The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens

Chapter 23

The Dawn Again

Although Mr. Crisparkle and John Jasper met daily under the Cathedral roof, nothing at any time passed between them having reference to Edwin Drood, after the time, more than half a year gone by, when Jasper mutely showed the Minor Canon the conclusion and the resolution entered in his Diary. It is not likely that they ever met, though so often, without the thoughts of each reverting to the subject. It is not likely that they ever met, though so often, without a sensation on the part of each that the other was a perplexing secret to him. Jasper as the denouncer and pursuer of Neville Landless, and Mr. Crisparkle as his consistent advocate and protector, must at least have stood sufficiently in opposition to have speculated with keen interest on the steadiness and next direction of the other’s designs. But neither ever broached the theme.

False pretence not being in the Minor Canon’s nature, he doubtless displayed openly that he would at any time have revived the subject, and even desired to discuss it. The determined reticence of Jasper, however, was not to be so approached. Impassive, moody, solitary, resolute, so concentrated on one idea, and on its attendant fixed purpose, that he would share it with no fellow-creature, he lived apart from human life. Constantly exercising an Art which brought him into mechanical harmony with others, and which could not have been pursued unless he and they had been in the nicest mechanical relations and unison, it is curious to consider that the spirit of the man was in moral accordance or interchange with nothing around him. This indeed he had confided to his lost nephew, before the occasion for his present inflexibility arose.

That he must know of Rosa’s abrupt departure, and that he must divine its cause, was not to be doubted. Did he suppose that he had terrified her into silence? or did he suppose that she had imparted to any one — to Mr. Crisparkle himself, for instance — the particulars of his last interview with her? Mr. Crisparkle could not determine this in his mind. He could not but admit, however, as a just man, that it was not, of itself, a crime to fall in love with Rosa, any more than it was a crime to offer to set love above revenge.

The dreadful suspicion of Jasper, which Rosa was so shocked to have received into her imagination, appeared to have no harbour in Mr. Crisparkle’s. If it ever haunted Helena’s thoughts or Neville’s, neither gave it one spoken word of utterance. Mr. Grewgious took no pains to conceal his implacable dislike of Jasper, yet he never referred it, however distantly, to such a source. But he was a reticent as well as an eccentric man; and he made no mention of a certain evening when he warmed his hands at the gatehouse fire, and looked steadily down upon a certain heap of torn and miry clothes upon the floor.

Drowsy Cloisterham, whenever it awoke to a passing reconsideration of a story above six months old and dismissed by the bench of magistrates, was pretty equally divided in opinion whether John Jasper’s beloved nephew had been killed by his treacherously passionate rival, or in an open struggle; or had, for his own purposes, spirited himself away. It then lifted up its head, to notice that the bereaved Jasper was still ever devoted to discovery and revenge; and then dozed off again. This was the condition of matters, all round, at the period to which the present history has now attained.

The Cathedral doors have closed for the night; and the Choir-master, on a short leave of absence for two or three services, sets his face towards London. He travels thither by the means by which Rosa travelled, and arrives, as Rosa arrived, on a hot, dusty evening.

His travelling baggage is easily carried in his hand, and he repairs with it on foot, to a hybrid hotel in a little square behind Aldersgate Street, near the General Post Office. It is hotel, boarding-house, or lodging-house, at its visitor’s option. It announces itself, in the new Railway Advertisers, as a novel enterprise, timidly beginning to spring up. It bashfully, almost apologetically, gives the traveller to understand that it does not expect him, on the good old constitutional hotel plan, to order a pint of sweet blacking for his drinking, and throw it away; but insinuates that he may have his boots blacked instead of his stomach, and maybe also have bed, breakfast, attendance, and a porter up all night, for a certain fixed charge. From these and similar premises, many true Britons in the lowest spirits deduce that the times are levelling times, except in the article of high roads, of which there will shortly be not one in England.

He eats without appetite, and soon goes forth again. Eastward and still eastward through the stale streets he takes his way, until he reaches his destination: a miserable court, specially miserable among many such.

He ascends a broken staircase, opens a door, looks into a dark stifling room, and says: ‘Are you alone here?’

‘Alone, deary; worse luck for me, and better for you,’ replies a croaking voice. ‘Come in, come in, whoever you be: I can’t see you till I light a match, yet I seem to know the sound of your speaking. I’m acquainted with you, ain’t I?’

