Chapter 70467092

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Chapter NumberXXIII(contd.)
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70467092
Full Date1871-06-03
Page Number19
Corrections4
Word Count5495
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-04-30
Newspaper TitleAustralian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)
Trove TitleThe Mystery of Edwin Drood
article text

THE NOVELIST.

THE MYSTERY OF

EDWIN DROOD.

BY CHARLES DICKENS.

" Are you so surprised to see me ?"

" I thought I never should have seen you again, deary. I thought you was dead, and gone to Heaven."

"Why ?

" I didn't suppose you could have kept away, alive, so long, from the poor old soul with the real receipt for mixing it. And you are in mourning too? Why, didn't you come and have a pipe or two of comfort ? Did they leave you money, perhaps, and so you didn't

want comfort."

" No !"

"Who was they as died, deary ?"

"A relative."

"Died of what, lovey?" "Probably, Death."

' We are short to-night !" cries the woman, with a propitiatory laugh. " Short and snappish, we are ! But we're out of sorts for want of a smoke. We've got the all-overs, haven't us, deary ? But this is the place to cure 'em in ; this is the place where the all-overs is

smoked off."

";You may make ready then," replies the visitor,

as soon as you like."

He divests himself of his shoes, loosens his cravat, and lies across the foot of the squalid bed, with his head resting on his left hand.

' Now, you begin to look like yourself," says the woman, approvingly. "Now, I begin to know my old customer, indeed ! Been trying to mix for yourself this long time, poppet?"

" I have been taking it now and then in my own

way."

"Never take it your way. It ain't good for trade, and it ain't good for you. Where's my inkbottle, and where's my thimble, and where's my little spoon ? He's going to take it in a artful form now, my deary

dear!"

Entering on her process, and beginning to bubble and blow at the faint spark enclosed in the hollow of her hands, she speaks from time to time, in a tone of snuffling satisfaction, without leaving off. When he speaks, he does so without looking at her, and as if his thoughts were already roaming away by anticipation.

I've got a pretty many smokes ready for you, first

and last, haven't I chuckey ?"

" A good many."

" When you first come, you was quite new to it

warn't ye ?"

" Yes, I was easily disposed of, then."

" But you got on in the world, and was able by- and-by to take your pipe with the best of 'em, warn't

ye ?"

"Ay. And the worst."

" It's just ready for you. What a sweet singer you was when you first come ! Used to drop your head, and sing yourself off, like a bird ! It's ready for you

now, deary,"

He takes it from her with great care, and puts the mouthpiece to his lips. She seats herself beside him ready to refill the pipe. After inhaling a few whiffs in silence, he doubtingly accosts her with :

" Is it as potent as it used to be ?" " What do you speak of. deary ?"

" What should I speak of, but what I have in my

mouth ?"

" It's just the same. Always the identical same." " It doesn't taste so. And it's slower."

You have got more used to it, you see."

"That may be the cause, certainly. Look here." He stops, becomes dreamy, and seems to forget that he has invited her attention. She bends over him, and

speaks in his ear.

" I'm attending to you. Says you just now, look here. Says I now, I am attending to ye. We was talking just before of your being used to it."

" I know all that. I was only thinking. Look here. Suppose you had something in your mind ; something you were going to do."

" Yes, deary ; something I was going to do."' " But had not quite determined to do." "Yes, deary."

" Might or might not do, you understand."

" Yes." With the point of a needle she stirs the

contents of the bowl.

" Should you do it in your fancy, when you were lying here doing this ?"

She nods her head. " Over and over again."

" Just like me. I did it over and over again, I

have done it hundreds of thousands of times in this

room."

" It's to be hoped it was pleasant to do, deary." " It was pleasant to do !"

He says this with a savage air, and a spring or start at her. Quite unmoved, she retouches and replenishes the contents of the bowl with her little spatula. Seeing her intent upon the occupation, he sinks into his former

attitude.

" It was a journey, a difficult and dangerous journey That was the subject in my mind. A hazardous and perilous journey, over abysses where a slip would be destruction. Look down, look down ! You see what lies at the bottom there ?"

