Nothing occurred in the night to flutter the tired dove; and the dove arose refreshed. With Mr. Grewgious, when the clock struck ten in the morning, came Mr. Crisparkle, who had come at one plunge out of the river at Cloisterham.
‘Miss Twinkleton was so uneasy, Miss Rosa,’ he explained to her, ‘and came round to Ma and me with your note, in such a state of wonder, that, to quiet her, I volunteered on this service by the very first train to be caught in the morning. I wished at the time that you had come to me; but now I think it best that you did as you did, and came to your guardian.’
‘I did think of you,’ Rosa told him; ‘but Minor Canon Corner was so near him—’
‘I understand. It was quite natural.’
‘I have told Mr. Crisparkle,’ said Mr. Grewgious, ‘all that you told me last night, my dear. Of course I should have written it to him immediately; but his coming was most opportune. And it was particularly kind of him to come, for he had but just gone.’
‘Have you settled,’ asked Rosa, appealing to them both, ‘what is to be done for Helena and her brother?’
‘Why really,’ said Mr. Crisparkle, ‘I am in great perplexity. If even Mr. Grewgious, whose head is much longer than mine, and who is a whole night’s cogitation in advance of me, is undecided, what must I be!’
The Unlimited here put her head in at the door—after having rapped, and been authorised to present herself—announcing that a gentleman wished for a word with another gentleman named Crisparkle, if any such gentleman were there. If no such gentleman were there, he begged pardon for being mistaken.
‘Such a gentleman is here,’ said Mr. Crisparkle, ‘but is engaged just now.’
‘Is it a dark gentleman?’ interposed Rosa, retreating on her guardian.
‘No, Miss, more of a brown gentleman.’
‘You are sure not with black hair?’ asked Rosa, taking courage.
‘Quite sure of that, Miss. Brown hair and blue eyes.’
‘Perhaps,’ hinted Mr. Grewgious, with habitual caution, ‘it might be well to see him, reverend sir, if you don’t object. When one is in a difficulty or at a loss, one never knows in what direction a way out may chance to open. It is a business principle of mine, in such a case, not to close up any direction, but to keep an eye on every direction that may present itself. I could relate an anecdote in point, but that it would be premature.’
‘If Miss Rosa will allow me, then? Let the gentleman come in,’ said Mr. Crisparkle.
The gentleman came in; apologised, with a frank but modest grace, for not finding Mr. Crisparkle alone; turned to Mr. Crisparkle, and smilingly asked the unexpected question: ‘Who am I?’
‘You are the gentleman I saw smoking under the trees in Staple Inn, a few minutes ago.’
‘True. There I saw you. Who else am I?’
Mr. Crisparkle concentrated his attention on a handsome face, much sunburnt; and the ghost of some departed boy seemed to rise, gradually and dimly, in the room.
The gentleman saw a struggling recollection lighten up the Minor Canon’s features, and smiling again, said: ‘What will you have for breakfast this morning? You are out of jam.’
‘Wait a moment!’ cried Mr. Crisparkle, raising his right hand. ‘Give me another instant! Tartar!’
The two shook hands with the greatest heartiness, and then went the wonderful length—for Englishmen—of laying their hands each on the other’s shoulders, and looking joyfully each into the other’s face.
‘My old fag!’ said Mr. Crisparkle.
‘My old master!’ said Mr. Tartar.
‘You saved me from drowning!’ said Mr. Crisparkle.
‘After which you took to swimming, you know!’ said Mr. Tartar.
‘God bless my soul!’ said Mr. Crisparkle.
‘Amen!’ said Mr. Tartar.
And then they fell to shaking hands most heartily again.
‘Imagine,’ exclaimed Mr. Crisparkle, with glistening eyes: ‘Miss Rosa Bud and Mr. Grewgious, imagine Mr. Tartar, when he was the smallest of juniors, diving for me, catching me, a big heavy senior, by the hair of the head, and striking out for the shore with me like a water-giant!’
‘Imagine my not letting him sink, as I was his fag!’ said Mr. Tartar. ‘But the truth being that he was my best protector and friend, and did me more good than all the masters put together, an irrational impulse seized me to pick him up, or go down with him.’
