The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens

Chapter 17

Philanthropy, Professional and Unprofessional

Full half a year had come and gone, and Mr. Crisparkle sat in a waiting-room in the London chief offices of the Haven of Philanthropy, until he could have audience of Mr. Honeythunder.

In his college days of athletic exercises, Mr. Crisparkle had known professors of the Noble Art of fisticuffs, and had attended two or three of their gloved gatherings. He had now an opportunity of observing that as to the phrenological formation of the backs of their heads, the Professing Philanthropists were uncommonly like the Pugilists. In the development of all those organs which constitute, or attend, a propensity to ‘pitch into’ your fellow-creatures, the Philanthropists were remarkably favoured. There were several Professors passing in and out, with exactly the aggressive air upon them of being ready for a turn-up with any Novice who might happen to be on hand, that Mr. Crisparkle well remembered in the circles of the Fancy. Preparations were in progress for a moral little Mill somewhere on the rural circuit, and other Professors were backing this or that Heavy–Weight as good for such or such speech-making hits, so very much after the manner of the sporting publicans, that the intended Resolutions might have been Rounds. In an official manager of these displays much celebrated for his platform tactics, Mr. Crisparkle recognised (in a suit of black) the counterpart of a deceased benefactor of his species, an eminent public character, once known to fame as Frosty-faced Fogo, who in days of yore superintended the formation of the magic circle with the ropes and stakes. There were only three conditions of resemblance wanting between these Professors and those. Firstly, the Philanthropists were in very bad training: much too fleshy, and presenting, both in face and figure, a superabundance of what is known to Pugilistic Experts as Suet Pudding. Secondly, the Philanthropists had not the good temper of the Pugilists, and used worse language. Thirdly, their fighting code stood in great need of revision, as empowering them not only to bore their man to the ropes, but to bore him to the confines of distraction; also to hit him when he was down, hit him anywhere and anyhow, kick him, stamp upon him, gouge him, and maul him behind his back without mercy. In these last particulars the Professors of the Noble Art were much nobler than the Professors of Philanthropy.

Mr. Crisparkle was so completely lost in musing on these similarities and dissimilarities, at the same time watching the crowd which came and went by, always, as it seemed, on errands of antagonistically snatching something from somebody, and never giving anything to anybody, that his name was called before he heard it. On his at length responding, he was shown by a miserably shabby and underpaid stipendiary Philanthropist (who could hardly have done worse if he had taken service with a declared enemy of the human race) to Mr. Honeythunder’s room.

‘Sir,’ said Mr. Honeythunder, in his tremendous voice, like a schoolmaster issuing orders to a boy of whom he had a bad opinion, ‘sit down.’

Mr. Crisparkle seated himself.

Mr. Honeythunder having signed the remaining few score of a few thousand circulars, calling upon a corresponding number of families without means to come forward, stump up instantly, and be Philanthropists, or go to the Devil, another shabby stipendiary Philanthropist (highly disinterested, if in earnest) gathered these into a basket and walked off with them.

‘Now, Mr. Crisparkle,’ said Mr. Honeythunder, turning his chair half round towards him when they were alone, and squaring his arms with his hands on his knees, and his brows knitted, as if he added, I am going to make short work of you: ‘Now, Mr. Crisparkle, we entertain different views, you and I, sir, of the sanctity of human life.’

‘Do we?’ returned the Minor Canon.

‘We do, sir?’

‘Might I ask you,’ said the Minor Canon: ‘what are your views on that subject?’

‘That human life is a thing to be held sacred, sir.’

‘Might I ask you,’ pursued the Minor Canon as before: ‘what you suppose to be my views on that subject?’

‘By George, sir!’ returned the Philanthropist, squaring his arms still more, as he frowned on Mr. Crisparkle: ‘they are best known to yourself.’

‘Readily admitted. But you began by saying that we took different views, you know. Therefore (or you could not say so) you must have set up some views as mine. Pray, what views have you set up as mine?’