He has darted forward to say it, and to point at the ground, as though at some imaginary object far beneath. The woman Iooks at him, as his spasmodic face approaches close to hers, and not at his pointing. She seems to know what the influence of her perfect quietude will be ; if so, she has not miscalculated it, for he subsides again.

" Well, I have told you, I did it here, hundreds of thousands of times. What do I say ? I did it millions and billions of times. I did it so often, and through such vast expanses of time, that when it was really done, it seemed not worth the doing, it was done so

soon."

" That's the journey you have been away upon ?" she quietly remarks.

He glares at her as he smokes ; and then, his eyes becoming filmy, he answers : " That's the journey."

Silence ensues. His eyes are sometimes closed and

sometimes open. The woman sits beside him, very attentive to the pipe, which is all the while at his lips.

" I'll warrant," she observes, when he has been looking fixedly at her for some consecutive moments, with a singular appearance in his eyes of seeming to see her a long way off, instead of so near him : " I'll warrant you made the journey in a many ways, when you made it so often?"

" No, always in one way."

" Always in the same way ?" " Ay."

" In the same way in which it was really made at

last?"

"Ay."

" And always took the same pleasure in harping

on it ?"

"Ay."

For the time he appears unequal to any other reply than this lazy monosyllabic assent. Probably to assure herself that it is not .the assent of a mere automaton, she reverses the form of her next sentence.

"Did you never get tired of it, deary, and try to call up something else for a change ?"

He struggles into a sitting posture, and retorts upon her : " What do you mean ? What did I want ? What

did I come for ?"

She gently lays him back again, and, before return- ing him the instrument he has dropped, revives the fire in it with her own breath ; then says to him coaxingly :

"Sure, sure, sure! Yes. yes, yes! Now, I go along with you. You were too quick for me. I see now. You come o' purpose to take the journey. Why, I might have known it, through its standing by you

so."

He answers first with a laugh, and then with a pas- sionate setting of his teeth : " Yes, I came on purpose. When I could not bear my life, I came to get the relief, and I got it. It was one ! It was one !" This repe- tition with extraordinary vehemence, and the snarl of

a wolf.

She observes him very cautiously, as though mentally feeling her way to her next remark. It is : " There was a fellow-traveller, deary. "

" Ha ha ha !" He breaks into a ringing laugh, or rather yell.

" To think," he cries, " how often fellow-traveller, and yet not know it. To think how many times he went the journey, and never saw the road !"

The woman kneels upon the floor, with her arms crossed on the coverlet of her bed, close by him, and her chin upon them. In this crouching attitude, she watches him. The pipe is falling from his mouth. She puts it back, and laying her hand upon his chest, moves him slightly from side to side. Upon that he speaks, as if she had spoken.

" Yes ! I always made tho journey first, before the changes of colours and the great landscapes and glitter- ing processions began. They couldn't begin till it was off my mind. I had no room till then for anything

elso."

Once more he lapses into silence. Once more she lays her hand upon his chest, and moves him slightly to and fro, as a cat might stimulate a half-slain mouse. Once more he speaks, as if she had spoken.

" What ? I told you so. When it comes to be real at last, it is so short that it seems unreal for the first

time. Hark !"

"Yes, deary. I'm listening."

" Time and place are both at hand."

He is on his feet, speaking in a whisper, and as if in the dark.

" Time, place, and fellow-traveller," she suggests, adopting his tone, and holding him softly by the

arm.

" How could the time be at hand unless the fel- low-traveller was ? Hush ! The journey's made. It's

over."

"So soon?"

" That's what I said to you; So soon. Wait a little. This is a vision. I shall sleep it off. It has been too short and easy. I must have a better vision than this ; this is the poorest of all. No struggle, no conscious- ness of peril, no ontreaty - and yet I never saw that

before." With a start.

" Saw what, deary ?"

" Look at it ! Look what a poor, mean, miser- able thing it is ! That must be real. It's over."

He has accompanied this incoherence with some wild unmeaning gestures ; but they trail off into the progressive inaction of stupor, and he lies a log upon

the bed.

The woman, however, is still inquisitive. With a repetition of her cat-like action she slightly stirs his body again, and listens ; stirs again, and listens ; whispers to it, and listens. Finding it past all rousing for the time, she slowly gets upon her feet, with an air of disappointment, and flicks the face with the back of her hand in turning from it.