‘Light your match, and try.’

‘So I will, deary, so I will; but my hand that shakes, as I can’t lay it on a match all in a moment. And I cough so, that, put my matches where I may, I never find ’em there. They jump and start, as I cough and cough, like live things. Are you off a voyage, deary?’

‘No.’

‘Not seafaring?’

‘No.’

‘Well, there’s land customers, and there’s water customers. I’m a mother to both. Different from Jack Chinaman t’other side the court. He ain’t a father to neither. It ain’t in him. And he ain’t got the true secret of mixing, though he charges as much as me that has, and more if he can get it. Here’s a match, and now where’s the candle? If my cough takes me, I shall cough out twenty matches afore I gets a light.’

But she finds the candle, and lights it, before the cough comes on. It seizes her in the moment of success, and she sits down rocking herself to and fro, and gasping at intervals: ‘O, my lungs is awful bad! my lungs is wore away to cabbage-nets!’ until the fit is over. During its continuance she has had no power of sight, or any other power not absorbed in the struggle; but as it leaves her, she begins to strain her eyes, and as soon as she is able to articulate, she cries, staring:

‘Why, it’s you!’

‘Are you so surprised to see me?’

‘I thought I never should have seen you again, deary. I thought you was dead, and gone to Heaven.’

‘Why?’

‘I didn’t suppose you could have kept away, alive, so long, from the poor old soul with the real receipt for mixing it. And you are in mourning too! Why didn’t you come and have a pipe or two of comfort? Did they leave you money, perhaps, and so you didn’t want comfort?’

‘ No.’

‘Who was they as died, deary?’

‘A relative.’

‘Died of what, lovey?’

‘Probably, Death.’

‘We are short to-night!’ cries the woman, with a propitiatory laugh. ‘Short and snappish we are! But we’re out of sorts for want of a smoke. We’ve got the all-overs, haven’t us, deary? But this is the place to cure ’em in; this is the place where the all-overs is smoked off.’

‘You may make ready, then,’ replies the visitor, ‘as soon as you like.’

He divests himself of his shoes, loosens his cravat, and lies across the foot of the squalid bed, with his head resting on his left hand.

‘Now you begin to look like yourself,’ says the woman approvingly. ‘Now I begin to know my old customer indeed! Been trying to mix for yourself this long time, poppet?’

‘I have been taking it now and then in my own way.’

‘Never take it your own way. It ain’t good for trade, and it ain’t good for you. Where’s my ink-bottle, and where’s my thimble, and where’s my little spoon? He’s going to take it in a artful form now, my deary dear!’

Entering on her process, and beginning to bubble and blow at the faint spark enclosed in the hollow of her hands, she speaks from time to time, in a tone of snuffling satisfaction, without leaving off. When he speaks, he does so without looking at her, and as if his thoughts were already roaming away by anticipation.

‘I’ve got a pretty many smokes ready for you, first and last, haven’t I, chuckey?’

‘A good many.’

‘When you first come, you was quite new to it; warn’t ye?’

‘Yes, I was easily disposed of, then.’

‘But you got on in the world, and was able by-and-by to take your pipe with the best of ’em, warn’t ye?’

‘Ah; and the worst.’

‘It’s just ready for you. What a sweet singer you was when you first come! Used to drop your head, and sing yourself off like a bird! It’s ready for you now, deary.’

He takes it from her with great care, and puts the mouthpiece to his lips. She seats herself beside him, ready to refill the pipe.

After inhaling a few whiffs in silence, he doubtingly accosts her with:

‘Is it as potent as it used to be?’

‘What do you speak of, deary?’

‘What should I speak of, but what I have in my mouth?’

‘It’s just the same. Always the identical same.’

‘It doesn’t taste so. And it’s slower.’

‘You’ve got more used to it, you see.’

‘That may be the cause, certainly. Look here.’ He stops, becomes dreamy, and seems to forget that he has invited her attention. She bends over him, and speaks in his ear.

‘I’m attending to you. Says you just now, Look here. Says I now, I’m attending to ye. We was talking just before of your being used to it.’

‘I know all that. I was only thinking. Look here. Suppose you had something in your mind; something you were going to do.’

‘Yes, deary; something I was going to do?’

‘But had not quite determined to do.’

‘Yes, deary.’

‘Might or might not do, you understand.’

‘Yes.’ With the point of a needle she stirs the contents of the bowl.

