|Chapter Number||XXII(contd.) - XXIII|
|Newspaper Title||Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)|
|Trove Title||The Mystery of Edwin Drood|
THE MYSTERY OF
BY CHARLES DICKENS.
" Well ! The roof is all right, no doubt," said Mr Grewgious, plucking up a little.
"Mr. Grewgious," returned Mrs. Billickin, "if I was to tell you, sir, that to have nothink above you is to have a floor above you, I should put a deception upon you which I will not do. No, sir. Your slates will rattle loose at their elewation in windy weather do your utmost, best or worst ! I defy you, sir, be you what you may, to keep your slates tight, try how you can." Here Mrs. Billickin, having been warm with Mr. Grewgious, cooled a little, not to abuse the moral power she held over him, " Consequent," proceeded Mrs. Billickin, more audibly but still firmly in her incorruptible contour: " conse- quent it would be worse than of no use for me to trapse and travel up to the top of the house with you, and for you to say, 'Mrs. Billickin, what stain do I notice in the ceiling, for a stain I do consider it ?' and for me to answer, 'I do not understand you, sir.' No sir ; I will not be so underhand. I do understand before you pint it out. It is the wet, sir. It do come in, and it do not come in. You may lay dry there, half your lifetime ; but the time will come, and it is. best that you should know it, when a dripping sop would be no
name for you."
Mr. Grewgious looked much disgraced by being pre- figured in this pickle.
"Have you any other apartments, ma'am?" he
" Mr. Grewgious," returned Mrs. Billickin with much solemnity, " I have. You ask me have I, and my open and my honest answers sir, I have. The first second floors is wacant, and sweet rooms."
"Come, come! There's nothing against them," said Mr. Grewgious, comforting himself.
"Mr. Grewgious," replied Mrs. Billickin "pardon me, there is the stairs. Unless your mind is prepared for the stairs, it will load to inevitable disappointment. You cannot, Miss," said Mrs. Billickin, addressing Rosa, reproachfully, " place a first floor, and far less a second, on the level footing of a parlour. No, you cannot do it, Miss, it is beyond your power, and wherefore try ?"
Mrs. Billickin put it very feelingly, as if Rosa had shown a headstrong determination to hold the unten-
" Can we see these rooms, ma'am ?" inquired her
"Mr. Grewgious," returned Mrs. Billickin, "you can. I will not disguise it from you, sir, you can."
Mrs. Billickin then sent into her back parlour for her shawl (it being a state fiction, dating from imme- morial antiquity, that she could never go any where without being wrapped up), and having been enrolled by her attendant, led the way. She made various genteel pauses on the stairs for breath, and clutched at her heart in the drawing-room as if it had very nearly got loose, and she had caught it in the act of
" And the second floor?" said Mr. Grewgious, on finding the first satisfactory.
" Mr. Grewgious," replied Mrs. Billickin, turning upon him with ceremony, as if the time had now come when a distinct understanding on a difficult point must
be arrived at, and a solemn confidence established,
the second floor is over this."
" Can we see that too, ma'am ?"
"Yes, sir," returned Mrs. Billickin, "it is open as the day."
That also proving satisfactory, Mr. Grewgious retired into a window with Rosa for a few words of consulta- tion, and then asking for pen and ink, sketched out a line or two of agreement. In the meantime Mrs. Billic- kin took a seat, and delivered a kind of Index to, or Abstract of, the general question.
" Five-and-forty shillings per week by the month certain at the time of year," said Mrs, Billickin, "is only reasonable to both parties. It is not Bond-street, nor yet St, James's Palace ; but it is not pretended that it is. Neither is it attempted to be denied - for why should it? - that the Arching leads to a Mews. Mewses must exist. Respecting attendance ; two is kept at liberal wages. Words have arisen as to tradesmen, but dirty shoes on fresh hearth-stoning was attributable, and no wish for a commission on your orders. Coals is either by the fire, or per the scuttle." She empha- sized the propositions as marking a subtle but immense difference. " Dogs is not viewed with favour. Besides litter, they gets stole, and sharing suspicions is apt to creep in, and unpleasantness take place."