But she goes no further away from it than the chair upon the hearth. She sits in it, with an elbow on one of its arms, and her chin upon her hand, intent upon

him.

" I heard ye say once," she croaks under her breath, " I heard ye say once, when I was lying where you're lying, and you were making your speculations upon me, ' Unintelligible !' I heard you say so, of two more than me. But don't ye be too sure always ; don't ye be too sure, beauty !"

Unwinking, cat-like, and intent, she presently adds : "Not so potent as it once was? Ah! Perhaps not at first. You may be more right there. Practice makes perfect. I may have learned the secret how to make ye talk, deary."

He talks no more, whether or no. Twitching in an ugly way from time to time, both as to his face and limbs, he lies heavy and silent. The wretched candle burns down ; the woman takes its expiring end between her fingers, lights another at it, crams the guttering frying morsel deep into the candlestick, and rams it home with the new candle, as if she were loading some ill-savoured and unseemly weapon of witchcraft ; the new candle in its turn burns down ; and still he lies insensible. At length what remains of the last candle is blown out, and daylight looks into the room.

It has not looked very long, when he sits up, chilled and shaking, slowly recovers consciousness of where he is, and makes himself ready to depart. The woman receives what he pays her with a grateful " Bless ye, bless ye, deary !" and seems, tired out, to begin making herself ready for sleep as he leaves the room.

But seeming may be false or true. It is false in this case, for, the moment the stairs have ceased to creak under his tread, she glides after him, muttering emphatically : "I'll not miss ye twice !"

There is no egress from the court but by its entrance. With a weird peep from tho doorway, she watches for his looking back. He does not look back before dis- appearing, with a wavering step. She follows him, peeps from the court, see him still faltering on without looking back, and holds him in view.

He repairs to the back of Aldergate-street, where a door immediately opens to his knocking. She crouohes in another doorway, watching that one, and easily comprehending he puts up temporarily at that house. Her patience is unexhausted by hours. For sustenance she can, and does, buy bread within a hundred yards, and milk as it is carried past her.

He comes forth again at noon, having changed his dress, but carrying nothing in his hand, and having nothing carried for him. He is not going back into the country, therefore, just yet. She follows him a little way, hesitates, instantaneously turns confidently, and goes straight into the house he has quitted.

" Is the gentleman from Cloisterham indoors?" "Just gone out."

"Unlucky. When does the gentleman return to

Cloisterham?"

" At six this evening."

" Bless ye and thank ye. May the Lord prosper a business where a civil question, even from a poor soul, is so civilly answered !"

" I'll not miss ye twice !" repeats the poor soul in the street, and not so civilly. " I lost ye last, where that omnibus you got into nigh your journey's end plied betwixt the station and the place. I wasn't so much as certain that you even went right on to the place. Now, I know ye did. My gentleman from Cloisterham, I'll be there before ye and bide your coming. I've swore my oath that I'll not miss ye twice !"

Accordingly, that same evening the poor soul stands in Cloisterham High Street, looks at the many quaint gables of the Nuns' House, and getting through the time as she best can until nine o'clock ; at which hour she has reason to suppose that the arriving omnibus passengers may have some interest for her. The friendly darkness, at the hour, renders it easy for to ascertain whether this be so or not ; and it is so, for the pas- senger not to be missed twice arrives among the rest.

"Now, let me see what becomes of you. Go on !"

An observation addressed to the air. And yet it might be addressed to the passenger, so compliantly does he go on along the High Street until he comes to an arched gateway, at which he unexpectedly vanishes. The poor soul quickens her pace ; is swift, and close upon him entering under the gateway ; but only sees a postern staircase on one side of it, and on the other side an ancient vaulted room, in which a large-headed, grey-haired gentleman is writing, under the odd cir- cumstances of sitting open to the thoroughfare and eyeing all who pass, as if he were toll-taker of the gate- way : though the way is free.

" Halloa !" he cries in a low voice seeing her brought to a stand still : " who are you looking for ?"

" There was a gentleman passed in here this minute,

sir,."

