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Chapter 3 The Nun's House

  • For sufficient reasons, which this narrative will itself unfold as i_dvances, a fictitious name must be bestowed upon the old Cathedral town. Le_t stand in these pages as Cloisterham. It was once possibly known to th_ruids by another name, and certainly to the Romans by another, and to th_axons by another, and to the Normans by another; and a name more or less i_he course of many centuries can be of little moment to its dusty chronicles.
  • An ancient city, Cloisterham, and no meet dwelling-place for any one wit_ankerings after the noisy world. A monotonous, silent city, deriving a_arthy flavour throughout from its Cathedral crypt, and so abounding i_estiges of monastic graves, that the Cloisterham children grow small salad i_he dust of abbots and abbesses, and make dirt-pies of nuns and friars; whil_very ploughman in its outlying fields renders to once puissant Lor_reasurers, Archbishops, Bishops, and such-like, the attention which the Ogr_n the story-book desired to render to his unbidden visitor, and grinds thei_ones to make his bread.
  • A drowsy city, Cloisterham, whose inhabitants seem to suppose, with a_nconsistency more strange than rare, that all its changes lie behind it, an_hat there are no more to come. A queer moral to derive from antiquity, ye_lder than any traceable antiquity. So silent are the streets of Cloisterham (though prone to echo on the smallest provocation), that of a summer-day th_unblinds of its shops scarce dare to flap in the south wind; while the sun- browned tramps, who pass along and stare, quicken their limp a little, tha_hey may the sooner get beyond the confines of its oppressive respectability.
  • This is a feat not difficult of achievement, seeing that the streets o_loisterham city are little more than one narrow street by which you get int_t and get out of it: the rest being mostly disappointing yards with pumps i_hem and no thoroughfare — exception made of the Cathedral-close, and a pave_uaker settlement, in colour and general confirmation very like a Quakeress'_onnet, up in a shady corner.
  • In a word, a city of another and a bygone time is Cloisterham, with its hoars_athedral-bell, its hoarse rooks hovering about the Cathedral tower, it_oarser and less distinct rooks in the stalls far beneath. Fragments of ol_all, saint's chapel, chapter-house, convent and monastery, have go_ncongruously or obstructively built into many of its houses and gardens, muc_s kindred jumbled notions have become incorporated into many of its citizens'
  • minds. All things in it are of the past. Even its single pawnbroker takes i_o pledges, nor has he for a long time, but offers vainly an unredeemed stoc_or sale, of which the costlier articles are dim and pale old watche_pparently in a slow perspiration, tarnished sugar-tongs with ineffectua_egs, and odd volumes of dismal books. The most abundant and the mos_greeable evidences of progressing life in Cloisterham are the evidences o_egetable life in many gardens; even its drooping and despondent littl_heatre has its poor strip of garden, receiving the foul fiend, when he duck_rom its stage into the infernal regions, among scarlet-beans or oyster- shells, according to the season of the year.
  • In the midst of Cloisterham stands the Nuns' House: a venerable brick edifice, whose present appellation is doubtless derived from the legend of it_onventual uses. On the trim gate enclosing its old courtyard is a resplenden_rass plate flashing forth the legend: 'Seminary for Young Ladies. Mis_winkleton.' The house- front is so old and worn, and the brass plate is s_hining and staring, that the general result has reminded imaginativ_trangers of a battered old beau with a large modern eye-glass stuck in hi_lind eye.
  • Whether the nuns of yore, being of a submissive rather than a stiff-necke_eneration, habitually bent their contemplative heads to avoid collision wit_he beams in the low ceilings of the many chambers of their House; whethe_hey sat in its long low windows telling their beads for their mortification, instead of making necklaces of them for their adornment; whether they wer_ver walled up alive in odd angles and jutting gables of the building fo_aving some ineradicable leaven of busy mother Nature in them which has kep_he fermenting world alive ever since; these may be matters of interest to it_aunting ghosts (if any), but constitute no item in Miss Twinkleton's half- yearly accounts. They are neither of Miss Twinkleton's inclusive regulars, no_f her extras. The lady who undertakes the poetical department of th_stablishment at so much (or so little) a quarter has no pieces in her list o_ecitals bearing on such unprofitable questions.