‘Hem! Permit me, sir, to have the honour,’ said Mr. Grewgious, advancing with extended hand, ‘for an honour I truly esteem it. I am proud to make your acquaintance. I hope you didn’t take cold. I hope you were not inconvenienced by swallowing too much water. How have you been since?’
It was by no means apparent that Mr. Grewgious knew what he said, though it was very apparent that he meant to say something highly friendly and appreciative.
If Heaven, Rosa thought, had but sent such courage and skill to her poor mother’s aid! And he to have been so slight and young then!
‘I don’t wish to be complimented upon it, I thank you; but I think I have an idea,’ Mr. Grewgious announced, after taking a jog-trot or two across the room, so unexpected and unaccountable that they all stared at him, doubtful whether he was choking or had the cramp—‘I think I have an idea. I believe I have had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Tartar’s name as tenant of the top set in the house next the top set in the corner?’
‘Yes, sir,’ returned Mr. Tartar. ‘You are right so far.’
‘I am right so far,’ said Mr. Grewgious. ‘Tick that off;’ which he did, with his right thumb on his left. ‘Might you happen to know the name of your neighbour in the top set on the other side of the party-wall?’ coming very close to Mr. Tartar, to lose nothing of his face, in his shortness of sight.
‘Tick that off,’ said Mr. Grewgious, taking another trot, and then coming back. ‘No personal knowledge, I suppose, sir?’
‘Slight, but some.’
‘Tick that off,’ said Mr. Grewgious, taking another trot, and again coming back. ‘Nature of knowledge, Mr. Tartar?’
‘I thought he seemed to be a young fellow in a poor way, and I asked his leave—only within a day or so—to share my flowers up there with him; that is to say, to extend my flower-garden to his windows.’
‘Would you have the kindness to take seats?’ said Mr. Grewgious. ‘I have an idea!’
They complied; Mr. Tartar none the less readily, for being all abroad; and Mr. Grewgious, seated in the centre, with his hands upon his knees, thus stated his idea, with his usual manner of having got the statement by heart.
‘I cannot as yet make up my mind whether it is prudent to hold open communication under present circumstances, and on the part of the fair member of the present company, with Mr. Neville or Miss Helena. I have reason to know that a local friend of ours (on whom I beg to bestow a passing but a hearty malediction, with the kind permission of my reverend friend) sneaks to and fro, and dodges up and down. When not doing so himself, he may have some informant skulking about, in the person of a watchman, porter, or such-like hanger-on of Staple. On the other hand, Miss Rosa very naturally wishes to see her friend Miss Helena, and it would seem important that at least Miss Helena (if not her brother too, through her) should privately know from Miss Rosa’s lips what has occurred, and what has been threatened. Am I agreed with generally in the views I take?’
‘I entirely coincide with them,’ said Mr. Crisparkle, who had been very attentive.
‘As I have no doubt I should,’ added Mr. Tartar, smiling, ‘if I understood them.’
‘Fair and softly, sir,’ said Mr. Grewgious; ‘we shall fully confide in you directly, if you will favour us with your permission. Now, if our local friend should have any informant on the spot, it is tolerably clear that such informant can only be set to watch the chambers in the occupation of Mr. Neville. He reporting, to our local friend, who comes and goes there, our local friend would supply for himself, from his own previous knowledge, the identity of the parties. Nobody can be set to watch all Staple, or to concern himself with comers and goers to other sets of chambers: unless, indeed, mine.’
‘I begin to understand to what you tend,’ said Mr. Crisparkle, ‘and highly approve of your caution.’
‘I needn’t repeat that I know nothing yet of the why and wherefore,’ said Mr. Tartar; ‘but I also understand to what you tend, so let me say at once that my chambers are freely at your disposal.’
‘There!’ cried Mr. Grewgious, smoothing his head triumphantly, ‘now we have all got the idea. You have it, my dear?’
‘I think I have,’ said Rosa, blushing a little as Mr. Tartar looked quickly towards her.
