The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 Next page
distorted, like the morals of the travellers, with scant remains of
a lattice-work porch over the door, and also of a rustic fence
before its stamped-out garden; by reason of the travellers being so
bound to the premises by a tender sentiment (or so fond of having a
fire by the roadside in the course of the day), that they can never
be persuaded or threatened into departure, without violently
possessing themselves of some wooden forget-me-not, and bearing it
The semblance of an inn is attempted to be given to this wretched
place by fragments of conventional red curtaining in the windows,
which rags are made muddily transparent in the night-season by
feeble lights of rush or cotton dip burning dully in the close air
of the inside. As Durdles and Jasper come near, they are addressed
by an inscribed paper lantern over the door, setting forth the
purport of the house. They are also addressed by some half-dozen
other hideous small boys - whether twopenny lodgers or followers or
hangers-on of such, who knows! - who, as if attracted by some
carrion-scent of Deputy in the air, start into the moonlight, as
vultures might gather in the desert, and instantly fall to stoning
him and one another.
'Stop, you young brutes,' cries Jasper angrily, 'and let us go by!'
This remonstrance being received with yells and flying stones,
according to a custom of late years comfortably established among
the police regulations of our English communities, where Christians
are stoned on all sides, as if the days of Saint Stephen were
revived, Durdles remarks of the young savages, with some point,
that 'they haven't got an object,' and leads the way down the lane.
At the corner of the lane, Jasper, hotly enraged, checks his
companion and looks back. All is silent. Next moment, a stone
coming rattling at his hat, and a distant yell of 'Wake-Cock!
Warning!' followed by a crow, as from some infernally-hatched
Chanticleer, apprising him under whose victorious fire he stands,
he turns the corner into safety, and takes Durdles home: Durdles
stumbling among the litter of his stony yard as if he were going to
turn head foremost into one of the unfinished tombs.
John Jasper returns by another way to his gatehouse, and entering
softly with his key, finds his fire still burning. He takes from a
locked press a peculiar-looking pipe, which he fills - but not with
tobacco - and, having adjusted the contents of the bowl, very
carefully, with a little instrument, ascends an inner staircase of
only a few steps, leading to two rooms. One of these is his own
sleeping chamber: the other is his nephew's. There is a light in
His nephew lies asleep, calm and untroubled. John Jasper stands
looking down upon him, his unlighted pipe in his hand, for some
time, with a fixed and deep attention. Then, hushing his
footsteps, he passes to his own room, lights his pipe, and delivers
himself to the Spectres it invokes at midnight.
CHAPTER VI - PHILANTHROPY IN MINOR CANON CORNER
THE Reverend Septimus Crisparkle (Septimus, because six little
brother Crisparkles before him went out, one by one, as they were
born, like six weak little rushlights, as they were lighted),
having broken the thin morning ice near Cloisterham Weir with his
amiable head, much to the invigoration of his frame, was now
assisting his circulation by boxing at a looking-glass with great
science and prowess. A fresh and healthy portrait the looking-
glass presented of the Reverend Septimus, feinting and dodging with
the utmost artfulness, and hitting out from the shoulder with the
utmost straightness, while his radiant features teemed with
innocence, and soft-hearted benevolence beamed from his boxing-
It was scarcely breakfast-time yet, for Mrs. Crisparkle - mother,
not wife of the Reverend Septimus - was only just down, and waiting
for the urn. Indeed, the Reverend Septimus left off at this very
moment to take the pretty old lady's entering face between his
boxing-gloves and kiss it. Having done so with tenderness, the
Reverend Septimus turned to again, countering with his left, and
putting in his right, in a tremendous manner.
'I say, every morning of my life, that you'll do it at last, Sept,'
remarked the old lady, looking on; 'and so you will.'
'Do what, Ma dear?'
'Break the pier-glass, or burst a blood-vessel.'
'Neither, please God, Ma dear. Here's wind, Ma. Look at this!'