  • As, in some cases of drunkenness, and in others of animal magnetism, there ar_wo states of consciousness which never clash, but each of which pursues it_eparate course as though it were continuous instead of broken (thus, if _ide my watch when I am drunk, I must be drunk again before I can remembe_here), so Miss Twinkleton has two distinct and separate phases of being.
  • Every night, the moment the young ladies have retired to rest, does Mis_winkleton smarten up her curls a little, brighten up her eyes a little, an_ecome a sprightlier Miss Twinkleton than the young ladies have ever seen.
  • Every night, at the same hour, does Miss Twinkleton resume the topics of th_revious night, comprehending the tenderer scandal of Cloisterham, of whic_he has no knowledge whatever by day, and references to a certain season a_unbridge Wells (airily called by Miss Twinkleton in this state of he_xistence 'The Wells'), notably the season wherein a certain finishe_entleman (compassionately called by Miss Twinkleton, in this stage of he_xistence, 'Foolish Mr. Porters') revealed a homage of the heart, whereof Mis_winkleton, in her scholastic state of existence, is as ignorant as a granit_illar. Miss Twinkleton's companion in both states of existence, and equall_daptable to either, is one Mrs. Tisher: a deferential widow with a weak back, a chronic sigh, and a suppressed voice, who looks after the young ladies'
  • wardrobes, and leads them to infer that she has seen better days. Perhaps thi_s the reason why it is an article of faith with the servants, handed dow_rom race to race, that the departed Tisher was a hairdresser.
  • The pet pupil of the Nuns' House is Miss Rosa Bud, of course called Rosebud; wonderfully pretty, wonderfully childish, wonderfully whimsical. An awkwar_nterest (awkward because romantic) attaches to Miss Bud in the minds of th_oung ladies, on account of its being known to them that a husband has bee_hosen for her by will and bequest, and that her guardian is bound down t_estow her on that husband when he comes of age. Miss Twinkleton, in he_eminarial state of existence, has combated the romantic aspect of thi_estiny by affecting to shake her head over it behind Miss Bud's dimple_houlders, and to brood on the unhappy lot of that doomed little victim. Bu_ith no better effect — possibly some unfelt touch of foolish Mr. Porters ha_ndermined the endeavour — than to evoke from the young ladies an unanimou_edchamber cry of 'O, what a pretending old thing Miss Twinkleton is, m_ear!'
  • The Nuns' House is never in such a state of flutter as when this allotte_usband calls to see little Rosebud. (It is unanimously understood by th_oung ladies that he is lawfully entitled to this privilege, and that if Mis_winkleton disputed it, she would be instantly taken up and transported.) Whe_is ring at the gate- bell is expected, or takes place, every young lady wh_an, under any pretence, look out of window, looks out of window; while ever_oung lady who is 'practising,' practises out of time; and the French clas_ecomes so demoralised that the mark goes round as briskly as the bottle at _onvivial party in the last century.
  • On the afternoon of the day next after the dinner of two at the gatehouse, th_ell is rung with the usual fluttering results.
  • 'Mr. Edwin Drood to see Miss Rosa.'
  • This is the announcement of the parlour-maid in chief. Miss Twinkleton, wit_n exemplary air of melancholy on her, turns to the sacrifice, and says, 'Yo_ay go down, my dear.' Miss Bud goes down, followed by all eyes.
  • Mr. Edwin Drood is waiting in Miss Twinkleton's own parlour: a dainty room, with nothing more directly scholastic in it than a terrestrial and a celestia_lobe. These expressive machines imply (to parents and guardians) that eve_hen Miss Twinkleton retires into the bosom of privacy, duty may at any momen_ompel her to become a sort of Wandering Jewess, scouring the earth an_oaring through the skies in search of knowledge for her pupils.
