'I KNOW very little of that gentleman, sir,' said Neville to the Minor Cano_s they turned back.
'You know very little of your guardian?' the Minor Canon repeated.
'How came he —'
'To be my guardian? I'll tell you, sir. I suppose you know that we come (m_ister and I) from Ceylon?'
'I wonder at that. We lived with a stepfather there. Our mother died there, when we were little children. We have had a wretched existence. She made hi_ur guardian, and he was a miserly wretch who grudged us food to eat, an_lothes to wear. At his death, he passed us over to this man; for no bette_eason that I know of, than his being a friend or connexion of his, whose nam_as always in print and catching his attention.'
'That was lately, I suppose?'
'Quite lately, sir. This stepfather of ours was a cruel brute as well as _rinding one. It is well he died when he did, or I might have killed him.'
Mr. Crisparkle stopped short in the moonlight and looked at his hopeful pupi_n consternation.
'I surprise you, sir?' he said, with a quick change to a submissive manner.
'You shock me; unspeakably shock me.'
The pupil hung his head for a little while, as they walked on, and then said:
'You never saw him beat your sister. I have seen him beat mine, more than onc_r twice, and I never forgot it.'
'Nothing,' said Mr. Crisparkle, 'not even a beloved and beautiful sister'_ears under dastardly ill-usage;' he became less severe, in spite of himself, as his indignation rose; 'could justify those horrible expressions that yo_sed.'
'I am sorry I used them, and especially to you, sir. I beg to recall them. Bu_ermit me to set you right on one point. You spoke of my sister's tears. M_ister would have let him tear her to pieces, before she would have let hi_elieve that he could make her shed a tear.'
Mr. Crisparkle reviewed those mental notes of his, and was neither at al_urprised to hear it, nor at all disposed to question it.
'Perhaps you will think it strange, sir,' — this was said in a hesitatin_oice — 'that I should so soon ask you to allow me to confide in you, and t_ave the kindness to hear a word or two from me in my defence?'
'Defence?' Mr. Crisparkle repeated. 'You are not on your defence, Mr.
'I think I am, sir. At least I know I should be, if you were better acquainte_ith my character.'
'Well, Mr. Neville,' was the rejoinder. 'What if you leave me to find it out?'
'Since it is your pleasure, sir,' answered the young man, with a quick chang_n his manner to sullen disappointment: 'since it is your pleasure to check m_n my impulse, I must submit.'
There was that in the tone of this short speech which made the conscientiou_an to whom it was addressed uneasy. It hinted to him that he might, withou_eaning it, turn aside a trustfulness beneficial to a mis-shapen young min_nd perhaps to his own power of directing and improving it. They were withi_ight of the lights in his windows, and he stopped.
'Let us turn back and take a turn or two up and down, Mr. Neville, or you ma_ot have time to finish what you wish to say to me. You are hasty in thinkin_hat I mean to check you. Quite the contrary. I invite your confidence.'
'You have invited it, sir, without knowing it, ever since I came here. I say
"ever since," as if I had been here a week. The truth is, we came here (m_ister and I) to quarrel with you, and affront you, and break away again.'
'Really?' said Mr. Crisparkle, at a dead loss for anything else to say.
'You see, we could not know what you were beforehand, sir; could we?'
'Clearly not,' said Mr. Crisparkle.
'And having liked no one else with whom we have ever been brought int_ontact, we had made up our minds not to like you.'
'Really?' said Mr. Crisparkle again.
'But we do like you, sir, and we see an unmistakable difference between you_ouse and your reception of us, and anything else we have ever known. This — and my happening to be alone with you — and everything around us seeming s_uiet and peaceful after Mr. Honeythunder's departure — and Cloisterham bein_o old and grave and beautiful, with the moon shining on it — these thing_nclined me to open my heart.'
'I quite understand, Mr. Neville. And it is salutary to listen to suc_nfluences.'
'In describing my own imperfections, sir, I must ask you not to suppose that _m describing my sister's. She has come out of the disadvantages of ou_iserable life, as much better than I am, as that Cathedral tower is highe_han those chimneys.'
Mr. Crisparkle in his own breast was not so sure of this.
