The Mystery of Edwin Drood
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the two studious figures passed below him along the margin of the
river, in which the town fires and lights already shone, making the
landscape bleaker. He thought how the consciousness had stolen
upon him that in teaching one, he was teaching two; and how he had
almost insensibly adapted his explanations to both minds - that
with which his own was daily in contact, and that which he only
approached through it. He thought of the gossip that had reached
him from the Nuns' House, to the effect that Helena, whom he had
mistrusted as so proud and fierce, submitted herself to the fairy-
bride (as he called her), and learnt from her what she knew. He
thought of the picturesque alliance between those two, externally
so very different. He thought - perhaps most of all - could it be
that these things were yet but so many weeks old, and had become an
integral part of his life?
As, whenever the Reverend Septimus fell a-musing, his good mother
took it to be an infallible sign that he 'wanted support,' the
blooming old lady made all haste to the dining-room closet, to
produce from it the support embodied in a glass of Constantia and a
home-made biscuit. It was a most wonderful closet, worthy of
Cloisterham and of Minor Canon Corner. Above it, a portrait of
Handel in a flowing wig beamed down at the spectator, with a
knowing air of being up to the contents of the closet, and a
musical air of intending to combine all its harmonies in one
delicious fugue. No common closet with a vulgar door on hinges,
openable all at once, and leaving nothing to be disclosed by
degrees, this rare closet had a lock in mid-air, where two
perpendicular slides met; the one falling down, and the other
pushing up. The upper slide, on being pulled down (leaving the
lower a double mystery), revealed deep shelves of pickle-jars, jam-
pots, tin canisters, spice-boxes, and agreeably outlandish vessels
of blue and white, the luscious lodgings of preserved tamarinds and
ginger. Every benevolent inhabitant of this retreat had his name
inscribed upon his stomach. The pickles, in a uniform of rich
brown double-breasted buttoned coat, and yellow or sombre drab
continuations, announced their portly forms, in printed capitals,
as Walnut, Gherkin, Onion, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Mixed, and other
members of that noble family. The jams, as being of a less
masculine temperament, and as wearing curlpapers, announced
themselves in feminine caligraphy, like a soft whisper, to be
Raspberry, Gooseberry, Apricot, Plum, Damson, Apple, and Peach.
The scene closing on these charmers, and the lower slide ascending,
oranges were revealed, attended by a mighty japanned sugar-box, to
temper their acerbity if unripe. Home-made biscuits waited at the
Court of these Powers, accompanied by a goodly fragment of plum-
cake, and various slender ladies' fingers, to be dipped into sweet
wine and kissed. Lowest of all, a compact leaden-vault enshrined
the sweet wine and a stock of cordials: whence issued whispers of
Seville Orange, Lemon, Almond, and Caraway-seed. There was a
crowning air upon this closet of closets, of having been for ages
hummed through by the Cathedral bell and organ, until those
venerable bees had made sublimated honey of everything in store;
and it was always observed that every dipper among the shelves
(deep, as has been noticed, and swallowing up head, shoulders, and
elbows) came forth again mellow-faced, and seeming to have
undergone a saccharine transfiguration.
The Reverend Septimus yielded himself up quite as willing a victim
to a nauseous medicinal herb-closet, also presided over by the
china shepherdess, as to this glorious cupboard. To what amazing
infusions of gentian, peppermint, gilliflower, sage, parsley,
thyme, rue, rosemary, and dandelion, did his courageous stomach
submit itself! In what wonderful wrappers, enclosing layers of
dried leaves, would he swathe his rosy and contented face, if his
mother suspected him of a toothache! What botanical blotches would
he cheerfully stick upon his cheek, or forehead, if the dear old
lady convicted him of an imperceptible pimple there! Into this
herbaceous penitentiary, situated on an upper staircase-landing: a
low and narrow whitewashed cell, where bunches of dried leaves hung
from rusty hooks in the ceiling, and were spread out upon shelves,
in company with portentous bottles: would the Reverend Septimus
submissively be led, like the highly popular lamb who has so long
and unresistingly been led to the slaughter, and there would he,
unlike that lamb, bore nobody but himself. Not even doing that
much, so that the old lady were busy and pleased, he would quietly
swallow what was given him, merely taking a corrective dip of hands
and face into the great bowl of dried rose-leaves, and into the
other great bowl of dried lavender, and then would go out, as
confident in the sweetening powers of Cloisterham Weir and a
wholesome mind, as Lady Macbeth was hopeless of those of all the
seas that roll.