  • The last new maid, who has never seen the young gentleman Miss Rosa is engage_o, and who is making his acquaintance between the hinges of the open door, left open for the purpose, stumbles guiltily down the kitchen stairs, as _harming little apparition, with its face concealed by a little silk apro_hrown over its head, glides into the parlour.
  • 'O! It is so ridiculous!' says the apparition, stopping and shrinking. 'Don't, Eddy!'
  • 'Don't what, Rosa?'
  • 'Don't come any nearer, please. It is so absurd.'
  • 'What is absurd, Rosa?'
  • 'The whole thing is. It is so absurd to be an engaged orphan and it is s_bsurd to have the girls and the servants scuttling about after one, like mic_n the wainscot; and it is so absurd to be called upon!'
  • The apparition appears to have a thumb in the corner of its mouth while makin_his complaint.
  • 'You give me an affectionate reception, Pussy, I must say.'
  • 'Well, I will in a minute, Eddy, but I can't just yet. How are you?' (ver_hortly.)
  • 'I am unable to reply that I am much the better for seeing you, Pussy, inasmuch as I see nothing of you.'
  • This second remonstrance brings a dark, bright, pouting eye out from a corne_f the apron; but it swiftly becomes invisible again, as the apparitio_xclaims: 'O good gracious! you have had half your hair cut off!'
  • 'I should have done better to have had my head cut off, I think,' says Edwin, rumpling the hair in question, with a fierce glance at the looking-glass, an_iving an impatient stamp. 'Shall I go?'
  • 'No; you needn't go just yet, Eddy. The girls would all be asking question_hy you went.'
  • 'Once for all, Rosa, will you uncover that ridiculous little head of yours an_ive me a welcome?'
  • The apron is pulled off the childish head, as its wearer replies: 'You're ver_elcome, Eddy. There! I'm sure that's nice. Shake hands. No, I can't kiss you, because I've got an acidulated drop in my mouth.'
  • 'Are you at all glad to see me, Pussy?'
  • 'O, yes, I'm dreadfully glad. — Go and sit down. — Miss Twinkleton.'
  • It is the custom of that excellent lady when these visits occur, to appea_very three minutes, either in her own person or in that of Mrs. Tisher, an_ay an offering on the shrine of Propriety by affecting to look for som_esiderated article. On the present occasion Miss Twinkleton, gracefull_liding in and out, says in passing: 'How do you do, Mr. Drood? Very gla_ndeed to have the pleasure. Pray excuse me. Tweezers. Thank you!'
  • 'I got the gloves last evening, Eddy, and I like them very much. They ar_eauties.'
  • 'Well, that's something,' the affianced replies, half grumbling. 'The smalles_ncouragement thankfully received. And how did you pass your birthday, Pussy?'
  • 'Delightfully! Everybody gave me a present. And we had a feast. And we had _all at night.'
  • 'A feast and a ball, eh? These occasions seem to go off tolerably well withou_e, Pussy.'
  • 'De-lightfully!' cries Rosa, in a quite spontaneous manner, and without th_east pretence of reserve.
  • 'Hah! And what was the feast?'
  • 'Tarts, oranges, jellies, and shrimps.'
  • 'Any partners at the ball?'
  • 'We danced with one another, of course, sir. But some of the girls made gam_o be their brothers. It was so droll!'
  • 'Did anybody make game to be — '
  • 'To be you? O dear yes!' cries Rosa, laughing with great enjoyment. 'That wa_he first thing done.'
  • 'I hope she did it pretty well,' says Edwin rather doubtfully.
  • 'O, it was excellent! — I wouldn't dance with you, you know.'
  • Edwin scarcely seems to see the force of this; begs to know if he may take th_iberty to ask why?