‘You see, you go over to Staple with Mr. Crisparkle and Mr. Tartar,’ said Mr. Grewgious; ‘I going in and out, and out and in alone, in my usual way; you go up with those gentlemen to Mr. Tartar’s rooms; you look into Mr. Tartar’s flower-garden; you wait for Miss Helena’s appearance there, or you signify to Miss Helena that you are close by; and you communicate with her freely, and no spy can be the wiser.’
‘I am very much afraid I shall be—’
‘Be what, my dear?’ asked Mr. Grewgious, as she hesitated. ‘Not frightened?’
‘No, not that,’ said Rosa, shyly; ‘in Mr. Tartar’s way. We seem to be appropriating Mr. Tartar’s residence so very coolly.’
‘I protest to you,’ returned that gentleman, ‘that I shall think the better of it for evermore, if your voice sounds in it only once.’
Rosa, not quite knowing what to say about that, cast down her eyes, and turning to Mr. Grewgious, dutifully asked if she should put her hat on? Mr. Grewgious being of opinion that she could not do better, she withdrew for the purpose. Mr. Crisparkle took the opportunity of giving Mr. Tartar a summary of the distresses of Neville and his sister; the opportunity was quite long enough, as the hat happened to require a little extra fitting on.
Mr. Tartar gave his arm to Rosa, and Mr. Crisparkle walked, detached, in front.
‘Poor, poor Eddy!’ thought Rosa, as they went along.
Mr. Tartar waved his right hand as he bent his head down over Rosa, talking in an animated way.
‘It was not so powerful or so sun-browned when it saved Mr. Crisparkle,’ thought Rosa, glancing at it; ‘but it must have been very steady and determined even then.’
Mr. Tartar told her he had been a sailor, roving everywhere for years and years.
‘When are you going to sea again?’ asked Rosa.
Rosa wondered what the girls would say if they could see her crossing the wide street on the sailor’s arm. And she fancied that the passers-by must think her very little and very helpless, contrasted with the strong figure that could have caught her up and carried her out of any danger, miles and miles without resting.
She was thinking further, that his far-seeing blue eyes looked as if they had been used to watch danger afar off, and to watch it without flinching, drawing nearer and nearer: when, happening to raise her own eyes, she found that he seemed to be thinking something about them.
This a little confused Rosebud, and may account for her never afterwards quite knowing how she ascended (with his help) to his garden in the air, and seemed to get into a marvellous country that came into sudden bloom like the country on the summit of the magic bean-stalk. May it flourish for ever!
A GRITTY STATE OF THINGS COMES ON
Mr. Tartar’s chambers were the neatest, the cleanest, and the best-ordered chambers ever seen under the sun, moon, and stars. The floors were scrubbed to that extent, that you might have supposed the London blacks emancipated for ever, and gone out of the land for good. Every inch of brass-work in Mr. Tartar’s possession was polished and burnished, till it shone like a brazen mirror. No speck, nor spot, nor spatter soiled the purity of any of Mr. Tartar’s household gods, large, small, or middle-sized. His sitting-room was like the admiral’s cabin, his bath-room was like a dairy, his sleeping-chamber, fitted all about with lockers and drawers, was like a seedsman’s shop; and his nicely-balanced cot just stirred in the midst, as if it breathed. Everything belonging to Mr. Tartar had quarters of its own assigned to it: his maps and charts had their quarters; his books had theirs; his brushes had theirs; his boots had theirs; his clothes had theirs; his case-bottles had theirs; his telescopes and other instruments had theirs. Everything was readily accessible. Shelf, bracket, locker, hook, and drawer were equally within reach, and were equally contrived with a view to avoiding waste of room, and providing some snug inches of stowage for something that would have exactly fitted nowhere else. His gleaming little service of plate was so arranged upon his sideboard as that a slack salt-spoon would have instantly betrayed itself; his toilet implements were so arranged upon his dressing-table as that a toothpick of slovenly deportment could have been reported at a glance. So with the curiosities he had brought home from various voyages. Stuffed, dried, repolished, or otherwise preserved, according to their kind; birds, fishes, reptiles, arms, articles of dress, shells, seaweeds, grasses, or memorials of coral reef; each was displayed in its especial place, and each could have been displayed in no better place. Paint and varnish seemed to be kept somewhere out of sight, in constant readiness to obliterate stray finger-marks wherever any might become perceptible in Mr. Tartar’s chambers. No man-of-war was ever kept more spick and span from careless touch. On this bright summer day, a neat awning was rigged over Mr. Tartar’s flower-garden as only a sailor can rig it, and there was a sea-going air upon the whole effect, so delightfully complete, that the flower-garden might have appertained to stern-windows afloat, and the whole concern might have bowled away gallantly with all on board, if Mr. Tartar had only clapped to his lips the speaking-trumpet that was slung in a corner, and given hoarse orders to heave the anchor up, look alive there, men, and get all sail upon her!