"Of course there was. What do you want with

him !"

" Where do he live, deary?" " Live ? Up that staircase."

"Bless ye! Whisper. What's his name, deary?" "Surname, Jasper, Christian name, John. Mr. John

Jasper."

" Has he calling, good gentleman ?"

"Calling? Yes. Sings in the choir." " In tho spire ?"

"Choir."

"What's that?"

Mr. Datchery rises from his papers, and comes to his

doorstep. .

" Do you know what a cathedral is ?" he asks, jocosely.

The woman nods.

"What is it?" .

She looks puzzled, casting about in her mind to find a definition, when it occurs to her that it is easier to point out the substantial object itself, massive against

the dark blue sky and the early stars.

" That's the answer, go in there at seven to-morrow morning, and you may see Mr. John Jasper, and hear

him too."

" Thank ye ! Thank ye !"

The burst of triumph in which she thanks him, does not escape the notice of the single buffer of an easy temper living idly on his means. He glances at her ; clasps his hands behind him, as the wont of such buffers is ; and lounges along tho echoing precincts at her

side.

"Or," he suggests, with a backward hitch of his head. " you can go up at once to Mr. Jasper's room

there."

The woman eyes him with a cunning smile, and

shakes her head.

" Oh ? You don't want to speak to him ?"

She repeats her dumb reply, and forms with her lips

a soundless " No."

" You can admire him at a distance three times a day, whenever you like. It's a long way to come for that, though."

The woman looks up quickly. If Mr. Datohery thinks she is to be so induced to declare where- she comes from, he is of a much easier temper than she is. But she acquits him of such an artful thought, as he lounges along, like the chartered bore of the city, with his uncovered grey hair blowing about, and his pur- poseless hands rattling the loose money in the pockets

of his trousers.

The chink of the money has an attraction for her greedy ears.

"Wouldn't you help me to pay for my travellers' lodging, dear gentleman, and to pay my way along? I am a poor soul, I am indeed, and troubled with a griev- ous cough."

" You know the travellers' lodging. I perceive, and are making directly for it," is Mr. Datchery's bland comment, still rattling his loose money. " Been here often, my good woman ?"

" Once in all my life." " Ay, ay ?"

They have arrived at the entrance to the Monks' Vineyard. An appropriate remembrance, presenting, an exemplary model for imitation, is revived in the woman's mind by the sight of the place. She stops at the gate, and says energetically :

" By this token, though you mayn't believe it, that a young gentleman gave me three and sixpence as I was coughing my breath away on this very grass. I asked him for three and sixpence, and he gave it to

me."

" Wasn't it a little cool to name your sum ?" hints Mr. Datchery, still rattling. " Isn't it customary to leave the amount open ? Mightn't it have the appear- ance, to the young gentleman - only tho appearance -

that he was rather dictated to ?"

" Looke'e here, deary," she replies, in a confidential and persuasive tone, "I wanted the money to lay it out on a medicine as does me good, and as I deal in, I told the young gentleman so, and he gave it me, and I laid it out honest to the last brass farden. I want to lay out the same sum in the same way now ; and if you'll give it me, I'll lay it out honest to the last brass farden again, upon my soul !"

" What's the medicine ?"

" I'll be honest with you beforehand, as well as after. It's opium."

Mr. Datchery, with a sudden change of countenance, gives her a sudden look.

" It's opium, deary. Neither more nor less. And it's like a human creetur so far, that you always hear what can be said against it, but seldom, what can be said in its praise."

Mr. Datchery begins very slowly to count out the sum demanded of him. Greedily watching his hands, she continues to hold forth on the great example set

him.

" It was last Christmas Eve, just arter dark, the once that I was here afore, when the young gentleman gave me the three and six."

Mr, Datchery stops in his counting, finds he has counted wrong, shakes his money together, and begins again.

"And the young gentleman's name," she adds,

" was Edwin."

Mr. Datchery drops some money, stoops to pick it up, and reddens with the exertion as he asks :

" How do you know the young gentleman's name ?" " I asked him for it, and he told it me. I only asked him the two questions, what was his Chris'en name, and whether he'd a sweetheart? And he answered, Edwin, and he hadn't."