  • 'Because I was so tired of you,' returns Rosa. But she quickly adds, an_leadingly too, seeing displeasure in his face: 'Dear Eddy, you were just a_ired of me, you know.'
  • 'Did I say so, Rosa?'
  • 'Say so! Do you ever say so? No, you only showed it. O, she did it so well!'
  • cries Rosa, in a sudden ecstasy with her counterfeit betrothed.
  • 'It strikes me that she must be a devilish impudent girl,' says Edwin Drood.
  • 'And so, Pussy, you have passed your last birthday in this old house.'
  • 'Ah, yes!' Rosa clasps her hands, looks down with a sigh, and shakes her head.
  • 'You seem to be sorry, Rosa.'
  • 'I am sorry for the poor old place. Somehow, I feel as if it would miss me, when I am gone so far away, so young.'
  • 'Perhaps we had better stop short, Rosa?'
  • She looks up at him with a swift bright look; next moment shakes her head, sighs, and looks down again.
  • 'That is to say, is it, Pussy, that we are both resigned?'
  • She nods her head again, and after a short silence, quaintly bursts out with:
  • 'You know we must be married, and married from here, Eddy, or the poor girl_ill be so dreadfully disappointed!'
  • For the moment there is more of compassion, both for her and for himself, i_er affianced husband's face, than there is of love. He checks the look, an_sks: 'Shall I take you out for a walk, Rosa dear?'
  • Rosa dear does not seem at all clear on this point, until her face, which ha_een comically reflective, brightens. 'O, yes, Eddy; let us go for a walk! An_ tell you what we'll do. You shall pretend that you are engaged to somebod_lse, and I'll pretend that I am not engaged to anybody, and then we shan'_uarrel.'
  • 'Do you think that will prevent our falling out, Rosa?'
  • 'I know it will. Hush! Pretend to look out of window — Mrs. Tisher!'
  • Through a fortuitous concourse of accidents, the matronly Tisher heaves i_ight, says, in rustling through the room like the legendary ghost of _owager in silken skirts: 'I hope I see Mr. Drood well; though I needn't ask, if I may judge from his complexion. I trust I disturb no one; but there was _aper-knife — O, thank you, I am sure!' and disappears with her prize.
  • 'One other thing you must do, Eddy, to oblige me,' says Rosebud. 'The momen_e get into the street, you must put me outside, and keep close to the hous_ourself — squeeze and graze yourself against it.'
  • 'By all means, Rosa, if you wish it. Might I ask why?'
  • 'O! because I don't want the girls to see you.'
  • 'It's a fine day; but would you like me to carry an umbrella up?'
  • 'Don't be foolish, sir. You haven't got polished leather boots on,' pouting, with one shoulder raised.
  • 'Perhaps that might escape the notice of the girls, even if they did see me,'
  • remarks Edwin, looking down at his boots with a sudden distaste for them.
  • 'Nothing escapes their notice, sir. And then I know what would happen. Some o_hem would begin reflecting on me by saying (for they are free) that the_ever will on any account engage themselves to lovers without polished leathe_oots. Hark! Miss Twinkleton. I'll ask for leave.'
  • That discreet lady being indeed heard without, inquiring of nobody in _landly conversational tone as she advances: 'Eh? Indeed! Are you quite sur_ou saw my mother-of-pearl button-holder on the work-table in my room?' is a_nce solicited for walking leave, and graciously accords it. And soon th_oung couple go out of the Nuns' House, taking all precautions against th_iscovery of the so vitally defective boots of Mr. Edwin Drood: precautions, let us hope, effective for the peace of Mrs. Edwin Drood that is to be.
  • 'Which way shall we take, Rosa?'
  • Rosa replies: 'I want to go to the Lumps-of-Delight shop.'
  • 'To the — ?'
  • 'A Turkish sweetmeat, sir. My gracious me, don't you understand anything? Cal_ourself an Engineer, and not know that?'
  • 'Why, how should I know it, Rosa?'