By this time Mr. Grewgious had his agreement-lines, and his earnest-money, ready. " I have signed it for the ladies ma'am," he said, " and you'll have the goodness to sign it for yourself. Christian and Sur- name, there, if you please."'
" Mr. Grewgious," said Mrs. Billickin, in a new burst of candour, "no, sir. You must excuse the Christian name."
Mr. Grewgious stared at her.
'The door-plate Ís used as a protection," said Mrs. Billickin, " and acts as such, and go from it I will
Mr. Grewgious stared at Rosa.
" No, Mr. Grewgious, you must excuse me. So long as this 'ouse is known indefinite as Billiokin's, and so long as it is a doubt with the riff-raff where Billickin may bo hidin', near the street door or down the airy, and what his weight and size, so long I feel safe. But commit myself to a solitary female. statement, no, Miss ! Nor would you for a moment wish," said Mrs. Billickin, with a strong sense of injury, " to take that
advantage of your sex, if you was not brought to it by inconsiderate example."
Rosa reddening as if she had made some most dis- graceful attempt to overreach the good lady, besought Mr. Grewgious to rest content with any signature. And accordingly, in a baronial way, the sign-manual BIL- LICKiN got appended to the document.
Details were then settled for taking possession on the next day but one, when Miss Twinkleton might be reasonably expected; and Rosa went back to Furnival's Inn on her guardian's arm.
Behold Mr. Tartar walking up and down Furnival's Inn, checking himself when he saw them coming, and advancing towards them.
"It occurred to me," hinted Mr. Tartar, " that we might go up the river, the weather being so delicious and the tide serving. I have a boat of my own at the Temple Stairs."
" I havo not been up the river for this many a day," said Mr. Grewgious, tempted.
" I was never up the river," added Rosa.
Within half an hour they were setting this matter right by going up the river. The tide was running with them, the afternoon was charming. Mr. Tartar's boat was perfect. Mr. Tartar and Lobley (Mr. Tartar's man), pulled a pair of oars. Mr. Tartar had a yacht, it seemed, lying somewhere down by Greenhithe ; and Mr. Tartar's man had charge of this yacht, and was detached upon his present service. He was a jolly favoured man, with tawny hair and whiskers, and a big red face. . He was the dead image of the sun in old woodcuts, his hair and whiskers answering for rays all round him, Resplendent in the bow of the boat, he was a shining sight, with a man-of-war's man's shirt on-or off, according to opinion - and his arms and breast tattoo'd all sorts of patterns. Lobley seemed to take it easily, and so did Mr. Tartar ; yet their oars bent as they pulled, and the boat bounded under them. Mr. Tartar talked as if he were doing nothing, to Rosa, who was really doing nothing, and to Mr. Grewgious who was doing this much that he steered all wrong ; but what did that matter, when a turn of Mr. Tartar's skilful wrist, or a mere grin of Mr. Lobley's over the bow, put all to rights. The tide bore them on in the gayest and most sparkling manner, until they stopped to dine in some everlastingly green garden, needing no matter-of-fact identification here ; and then tho tide obligingly turned - being devoted to that party alone for that day ; and as they floated idly among some osier beds, Rosa tried what she could do in the rowing way, and came off splendidly, being much assisted ; and Mr. Grewgious tried what he could do, and carne off on his back, doubled up with an oar under his chin, being not assisted at all. Then there was an interval of rest under boughs (such rest !) what time Mr. Lobley mopped, and, arranging cushions, stretchers, and the like, danced the tight rope the whole length of the boat like a man to whom shoes wore a superstition and stockings slavery ; and then carne the sweet return among delicious odours of limes in bloom, and musical ripplings ; and, all too soon, the great black city cast its shadows on the waters, and its dark bridges spanned them as death spans life, and the everlastingly green garden seemed to be left for everlasting, unregainable and far away.