‘Here is a man — and a young man,’ said Mr. Honeythunder, as if that made the matter infinitely worse, and he could have easily borne the loss of an old one, ‘swept off the face of the earth by a deed of violence. What do you call that?’

‘Murder,’ said the Minor Canon.

‘What do you call the doer of that deed, sir?

‘A murderer,’ said the Minor Canon.

‘I am glad to hear you admit so much, sir,’ retorted Mr. Honeythunder, in his most offensive manner; ‘and I candidly tell you that I didn’t expect it.’ Here he lowered heavily at Mr. Crisparkle again.

‘Be so good as to explain what you mean by those very unjustifiable expressions.’

‘I don’t sit here, sir,’ returned the Philanthropist, raising his voice to a roar, ‘to be browbeaten.’

‘As the only other person present, no one can possibly know that better than I do,’ returned the Minor Canon very quietly. ‘But I interrupt your explanation.’

‘Murder!’ proceeded Mr. Honeythunder, in a kind of boisterous reverie, with his platform folding of his arms, and his platform nod of abhorrent reflection after each short sentiment of a word. ‘Bloodshed! Abel! Cain! I hold no terms with Cain. I repudiate with a shudder the red hand when it is offered me.’

Instead of instantly leaping into his chair and cheering himself hoarse, as the Brotherhood in public meeting assembled would infallibly have done on this cue, Mr. Crisparkle merely reversed the quiet crossing of his legs, and said mildly: ‘Don’t let me interrupt your explanation — when you begin it.’

‘The Commandments say, no murder. NO murder, sir!’ proceeded Mr. Honeythunder, platformally pausing as if he took Mr. Crisparkle to task for having distinctly asserted that they said: You may do a little murder, and then leave off.

‘And they also say, you shall bear no false witness,’ observed Mr. Crisparkle.

‘Enough!’ bellowed Mr. Honeythunder, with a solemnity and severity that would have brought the house down at a meeting, ‘E-e-nough! My late wards being now of age, and I being released from a trust which I cannot contemplate without a thrill of horror, there are the accounts which you have undertaken to accept on their behalf, and there is a statement of the balance which you have undertaken to receive, and which you cannot receive too soon. And let me tell you, sir, I wish that, as a man and a Minor Canon, you were better employed,’ with a nod. ‘Better employed,’ with another nod. ‘Bet-ter em-ployed!’ with another and the three nods added up.

Mr. Crisparkle rose; a little heated in the face, but with perfect command of himself.

‘Mr. Honeythunder,’ he said, taking up the papers referred to: ‘my being better or worse employed than I am at present is a matter of taste and opinion. You might think me better employed in enrolling myself a member of your Society.’

‘Ay, indeed, sir!’ retorted Mr. Honeythunder, shaking his head in a threatening manner. ‘It would have been better for you if you had done that long ago!’

‘I think otherwise.’

‘Or,’ said Mr. Honeythunder, shaking his head again, ‘I might think one of your profession better employed in devoting himself to the discovery and punishment of guilt than in leaving that duty to be undertaken by a layman.’

‘I may regard my profession from a point of view which teaches me that its first duty is towards those who are in necessity and tribulation, who are desolate and oppressed,’ said Mr. Crisparkle. ‘However, as I have quite clearly satisfied myself that it is no part of my profession to make professions, I say no more of that. But I owe it to Mr. Neville, and to Mr. Neville’s sister (and in a much lower degree to myself), to say to you that I know I was in the full possession and understanding of Mr. Neville’s mind and heart at the time of this occurrence; and that, without in the least colouring or concealing what was to be deplored in him and required to be corrected, I feel certain that his tale is true. Feeling that certainty, I befriend him. As long as that certainty shall last, I will befriend him. And if any consideration could shake me in this resolve, I should be so ashamed of myself for my meanness, that no man’s good opinion — no, nor no woman’s — so gained, could compensate me for the loss of my own.’

Good fellow! manly fellow! And he was so modest, too. There was no more self-assertion in the Minor Canon than in the schoolboy who had stood in the breezy playing-fields keeping a wicket. He was simply and staunchly true to his duty alike in the large case and in the small. So all true souls ever are. So every true soul ever was, ever is, and ever will be. There is nothing little to the really great in spirit.

