tope?’ inquired Dick Datchery.
The waiter explained that he was the Verger, and that Mrs. Tope had indeed once upon a time let lodgings herself or offered to let them; but that as nobody had ever taken them, Mrs. Tope’s window-bill, long a Cloisterham Institution, had disappeared; probably had tumbled down one day, and never been put up again.
‘I’ll call on Mrs. Tope,’ said Mr. Datchery, ‘after dinner.’
So when he had done his dinner, he was duly directed to the spot, and sallied out for it. But the Crozier being an hotel of a most retiring disposition, and the waiter’s directions being fatally precise, he soon became bewildered, and went boggling about and about the Cathedral Tower, whenever he could catch a glimpse of it, with a general impression on his mind that Mrs. Tope’s was somewhere very near it, and that, like the children in the game of hot boiled beans and very good butter, he was warm in his search when he saw the Tower, and cold when he didn’t see it.
He was getting very cold indeed when he came upon a fragment of burial-ground in which an unhappy sheep was grazing. Unhappy, because a hideous small boy was stoning it through the railings, and had already lamed it in one leg, and was much excited by the benevolent sportsmanlike purpose of breaking its other three legs, and bringing it down.
‘’It ’im agin!’ cried the boy, as the poor creature leaped; ‘and made a dint in his wool.’
‘Let him be!’ said Mr. Datchery. ‘Don’t you see you have lamed him?’
‘Yer lie,’ returned the sportsman. ‘’E went and lamed isself. I see ’im do it, and I giv’ ’im a shy as a Widdy-warning to ’im not to go a-bruisin’ ’is master’s mutton any more.’
‘I won’t; I’ll come when yer can ketch me.’
‘Stay there then, and show me which is Mr. Tope’s.’
‘Ow can I stay here and show you which is Topeseses, when Topeseses is t’other side the Kinfreederal, and over the crossings, and round ever so many comers? Stoo-pid! Ya-a-ah!’
‘Show me where it is, and I’ll give you something.’
‘Come on, then.’
This brisk dialogue concluded, the boy led the way, and by-and-by stopped at some distance from an arched passage, pointing.
‘Lookie yonder. You see that there winder and door?’
‘Yer lie; it ain’t. That’s Jarsper’s.’
‘Indeed?’ said Mr. Datchery, with a second look of some interest.
‘Yes, and I ain’t a-goin’ no nearer ’Im, I tell yer.’
‘’Cos I ain’t a-goin’ to be lifted off my legs and ’ave my braces bust and be choked; not if I knows it, and not by ‘Im. Wait till I set a jolly good flint a-flyin’ at the back o’ ’is jolly old ’ed some day! Now look t’other side the harch; not the side where Jarsper’s door is; t’other side.’
‘A little way in, o’ that side, there’s a low door, down two steps. That’s Topeseses with ’is name on a hoval plate.’
‘Good. See here,’ said Mr. Datchery, producing a shilling. ‘You owe me half of this.’
‘Yer lie! I don’t owe yer nothing; I never seen yer.’
‘I tell you you owe me half of this, because I have no sixpence in my pocket. So the next time you meet me you shall do something else for me, to pay me.’
‘All right, give us ’old.’
‘What is your name, and where do you live?’
‘Deputy. Travellers’ Twopenny, ’cross the green.’
The boy instantly darted off with the shilling, lest Mr. Datchery should repent, but stopped at a safe distance, on the happy chance of his being uneasy in his mind about it, to goad him with a demon dance expressive of its irrevocability.
Mr. Datchery, taking off his hat to give that shock of white hair of his another shake, seemed quite resigned, and betook himself whither he had been directed.
Mr. Tope’s official dwelling, communicating by an upper stair with Mr. Jasper’s (hence Mrs. Tope’s attendance on that gentleman), was of very modest proportions, and partook of the character of a cool dungeon. Its ancient walls were massive, and its rooms rather seemed to have been dug out of them, than to have been designed beforehand with any reference to them. The main door opened at once on a chamber of no describable shape, with a groined roof, which in its turn opened on another chamber of no describable shape, with another groined roof: their windows small, and in the thickness of the walls. These two chambers, close as to their atmosphere, and swarthy as to their illumination by natural light, were the apartments which Mrs. Tope had so long offered to an unappreciative city. Mr. Datchery, however, was more appreciative. He found that if he sat with the main door open he would enjoy the passing society of all comers to and fro by the gateway, and would have light enough. He found that if Mr. and Mrs. Tope, living overhead, used for their own egress and ingress a little side stair that came plump into the Precincts by a door opening outward, to the surprise and inconvenience of a limited public of pedestrians in a narrow way, he would be alone, as in a separate residence. He found the rent moderate, and everything as quaintly inconvenient as he could desire. He agreed, therefore, to take the lodging then and there, and money down, possession to be had next evening, on condition that reference was permitted him to Mr. Jasper as occupying the gatehouse, of which on the other side of the gateway, the Verger’s hole-in-the-wall was an appanage or subsidiary part.