Mr. Datchery pauses with the selected coins in his hand, rather as if he were falling into a brown study of their value, and couldn't bear to part with them. The woman looks at him distrustfully, and with her anger brewing for the event of his thinking better of the gift ; but he bestows it on her as if he were abstracting his mind from the sacrifice, and with many servile thanks she goes her way.

John Jasper's lamp is kindled, and his Lighthouse is shining when Mr. Datchery returns alone towards it. As mariners on a dangerous voyage, approaching an iron-bound coast, may look along tho beams of the warn- ing light to tho haven lying beyond it that may never be reached, so Mr. Datchery's wistful gaze is directed to this beacon, and beyond.

His object in now revisiting his lodging, is merely to put on the hat whioh seems so superfluous an article in his wardrobe. It is half-past ten by the catheral clock, when he walks out into the Precincts again ; he lingers and looks about him, as though, the enchanted hour when Mr. Durdles may be stoned home having struck, he had some expectation of seeing the Imp who is appointed to the mission of stoning him.

In effect, that Power of Evil is abroad. Having nothing living to stone at the moment, he is discovered by Mr. Datchery in the unholy office of stoning the dead, through the railings of the churchyard. The Imp finds this a relishing and piquing pursuit ; firstly, becauso their resting place is announced to be sacred ; and secondly, because the tall headstones are suffi- ciently like themselves, on their beat in the dark, to justify tho delicious fancy that they are hurt when

hit.

Mr. Datchery hails him with : "Halloa, Winks !"

He acknowledges the hail with : " Halloa, Dick !" Their acquaintance seemingly having been established on a familiar footing.

" But I say," he remonstrates, " don't yer go a making my name public. I never means to plead to no name, mind yer. When they says to me in the Lock- up, a going to put me down in the book, 'What's your name?' I says to them, ' Find out.' Likeways when they says, ' What's your religion ?' I says, ' Find

out.'"

Which, it may be observed in passing, it would be immensely difficult for the state, however statistical,

to do.

" Asides which," adds the boy, " there ain't no family of the Winkses."

" I think there must be."

" Yer lie, there ain't. The travellers give me the name on account of my getting no settled sleep and being knocked up all night ; whereby I gets one eye roused open afore I've shut the other. That's what Winks means: Deputy's the nighest name to indict me by : but you wouldn't catch me pleading to that,

neither."

"Deputy be it always, then. We two are good friends ; eh, Deputy ?"

" Jolly good."

" I forgave you the debt you owed me when we first became acquainted, and many of my sixpences have come your way since ; eh, Deputy ?"

"Ah ! And what's more yer ain't no friend o' Jarsper's. What did he go a histing me off my legs

for ?"

" What indeed ! But never mind him now. A shilling of mine is going your way to night, Deputy. You have just taken in a lodger I have been speaking to ; an infirm woman with a cough."

"Puffer," assents Deputy, with a shrewd leer of recognition, and smoking an imaginary pipe, with his head very much on one side and his eyes very much out of their place : Hopeum Puffer."

" What is her name?"

" 'Er Royal Highness the Princess Puffer."

" She has some other name than that ; " where does

she live?"

" Up in London. Among the Jacks."

"The sailors?"

" I said so ; Jacks. And Chayner men. And hother

Knifers."

" I should like to know, through you, exactly where

she lives."

" All right. Give us 'old."

A shilling passes ; and, in that spirit of confidence which should pervade all business transactions between principals of honour, this piece of business is considered

done.

" But here's a lark !" cries Deputy, " Where did yer think 'Er Royal Highness is a goin' to, to-morrow morning? Blest if she ain't a goin' to the KIN-FREE- DER-EL !" He greatly prolongs the word in his ecstacy, and smites his leg, and doubles himself up in a fit of

shrill laughter.

" How do you know that, Deputy ?"