‘Then who do you make out did the deed?’ asked Mr. Honeythunder, turning on him abruptly.

‘Heaven forbid,’ said Mr. Crisparkle, ‘that in my desire to clear one man I should lightly criminate another! I accuse no one,’

‘Tcha!’ ejaculated Mr. Honeythunder with great disgust; for this was by no means the principle on which the Philanthropic Brotherhood usually proceeded. ‘And, sir, you are not a disinterested witness, we must bear in mind.’

‘How am I an interested one?’ inquired Mr. Crisparkle, smiling innocently, at a loss to imagine.

‘There was a certain stipend, sir, paid to you for your pupil, which may have warped your judgment a bit,’ said Mr. Honeythunder, coarsely.

‘Perhaps I expect to retain it still?’ Mr. Crisparkle returned, enlightened; ‘do you mean that too?’

‘Well, sir,’ returned the professional Philanthropist, getting up and thrusting his hands down into his trousers-pockets, ‘I don’t go about measuring people for caps. If people find I have any about me that fit ’em, they can put ’em on and wear ’em, if they like. That’s their look out: not mine.’

Mr. Crisparkle eyed him with a just indignation, and took him to task thus:

‘Mr. Honeythunder, I hoped when I came in here that I might be under no necessity of commenting on the introduction of platform manners or platform manoeuvres among the decent forbearances of private life. But you have given me such a specimen of both, that I should be a fit subject for both if I remained silent respecting them. They are detestable.’

‘They don’t suit you, I dare say, sir.’

‘They are,’ repeated Mr. Crisparkle, without noticing the interruption, ‘detestable. They violate equally the justice that should belong to Christians, and the restraints that should belong to gentlemen. You assume a great crime to have been committed by one whom I, acquainted with the attendant circumstances, and having numerous reasons on my side, devoutly believe to be innocent of it. Because I differ from you on that vital point, what is your platform resource? Instantly to turn upon me, charging that I have no sense of the enormity of the crime itself, but am its aider and abettor! So, another time — taking me as representing your opponent in other cases — you set up a platform credulity; a moved and seconded and carried-unanimously profession of faith in some ridiculous delusion or mischievous imposition. I decline to believe it, and you fall back upon your platform resource of proclaiming that I believe nothing; that because I will not bow down to a false God of your making, I deny the true God! Another time you make the platform discovery that War is a calamity, and you propose to abolish it by a string of twisted resolutions tossed into the air like the tail of a kite. I do not admit the discovery to be yours in the least, and I have not a grain of faith in your remedy. Again, your platform resource of representing me as revelling in the horrors of a battle-field like a fiend incarnate! Another time, in another of your undiscriminating platform rushes, you would punish the sober for the drunken. I claim consideration for the comfort, convenience, and refreshment of the sober; and you presently make platform proclamation that I have a depraved desire to turn Heaven’s creatures into swine and wild beasts! In all such cases your movers, and your seconders, and your supporters — your regular Professors of all degrees, run amuck like so many mad Malays; habitually attributing the lowest and basest motives with the utmost recklessness (let me call your attention to a recent instance in yourself for which you should blush), and quoting figures which you know to be as wilfully onesided as a statement of any complicated account that should be all Creditor side and no Debtor, or all Debtor side and no Creditor. Therefore it is, Mr. Honeythunder, that I consider the platform a sufficiently bad example and a sufficiently bad school, even in public life; but hold that, carried into private life, it becomes an unendurable nuisance.’

‘These are strong words, sir!’ exclaimed the Philanthropist.

‘I hope so,’ said Mr. Crisparkle. ‘Good morning.’

He walked out of the Haven at a great rate, but soon fell into his regular brisk pace, and soon had a smile upon his face as he went along, wondering what the china shepherdess would have said if she had seen him pounding Mr. Honeythunder in the late little lively affair. For Mr. Crisparkle had just enough of harmless vanity to hope that he had hit hard, and to glow with the belief that he had trimmed the Philanthropic Jacket pretty handsomely.

