The Mystery of Edwin Drood
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everything comes to an end, the unaccountable expedition comes to
an end - for the time.
CHAPTER XIII - BOTH AT THEIR BEST
MISS TWINKLETON'S establishment was about to undergo a serene hush.
The Christmas recess was at hand. What had once, and at no remote
period, been called, even by the erudite Miss Twinkleton herself,
'the half;' but what was now called, as being more elegant, and
more strictly collegiate, 'the term,' would expire to-morrow. A
noticeable relaxation of discipline had for some few days pervaded
the Nuns' House. Club suppers had occurred in the bedrooms, and a
dressed tongue had been carved with a pair of scissors, and handed
round with the curling tongs. Portions of marmalade had likewise
been distributed on a service of plates constructed of curlpaper;
and cowslip wine had been quaffed from the small squat measuring
glass in which little Rickitts (a junior of weakly constitution)
took her steel drops daily. The housemaids had been bribed with
various fragments of riband, and sundry pairs of shoes more or less
down at heel, to make no mention of crumbs in the beds; the airiest
costumes had been worn on these festive occasions; and the daring
Miss Ferdinand had even surprised the company with a sprightly solo
on the comb-and-curlpaper, until suffocated in her own pillow by
two flowing-haired executioners.
Nor were these the only tokens of dispersal. Boxes appeared in the
bedrooms (where they were capital at other times), and a surprising
amount of packing took place, out of all proportion to the amount
packed. Largess, in the form of odds and ends of cold cream and
pomatum, and also of hairpins, was freely distributed among the
attendants. On charges of inviolable secrecy, confidences were
interchanged respecting golden youth of England expected to call,
'at home,' on the first opportunity. Miss Giggles (deficient in
sentiment) did indeed profess that she, for her part, acknowledged
such homage by making faces at the golden youth; but this young
lady was outvoted by an immense majority.
On the last night before a recess, it was always expressly made a
point of honour that nobody should go to sleep, and that Ghosts
should be encouraged by all possible means. This compact
invariably broke down, and all the young ladies went to sleep very
soon, and got up very early.
The concluding ceremony came off at twelve o'clock on the day of
departure; when Miss Twinkleton, supported by Mrs. Tisher, held a
drawing-room in her own apartment (the globes already covered with
brown Holland), where glasses of white-wine and plates of cut
pound-cake were discovered on the table. Miss Twinkleton then
said: Ladies, another revolving year had brought us round to that
festive period at which the first feelings of our nature bounded in
our - Miss Twinkleton was annually going to add 'bosoms,' but
annually stopped on the brink of that expression, and substituted
'hearts.' Hearts; our hearts. Hem! Again a revolving year,
ladies, had brought us to a pause in our studies - let us hope our
greatly advanced studies - and, like the mariner in his bark, the
warrior in his tent, the captive in his dungeon, and the traveller
in his various conveyances, we yearned for home. Did we say, on
such an occasion, in the opening words of Mr. Addison's impressive
'The dawn is overcast, the morning lowers,
And heavily in clouds brings on the day,
The great, th' important day - ?'
Not so. From horizon to zenith all was COULEUR DE ROSE, for all
was redolent of our relations and friends. Might WE find THEM
prospering as WE expected; might THEY find US prospering as THEY
expected! Ladies, we would now, with our love to one another, wish
one another good-bye, and happiness, until we met again. And when
the time should come for our resumption of those pursuits which
(here a general depression set in all round), pursuits which,
pursuits which; - then let us ever remember what was said by the
Spartan General, in words too trite for repetition, at the battle
it were superfluous to specify.
The handmaidens of the establishment, in their best caps, then
handed the trays, and the young ladies sipped and crumbled, and the
bespoken coaches began to choke the street. Then leave-taking was
not long about; and Miss Twinkleton, in saluting each young lady's
cheek, confided to her an exceedingly neat letter, addressed to her
next friend at law, 'with Miss Twinkleton's best compliments' in
the corner. This missive she handed with an air as if it had not
the least connexion with the bill, but were something in the nature
of a delicate and joyful surprise.
So many times had Rosa seen such dispersals, and so very little did
she know of any other Home, that she was contented to remain where
she was, and was even better contented than ever before, having her
latest friend with her. And yet her latest friendship had a blank
place in it of which she could not fail to be sensible. Helena
Landless, having been a party to her brother's revelation about
Rosa, and having entered into that compact of silence with Mr.