The poor dear gentleman was very solitary and very sad, Mrs. Tope said, but she had no doubt he would ‘speak for her.’ Perhaps Mr. Datchery had heard something of what had occurred there last winter?
Mr. Datchery had as confused a knowledge of the event in question, on trying to recall it, as he well could have. He begged Mrs. Tope’s pardon when she found it incumbent on her to correct him in every detail of his summary of the facts, but pleaded that he was merely a single buffer getting through life upon his means as idly as he could, and that so many people were so constantly making away with so many other people, as to render it difficult for a buffer of an easy temper to preserve the circumstances of the several cases unmixed in his mind.
Mr. Jasper proving willing to speak for Mrs. Tope, Mr. Datchery, who had sent up his card, was invited to ascend the postern staircase. The Mayor was there, Mr. Tope said; but he was not to be regarded in the light of company, as he and Mr. Jasper were great friends.
‘I beg pardon,’ said Mr. Datchery, making a leg with his hat under his arm, as he addressed himself equally to both gentlemen; ‘a selfish precaution on my part, and not personally interesting to anybody but myself. But as a buffer living on his means, and having an idea of doing it in this lovely place in peace and quiet, for remaining span of life, I beg to ask if the Tope family are quite respectable?’
Mr. Jasper could answer for that without the slightest hesitation.
‘That is enough, sir,’ said Mr. Datchery.
‘My friend the Mayor,’ added Mr. Jasper, presenting Mr. Datchery with a courtly motion of his hand towards that potentate; ‘whose recommendation is actually much more important to a stranger than that of an obscure person like myself, will testify in their behalf, I am sure.’
‘The Worshipful the Mayor,’ said Mr. Datchery, with a low bow, ‘places me under an infinite obligation.’
‘Very good people, sir, Mr. and Mrs. Tope,’ said Mr. Sapsea, with condescension. ‘Very good opinions. Very well behaved. Very respectful. Much approved by the Dean and Chapter.’
‘The Worshipful the Mayor gives them a character,’ said Mr. Datchery, ‘of which they may indeed be proud. I would ask His Honour (if I might be permitted) whether there are not many objects of great interest in the city which is under his beneficent sway?’
‘We are, sir,’ returned Mr. Sapsea, ‘an ancient city, and an ecclesiastical city. We are a constitutional city, as it becomes such a city to be, and we uphold and maintain our glorious privileges.’
‘His Honour,’ said Mr. Datchery, bowing, ‘inspires me with a desire to know more of the city, and confirms me in my inclination to end my days in the city.’
‘Retired from the Army, sir?’ suggested Mr. Sapsea.
‘His Honour the Mayor does me too much credit,’ returned Mr. Datchery.
‘Navy, sir?’ suggested Mr. Sapsea.
‘Again,’ repeated Mr. Datchery, ‘His Honour the Mayor does me too much credit.’
‘Diplomacy is a fine profession,’ said Mr. Sapsea, as a general remark.
‘There, I confess, His Honour the Mayor is too many for me,’ said Mr. Datchery, with an ingenious smile and bow; ‘even a diplomatic bird must fall to such a gun.’
Now this was very soothing. Here was a gentleman of a great, not to say a grand, address, accustomed to rank and dignity, really setting a fine example how to behave to a Mayor. There was something in that third-person style of being spoken to, that Mr. Sapsea found particularly recognisant of his merits and position.
‘But I crave pardon,’ said Mr. Datchery. ‘His Honour the Mayor will bear with me, if for a moment I have been deluded into occupying his time, and have forgotten the humble claims upon my own, of my hotel, the Crozier.’
‘Not at all, sir,’ said Mr. Sapsea. ‘I am returning home, and if you would like to take the exterior of our Cathedral in your way, I shall be glad to point it out.’
‘His Honour the Mayor,’ said Mr. Datchery, ‘is more than kind and gracious.’
As Mr. Datchery, when he had made his acknowledgments to Mr. Jasper, could not be induced to go out of the room before the Worshipful, the Worshipful led the way down-stairs; Mr. Datchery following with his hat under his arm, and his shock of white hair streaming in the evening breeze.
‘Might I ask His Honour,’ said Mr. Datchery, ‘whether that gentleman we have just left is the gentleman of whom I have heard in the neighbourhood as being much afflicted by the loss of a nephew, and concentrating his life on avenging the loss?’
‘That is the gentleman. John Jasper, sir.’
‘Would His Honour allow me to inquire whether there are strong suspicions of any one?’
‘More than suspicions, sir,’ returned Mr. Sapsea; ‘all but certainties.’
‘Only think now!’ cried Mr. Datchery.
‘But proof, sir, proof must be built up stone by stone,’ said the Mayor. ‘As I say, the end crowns the work. It is not enough that justice should be morally certain; she must be immorally certain—legally, that is.’