He took himself to Staple Inn, but not to P. J. T. and Mr. Grewgious. Full many a creaking stair he climbed before he reached some attic rooms in a corner, turned the latch of their unbolted door, and stood beside the table of Neville Landless.

An air of retreat and solitude hung about the rooms and about their inhabitant. He was much worn, and so were they. Their sloping ceilings, cumbrous rusty locks and grates, and heavy wooden bins and beams, slowly mouldering withal, had a prisonous look, and he had the haggard face of a prisoner. Yet the sunlight shone in at the ugly garret-window, which had a penthouse to itself thrust out among the tiles; and on the cracked and smoke-blackened parapet beyond, some of the deluded sparrows of the place rheumatically hopped, like little feathered cripples who had left their crutches in their nests; and there was a play of living leaves at hand that changed the air, and made an imperfect sort of music in it that would have been melody in the country.

The rooms were sparely furnished, but with good store of books. Everything expressed the abode of a poor student. That Mr. Crisparkle had been either chooser, lender, or donor of the books, or that he combined the three characters, might have been easily seen in the friendly beam of his eyes upon them as he entered.

‘How goes it, Neville?’

‘I am in good heart, Mr. Crisparkle, and working away.’

‘I wish your eyes were not quite so large and not quite so bright,’ said the Minor Canon, slowly releasing the hand he had taken in his.

‘They brighten at the sight of you,’ returned Neville. ‘If you were to fall away from me, they would soon be dull enough.’

‘Rally, rally!’ urged the other, in a stimulating tone. ‘Fight for it, Neville!’

‘If I were dying, I feel as if a word from you would rally me; if my pulse had stopped, I feel as if your touch would make it beat again,’ said Neville. ‘But I have rallied, and am doing famously.’

Mr. Crisparkle turned him with his face a little more towards the light.

‘I want to see a ruddier touch here, Neville,’ he said, indicating his own healthy cheek by way of pattern. ‘I want more sun to shine upon you.’

Neville drooped suddenly, as he replied in a lowered voice: ‘I am not hardy enough for that, yet. I may become so, but I cannot bear it yet. If you had gone through those Cloisterham streets as I did; if you had seen, as I did, those averted eyes, and the better sort of people silently giving me too much room to pass, that I might not touch them or come near them, you wouldn’t think it quite unreasonable that I cannot go about in the daylight.’

‘My poor fellow!’ said the Minor Canon, in a tone so purely sympathetic that the young man caught his hand, ‘I never said it was unreasonable; never thought so. But I should like you to do it.’

‘And that would give me the strongest motive to do it. But I cannot yet. I cannot persuade myself that the eyes of even the stream of strangers I pass in this vast city look at me without suspicion. I feel marked and tainted, even when I go out — as I do only — at night. But the darkness covers me then, and I take courage from it.’

Mr. Crisparkle laid a hand upon his shoulder, and stood looking down at him.

‘If I could have changed my name,’ said Neville, ‘I would have done so. But as you wisely pointed out to me, I can’t do that, for it would look like guilt. If I could have gone to some distant place, I might have found relief in that, but the thing is not to be thought of, for the same reason. Hiding and escaping would be the construction in either case. It seems a little hard to be so tied to a stake, and innocent; but I don’t complain.’

‘And you must expect no miracle to help you, Neville,’ said Mr. Crisparkle, compassionately.

‘No, sir, I know that. The ordinary fulness of time and circumstances is all I have to trust to.’

‘It will right you at last, Neville.’

‘So I believe, and I hope I may live to know it.’

But perceiving that the despondent mood into which he was falling cast a shadow on the Minor Canon, and (it may be) feeling that the broad hand upon his shoulder was not then quite as steady as its own natural strength had rendered it when it first touched him just now, he brightened and said:

‘Excellent circumstances for study, anyhow! and you know, Mr. Crisparkle, what need I have of study in all ways. Not to mention that you have advised me to study for the difficult profession of the law, specially, and that of course I am guiding myself by the advice of such a friend and helper. Such a good friend and helper!’