  • 'Because I am very fond of them. But O! I forgot what we are to pretend. No, you needn't know anything about them; never mind.'
  • So he is gloomily borne off to the Lumps-of-Delight shop, where Rosa makes he_urchase, and, after offering some to him (which he rather indignantl_eclines), begins to partake of it with great zest: previously taking off an_olling up a pair of little pink gloves, like rose-leaves, and occasionall_utting her little pink fingers to her rosy lips, to cleanse them from th_ust of Delight that comes off the Lumps.
  • 'Now, be a good-tempered Eddy, and pretend. And so you are engaged?'
  • 'And so I am engaged.'
  • 'Is she nice?'
  • 'Charming.'
  • 'Tall?'
  • 'Immensely tall!' Rosa being short.
  • 'Must be gawky, I should think,' is Rosa's quiet commentary.
  • 'I beg your pardon; not at all,' contradiction rising in him.
  • 'What is termed a fine woman; a splendid woman.'
  • 'Big nose, no doubt,' is the quiet commentary again.
  • 'Not a little one, certainly,' is the quick reply, (Rosa's being a littl_ne.)
  • 'Long pale nose, with a red knob in the middle. I know the sort of nose,' say_osa, with a satisfied nod, and tranquilly enjoying the Lumps.
  • 'You don't know the sort of nose, Rosa,' with some warmth; 'because it'_othing of the kind.'
  • 'Not a pale nose, Eddy?'
  • 'No.' Determined not to assent.
  • 'A red nose? O! I don't like red noses. However; to be sure she can alway_owder it.'
  • 'She would scorn to powder it,' says Edwin, becoming heated.
  • 'Would she? What a stupid thing she must be! Is she stupid in everything?'
  • 'No; in nothing.'
  • After a pause, in which the whimsically wicked face has not been unobservan_f him, Rosa says:
  • 'And this most sensible of creatures likes the idea of being carried off t_gypt; does she, Eddy?'
  • 'Yes. She takes a sensible interest in triumphs of engineering skill: especially when they are to change the whole condition of an undevelope_ountry.'
  • 'Lor!' says Rosa, shrugging her shoulders, with a little laugh of wonder.
  • 'Do you object,' Edwin inquires, with a majestic turn of his eyes downwar_pon the fairy figure: 'do you object, Rosa, to her feeling that interest?'
  • 'Object? my dear Eddy! But really, doesn't she hate boilers and things?'
  • 'I can answer for her not being so idiotic as to hate Boilers,' he return_ith angry emphasis; 'though I cannot answer for her views about Things; really not understanding what Things are meant.'
  • 'But don't she hate Arabs, and Turks, and Fellahs, and people?'
  • 'Certainly not.' Very firmly.
  • 'At least she must hate the Pyramids? Come, Eddy?'
  • 'Why should she be such a little — tall, I mean — goose, as to hate th_yramids, Rosa?'
  • 'Ah! you should hear Miss Twinkleton,' often nodding her head, and muc_njoying the Lumps, 'bore about them, and then you wouldn't ask. Tiresome ol_urying-grounds! Isises, and Ibises, and Cheopses, and Pharaohses; who care_bout them? And then there was Belzoni, or somebody, dragged out by the legs, half-choked with bats and dust. All the girls say: Serve him right, and hop_t hurt him, and wish he had been quite choked.'
  • The two youthful figures, side by side, but not now arm-in-arm, wande_iscontentedly about the old Close; and each sometimes stops and slowl_mprints a deeper footstep in the fallen leaves.
  • 'Well!' says Edwin, after a lengthy silence. 'According to custom. We can'_et on, Rosa.'
  • Rosa tosses her head, and says she don't want to get on.
  • 'That's a pretty sentiment, Rosa, considering.'
  • 'Considering what?'
  • 'If I say what, you'll go wrong again.'
  • 'You'll go wrong, you mean, Eddy. Don't be ungenerous.'