‘His Honour,’ said Mr. Datchery, ‘reminds me of the nature of the law. Immoral. How true!’
‘As I say, sir,’ pompously went on the Mayor, ‘the arm of the law is a strong arm, and a long arm. That is the way I put it. A strong arm and a long arm.’
‘How forcible!—And yet, again, how true!’ murmured Mr. Datchery.
‘And without betraying, what I call the secrets of the prison-house,’ said Mr. Sapsea; ‘the secrets of the prison-house is the term I used on the bench.’
‘And what other term than His Honour’s would express it?’ said Mr. Datchery.
‘Without, I say, betraying them, I predict to you, knowing the iron will of the gentleman we have just left (I take the bold step of calling it iron, on account of its strength), that in this case the long arm will reach, and the strong arm will strike.—This is our Cathedral, sir. The best judges are pleased to admire it, and the best among our townsmen own to being a little vain of it.’
All this time Mr. Datchery had walked with his hat under his arm, and his white hair streaming. He had an odd momentary appearance upon him of having forgotten his hat, when Mr. Sapsea now touched it; and he clapped his hand up to his head as if with some vague expectation of finding another hat upon it.
‘Pray be covered, sir,’ entreated Mr. Sapsea; magnificently plying: ‘I shall not mind it, I assure you.’
‘His Honour is very good, but I do it for coolness,’ said Mr. Datchery.
Then Mr. Datchery admired the Cathedral, and Mr. Sapsea pointed it out as if he himself had invented and built it: there were a few details indeed of which he did not approve, but those he glossed over, as if the workmen had made mistakes in his absence. The Cathedral disposed of, he led the way by the churchyard, and stopped to extol the beauty of the evening—by chance—in the immediate vicinity of Mrs. Sapsea’s epitaph.
‘And by the by,’ said Mr. Sapsea, appearing to descend from an elevation to remember it all of a sudden; like Apollo shooting down from Olympus to pick up his forgotten lyre; ‘that is one of our small lions. The partiality of our people has made it so, and strangers have been seen taking a copy of it now and then. I am not a judge of it myself, for it is a little work of my own. But it was troublesome to turn, sir; I may say, difficult to turn with elegance.’
Mr. Datchery became so ecstatic over Mr. Sapsea’s composition, that, in spite of his intention to end his days in Cloisterham, and therefore his probably having in reserve many opportunities of copying it, he would have transcribed it into his pocket-book on the spot, but for the slouching towards them of its material producer and perpetuator, Durdles, whom Mr. Sapsea hailed, not sorry to show him a bright example of behaviour to superiors.
‘Ah, Durdles! This is the mason, sir; one of our Cloisterham worthies; everybody here knows Durdles. Mr. Datchery, Durdles a gentleman who is going to settle here.’
‘I wouldn’t do it if I was him,’ growled Durdles. ‘We’re a heavy lot.’
‘You surely don’t speak for yourself, Mr. Durdles,’ returned Mr. Datchery, ‘any more than for His Honour.’
‘Who’s His Honour?’ demanded Durdles.
‘His Honour the Mayor.’
‘I never was brought afore him,’ said Durdles, with anything but the look of a loyal subject of the mayoralty, ‘and it’ll be time enough for me to Honour him when I am. Until which, and when, and where,
“Mister Sapsea is his name,
England is his nation,
Cloisterham’s his dwelling-place,
Aukshneer’s his occupation.”’
Here, Deputy (preceded by a flying oyster-shell) appeared upon the scene, and requested to have the sum of threepence instantly ‘chucked’ to him by Mr. Durdles, whom he had been vainly seeking up and down, as lawful wages overdue. While that gentleman, with his bundle under his arm, slowly found and counted out the money, Mr. Sapsea informed the new settler of Durdles’s habits, pursuits, abode, and reputation. ‘I suppose a curious stranger might come to see you, and your works, Mr. Durdles, at any odd time?’ said Mr. Datchery upon that.
‘Any gentleman is welcome to come and see me any evening if he brings liquor for two with him,’ returned Durdles, with a penny between his teeth and certain halfpence in his hands; ‘or if he likes to make it twice two, he’ll be doubly welcome.’
‘I shall come. Master Deputy, what do you owe me?’
‘Mind you pay me honestly with the job of showing me Mr. Durdles’s house when I want to go there.’
Deputy, with a piercing broadside of whistle through the whole gap in his mouth, as a receipt in full for all arrears, vanished.
The Worshipful and the Worshipper then passed on together until they parted, with many ceremonies, at the Worshipful’s door; even then the Worshipper carried his hat under his arm, and gave his streaming white hair to the breeze.
Said Mr. Datchery to himself that night, as he looked at his white hair in the gas-lighted looking-glass over the coffee-room chimneypiece at the Crozier, and shook it out: ‘For a single buffer, of an easy temper, living idly on his means, I have had a rather busy afternoon!’