'I have had, sir, from my earliest remembrance, to suppress a deadly an_itter hatred. This has made me secret and revengeful. I have been alway_yrannically held down by the strong hand. This has driven me, in my weakness, to the resource of being false and mean. I have been stinted of education, liberty, money, dress, the very necessaries of life, the commonest pleasure_f childhood, the commonest possessions of youth. This has caused me to b_tterly wanting in I don't know what emotions, or remembrances, or goo_nstincts — I have not even a name for the thing, you see! — that you have ha_o work upon in other young men to whom you have been accustomed.'
'This is evidently true. But this is not encouraging,' thought Mr. Crisparkl_s they turned again.
'And to finish with, sir: I have been brought up among abject and servil_ependents, of an inferior race, and I may easily have contracted som_ffinity with them. Sometimes, I don't know but that it may be a drop of wha_s tigerish in their blood.'
'As in the case of that remark just now,' thought Mr. Crisparkle.
'In a last word of reference to my sister, sir (we are twin children), yo_ught to know, to her honour, that nothing in our misery ever subdued her, though it often cowed me. When we ran away from it (we ran away four times i_ix years, to be soon brought back and cruelly punished), the flight wa_lways of her planning and leading. Each time she dressed as a boy, and showe_he daring of a man. I take it we were seven years old when we first decamped; but I remember, when I lost the pocket-knife with which she was to have cu_er hair short, how desperately she tried to tear it out, or bite it off. _ave nothing further to say, sir, except that I hope you will bear with me an_ake allowance for me.'
'Of that, Mr. Neville, you may be sure,' returned the Minor Canon. 'I don'_reach more than I can help, and I will not repay your confidence with _ermon. But I entreat you to bear in mind, very seriously and steadily, tha_f I am to do you any good, it can only be with your own assistance; and tha_ou can only render that, efficiently, by seeking aid from Heaven.'
'I will try to do my part, sir.'
'And, Mr. Neville, I will try to do mine. Here is my hand on it. May God bles_ur endeavours!'
They were now standing at his house-door, and a cheerful sound of voices an_aughter was heard within.
'We will take one more turn before going in,' said Mr. Crisparkle, 'for I wan_o ask you a question. When you said you were in a changed mind concerning me, you spoke, not only for yourself, but for your sister too?'
'Undoubtedly I did, sir.'
'Excuse me, Mr. Neville, but I think you have had no opportunity o_ommunicating with your sister, since I met you. Mr. Honeythunder was ver_loquent; but perhaps I may venture to say, without ill- nature, that h_ather monopolised the occasion. May you not have answered for your siste_ithout sufficient warrant?'
Neville shook his head with a proud smile.
'You don't know, sir, yet, what a complete understanding can exist between m_ister and me, though no spoken word — perhaps hardly as much as a look — ma_ave passed between us. She not only feels as I have described, but she ver_ell knows that I am taking this opportunity of speaking to you, both for he_nd for myself.'
Mr. Crisparkle looked in his face, with some incredulity; but his fac_xpressed such absolute and firm conviction of the truth of what he said, tha_r. Crisparkle looked at the pavement, and mused, until they came to his doo_gain.
'I will ask for one more turn, sir, this time,' said the young man, with _ather heightened colour rising in his face. 'But for Mr. Honeythunder's — _hink you called it eloquence, sir?' (somewhat slyly.)
'I — yes, I called it eloquence,' said Mr. Crisparkle.
'But for Mr. Honeythunder's eloquence, I might have had no need to ask yo_hat I am going to ask you. This Mr. Edwin Drood, sir: I think that's th_ame?'
'Quite correct,' said Mr. Crisparkle. 'D-r-double o-d.'
'Does he — or did he — read with you, sir?'
'Never, Mr. Neville. He comes here visiting his relation, Mr. Jasper.'
'Is Miss Bud his relation too, sir?'
('Now, why should he ask that, with sudden superciliousness?' thought Mr.
Crisparkle.) Then he explained, aloud, what he knew of the little story o_heir betrothal.
'O! That's it, is it?' said the young man. 'I understand his air o_roprietorship now!'
This was said so evidently to himself, or to anybody rather than Mr.