‘Should you do it in your fancy, when you were lying here doing this?’

She nods her head. ‘Over and over again.’

‘Just like me! I did it over and over again. I have done it hundreds of thousands of times in this room.’

‘It’s to be hoped it was pleasant to do, deary.’

‘It was pleasant to do!’

He says this with a savage air, and a spring or start at her. Quite unmoved she retouches and replenishes the contents of the bowl with her little spatula. Seeing her intent upon the occupation, he sinks into his former attitude.

‘It was a journey, a difficult and dangerous journey. That was the subject in my mind. A hazardous and perilous journey, over abysses where a slip would be destruction. Look down, look down! You see what lies at the bottom there?’

He has darted forward to say it, and to point at the ground, as though at some imaginary object far beneath. The woman looks at him, as his spasmodic face approaches close to hers, and not at his pointing. She seems to know what the influence of her perfect quietude would be; if so, she has not miscalculated it, for he subsides again.

‘Well; I have told you I did it here hundreds of thousands of times. What do I say? I did it millions and billions of times. I did it so often, and through such vast expanses of time, that when it was really done, it seemed not worth the doing, it was done so soon.’

‘That’s the journey you have been away upon,’ she quietly remarks.

He glares at her as he smokes; and then, his eyes becoming filmy, answers: ‘That’s the journey.’

Silence ensues. His eyes are sometimes closed and sometimes open. The woman sits beside him, very attentive to the pipe, which is all the while at his lips.

‘I’ll warrant,’ she observes, when he has been looking fixedly at her for some consecutive moments, with a singular appearance in his eyes of seeming to see her a long way off, instead of so near him: ‘I’ll warrant you made the journey in a many ways, when you made it so often?’

‘No, always in one way.’

‘Always in the same way?’

‘Ay.’

‘In the way in which it was really made at last?’

‘Ay.’

‘And always took the same pleasure in harping on it?’

‘Ay.’

For the time he appears unequal to any other reply than this lazy monosyllabic assent. Probably to assure herself that it is not the assent of a mere automaton, she reverses the form of her next sentence.

‘Did you never get tired of it, deary, and try to call up something else for a change?’

He struggles into a sitting posture, and retorts upon her: ‘What do you mean? What did I want? What did I come for?’

She gently lays him back again, and before returning him the instrument he has dropped, revives the fire in it with her own breath; then says to him, coaxingly:

‘Sure, sure, sure! Yes, yes, yes! Now I go along with you. You was too quick for me. I see now. You come o’ purpose to take the journey. Why, I might have known it, through its standing by you so.’

He answers first with a laugh, and then with a passionate setting of his teeth: ‘Yes, I came on purpose. When I could not bear my life, I came to get the relief, and I got it. It was one! It was one!’ This repetition with extraordinary vehemence, and the snarl of a wolf.

She observes him very cautiously, as though mentally feeling her way to her next remark. It is: ‘There was a fellow-traveller, deary.’

‘Ha, ha, ha!’ He breaks into a ringing laugh, or rather yell.

‘To think,’ he cries, ‘how often fellow-traveller, and yet not know it! To think how many times he went the journey, and never saw the road!’

The woman kneels upon the floor, with her arms crossed on the coverlet of the bed, close by him, and her chin upon them. In this crouching attitude she watches him. The pipe is falling from his mouth. She puts it back, and laying her hand upon his chest, moves him slightly from side to side. Upon that he speaks, as if she had spoken.

‘Yes! I always made the journey first, before the changes of colours and the great landscapes and glittering processions began. They couldn’t begin till it was off my mind. I had no room till then for anything else.’

Once more he lapses into silence. Once more she lays her hand upon his chest, and moves him slightly to and fro, as a cat might stimulate a half-slain mouse. Once more he speaks, as if she had spoken.


Sleeping it off

‘What? I told you so. When it comes to be real at last, it is so short that it seems unreal for the first time. Hark!’

‘Yes, deary. I’m listening.’

‘Time and place are both at hand.’

He is on his feet, speaking in a whisper, and as if in the dark.

‘Time, place, and fellow-traveller,’ she suggests, adopting his tone, and holding him softly by the arm.

‘How could the time be at hand unless the fellow-traveller was? Hush! The journey’s made. It’s over.’

‘So soon?’

‘That’s what I said to you. So soon. Wait a little. This is a vision. I shall sleep it off. It has been too short and easy. I must have a better vision than this; this is the poorest of all. No struggle, no consciousness of peril, no entreaty — and yet I never saw that before.’ With a start.

