The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens

Chapter 21

A Recognition

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.

‘Landless.’

‘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.

‘Never!’

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!

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