Crisparkle, that the latter instinctively felt as if to notice it would b_lmost tantamount to noticing a passage in a letter which he had read b_hance over the writer's shoulder. A moment afterwards they re-entered th_ouse.
Mr. Jasper was seated at the piano as they came into his drawing- room, an_as accompanying Miss Rosebud while she sang. It was a consequence of hi_laying the accompaniment without notes, and of her being a heedless littl_reature, very apt to go wrong, that he followed her lips most attentively, with his eyes as well as hands; carefully and softly hinting the key-note fro_ime to time. Standing with an arm drawn round her, but with a face far mor_ntent on Mr. Jasper than on her singing, stood Helena, between whom and he_rother an instantaneous recognition passed, in which Mr. Crisparkle saw, o_hought he saw, the understanding that had been spoken of, flash out. Mr.
Neville then took his admiring station, leaning against the piano, opposit_he singer; Mr. Crisparkle sat down by the china shepherdess; Edwin Droo_allantly furled and unfurled Miss Twinkleton's fan; and that lady passivel_laimed that sort of exhibitor's proprietorship in the accomplishment on view, which Mr. Tope, the Verger, daily claimed in the Cathedral service.
The song went on. It was a sorrowful strain of parting, and the fresh youn_oice was very plaintive and tender. As Jasper watched the pretty lips, an_ver and again hinted the one note, as though it were a low whisper fro_imself, the voice became less steady, until all at once the singer broke int_ burst of tears, and shrieked out, with her hands over her eyes: 'I can'_ear this! I am frightened! Take me away!'
With one swift turn of her lithe figure Helena laid the little beauty on _ofa, as if she had never caught her up. Then, on one knee beside her, an_ith one hand upon her rosy mouth, while with the other she appealed to al_he rest, Helena said to them: 'It's nothing; it's all over; don't speak t_er for one minute, and she is well!'
Jasper's hands had, in the same instant, lifted themselves from the keys, an_ere now poised above them, as though he waited to resume. In that attitude h_et sat quiet: not even looking round, when all the rest had changed thei_laces and were reassuring one another.
'Pussy's not used to an audience; that's the fact,' said Edwin Drood. 'She go_ervous, and couldn't hold out. Besides, Jack, you are such a conscientiou_aster, and require so much, that I believe you make her afraid of you. N_onder.'
'No wonder,' repeated Helena.
'There, Jack, you hear! You would be afraid of him, under simila_ircumstances, wouldn't you, Miss Landless?'
'Not under any circumstances,' returned Helena.
Jasper brought down his hands, looked over his shoulder, and begged to than_iss Landless for her vindication of his character. Then he fell to dumbl_laying, without striking the notes, while his little pupil was taken to a_pen window for air, and was otherwise petted and restored. When she wa_rought back, his place was empty. 'Jack's gone, Pussy,' Edwin told her. 'I a_ore than half afraid he didn't like to be charged with being the Monster wh_ad frightened you.' But she answered never a word, and shivered, as if the_ad made her a little too cold.
Miss Twinkleton now opining that indeed these were late hours, Mrs.
Crisparkle, for finding ourselves outside the walls of the Nuns' House, an_hat we who undertook the formation of the future wives and mothers of England (the last words in a lower voice, as requiring to be communicated i_onfidence) were really bound (voice coming up again) to set a better exampl_han one of rakish habits, wrappers were put in requisition, and the two youn_avaliers volunteered to see the ladies home. It was soon done, and the gat_f the Nuns' House closed upon them.
The boarders had retired, and only Mrs. Tisher in solitary vigil awaited th_ew pupil. Her bedroom being within Rosa's, very little introduction o_xplanation was necessary, before she was placed in charge of her new friend, and left for the night.
'This is a blessed relief, my dear,' said Helena. 'I have been dreading al_ay, that I should be brought to bay at this time.'
'There are not many of us,' returned Rosa, 'and we are good-natured girls; a_east the others are; I can answer for them.'
'I can answer for you,' laughed Helena, searching the lovely little face wit_er dark, fiery eyes, and tenderly caressing the small figure. 'You will be _riend to me, won't you?'
'I hope so. But the idea of my being a friend to you seems too absurd, though.'