‘Saw what, deary?’

‘Look at it! Look what a poor, mean, miserable thing it is! that must be real. It’s over.’

He has accompanied this incoherence with some wild unmeaning gestures; but they trail off into the progressive inaction of stupor, and he lies a log upon the bed.

The woman, however, is still inquisitive. With a repetition of her cat-like action she slightly stirs his body again, and listens; stirs again, and listens; whispers to it, and listens. Finding it past all rousing for the time, she slowly gets upon her feet, with an air of disappointment, and flicks the face with the back of her hand in turning from it.

But she goes no further away from it than the chair upon the hearth. She sits in it, with an elbow on one of its arms, and her chin upon her hand, intent upon him. ‘I heard ye say once,’ she croaks under her breath, ‘I heard ye say once, when I was lying where you’re lying, and you were making your speculations upon me, “Unintelligible!” I heard you say so, of two more than me. But don’t ye be too sure always; don’t be ye too sure, beauty!’

Unwinking, cat-like, and intent, she presently adds: ‘Not so potent as it once was? Ah! Perhaps not at first. You may be more right there. Practice makes perfect. I may have learned the secret how to make ye talk, deary.’

He talks no more, whether or no. Twitching in an ugly way from time to time, both as to his face and limbs, he lies heavy and silent. The wretched candle burns down; the woman takes its expiring end between her fingers, lights another at it, crams the guttering frying morsel deep into the candlestick, and rams it home with the new candle, as if she were loading some ill-savoured and unseemly weapon of witchcraft; the new candle in its turn burns down; and still he lies insensible. At length what remains of the last candle is blown out, and daylight looks into the room.

It has not looked very long, when he sits up, chilled and shaking, slowly recovers consciousness of where he is, and makes himself ready to depart. The woman receives what he pays her with a grateful, ‘Bless ye, bless ye, deary!’ and seems, tired out, to begin making herself ready for sleep as he leaves the room.

But seeming may be false or true. It is false in this case; for, the moment the stairs have ceased to creak under his tread, she glides after him, muttering emphatically: ‘I’ll not miss ye twice!’

There is no egress from the court but by its entrance. With a weird peep from the doorway, she watches for his looking back. He does not look back before disappearing, with a wavering step. She follows him, peeps from the court, sees him still faltering on without looking back, and holds him in view.

He repairs to the back of Aldersgate Street, where a door immediately opens to his knocking. She crouches in another doorway, watching that one, and easily comprehending that he puts up temporarily at that house. Her patience is unexhausted by hours. For sustenance she can, and does, buy bread within a hundred yards, and milk as it is carried past her.

He comes forth again at noon, having changed his dress, but carrying nothing in his hand, and having nothing carried for him. He is not going back into the country, therefore, just yet. She follows him a little way, hesitates, instantaneously turns confidently, and goes straight into the house he has quitted.

‘Is the gentleman from Cloisterham indoors?

‘Just gone out.’

‘Unlucky. When does the gentleman return to Cloisterham?’

‘At six this evening.’

‘Bless ye and thank ye. May the Lord prosper a business where a civil question, even from a poor soul, is so civilly answered!’

‘I’ll not miss ye twice!’ repeats the poor soul in the street, and not so civilly. ‘I lost ye last, where that omnibus you got into nigh your journey’s end plied betwixt the station and the place. I wasn’t so much as certain that you even went right on to the place. Now I know ye did. My gentleman from Cloisterham, I’ll be there before ye, and bide your coming. I’ve swore my oath that I’ll not miss ye twice!’

Accordingly, that same evening the poor soul stands in Cloisterham High Street, looking at the many quaint gables of the Nuns’ House, and getting through the time as she best can until nine o’clock; at which hour she has reason to suppose that the arriving omnibus passengers may have some interest for her. The friendly darkness, at that hour, renders it easy for her to ascertain whether this be so or not; and it is so, for the passenger not to be missed twice arrives among the rest.

‘Now let me see what becomes of you. Go on!’

An observation addressed to the air, and yet it might be addressed to the passenger, so compliantly does he go on along the High Street until he comes to an arched gateway, at which he unexpectedly vanishes. The poor soul quickens her pace; is swift, and close upon him entering under the gateway; but only sees a postern staircase on one side of it, and on the other side an ancient vaulted room, in which a large-headed, gray-haired gentleman is writing, under the odd circumstances of sitting open to the thoroughfare and eyeing all who pass, as if he were toll-taker of the gateway: though the way is free.