Mr. Tartar doing the honours of this gallant craft was of a piece with the rest. When a man rides an amiable hobby that shies at nothing and kicks nobody, it is only agreeable to find him riding it with a humorous sense of the droll side of the creature. When the man is a cordial and an earnest man by nature, and withal is perfectly fresh and genuine, it may be doubted whether he is ever seen to greater advantage than at such a time. So Rosa would have naturally thought (even if she hadn’t been conducted over the ship with all the homage due to the First Lady of the Admiralty, or First Fairy of the Sea), that it was charming to see and hear Mr. Tartar half laughing at, and half rejoicing in, his various contrivances. So Rosa would have naturally thought, anyhow, that the sunburnt sailor showed to great advantage when, the inspection finished, he delicately withdrew out of his admiral’s cabin, beseeching her to consider herself its Queen, and waving her free of his flower-garden with the hand that had had Mr. Crisparkle’s life in it.
‘Helena! Helena Landless! Are you there?’
‘Who speaks to me? Not Rosa?’ Then a second handsome face appearing.
‘Yes, my darling!’
‘Why, how did you come here, dearest?’
‘I—I don’t quite know,’ said Rosa with a blush; ‘unless I am dreaming!’
Why with a blush? For their two faces were alone with the other flowers. Are blushes among the fruits of the country of the magic bean-stalk?
‘I am not dreaming,’ said Helena, smiling. ‘I should take more for granted if I were. How do we come together—or so near together—so very unexpectedly?’
Unexpectedly indeed, among the dingy gables and chimney-pots of P. J. T.’s connection, and the flowers that had sprung from the salt sea. But Rosa, waking, told in a hurry how they came to be together, and all the why and wherefore of that matter.
‘And Mr. Crisparkle is here,’ said Rosa, in rapid conclusion; ‘and, could you believe it? long ago he saved his life!’
‘I could believe any such thing of Mr. Crisparkle,’ returned Helena, with a mantling face.
(More blushes in the bean-stalk country!)
‘Yes, but it wasn’t Crisparkle,’ said Rosa, quickly putting in the correction.
‘I don’t understand, love.’
‘It was very nice of Mr. Crisparkle to be saved,’ said Rosa, ‘and he couldn’t have shown his high opinion of Mr. Tartar more expressively. But it was Mr. Tartar who saved him.’
Helena’s dark eyes looked very earnestly at the bright face among the leaves, and she asked, in a slower and more thoughtful tone:
‘Is Mr. Tartar with you now, dear?’
‘No; because he has given up his rooms to me—to us, I mean. It is such a beautiful place!’
‘It is like the inside of the most exquisite ship that ever sailed. It is like—it is like—’
‘Like a dream?’ suggested Helena.
Rosa answered with a little nod, and smelled the flowers.
Helena resumed, after a short pause of silence, during which she seemed (or it was Rosa’s fancy) to compassionate somebody: ‘My poor Neville is reading in his own room, the sun being so very bright on this side just now. I think he had better not know that you are so near.’
‘O, I think so too!’ cried Rosa very readily.
‘I suppose,’ pursued Helena, doubtfully, ‘that he must know by-and-by all you have told me; but I am not sure. Ask Mr. Crisparkle’s advice, my darling. Ask him whether I may tell Neville as much or as little of what you have told me as I think best.’