" Cannot people get through life without gritty stages, I wonder !" Rosa thought next day,, when the town was very gritty again, and everything had a strange and an uncomfortable appearance of seeming to wait for something that wouldn't come. No. She began to think, that, now the Cloisterham school days had glided past and gone, the gritty stages would begin to set in at intervals and make themselves wearily
Yet what did Rosa expect ? Did she expect Miss Twinkleton? Miss Twinkleton duly carne. Forth from her back parlour issued the Billickin to receive Miss Twinkleton, and War was in the Billickin's eye
from that fell moment.
Miss Twinkleton brought a quantity of luggage with her, having all Rosa's as well as her own. The Billickin took it ill that Miss Twinkleton's mind, being sorely disturbed by this luggage, failed to take in her personal identity with that clearness of perception which was due to its demands. Stateliness mounted her gloomy throne upon the Billickin's brow in consequence. And when Miss Twinkleton, in agitation taking stock of her trunks and packages, of which she had seventeen, particularly counted in the Billickin herself as number eleven, the B found it necessary to repudiate.
" Things cannot too soon be put upon tho footing,
said she, with a candour so demonstrative as to be almost obtrusive, "that the person of the 'ouso is not a box nor yet a bundle, nor a carpet bag. No, I am 'ily obleeged to you, Miss Twinkleton, nor yet a beggar."
This last disclaimer had reference to Miss Twinkle- ton's distractedly pressing two and sixponce on her,
instead of the cabman.
Thus cast off. Miss Twinkleton wildly inquired, " which gentleman,"' was to be paid? There being two gentlemen in that position (Miss Twinkleton having arrived with two cabs), each gentleman on being paid held forth his two and sixpence on the flat of his open hand, and with a speechless stare and a dropped jaw, displayed his wrong to heaven and earth. Terrified by
this alarming spectacle Miss Twinkleton placed another shilling in each hand ; at the same time appealing to the law in flurried accents, and recounting her luggage this time with the two gentlemen in, who caused the total to come out complicated. Meanwhile the two gentlemen, each looking very hard at the last shilling grumblingly, as if it might become eighteenpence if he kept his eyes on it, descended the doorsteps, ascended their carriages, and drove away, leaving Miss Twinkle- ton on a bonnet-box in tears.
The Billickin beheld this manifestation of weakness without sympathy, and gave directions for " a young man to be got in," to wrestle with the luggage. When that gladiator had disappeared from the arena, peace ensued, and the new lodgers dined.
But the Billickin had somehow come to the know- ledge that Miss Twinkleton had a school. The leap from that knowledge to the inference that Miss Twinkleton set herself to teach her something, was easy. "But you don't do it," soliloquized the Bil- lickin ; "l am not your pupil, whatever she," mean- ing Rosa, " may be, poor thing !"
Miss Twinkleton on the other hand, having changed her dress and recovered her spirits, was animated by a bland desire to improve the occasion in all ways, and to be as serene a model as possible. In a happy com- promise between her two states of existence, she had already become, with her workbasket before her, the equably vivacious companion with a slight judicious flavouring of information, when the Billickin announced
"I will not hide from you, ladies," said the B, enveloped in the shawl of state, "for it is not my character to hide, neither my motives nor my actions, that I take tho liberty to look in upon you to express a 'ope that your dinner was to your liking. Though not Professed but Plain, still her wages should be a sufficient object to her to stimilate to soar above mere roast and biled."
" We dined very well, indeed," said Rosa, " thank you."
" Accustomed," said Miss Twinkleton, with a gra- cious air which to the jealous ears of the Billickin seemed to add my " my good woman" - "Accustomed to a liberal and nutritious, yet plain and salutary diet, we have, found no reason to bemoan our absence from the ancient city, and the methodical household, in which the quiet routine of our lot has been hitherto
"I did think it well to mention to my cook," observed the Billickin with a gush of candour, " which I 'ope you will agree with, Miss Twinkleton, was a right pre- caution, that the young lady being used to what we should consider here but poor diet, had better be brought forward by degrees. For, a rush from scanty feeding to generous feeding, and from what you may call messing to what you may call method, do require a power of constitution, which is not often found in youth, particular when undermined by boarding
It will be seen that the Billickin now openly pitted herself against Miss Twinkleton, as one whom she had fully ascertained to be her natural enemy.