‘Halloa!’ he cries in a low voice, seeing her brought to a stand-still: ‘who are you looking for?’

‘There was a gentleman passed in here this minute, sir.’

‘Of course there was. What do you want with him?’

‘Where do he live, deary?’

‘Live? Up that staircase.’

‘Bless ye! Whisper. What’s his name, deary?’

‘Surname Jasper, Christian name John. Mr. John Jasper.’

‘Has he a calling, good gentleman?’

‘Calling? Yes. Sings in the choir.’

‘In the spire?’

‘Choir.’

‘What’s that?’

Mr. Datchery rises from his papers, and comes to his doorstep. ‘Do you know what a cathedral is?’ he asks, jocosely.

The woman nods.

‘What is it?’

She looks puzzled, casting about in her mind to find a definition, when it occurs to her that it is easier to point out the substantial object itself, massive against the dark-blue sky and the early stars.

‘That’s the answer. Go in there at seven to-morrow morning, and you may see Mr. John Jasper, and hear him too.’

‘Thank ye! Thank ye!’

The burst of triumph in which she thanks him does not escape the notice of the single buffer of an easy temper living idly on his means. He glances at her; clasps his hands behind him, as the wont of such buffers is; and lounges along the echoing Precincts at her side.

‘Or,’ he suggests, with a backward hitch of his head, ‘you can go up at once to Mr. Jasper’s rooms there.’

The woman eyes him with a cunning smile, and shakes her head.

‘O! you don’t want to speak to him?’

She repeats her dumb reply, and forms with her lips a soundless ‘No.’

‘You can admire him at a distance three times a day, whenever you like. It’s a long way to come for that, though.’

The woman looks up quickly. If Mr. Datchery thinks she is to be so induced to declare where she comes from, he is of a much easier temper than she is. But she acquits him of such an artful thought, as he lounges along, like the chartered bore of the city, with his uncovered gray hair blowing about, and his purposeless hands rattling the loose money in the pockets of his trousers.

The chink of the money has an attraction for her greedy ears. ‘Wouldn’t you help me to pay for my traveller’s lodging, dear gentleman, and to pay my way along? I am a poor soul, I am indeed, and troubled with a grievous cough.’

‘You know the travellers’ lodging, I perceive, and are making directly for it,’ is Mr. Datchery’s bland comment, still rattling his loose money. ‘Been here often, my good woman?’

‘Once in all my life.’

‘Ay, ay?’

They have arrived at the entrance to the Monks’ Vineyard. An appropriate remembrance, presenting an exemplary model for imitation, is revived in the woman’s mind by the sight of the place. She stops at the gate, and says energetically:

‘By this token, though you mayn’t believe it, That a young gentleman gave me three-and-sixpence as I was coughing my breath away on this very grass. I asked him for three-and-sixpence, and he gave it me.’

‘Wasn’t it a little cool to name your sum?’ hints Mr. Datchery, still rattling. ‘Isn’t it customary to leave the amount open? Mightn’t it have had the appearance, to the young gentleman — only the appearance — that he was rather dictated to?’

‘Look’ee here, deary,’ she replies, in a confidential and persuasive tone, ‘I wanted the money to lay it out on a medicine as does me good, and as I deal in. I told the young gentleman so, and he gave it me, and I laid it out honest to the last brass farden. I want to lay out the same sum in the same way now; and if you’ll give it me, I’ll lay it out honest to the last brass farden again, upon my soul!’

‘What’s the medicine?’

‘I’ll be honest with you beforehand, as well as after. It’s opium.’

Mr. Datchery, with a sudden change of countenance, gives her a sudden look.

‘It’s opium, deary. Neither more nor less. And it’s like a human creetur so far, that you always hear what can be said against it, but seldom what can be said in its praise.’

Mr. Datchery begins very slowly to count out the sum demanded of him. Greedily watching his hands, she continues to hold forth on the great example set him.

‘It was last Christmas Eve, just arter dark, the once that I was here afore, when the young gentleman gave me the three-and-six.’ Mr. Datchery stops in his counting, finds he has counted wrong, shakes his money together, and begins again.

‘And the young gentleman’s name,’ she adds, ‘was Edwin.’