In the present instance the good Minor Canon took his glass of
Constantia with an excellent grace, and, so supported to his
mother's satisfaction, applied himself to the remaining duties of
the day. In their orderly and punctual progress they brought round
Vesper Service and twilight. The Cathedral being very cold, he set
off for a brisk trot after service; the trot to end in a charge at
his favourite fragment of ruin, which was to be carried by storm,
without a pause for breath.
He carried it in a masterly manner, and, not breathed even then,
stood looking down upon the river. The river at Cloisterham is
sufficiently near the sea to throw up oftentimes a quantity of
seaweed. An unusual quantity had come in with the last tide, and
this, and the confusion of the water, and the restless dipping and
flapping of the noisy gulls, and an angry light out seaward beyond
the brown-sailed barges that were turning black, foreshadowed a
stormy night. In his mind he was contrasting the wild and noisy
sea with the quiet harbour of Minor Canon Corner, when Helena and
Neville Landless passed below him. He had had the two together in
his thoughts all day, and at once climbed down to speak to them
together. The footing was rough in an uncertain light for any
tread save that of a good climber; but the Minor Canon was as good
a climber as most men, and stood beside them before many good
climbers would have been half-way down.
'A wild evening, Miss Landless! Do you not find your usual walk
with your brother too exposed and cold for the time of year? Or at
all events, when the sun is down, and the weather is driving in
from the sea?'
Helena thought not. It was their favourite walk. It was very
'It is very retired,' assented Mr. Crisparkle, laying hold of his
opportunity straightway, and walking on with them. 'It is a place
of all others where one can speak without interruption, as I wish
to do. Mr. Neville, I believe you tell your sister everything that
passes between us?'
'Consequently,' said Mr. Crisparkle, 'your sister is aware that I
have repeatedly urged you to make some kind of apology for that
unfortunate occurrence which befell on the night of your arrival
here.' In saying it he looked to her, and not to him; therefore it
was she, and not he, who replied:
'I call it unfortunate, Miss Helena,' resumed Mr. Crisparkle,
'forasmuch as it certainly has engendered a prejudice against
Neville. There is a notion about, that he is a dangerously
passionate fellow, of an uncontrollable and furious temper: he is
really avoided as such.'
'I have no doubt he is, poor fellow,' said Helena, with a look of
proud compassion at her brother, expressing a deep sense of his
being ungenerously treated. 'I should be quite sure of it, from
your saying so; but what you tell me is confirmed by suppressed
hints and references that I meet with every day.'
'Now,' Mr. Crisparkle again resumed, in a tone of mild though firm
persuasion, 'is not this to be regretted, and ought it not to be
amended? These are early days of Neville's in Cloisterham, and I
have no fear of his outliving such a prejudice, and proving himself
to have been misunderstood. But how much wiser to take action at
once, than to trust to uncertain time! Besides, apart from its
being politic, it is right. For there can be no question that
Neville was wrong.'
'He was provoked,' Helena submitted.
'He was the assailant,' Mr. Crisparkle submitted.
They walked on in silence, until Helena raised her eyes to the
Minor Canon's face, and said, almost reproachfully: 'O Mr.
Crisparkle, would you have Neville throw himself at young Drood's
feet, or at Mr. Jasper's, who maligns him every day? In your heart
you cannot mean it. From your heart you could not do it, if his
case were yours.'
'I have represented to Mr. Crisparkle, Helena,' said Neville, with
a glance of deference towards his tutor, 'that if I could do it
from my heart, I would. But I cannot, and I revolt from the
pretence. You forget however, that to put the case to Mr.
Crisparkle as his own, is to suppose to have done what I did.'
'I ask his pardon,' said Helena.
'You see,' remarked Mr. Crisparkle, again laying hold of his
opportunity, though with a moderate and delicate touch, 'you both
instinctively acknowledge that Neville did wrong. Then why stop
short, and not otherwise acknowledge it?'
'Is there no difference,' asked Helena, with a little faltering in
her manner; 'between submission to a generous spirit, and
submission to a base or trivial one?'
Before the worthy Minor Canon was quite ready with his argument in
reference to this nice distinction, Neville struck in:
'Help me to clear myself with Mr. Crisparkle, Helena. Help me to
convince him that I cannot be the first to make concessions without
mockery and falsehood. My nature must be changed before I can do
so, and it is not changed. I am sensible of inexpressible affront,
and deliberate aggravation of inexpressible affront, and I am
angry. The plain truth is, I am still as angry when I recall that
night as I was that night.'
'Neville,' hinted the Minor Canon, with a steady countenance, 'you
have repeated that former action of your hands, which I so much
'I am sorry for it, sir, but it was involuntary. I confessed that
I was still as angry.'
'And I confess,' said Mr. Crisparkle, 'that I hoped for better