He took the fortifying hand from his shoulder, and kissed it. Mr. Crisparkle beamed at the books, but not so brightly as when he had entered.

‘I gather from your silence on the subject that my late guardian is adverse, Mr. Crisparkle?’

The Minor Canon answered: ‘Your late guardian is a — a most unreasonable person, and it signifies nothing to any reasonable person whether he is adverse, perverse, or the reverse.’

‘Well for me that I have enough with economy to live upon,’ sighed Neville, half wearily and half cheerily, ‘while I wait to be learned, and wait to be righted! Else I might have proved the proverb, that while the grass grows, the steed starves!’

He opened some books as he said it, and was soon immersed in their interleaved and annotated passages; while Mr. Crisparkle sat beside him, expounding, correcting, and advising. The Minor Canon’s Cathedral duties made these visits of his difficult to accomplish, and only to be compassed at intervals of many weeks. But they were as serviceable as they were precious to Neville Landless.

When they had got through such studies as they had in hand, they stood leaning on the window-sill, and looking down upon the patch of garden. ‘Next week,’ said Mr. Crisparkle, ‘you will cease to be alone, and will have a devoted companion.’

‘And yet,’ returned Neville, ‘this seems an uncongenial place to bring my sister to.’

‘I don’t think so,’ said the Minor Canon. ‘There is duty to be done here; and there are womanly feeling, sense, and courage wanted here.’

‘I meant,’ explained Neville, ‘that the surroundings are so dull and unwomanly, and that Helena can have no suitable friend or society here.’

‘You have only to remember,’ said Mr. Crisparkle, ‘that you are here yourself, and that she has to draw you into the sunlight.’

They were silent for a little while, and then Mr. Crisparkle began anew.

‘When we first spoke together, Neville, you told me that your sister had risen out of the disadvantages of your past lives as superior to you as the tower of Cloisterham Cathedral is higher than the chimneys of Minor Canon Corner. Do you remember that?’

‘Right well!’

‘I was inclined to think it at the time an enthusiastic flight. No matter what I think it now. What I would emphasise is, that under the head of Pride your sister is a great and opportune example to you.’

‘Under all heads that are included in the composition of a fine character, she is.’

‘Say so; but take this one. Your sister has learnt how to govern what is proud in her nature. She can dominate it even when it is wounded through her sympathy with you. No doubt she has suffered deeply in those same streets where you suffered deeply. No doubt her life is darkened by the cloud that darkens yours. But bending her pride into a grand composure that is not haughty or aggressive, but is a sustained confidence in you and in the truth, she has won her way through those streets until she passes along them as high in the general respect as any one who treads them. Every day and hour of her life since Edwin Drood’s disappearance, she has faced malignity and folly — for you — as only a brave nature well directed can. So it will be with her to the end. Another and weaker kind of pride might sink broken-hearted, but never such a pride as hers: which knows no shrinking, and can get no mastery over her.’

The pale cheek beside him flushed under the comparison, and the hint implied in it.

‘I will do all I can to imitate her,’ said Neville.

‘Do so, and be a truly brave man, as she is a truly brave woman,’ answered Mr. Crisparkle stoutly. ‘It is growing dark. Will you go my way with me, when it is quite dark? Mind! it is not I who wait for darkness.’

Neville replied, that he would accompany him directly. But Mr. Crisparkle said he had a moment’s call to make on Mr. Grewgious as an act of courtesy, and would run across to that gentleman’s chambers, and rejoin Neville on his own doorstep, if he would come down there to meet him.

Mr. Grewgious, bolt upright as usual, sat taking his wine in the dusk at his open window; his wineglass and decanter on the round table at his elbow; himself and his legs on the window-seat; only one hinge in his whole body, like a bootjack.

‘How do you do, reverend sir?’ said Mr. Grewgious, with abundant offers of hospitality, which were as cordially declined as made. ‘And how is your charge getting on over the way in the set that I had the pleasure of recommending to you as vacant and eligible?’