" Your remarks," returned Miss Twinkleton, from a remote moral eminence, " are well meant, I have no doubt ; but you will permit me to observe that they develop a mistaken view of the subject, which can only be imputed to your extreme want of accurate information."
" My information," retorted the Billickin, throwing in an extra syllable, for tho sake of emphasis at once polite and powerful : " My information, Miss Twinkle- ton, were my own experience, which I believe is usually considered to be good guidance. But whether so or not, I was put in youth, to a very genteel boarding school, the mistress being no less a lady than yourself, and a poorness of blood flowed from the table which has run through my life."
"Very likely," said Miss Twinkleton, still from her distant eminence ; " and very much to be deplored, Rosa, my dear, how are you getting on with your
"Miss Twinkleton," resumed the Billickin, in a courtly manner, " before retiring on the Int, as a lady should, I wish to ask of yourself as a lady, whether I am to consider that my words is doubted ?"
" I am not aware on what ground you cherish such a supposition," began Miss Twinkleton, when the Bil- lickin neatly stopped her.
" Do not, if you please, put suppositions betwixt my lips, where none such have been imparted by myself. Your flow of words is great, Miss Twinkleton and no doubt is expected from you by your pupils, and no doubt is considered worth the money. No doubt, I am sure. But not paying for flow of words, and not asking to be favoured with them here, I wish to repeat my question."
"If you refer to tho poverty of your circulation," began Miss Twinkleton, when again the Billickin neatly stopped her.
" I have used no such expressions."
" If you refer then to the poorness of your blood."
"Brought upon me," stipulated the Billickin, expressly, " at a boarding-school,"
" Then," resumed Miss Twinkleton, " all I can say, is, that I am bound to believe on your asseveration that it is very poor indeed. I cannot forbear adding, that if that unfortunate circumstance influences your conversation, it is much to be lamented, and it is eminently desirable that your blood were richer, Rosa, my dear, how are you getting on with your work?"
" Hem ! Before retiring, Miss," proclaimed the Billickin to Rosa, loftily cancelling Miss Twinkleton, " I should wish it to be understood between yourself and me that my transactions in future is with you alone. I know no elderly lady here, Miss, none older than yourself."
"A highly desirable arrangement, Rosa, my dear,"
observed Miss Twinkleton.
"It is not, Miss," said the Billickin, with a sarcastic smile, "that I possess the Mill I have heard of, in which old single ladies could be ground up young (what a gift it would be to some of us !), but that I limit my- self to you totally."
"When I have any desire to communicate a request to the person of the house, Rosa, my dear," observed Miss Twinkleton, with majestic cheerfulness, " I will make it known to you, and you will kindly undertake, I am sure, that it is conveyed to the proper quarter."
, " Good evening, Miss," said the Billickin, at once affectionately and distantly. "Being alone in my eyes, I wish you good-evening with best wishes, and do not find myself drove, I am truly 'appy to say, into express- ing my contempt of any indiwidual, unfortunately for yourself, belonging to you."
The Billickin gracefully withdrew with this parting speech, and from that time Rosa occupied the restless position of shuttlecock between these two battledores. Nothing could be done without a smart match being played out. Thus, on tho daily-arising question of dinner, Miss Twinkleton would say, the three being present together.
"Perhaps, my love, you will consult with the person of the house, whether she can procure us a lamb's fry ; or, failing that, a roast fowl."
On which the Billickin would retort (Rosa not having spoken a word), "If you was better accustomed to butcher's meat, Miss, you would not entertain the idea of a lamb's fry. Firstly, because lambs has long been sheep, and secondly, because there is such things as killing-days, and there is not. As to roast fowls, Miss, why you must be quite surfeited with roast fowls, letting alone you buying, when you market for yourself,
the agedest of poultry with the scaliest of legs, quite as if you was accustomed to picking 'em out for cheapness. Try a little inwention, Miss. Use yourself to 'ouse-
keeping a bit. Come now, think of something else."
To this encouragement, offered with the indulgent toleration of a wise and liberal expert, Miss Twinkle- ton would rejoin, reddening :
"Or, my dear, you might propose to the person of
the house a duck."
