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?'
'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.'
'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?'
'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.