Crisparkle, shrank from any allusion to Edwin Drood's name. Why
she so avoided it, was mysterious to Rosa, but she perfectly
perceived the fact. But for the fact, she might have relieved her
own little perplexed heart of some of its doubts and hesitations,
by taking Helena into her confidence. As it was, she had no such
vent: she could only ponder on her own difficulties, and wonder
more and more why this avoidance of Edwin's name should last, now
that she knew - for so much Helena had told her - that a good
understanding was to be reestablished between the two young men,
when Edwin came down.
It would have made a pretty picture, so many pretty girls kissing
Rosa in the cold porch of the Nuns' House, and that sunny little
creature peeping out of it (unconscious of sly faces carved on
spout and gable peeping at her), and waving farewells to the
departing coaches, as if she represented the spirit of rosy youth
abiding in the place to keep it bright and warm in its desertion.
The hoarse High Street became musical with the cry, in various
silvery voices, 'Good-bye, Rosebud darling!' and the effigy of Mr.
Sapsea's father over the opposite doorway seemed to say to mankind:
'Gentlemen, favour me with your attention to this charming little
last lot left behind, and bid with a spirit worthy of the
occasion!' Then the staid street, so unwontedly sparkling,
youthful, and fresh for a few rippling moments, ran dry, and
Cloisterham was itself again.
If Rosebud in her bower now waited Edwin Drood's coming with an
uneasy heart, Edwin for his part was uneasy too. With far less
force of purpose in his composition than the childish beauty,
crowned by acclamation fairy queen of Miss Twinkleton's
establishment, he had a conscience, and Mr. Grewgious had pricked
it. That gentleman's steady convictions of what was right and what
was wrong in such a case as his, were neither to be frowned aside
nor laughed aside. They would not be moved. But for the dinner in
Staple Inn, and but for the ring he carried in the breast pocket of
his coat, he would have drifted into their wedding-day without
another pause for real thought, loosely trusting that all would go
well, left alone. But that serious putting him on his truth to the
living and the dead had brought him to a check. He must either
give the ring to Rosa, or he must take it back. Once put into this
narrowed way of action, it was curious that he began to consider
Rosa's claims upon him more unselfishly than he had ever considered
them before, and began to be less sure of himself than he had ever
been in all his easy-going days.
'I will be guided by what she says, and by how we get on,' was his
decision, walking from the gatehouse to the Nuns' House. 'Whatever
comes of it, I will bear his words in mind, and try to be true to
the living and the dead.'
Rosa was dressed for walking. She expected him. It was a bright,
frosty day, and Miss Twinkleton had already graciously sanctioned
fresh air. Thus they got out together before it became necessary
for either Miss Twinkleton, or the deputy high-priest Mrs. Tisher,
to lay even so much as one of those usual offerings on the shrine
'My dear Eddy,' said Rosa, when they had turned out of the High
Street, and had got among the quiet walks in the neighbourhood of
the Cathedral and the river: 'I want to say something very serious
to you. I have been thinking about it for a long, long time.'
'I want to be serious with you too, Rosa dear. I mean to be
serious and earnest.'
'Thank you, Eddy. And you will not think me unkind because I
begin, will you? You will not think I speak for myself only,
because I speak first? That would not be generous, would it? And
I know you are generous!'
He said, 'I hope I am not ungenerous to you, Rosa.' He called her
Pussy no more. Never again.
'And there is no fear,' pursued Rosa, 'of our quarrelling, is
there? Because, Eddy,' clasping her hand on his arm, 'we have so
much reason to be very lenient to each other!'
'We will be, Rosa.'
'That's a dear good boy! Eddy, let us be courageous. Let us
change to brother and sister from this day forth.'
'Never be husband and wife?'
Neither spoke again for a little while. But after that pause he
said, with some effort:
'Of course I know that this has been in both our minds, Rosa, and
of course I am in honour bound to confess freely that it does not
originate with you.'
'No, nor with you, dear,' she returned, with pathetic earnestness.
'That sprung up between us. You are not truly happy in our
engagement; I am not truly happy in it. O, I am so sorry, so
sorry!' And there she broke into tears.
'I am deeply sorry too, Rosa. Deeply sorry for you.'
'And I for you, poor boy! And I for you!'
This pure young feeling, this gentle and forbearing feeling of each
towards the other, brought with it its reward in a softening light
that seemed to shine on their position. The relations between them
did not look wilful, or capricious, or a failure, in such a light;
they became elevated into something more self-denying, honourable,
affectionate, and true.