" Well, Miss ! the Billickin would exclaim (still no word being spoken by Rosa), " you do surprise me when you speak of ducks ! Not to mention that they're getting out of season and very dear, it really strikes to my heart to see you have a duck ; for the breast, which is the only delicate cuts in a duck, always goes in a
direction which I cannot imagine where, and your own plate comes down so miserably skin-and-bony ! Try again, Miss. Think more of yourself and less of others. A dish of sweetbreads now, or a bit of mutton. Some think at which you can get your equal chance."
Occasionally the game would wax very brisk indeed, and would be kept up with a smartness rendering such an encounter as this quite tame. But the Billickin almost invariably made by far the higher score ; and would come in with side hits of the most unexpected and extraordinary description, when she seemed. with
out a chance. '
All this did not improve the gritty state of things in London, or the air that London had acquired in Rosa's eyes of waiting for something that never came. Tired of working and conversing with Miss Twinkleton, she suggested working and reading : to which Miss Twinkle- ton readily assented, as an admirable reader, of tried powers. But Rosa soon made the discovery that Miss Twinkleton didn't read fairly. She cut the love scenes, interpolated passages in praise of female celibacy, and was guilty of other glaring pious frauds. As an instance in point, take the glowing passage : " Ever dearest and best adored, said Edward, clasping the dear head to his breast, and drawing the silken hair through his caress- ing fingers, from which he suffered it to fall like golden rain ; over dearest and best adored, let us fly from the unsympathetic world and the sterile coldness, of the
stony-hearted, to the rich warm Paradise of Trust and Love." Miss Twinkleton's fraudulent version tamely ran thus : " Ever engaged to me with the consent of our parents on both sides, and the approbation of the silver-haired rector of the district, said Edward, respectfully raising to his lips the taper fingers so skilful in embroidery, tambour, crochet, and other truly feminine arts ; let me call on thy papa 'ere to- morrow's dawn has sunk into the west, and propose a suburban establishment, lowly it may be, but within our means, where he will be always welcome as an evening guest, and where every arrangement shall invest economy, and constant interchange of scholastic acquirements, with the attributes of the ministering angel to domestic bliss."
As the days crept on and nothing happened, the neighbours began to say that the pretty girl at Bil- lickin's, who looked so wistfully and so much out of the gritty windows of the drawing-room, seemed to be losing her spirits. The pretty girl might have lost them but for the accident of lighting on some books of voyages and sea-adventure. As a compensation against their romance, Miss Twinkleton, reading aloud, made the most of all the latitudes and longitudes, bearings, winds, currents, offsets, and other statistics (which she felt to be none the less improving because they expressed nothing whatever to her) ; while Rosa, listening intently, made tho most of what was nearest to her heart. So they both did better than before.
CHAPTER XXIII.-THE DAWN AGAIN.
Although Mr. Crisparkle and John Jasper met daily under the Cathedral roof, nothing at any time passed between them bearing reference to Edwin Drood after the time, more than half a-year gone by, when Jasper mutely showed the Minor Canon the conclusion and the resolution entered in his Diary. It is not likely that they ever met, though so often, without a sensation on the part of each that the other was a perplexing secret to him. Jasper as the denouncer and pursuer of Neville Landless, and Mr. Crisparkle as his consistent advocate and protector, must at least have stood suffi- ciently in opposition, to have speculated with keen interest on the steadiness and next direction of the other's designs. But neither ever broached the theme.
False pretence not being in the Minor Canon's nature, he doubtless displayed openly that he would at any time have revived the subject, and even desired to discuss it. The determined reticence of Jasper, how- ever, was not to be so approached. Impassive, moody, solitary, resolute, so concentrated on one idea, and on its attendant fixed purpose, that he would share it with no fellow-creature, he lived apart from human life. Constantly exercising an art which brought him into mechanical harmony with others, and which could not have been pursued without unless he and they had been in the nicest mechanical relations and unison, it is curious to consider that the spirit of the man was in moral accordance or interchange with nothing around him. This, indeed, he had confided to his lost nephew, before the occasion for his present inflexibility
That he must know of Rosa's abrupt departure, and that he must divine its cause, was not to be doubted.. Did he suppose that he had terrified her into silence,, or did he suppose that she had imparted to any one - to Mr. Crisparkle himself for instance - the particulars of his last interview with her? Mr. Crisparkle could
not determine this in his mind. He could not but admit, however, as a just man, that it was; not, of itself, a crime to fall in love with Rosa, any more than it was a crime to offer to set love above revenge.