" Cos she told me so just now. She said she must be hup and hout o' purpose She ses, 'Deputy, I must 'ave a early wash, and make myself as swell as I can, for I'm a goin' to take a turn at the KiN-FREE- DER-EL !" He separates the syllables with his former zest, and, not finding his sense of the ludicrous suffi- ciently relieved by stamping about on the pavement, breaks into a slow and stately dance, perhaps supposed to be performed by the Dean,

Mr. Datchery receives the communication with a well-satisfied, though a pondering face, and breaks up the conference. Returning to his quaint lodging, and sitting long over the supper of bread and cheese and salad and ale which Mrs.. Tope has left prepared for him, he still sits when his supper is finished. At length he rises, throws open the door of a corner cup- board, and refers to a few uncouth chalked strokes on

its inner side.

"Hike," says Mr, Datchery, " the old tavern way of keeping scores. Illegible, except to the scorer. The scorer not committed, the scored debited with what is against him. Hum ; ha ! A very small score this ; a very poor score."

He sighs over the contemplation of its poverty, takes a bit of chalk from one of the cupboard shelves, and pauses with it in his hand, uncertain what addition to

make to the account.

'"I think a moderate stroke," he concludes, " is all I am justified in scoring up ;" so, suits the action to the word, closes the cupboard, and goes to bed.

A brilliant morning shines on the old city. Its anti- quities and ruins are surpassingly beautiful, with the lusty ivy gloaming in the sun, and the rich trees waving in the balmy air. Changes of glorious light from moving boughs, songs of birds, scents from gardens, woods, and fields - or, rather, from the one great garden of the whole cultivated island in its yielding time-pene- trate into the Cathedral, subdue its earthy odour, and preach the Resurrection and the Life. The cold stone tombs of centuries also grow warm, and flecks of brightness dart into the sternest marble corners of the building, fluttering there like wings.

Comes Mr. Tope with his large keys, and yawningly unlocks and sets open. Come Mrs. Tope, and attend- ant sweeping sprites. Come, in due time, organist and bellows-boy, peeping down from the red curtains in the loft, fearlessly flapping dust from books up at that remote elevation, and whisking it from stops and pedals. Come sundry rooks, from various quarters of the sky, back to the great tower ; who may be pre- sumed to enjoy vibration, and to know that bell and organ are going to give it them. Come a very small and straggling congregation indeed, chiefly from Minor Canon Corner and the Precincts, Come Mr. Crisparkle, fresh and bright ; and his ministering bretheren, not quite so fresh and bright. Come the Choir in a hurry (always in a hurry, and struggling into their nightgowns at the last moment, like children shirking bed), and comes John Jasper leading their line. Last of all comes Mr. Datchery into a stall, one of a choice empty collection very much at his service, and glancing about him for Her Royal Highness the Princess Puffer.

The service is pretty well advanced before Mr. Datchery can discern Her Royal Highness. But by that time he has made her out, in the shade. She is behind a pillar, carefully withdrawn from the Choir Master's view, but regards him with the closest atten- tion. All unconscious of her presence, he chants and sings. She grins when he is most musically fervid, and - yes, Mr. Datchery sees her do it - shakes her fist at him behind the pillar's friendly shelter.

Mr. Datchery looks again to convince himself. Yes, again ! As ugly and withered as one of tho fantastic carvings on the under brackets of the stall seats, as malignant as the Evil One, as hard as the big brass eagle holding the sacred books upon his wings, (and, according to the sculptor's representation of his fero- cious attributes, not at all oonvorted by them), she hugs herself in her lean arms, and then shakes both

fists at the leader of the Choir.

And at that moment, outside the grated door of the Choir, having eluded the vigilance of Mr. Tope by shifty resources in which he is an adept, Deputy peeps sharp-eyed through the bars, and stares astounded from the threatener to the threatened.

The service comes to an end, and the servitors dis- perse to breakfast. Mr. Datchery accosts his last new acquaintance outside, when the Choir (as much in a hurry to get their bedgowns off, as they were but now to get them on) have scuffled away.

Well, mistress. Good-morning. You have seen

him ?"

" I've seen him, deary ; I've seen him !" " And you know him ?"

" Know him ! Better far, than all the Reverend Parsons put together know him."

Mrs. Tope's care has spread a very neat, clean breakfast ready for her lodger. Before sitting down to it, he opens his corner-cupboard door ; takes his bit of chalk from its shelf ; adds one thick line to the score, extending from the top of the cupboard door to the bottom ; and then falls to with an appetite.

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