Rosa subsided into her state-cabin, and propounded the question. The Minor Canon was for the free exercise of Helena’s judgment.
‘I thank him very much,’ said Helena, when Rosa emerged again with her report. ‘Ask him whether it would be best to wait until any more maligning and pursuing of Neville on the part of this wretch shall disclose itself, or to try to anticipate it: I mean, so far as to find out whether any such goes on darkly about us?’
The Minor Canon found this point so difficult to give a confident opinion on, that, after two or three attempts and failures, he suggested a reference to Mr. Grewgious. Helena acquiescing, he betook himself (with a most unsuccessful assumption of lounging indifference) across the quadrangle to P. J. T.’s, and stated it. Mr. Grewgious held decidedly to the general principle, that if you could steal a march upon a brigand or a wild beast, you had better do it; and he also held decidedly to the special case, that John Jasper was a brigand and a wild beast in combination.
Thus advised, Mr. Crisparkle came back again and reported to Rosa, who in her turn reported to Helena. She now steadily pursuing her train of thought at her window, considered thereupon.
‘We may count on Mr. Tartar’s readiness to help us, Rosa?’ she inquired.
O yes! Rosa shyly thought so. O yes, Rosa shyly believed she could almost answer for it. But should she ask Mr. Crisparkle? ‘I think your authority on the point as good as his, my dear,’ said Helena, sedately, ‘and you needn’t disappear again for that.’ Odd of Helena!
‘You see, Neville,’ Helena pursued after more reflection, ‘knows no one else here: he has not so much as exchanged a word with any one else here. If Mr. Tartar would call to see him openly and often; if he would spare a minute for the purpose, frequently; if he would even do so, almost daily; something might come of it.’
‘Something might come of it, dear?’ repeated Rosa, surveying her friend’s beauty with a highly perplexed face. ‘Something might?’
‘If Neville’s movements are really watched, and if the purpose really is to isolate him from all friends and acquaintance and wear his daily life out grain by grain (which would seem to be the threat to you), does it not appear likely,’ said Helena, ‘that his enemy would in some way communicate with Mr. Tartar to warn him off from Neville? In which case, we might not only know the fact, but might know from Mr. Tartar what the terms of the communication were.’
‘I see!’ cried Rosa. And immediately darted into her state-cabin again.
Presently her pretty face reappeared, with a greatly heightened colour, and she said that she had told Mr. Crisparkle, and that Mr. Crisparkle had fetched in Mr. Tartar, and that Mr. Tartar—‘who is waiting now, in case you want him,’ added Rosa, with a half look back, and in not a little confusion between the inside of the state-cabin and out—had declared his readiness to act as she had suggested, and to enter on his task that very day.
‘I thank him from my heart,’ said Helena. ‘Pray tell him so.’
Again not a little confused between the Flower-garden and the Cabin, Rosa dipped in with her message, and dipped out again with more assurances from Mr. Tartar, and stood wavering in a divided state between Helena and him, which proved that confusion is not always necessarily awkward, but may sometimes present a very pleasant appearance.
‘And now, darling,’ said Helena, ‘we will be mindful of the caution that has restricted us to this interview for the present, and will part. I hear Neville moving too. Are you going back?’
‘To Miss Twinkleton’s?’ asked Rosa.
‘O, I could never go there any more. I couldn’t indeed, after that dreadful interview!’ said Rosa.
‘Then where are you going, pretty one?’
‘Now I come to think of it, I don’t know,’ said Rosa. ‘I have settled nothing at all yet, but my guardian will take care of me. Don’t be uneasy, dear. I shall be sure to be somewhere.’
(It did seem likely.)
‘And I shall hear of my Rosebud from Mr. Tartar?’ inquired Helena.
‘Yes, I suppose so; from—’ Rosa looked back again in a flutter, instead of supplying the name. ‘But tell me one thing before we part, dearest Helena. Tell me—that you are sure, sure, sure, I couldn’t help it.’
‘Help it, love?’