The dreadful suspicion of Jasper which Rosa was so shocked to have received into her imagination, appeared to have no harbour in Mr. Crisparkle. If it ever haunted Helena's thoughts, or Neville's, neither gave it one spoken word of utterance. Mr. Grewgious took
no pains to conceal his implacable dislike of Jasper, yet he never referred it, however distantly, to such a source. But he was a reticent as well as an eccentric man ; and he made no mention of a certain evening when he warmed his hands at the Gate-house fire, and looked steadily down upon a certain heap of torn and miry clothes upon the floor.
Drowsy Cloisterham, whenever it awoke to a passing reconsideration of a story above six months old and dismissed by the bench of magistrates, was pretty equally divided in opinion whether John Jasper's beloved nephew had been killed by his treacherously passionate rival, or in an open struggle; or had, for his own purposes, spirited himself away. It then lifted up its head, to notice that the bereaved Jasper was still ever devoted to discovery and revenge : and then dozed off again. This was the condition of matters all round, at the period to which the present history
has now attained.
The Cathedral doors have closed for the night ; and the Choir Master, on a short leave of absence for two or three services, sets his face towards London. He travels thither by the means by which Rosa travelled, and arrives, as Rosa arrived, on a hot, dusty evening.
His travelling baggage is easily carried in his hand, and he repairs with it, on foot, to a hybrid hotel in a little square behind Aldersgate-street, near the General Post-office. It is hotel, boarding-house, or lodging house, at its visitor's option. It announces itself in the new Railway Advertisers, as a novel enterprise, timidly beginning to spring up. It bashfully, almost apologetically, gives the traveller to understand that it does not expect him, on the good old constitutional
hotel plan, to order a pint of sweet blacking for his drinking, and throw it away ; but insinuates that he may have his boots blacked instead of his stomach, and may he also have bed, breakfast, attendance, and a porter up all night, for a. certain fixed charge, From these and similar premises, many true Britons in the lowest spirits deduce that the times are levelling times, except in the article of high roads, of which there will shortly be not one in England.
He eats without appetite, and soon goes forth again. Eastward and still eastward through the stale streets he takes his way, until, he reaches his destination : a miserable court, specially miserable among many
He ascends a broken staircase, opens a door, looks into a dark stifling room, and says : " Are you alone
"Alone, deary; worse luck for me and better for you," replies a croaking voice. "Come in, come in, whoever, you be : I can't see you till I light a match, yet I seem to know the sound of your speaking. I am acquainted with you, ain't I ?"
" Light your match, and try."
" So I will, deary, so I will ; but my hand that shakes, as I can't lay it on a match all in a moment. And I cough so, that, put my matches where I may, I never find 'em there. They jump and start as I cough and cough, like live things. Are you off a voy-
age, deary ?"
" Not seafaring !" " No."
" Well, there's land customers, and there's water I customers. I'm a mother to both. Different to Jack
Chinaman t'other side the court. He ain't a father to neither. It ain't in him. And he ain't got tho true secret of mixing, though he charges as much as me that has, and more if he can get it. Here's a match, and now where's the candle? If my cough takes me, I shall cough out twenty matches afore I gets a light."
But she finds the candle, and lights it before the cough comes on. It seizes her in the moment of suc- cess, and she sits down rocking herself to and fro, and gasping at intervals, "Oh, my lungs is awful bad, my lungs is wore away to cabbage nets!" until the fit is over. During its continuance she has had no power of sight, or any other power not absorbed in the struggle ; but as it leaves her, she begins to strain her eyes, and as soon as she is able to articulate, she cries, staring :
"Why, it's you!" '
(TO BE CONTINUED.) .