Mr. Datchery drops some money, stoops to pick it up, and reddens with the exertion as he asks:

‘How do you know the young gentleman’s name?’

‘I asked him for it, and he told it me. I only asked him the two questions, what was his Chris’en name, and whether he’d a sweetheart? And he answered, Edwin, and he hadn’t.’

Mr. Datchery pauses with the selected coins in his hand, rather as if he were falling into a brown study of their value, and couldn’t bear to part with them. The woman looks at him distrustfully, and with her anger brewing for the event of his thinking better of the gift; but he bestows it on her as if he were abstracting his mind from the sacrifice, and with many servile thanks she goes her way.

John Jasper’s lamp is kindled, and his lighthouse is shining when Mr. Datchery returns alone towards it. As mariners on a dangerous voyage, approaching an iron-bound coast, may look along the beams of the warning light to the haven lying beyond it that may never be reached, so Mr. Datchery’s wistful gaze is directed to this beacon, and beyond.

His object in now revisiting his lodging is merely to put on the hat which seems so superfluous an article in his wardrobe. It is half-past ten by the Cathedral clock when he walks out into the Precincts again; he lingers and looks about him, as though, the enchanted hour when Mr. Durdles may be stoned home having struck, he had some expectation of seeing the Imp who is appointed to the mission of stoning him.

In effect, that Power of Evil is abroad. Having nothing living to stone at the moment, he is discovered by Mr. Datchery in the unholy office of stoning the dead, through the railings of the churchyard. The Imp finds this a relishing and piquing pursuit; firstly, because their resting-place is announced to be sacred; and secondly, because the tall headstones are sufficiently like themselves, on their beat in the dark, to justify the delicious fancy that they are hurt when hit.

Mr. Datchery hails with him: ‘Halloa, Winks!’

He acknowledges the hail with: ‘Halloa, Dick!’ Their acquaintance seemingly having been established on a familiar footing.

‘But, I say,’ he remonstrates, ‘don’t yer go a-making my name public. I never means to plead to no name, mind yer. When they says to me in the Lock-up, a-going to put me down in the book, “What’s your name?” I says to them, “Find out.” Likewise when they says, “What’s your religion?” I says, “Find out.”’

Which, it may be observed in passing, it would be immensely difficult for the State, however statistical, to do.

‘Asides which,’ adds the boy, ‘there ain’t no family of Winkses.’

‘I think there must be.’

‘Yer lie, there ain’t. The travellers give me the name on account of my getting no settled sleep and being knocked up all night; whereby I gets one eye roused open afore I’ve shut the other. That’s what Winks means. Deputy’s the nighest name to indict me by: but yer wouldn’t catch me pleading to that, neither.’

‘Deputy be it always, then. We two are good friends; eh, Deputy?’

‘Jolly good.’

‘I forgave you the debt you owed me when we first became acquainted, and many of my sixpences have come your way since; eh, Deputy?’

‘Ah! And what’s more, yer ain’t no friend o’ Jarsper’s. What did he go a-histing me off my legs for?’

‘What indeed! But never mind him now. A shilling of mine is going your way to-night, Deputy. You have just taken in a lodger I have been speaking to; an infirm woman with a cough.’

‘Puffer,’ assents Deputy, with a shrewd leer of recognition, and smoking an imaginary pipe, with his head very much on one side and his eyes very much out of their places: ‘Hopeum Puffer.’

‘What is her name?’

‘‘Er Royal Highness the Princess Puffer.’

‘She has some other name than that; where does she live?’

‘Up in London. Among the Jacks.’

‘The sailors?’

‘I said so; Jacks; and Chayner men: and hother Knifers.’

‘I should like to know, through you, exactly where she lives.’

‘All right. Give us ’old.’

A shilling passes; and, in that spirit of confidence which should pervade all business transactions between principals of honour, this piece of business is considered done.

‘But here’s a lark!’ cries Deputy. ‘Where did yer think ‘Er Royal Highness is a-goin’ to to-morrow morning? Blest if she ain’t a-goin’ to the kin-free-der-el!’ He greatly prolongs the word in his ecstasy, and smites his leg, and doubles himself up in a fit of shrill laughter.

‘How do you know that, Deputy?’