Mr. Crisparkle replied suitably.

‘I am glad you approve of them,’ said Mr. Grewgious, ‘because I entertain a sort of fancy for having him under my eye.’

As Mr. Grewgious had to turn his eye up considerably before he could see the chambers, the phrase was to be taken figuratively and not literally.

‘And how did you leave Mr. Jasper, reverend sir?’ said Mr. Grewgious.

Mr. Crisparkle had left him pretty well.

‘And where did you leave Mr. Jasper, reverend sir?’ Mr. Crisparkle had left him at Cloisterham.

‘And when did you leave Mr. Jasper, reverend sir?’ That morning.

‘Umps!’ said Mr. Grewgious. ‘He didn’t say he was coming, perhaps?’

‘Coming where?’

‘Anywhere, for instance?’ said Mr. Grewgious.

‘No.’

‘Because here he is,’ said Mr. Grewgious, who had asked all these questions, with his preoccupied glance directed out at window. ‘And he don’t look agreeable, does he?’

Mr. Crisparkle was craning towards the window, when Mr. Grewgious added:

‘If you will kindly step round here behind me, in the gloom of the room, and will cast your eye at the second-floor landing window in yonder house, I think you will hardly fail to see a slinking individual in whom I recognise our local friend.’

‘You are right!’ cried Mr. Crisparkle.

‘Umps!’ said Mr. Grewgious. Then he added, turning his face so abruptly that his head nearly came into collision with Mr. Crisparkle’s: ‘what should you say that our local friend was up to?’

The last passage he had been shown in the Diary returned on Mr. Crisparkle’s mind with the force of a strong recoil, and he asked Mr. Grewgious if he thought it possible that Neville was to be harassed by the keeping of a watch upon him?

‘A watch?’ repeated Mr. Grewgious musingly. ‘Ay!’

‘Which would not only of itself haunt and torture his life,’ said Mr. Crisparkle warmly, ‘but would expose him to the torment of a perpetually reviving suspicion, whatever he might do, or wherever he might go.’

‘Ay!’ said Mr. Grewgious musingly still. ‘Do I see him waiting for you?’

‘No doubt you do.’

‘Then would you have the goodness to excuse my getting up to see you out, and to go out to join him, and to go the way that you were going, and to take no notice of our local friend?’ said Mr. Grewgious. ‘I entertain a sort of fancy for having him under my eye to-night, do you know?’

Mr. Crisparkle, with a significant need complied; and rejoining Neville, went away with him. They dined together, and parted at the yet unfinished and undeveloped railway station: Mr. Crisparkle to get home; Neville to walk the streets, cross the bridges, make a wide round of the city in the friendly darkness, and tire himself out.

It was midnight when he returned from his solitary expedition and climbed his staircase. The night was hot, and the windows of the staircase were all wide open. Coming to the top, it gave him a passing chill of surprise (there being no rooms but his up there) to find a stranger sitting on the window-sill, more after the manner of a venturesome glazier than an amateur ordinarily careful of his neck; in fact, so much more outside the window than inside, as to suggest the thought that he must have come up by the water-spout instead of the stairs.

The stranger said nothing until Neville put his key in his door; then, seeming to make sure of his identity from the action, he spoke:

‘I beg your pardon,’ he said, coming from the window with a frank and smiling air, and a prepossessing address; ‘the beans.’

Neville was quite at a loss.

‘Runners,’ said the visitor. ‘Scarlet. Next door at the back.’

‘O,’ returned Neville. ‘And the mignonette and wall-flower?’

‘The same,’ said the visitor.

‘Pray walk in.’

‘Thank you.’

Neville lighted his candles, and the visitor sat down. A handsome gentleman, with a young face, but with an older figure in its robustness and its breadth of shoulder; say a man of eight-and-twenty, or at the utmost thirty; so extremely sunburnt that the contrast between his brown visage and the white forehead shaded out of doors by his hat, and the glimpses of white throat below the neckerchief, would have been almost ludicrous but for his broad temples, bright blue eyes, clustering brown hair, and laughing teeth.