'O, I am such a mite of a thing, and you are so womanly and handsome. You see_o have resolution and power enough to crush me. I shrink into nothing by th_ide of your presence even.'
'I am a neglected creature, my dear, unacquainted with all accomplishments, sensitively conscious that I have everything to learn, and deeply ashamed t_wn my ignorance.'
'And yet you acknowledge everything to me!' said Rosa.
'My pretty one, can I help it? There is a fascination in you.'
'O! is there though?' pouted Rosa, half in jest and half in earnest. 'What _ity Master Eddy doesn't feel it more!'
Of course her relations towards that young gentleman had been already imparte_n Minor Canon Corner.
'Why, surely he must love you with all his heart!' cried Helena, with a_arnestness that threatened to blaze into ferocity if he didn't.
'Eh? O, well, I suppose he does,' said Rosa, pouting again; 'I am sure I hav_o right to say he doesn't. Perhaps it's my fault. Perhaps I am not as nice t_im as I ought to be. I don't think I am. But it is so ridiculous!'
Helena's eyes demanded what was.
'We are,' said Rosa, answering as if she had spoken. 'We are such a ridiculou_ouple. And we are always quarrelling.'
'Because we both know we are ridiculous, my dear!' Rosa gave that answer as i_t were the most conclusive answer in the world.
Helena's masterful look was intent upon her face for a few moments, and the_he impulsively put out both her hands and said:
'You will be my friend and help me?'
'Indeed, my dear, I will,' replied Rosa, in a tone of affectionat_hildishness that went straight and true to her heart; 'I will be as good _riend as such a mite of a thing can be to such a noble creature as you. An_e a friend to me, please; I don't understand myself: and I want a friend wh_an understand me, very much indeed.'
Helena Landless kissed her, and retaining both her hands said:
'Who is Mr. Jasper?'
Rosa turned aside her head in answering: 'Eddy's uncle, and my music-master.'
'You do not love him?'
'Ugh!' She put her hands up to her face, and shook with fear or horror.
'You know that he loves you?'
'O, don't, don't, don't!' cried Rosa, dropping on her knees, and clinging t_er new resource. 'Don't tell me of it! He terrifies me. He haunts m_houghts, like a dreadful ghost. I feel that I am never safe from him. I fee_s if he could pass in through the wall when he is spoken of.' She actuall_id look round, as if she dreaded to see him standing in the shadow behin_er.
'Try to tell me more about it, darling.'
'Yes, I will, I will. Because you are so strong. But hold me the while, an_tay with me afterwards.'
'My child! You speak as if he had threatened you in some dark way.'
'He has never spoken to me about — that. Never.'
'What has he done?'
'He has made a slave of me with his looks. He has forced me to understand him, without his saying a word; and he has forced me to keep silence, without hi_ttering a threat. When I play, he never moves his eyes from my hands. When _ing, he never moves his eyes from my lips. When he corrects me, and strikes _ote, or a chord, or plays a passage, he himself is in the sounds, whisperin_hat he pursues me as a lover, and commanding me to keep his secret. I avoi_is eyes, but he forces me to see them without looking at them. Even when _laze comes over them (which is sometimes the case), and he seems to wande_way into a frightful sort of dream in which he threatens most, he obliges m_o know it, and to know that he is sitting close at my side, more terrible t_e than ever.'
'What is this imagined threatening, pretty one? What is threatened?'
'I don't know. I have never even dared to think or wonder what it is.'
'And was this all, to-night?'
'This was all; except that to-night when he watched my lips so closely as _as singing, besides feeling terrified I felt ashamed and passionately hurt.
It was as if he kissed me, and I couldn't bear it, but cried out. You mus_ever breathe this to any one. Eddy is devoted to him. But you said to-nigh_hat you would not be afraid of him, under any circumstances, and that give_e — who am so much afraid of him — courage to tell only you. Hold me! Sta_ith me! I am too frightened to be left by myself.'
The lustrous gipsy-face drooped over the clinging arms and bosom, and the wil_lack hair fell down protectingly over the childish form. There was _lumbering gleam of fire in the intense dark eyes, though they were the_oftened with compassion and admiration. Let whomsoever it most concerned loo_ell to it!