In a concluding round of great severity, the Reverend Septimus
administered and escaped all sorts of punishment, and wound up by
getting the old lady's cap into Chancery - such is the technical
term used in scientific circles by the learned in the Noble Art -
with a lightness of touch that hardly stirred the lightest lavender
or cherry riband on it. Magnanimously releasing the defeated, just
in time to get his gloves into a drawer and feign to be looking out
of window in a contemplative state of mind when a servant entered,
the Reverend Septimus then gave place to the urn and other
preparations for breakfast. These completed, and the two alone
again, it was pleasant to see (or would have been, if there had
been any one to see it, which there never was), the old lady
standing to say the Lord's Prayer aloud, and her son, Minor Canon
nevertheless, standing with bent head to hear it, he being within
five years of forty: much as he had stood to hear the same words
from the same lips when he was within five months of four.
What is prettier than an old lady - except a young lady - when her
eyes are bright, when her figure is trim and compact, when her face
is cheerful and calm, when her dress is as the dress of a china
shepherdess: so dainty in its colours, so individually assorted to
herself, so neatly moulded on her? Nothing is prettier, thought
the good Minor Canon frequently, when taking his seat at table
opposite his long-widowed mother. Her thought at such times may be
condensed into the two words that oftenest did duty together in all
her conversations: 'My Sept!'
They were a good pair to sit breakfasting together in Minor Canon
Corner, Cloisterham. For Minor Canon Corner was a quiet place in
the shadow of the Cathedral, which the cawing of the rooks, the
echoing footsteps of rare passers, the sound of the Cathedral bell,
or the roll of the Cathedral organ, seemed to render more quiet
than absolute silence. Swaggering fighting men had had their
centuries of ramping and raving about Minor Canon Corner, and
beaten serfs had had their centuries of drudging and dying there,
and powerful monks had had their centuries of being sometimes
useful and sometimes harmful there, and behold they were all gone
out of Minor Canon Corner, and so much the better. Perhaps one of
the highest uses of their ever having been there, was, that there
might be left behind, that blessed air of tranquillity which
pervaded Minor Canon Corner, and that serenely romantic state of
the mind - productive for the most part of pity and forbearance -
which is engendered by a sorrowful story that is all told, or a
pathetic play that is played out.
Red-brick walls harmoniously toned down in colour by time, strong-
rooted ivy, latticed windows, panelled rooms, big oaken beams in
little places, and stone-walled gardens where annual fruit yet
ripened upon monkish trees, were the principal surroundings of
pretty old Mrs. Crisparkle and the Reverend Septimus as they sat at
'And what, Ma dear,' inquired the Minor Canon, giving proof of a
wholesome and vigorous appetite, 'does the letter say?'
The pretty old lady, after reading it, had just laid it down upon
the breakfast-cloth. She handed it over to her son.
Now, the old lady was exceedingly proud of her bright eyes being so
clear that she could read writing without spectacles. Her son was
also so proud of the circumstance, and so dutifully bent on her
deriving the utmost possible gratification from it, that he had
invented the pretence that he himself could NOT read writing
without spectacles. Therefore he now assumed a pair, of grave and
prodigious proportions, which not only seriously inconvenienced his
nose and his breakfast, but seriously impeded his perusal of the
letter. For, he had the eyes of a microscope and a telescope
combined, when they were unassisted.
'It's from Mr. Honeythunder, of course,' said the old lady, folding
'Of course,' assented her son. He then lamely read on:
'"Haven of Philanthropy,
Chief Offices, London, Wednesday.
'"I write in the - ;" In the what's this? What does he write in?'
'In the chair,' said the old lady.
The Reverend Septimus took off his spectacles, that he might see
her face, as he exclaimed:
'Why, what should he write in?'
'Bless me, bless me, Sept,' returned the old lady, 'you don't see
the context! Give it back to me, my dear.'
Glad to get his spectacles off (for they always made his eyes
water), her son obeyed: murmuring that his sight for reading
manuscript got worse and worse daily.
'"I write,"' his mother went on, reading very perspicuously and
precisely, '"from the chair, to which I shall probably be confined
for some hours."'
Septimus looked at the row of chairs against the wall, with a half-
protesting and half-appealing countenance.
'"We have,"' the old lady read on with a little extra emphasis, '"a
meeting of our Convened Chief Composite Committee of Central and
District Philanthropists, at our Head Haven as above; and it is
their unanimous pleasure that I take the chair."'
Septimus breathed more freely, and muttered: 'O! if he comes to
THAT, let him,'
'"Not to lose a day's post, I take the opportunity of a long report
being read, denouncing a public miscreant - "'
'It is a most extraordinary thing,' interposed the gentle Minor