‘Help making him malicious and revengeful. I couldn’t hold any terms with him, could I?’
‘You know how I love you, darling,’ answered Helena, with indignation; ‘but I would sooner see you dead at his wicked feet.’
‘That’s a great comfort to me! And you will tell your poor brother so, won’t you? And you will give him my remembrance and my sympathy? And you will ask him not to hate me?’
With a mournful shake of the head, as if that would be quite a superfluous entreaty, Helena lovingly kissed her two hands to her friend, and her friend’s two hands were kissed to her; and then she saw a third hand (a brown one) appear among the flowers and leaves, and help her friend out of sight.
The refection that Mr. Tartar produced in the Admiral’s Cabin by merely touching the spring knob of a locker and the handle of a drawer, was a dazzling enchanted repast. Wonderful macaroons, glittering liqueurs, magically-preserved tropical spices, and jellies of celestial tropical fruits, displayed themselves profusely at an instant’s notice. But Mr. Tartar could not make time stand still; and time, with his hard-hearted fleetness, strode on so fast, that Rosa was obliged to come down from the bean-stalk country to earth and her guardian’s chambers.
‘And now, my dear,’ said Mr. Grewgious, ‘what is to be done next? To put the same thought in another form; what is to be done with you?’
Rosa could only look apologetically sensible of being very much in her own way and in everybody else’s. Some passing idea of living, fireproof, up a good many stairs in Furnival’s Inn for the rest of her life, was the only thing in the nature of a plan that occurred to her.
‘It has come into my thoughts,’ said Mr. Grewgious, ‘that as the respected lady, Miss Twinkleton, occasionally repairs to London in the recess, with the view of extending her connection, and being available for interviews with metropolitan parents, if any—whether, until we have time in which to turn ourselves round, we might invite Miss Twinkleton to come and stay with you for a month?’
‘Stay where, sir?’
‘Whether,’ explained Mr. Grewgious, ‘we might take a furnished lodging in town for a month, and invite Miss Twinkleton to assume the charge of you in it for that period?’
‘And afterwards?’ hinted Rosa.
‘And afterwards,’ said Mr. Grewgious, ‘we should be no worse off than we are now.’
‘I think that might smooth the way,’ assented Rosa.
‘Then let us,’ said Mr. Grewgious, rising, ‘go and look for a furnished lodging. Nothing could be more acceptable to me than the sweet presence of last evening, for all the remaining evenings of my existence; but these are not fit surroundings for a young lady. Let us set out in quest of adventures, and look for a furnished lodging. In the meantime, Mr. Crisparkle here, about to return home immediately, will no doubt kindly see Miss Twinkleton, and invite that lady to co-operate in our plan.’
Mr. Crisparkle, willingly accepting the commission, took his departure; Mr. Grewgious and his ward set forth on their expedition.
As Mr. Grewgious’s idea of looking at a furnished lodging was to get on the opposite side of the street to a house with a suitable bill in the window, and stare at it; and then work his way tortuously to the back of the house, and stare at that; and then not go in, but make similar trials of another house, with the same result; their progress was but slow. At length he bethought himself of a widowed cousin, divers times removed, of Mr. Bazzard’s, who had once solicited his influence in the lodger world, and who lived in Southampton Street, Bloomsbury Square. This lady’s name, stated in uncompromising capitals of considerable size on a brass door-plate, and yet not lucidly as to sex or condition, was BILLICKIN.
Personal faintness, and an overpowering personal candour, were the distinguishing features of Mrs. Billickin’s organisation. She came languishing out of her own exclusive back parlour, with the air of having been expressly brought-to for the purpose, from an accumulation of several swoons.
‘I hope I see you well, sir,’ said Mrs. Billickin, recognising her visitor with a bend.
‘Thank you, quite well. And you, ma’am?’ returned Mr. Grewgious.
‘I am as well,’ said Mrs. Billickin, becoming aspirational with excess of faintness, ‘as I hever ham.’
‘My ward and an elderly lady,’ said Mr. Grewgious, ‘wish to find a genteel lodging for a month or so. Have you any apartments available, ma’am?’