  • 'Ungenerous! I like that!'
  • 'Then I don't like that, and so I tell you plainly,' Rosa pouts.
  • 'Now, Rosa, I put it to you. Who disparaged my profession, my destination —'
  • 'You are not going to be buried in the Pyramids, I hope?' she interrupts, arching her delicate eyebrows. 'You never said you were. If you are, wh_aven't you mentioned it to me? I can't find out your plans by instinct.'
  • 'Now, Rosa, you know very well what I mean, my dear.'
  • 'Well then, why did you begin with your detestable red-nosed giantesses? An_he would, she would, she would, she would, she would powder it!' cries Rosa, in a little burst of comical contradictory spleen.
  • 'Somehow or other, I never can come right in these discussions,' says Edwin, sighing and becoming resigned.
  • 'How is it possible, sir, that you ever can come right when you're alway_rong? And as to Belzoni, I suppose he's dead; — I'm sure I hope he is — an_ow can his legs or his chokes concern you?'
  • 'It is nearly time for your return, Rosa. We have not had a very happy walk, have we?'
  • 'A happy walk? A detestably unhappy walk, sir. If I go up-stairs the moment _et in and cry till I can't take my dancing lesson, you are responsible, mind!'
  • 'Let us be friends, Rosa.'
  • 'Ah!' cries Rosa, shaking her head and bursting into real tears, 'I wish w_ould be friends! It's because we can't be friends, that we try one anothe_o. I am a young little thing, Eddy, to have an old heartache; but I really, really have, sometimes. Don't be angry. I know you have one yourself to_ften. We should both of us have done better, if What is to be had been lef_hat might have been. I am quite a little serious thing now, and not teasin_ou. Let each of us forbear, this one time, on our own account, and on th_ther's!'
  • Disarmed by this glimpse of a woman's nature in the spoilt child, though fo_n instant disposed to resent it as seeming to involve the enforced inflictio_f himself upon her, Edwin Drood stands watching her as she childishly crie_nd sobs, with both hands to the handkerchief at her eyes, and then — sh_ecoming more composed, and indeed beginning in her young inconstancy to laug_t herself for having been so moved — leads her to a seat hard by, under th_lm-trees.
  • 'One clear word of understanding, Pussy dear. I am not clever out of my ow_ine — now I come to think of it, I don't know that I am particularly cleve_n it — but I want to do right. There is not — there may be — I really don'_ee my way to what I want to say, but I must say it before we part — there i_ot any other young —'
  • 'O no, Eddy! It's generous of you to ask me; but no, no, no!'
  • They have come very near to the Cathedral windows, and at this moment th_rgan and the choir sound out sublimely. As they sit listening to the solem_well, the confidence of last night rises in young Edwin Drood's mind, and h_hinks how unlike this music is to that discordance.
  • 'I fancy I can distinguish Jack's voice,' is his remark in a low tone i_onnection with the train of thought.
  • 'Take me back at once, please,' urges his Affianced, quickly laying her ligh_and upon his wrist. 'They will all be coming out directly; let us get away.
  • O, what a resounding chord! But don't let us stop to listen to it; let us ge_way!'
  • Her hurry is over as soon as they have passed out of the Close. They go arm- in-arm now, gravely and deliberately enough, along the old High-street, to th_uns' House. At the gate, the street being within sight empty, Edwin bend_own his face to Rosebud's.
  • She remonstrates, laughing, and is a childish schoolgirl again.
  • 'Eddy, no! I'm too sticky to be kissed. But give me your hand, and I'll blow _iss into that.'
  • He does so. She breathes a light breath into it and asks, retaining it an_ooking into it:-
  • 'Now say, what do you see?'
  • 'See, Rosa?'
  • 'Why, I thought you Egyptian boys could look into a hand and see all sorts o_hantoms. Can't you see a happy Future?'
  • For certain, neither of them sees a happy Present, as the gate opens an_loses, and one goes in, and the other goes away.