‘Cos she told me so just now. She said she must be hup and hout o’ purpose. She ses, “Deputy, I must ’ave a early wash, and make myself as swell as I can, for I’m a-goin’ to take a turn at the kin-free-der-el!”’ He separates the syllables with his former zest, and, not finding his sense of the ludicrous sufficiently relieved by stamping about on the pavement, breaks into a slow and stately dance, perhaps supposed to be performed by the Dean.

Mr. Datchery receives the communication with a well-satisfied though pondering face, and breaks up the conference. Returning to his quaint lodging, and sitting long over the supper of bread-and-cheese and salad and ale which Mrs. Tope has left prepared for him, he still sits when his supper is finished. At length he rises, throws open the door of a corner cupboard, and refers to a few uncouth chalked strokes on its inner side.

‘I like,’ says Mr. Datchery, ‘the old tavern way of keeping scores. Illegible except to the scorer. The scorer not committed, the scored debited with what is against him. Hum; ha! A very small score this; a very poor score!’

He sighs over the contemplation of its poverty, takes a bit of chalk from one of the cupboard shelves, and pauses with it in his hand, uncertain what addition to make to the account.

‘I think a moderate stroke,’ he concludes, ‘is all I am justified in scoring up;’ so, suits the action to the word, closes the cupboard, and goes to bed.

A brilliant morning shines on the old city. Its antiquities and ruins are surpassingly beautiful, with a lusty ivy gleaming in the sun, and the rich trees waving in the balmy air. Changes of glorious light from moving boughs, songs of birds, scents from gardens, woods, and fields — or, rather, from the one great garden of the whole cultivated island in its yielding time — penetrate into the Cathedral, subdue its earthy odour, and preach the Resurrection and the Life. The cold stone tombs of centuries ago grow warm; and flecks of brightness dart into the sternest marble corners of the building, fluttering there like wings.

Comes Mr. Tope with his large keys, and yawningly unlocks and sets open. Come Mrs. Tope and attendant sweeping sprites. Come, in due time, organist and bellows-boy, peeping down from the red curtains in the loft, fearlessly flapping dust from books up at that remote elevation, and whisking it from stops and pedals. Come sundry rooks, from various quarters of the sky, back to the great tower; who may be presumed to enjoy vibration, and to know that bell and organ are going to give it them. Come a very small and straggling congregation indeed: chiefly from Minor Canon Corner and the Precincts. Come Mr. Crisparkle, fresh and bright; and his ministering brethren, not quite so fresh and bright. Come the Choir in a hurry (always in a hurry, and struggling into their nightgowns at the last moment, like children shirking bed), and comes John Jasper leading their line. Last of all comes Mr. Datchery into a stall, one of a choice empty collection very much at his service, and glancing about him for Her Royal Highness the Princess Puffer.

The service is pretty well advanced before Mr. Datchery can discern Her Royal Highness. But by that time he has made her out, in the shade. She is behind a pillar, carefully withdrawn from the Choir-master’s view, but regards him with the closest attention. All unconscious of her presence, he chants and sings. She grins when he is most musically fervid, and — yes, Mr. Datchery sees her do it! — shakes her fist at him behind the pillar’s friendly shelter.

Mr. Datchery looks again, to convince himself. Yes, again! As ugly and withered as one of the fantastic carvings on the under brackets of the stall seats, as malignant as the Evil One, as hard as the big brass eagle holding the sacred books upon his wings (and, according to the sculptor’s representation of his ferocious attributes, not at all converted by them), she hugs herself in her lean arms, and then shakes both fists at the leader of the Choir.

And at that moment, outside the grated door of the Choir, having eluded the vigilance of Mr. Tope by shifty resources in which he is an adept, Deputy peeps, sharp-eyed, through the bars, and stares astounded from the threatener to the threatened.

The service comes to an end, and the servitors disperse to breakfast. Mr. Datchery accosts his last new acquaintance outside, when the Choir (as much in a hurry to get their bedgowns off, as they were but now to get them on) have scuffled away.

‘Well, mistress. Good morning. You have seen him?’

I’ve seen him, deary; I’ve seen him!’

‘And you know him?’

‘Know him! Better far than all the Reverend Parsons put together know him.’

Mrs. Tope’s care has spread a very neat, clean breakfast ready for her lodger. Before sitting down to it, he opens his corner-cupboard door; takes his bit of chalk from its shelf; adds one thick line to the score, extending from the top of the cupboard door to the bottom; and then falls to with an appetite.

This web edition published by:

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University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dickens/charles/d54ed/chapter23.html

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