‘Mr. Grewgious,’ returned Mrs. Billickin, ‘I will not deceive you; far from it. I have apartments available.’
This with the air of adding: ‘Convey me to the stake, if you will; but while I live, I will be candid.’
‘And now, what apartments, ma’am?’ asked Mr. Grewgious, cosily. To tame a certain severity apparent on the part of Mrs. Billickin.
‘There is this sitting-room—which, call it what you will, it is the front parlour, Miss,’ said Mrs. Billickin, impressing Rosa into the conversation: ‘the back parlour being what I cling to and never part with; and there is two bedrooms at the top of the ’ouse with gas laid on. I do not tell you that your bedroom floors is firm, for firm they are not. The gas-fitter himself allowed, that to make a firm job, he must go right under your jistes, and it were not worth the outlay as a yearly tenant so to do. The piping is carried above your jistes, and it is best that it should be made known to you.’
Mr. Grewgious and Rosa exchanged looks of some dismay, though they had not the least idea what latent horrors this carriage of the piping might involve. Mrs. Billickin put her hand to her heart, as having eased it of a load.
‘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 that 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 mildly, but still firmly in her incorruptible candour: ‘consequent it would be worse than of no use for me to trapse and travel up to the top of the ’ouse 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 you 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 prefigured in this pickle.
‘Have you any other apartments, ma’am?’ he asked.
‘Mr. Grewgious,’ returned Mrs. Billickin, with much solemnity, ‘I have. You ask me have I, and my open and my honest answer air, I have. The first and 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 lead 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 untenable position.
‘Can we see these rooms, ma’am?’ inquired her guardian.
‘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 immemorial antiquity, that she could never go anywhere 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 taking wing.
‘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 consultation, and then asking for pen and ink, sketched out a line or two of agreement. In the meantime Mrs. Billickin 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 kep’, at liberal wages. Words has 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 emphasised the prepositions 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 takes 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 Surname, 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 is used as a protection,’ said Mrs. Billickin, ‘and acts as such, and go from it I will not.’
Mr. Grewgious stared at Rosa.
‘No, Mr. Grewgious, you must excuse me. So long as this ’ouse is known indefinite as Billickin’s, and so long as it is a doubt with the riff-raff where Billickin may be 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 were not brought to it by inconsiderate example.’
Rosa reddening as if she had made some most disgraceful attempt to overreach the good lady, besought Mr. Grewgious to rest content with any signature. And accordingly, in a baronial way, the sign-manual BILLICKIN 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 have 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 around 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 tattooed 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 ever-lastingly-green garden, needing no matter-of-fact identification here; and then the 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 came 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 were a superstition and stockings slavery; and then came the sweet return among delicious odours of limes in bloom, and musical ripplings; and, all too soon, the great black city cast its shadow 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.
[Picture: Up the river]
‘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 known!
Yet what did Rosa expect? Did she expect Miss Twinkleton? Miss Twinkleton duly came. 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 the footing,’ said she, with a candour so demonstrative as to be almost obtrusive, ‘that the person of the ’ouse 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 Twinkleton’s distractedly pressing two-and-sixpence 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 eighteen-pence if he kept his eyes on it, descended the doorsteps, ascended their carriages, and drove away, leaving Miss Twinkleton 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 knowledge that Miss Twinkleton kept 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,’ soliloquised the Billickin; ‘I am not your pupil, whatever she,’ meaning 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 compromise 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 herself.
‘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 the 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 gracious air, which to the jealous ears of the Billickin seemed to add ‘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 cast.’
‘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 precaution, 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-school!’
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 informiation,’ retorted the Billickin, throwing in an extra syllable for the sake of emphasis at once polite and powerful—‘my informiation, Miss Twinkleton, 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, of about your own age or it may be some years younger, 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 work?’
‘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 Billickin 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 flows of words, and not asking to be favoured with them here, I wish to repeat my question.’
‘If you refer to the 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 myself 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 expressing my contempt for an 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 the 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 your 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 ’ousekeeping a bit. Come now, think of somethink else.’