‘I have noticed,’ said he; ‘— my name is Tartar.’

Neville inclined his head.

‘I have noticed (excuse me) that you shut yourself up a good deal, and that you seem to like my garden aloft here. If you would like a little more of it, I could throw out a few lines and stays between my windows and yours, which the runners would take to directly. And I have some boxes, both of mignonette and wall– flower, that I could shove on along the gutter (with a boathook I have by me) to your windows, and draw back again when they wanted watering or gardening, and shove on again when they were ship-shape; so that they would cause you no trouble. I couldn’t take this liberty without asking your permission, so I venture to ask it. Tartar, corresponding set, next door.’

‘You are very kind.’

‘Not at all. I ought to apologise for looking in so late. But having noticed (excuse me) that you generally walk out at night, I thought I should inconvenience you least by awaiting your return. I am always afraid of inconveniencing busy men, being an idle man.’

‘I should not have thought so, from your appearance.’

‘No? I take it as a compliment. In fact, I was bred in the Royal Navy, and was First Lieutenant when I quitted it. But, an uncle disappointed in the service leaving me his property on condition that I left the Navy, I accepted the fortune, and resigned my commission.’

‘Lately, I presume?’

‘Well, I had had twelve or fifteen years of knocking about first. I came here some nine months before you; I had had one crop before you came. I chose this place, because, having served last in a little corvette, I knew I should feel more at home where I had a constant opportunity of knocking my head against the ceiling. Besides, it would never do for a man who had been aboard ship from his boyhood to turn luxurious all at once. Besides, again; having been accustomed to a very short allowance of land all my life, I thought I’d feel my way to the command of a landed estate, by beginning in boxes.’

Whimsically as this was said, there was a touch of merry earnestness in it that made it doubly whimsical.

‘However,’ said the Lieutenant, ‘I have talked quite enough about myself. It is not my way, I hope; it has merely been to present myself to you naturally. If you will allow me to take the liberty I have described, it will be a charity, for it will give me something more to do. And you are not to suppose that it will entail any interruption or intrusion on you, for that is far from my intention.’

Neville replied that he was greatly obliged, and that he thankfully accepted the kind proposal.

‘I am very glad to take your windows in tow,’ said the Lieutenant. ‘From what I have seen of you when I have been gardening at mine, and you have been looking on, I have thought you (excuse me) rather too studious and delicate. May I ask, is your health at all affected?’

‘I have undergone some mental distress,’ said Neville, confused, ‘which has stood me in the stead of illness.’

‘Pardon me,’ said Mr. Tartar.

With the greatest delicacy he shifted his ground to the windows again, and asked if he could look at one of them. On Neville’s opening it, he immediately sprang out, as if he were going aloft with a whole watch in an emergency, and were setting a bright example.

‘For Heaven’s sake,’ cried Neville, ‘don’t do that! Where are you going Mr. Tartar? You’ll be dashed to pieces!’

‘All well!’ said the Lieutenant, coolly looking about him on the housetop. ‘All taut and trim here. Those lines and stays shall be rigged before you turn out in the morning. May I take this short cut home, and say good-night?’

‘Mr. Tartar!’ urged Neville. ‘Pray! It makes me giddy to see you!’

But Mr. Tartar, with a wave of his hand and the deftness of a cat, had already dipped through his scuttle of scarlet runners without breaking a leaf, and ‘gone below.’

Mr. Grewgious, his bedroom window-blind held aside with his hand, happened at the moment to have Neville’s chambers under his eye for the last time that night. Fortunately his eye was on the front of the house and not the back, or this remarkable appearance and disappearance might have broken his rest as a phenomenon. But Mr. Grewgious seeing nothing there, not even a light in the windows, his gaze wandered from the windows to the stars, as if he would have read in them something that was hidden from him. Many of us would, if we could; but none of us so much as know our letters in the stars yet — or seem likely to do it, in this state of existence–-and few languages can be read until their alphabets are mastered.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:30