To this encouragement, offered with the indulgent toleration of a wise and liberal expert, Miss Twinkleton 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. Something 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 without 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 Twinkleton 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 caressing fingers, from which he suffered it to fall like golden rain,—ever 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 Billickin’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 the most of what was nearest to her heart. So they both did better than before.
THE DAWN AGAIN
Although Mr. Crisparkle and John Jasper met daily under the Cathedral roof, nothing at any time passed between them having 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 the thoughts of each reverting to the subject. 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 sufficiently 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, however, 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 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 arose.
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’s. 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 gatehouse 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 maybe 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 such.
He ascends a broken staircase, opens a door, looks into a dark stifling room, and says: ‘Are you alone here?’
‘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’m 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 voyage, deary?’
‘Well, there’s land customers, and there’s water customers. I’m a mother to both. Different from Jack Chinaman t’other side the court. He ain’t a father to neither. It ain’t in him. And he ain’t got the 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 success, and she sits down rocking herself to and fro, and gasping at intervals: ‘O, 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!’
‘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.’
‘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?’
‘Who was they as died, deary?’
‘Died of what, lovey?’
‘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 own way. It ain’t good for trade, and it ain’t good for you. Where’s my ink-bottle, 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?’
‘Ah; 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’ve 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’m 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.’
‘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 looks 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 would 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, 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?’
‘In the way in which it was really made at last?’
‘And always took the same pleasure in harping on it?’
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 returning 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 was 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 passionate 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 repetition 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 the 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 the journey first, before the changes of colours and the great landscapes and glittering processions began. They couldn’t begin till it was off my mind. I had no room till then for anything else.’
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.
[Picture: Sleeping it off]
‘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 fellow-traveller was? Hush! The journey’s made. It’s over.’
‘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 consciousness of peril, no entreaty—and yet I never saw that before.’ With a start.
‘Saw what, deary?’
‘Look at it! Look what a poor, mean, miserable 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 be ye 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 the doorway, she watches for his looking back. He does not look back before disappearing, with a wavering step. She follows him, peeps from the court, sees him still faltering on without looking back, and holds him in view.
He repairs to the back of Aldersgate Street, where a door immediately opens to his knocking. She crouches in another doorway, watching that one, and easily comprehending that 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, looking 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 that hour, renders it easy for her to ascertain whether this be so or not; and it is so, for the passenger 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, gray-haired gentleman is writing, under the odd circumstances of sitting open to the thoroughfare and eyeing all who pass, as if he were toll-taker of the gateway: 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 a calling, good gentleman?’
‘Calling? Yes. Sings in the choir.’
‘In the spire?’
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 the 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 rooms there.’
The woman eyes him with a cunning smile, and shakes her head.
‘O! 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. Datchery 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 gray hair blowing about, and his purposeless 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 traveller’s lodging, dear gentleman, and to pay my way along? I am a poor soul, I am indeed, and troubled with a grievous 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.’
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 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 had the appearance, to the young gentleman—only the appearance—that he was rather dictated to?’
‘Look’ee 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 the beams of the warning light to the 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 which seems so superfluous an article in his wardrobe. It is half-past ten by the Cathedral 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, because their resting-place is announced to be sacred; and secondly, because the tall headstones are sufficiently like themselves, on their beat in the dark, to justify the delicious fancy that they are hurt when hit.
Mr. Datchery hails with him: ‘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.” Likewise 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 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 yer wouldn’t catch me pleading to that, neither.’
‘Deputy be it always, then. We two are good friends; eh, Deputy?’
‘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 places: ‘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.’
‘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 ecstasy, 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 sufficiently 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 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 cupboard, and refers to a few uncouth chalked strokes on its inner side.
‘I like,’ 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 antiquities and ruins are surpassingly beautiful, with a lusty ivy gleaming 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—penetrate into the Cathedral, subdue its earthy odour, and preach the Resurrection and the Life. The cold stone tombs of centuries ago 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 attendant 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 presumed 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 brethren, 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 attention. 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 the 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 ferocious attributes, not at all converted 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 disperse 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.