The two young men, having seen the damsels, their charges, enter the courtyar_f the Nuns' House, and finding themselves coldly stared at by the braze_oor-plate, as if the battered old beau with the glass in his eye wer_nsolent, look at one another, look along the perspective of the moonli_treet, and slowly walk away together.
'Do you stay here long, Mr. Drood?' says Neville.
'Not this time,' is the careless answer. 'I leave for London again, to-morrow.
But I shall be here, off and on, until next Midsummer; then I shall take m_eave of Cloisterham, and England too; for many a long day, I expect.'
'Are you going abroad?'
'Going to wake up Egypt a little,' is the condescending answer.
'Are you reading?'
'Reading?' repeats Edwin Drood, with a touch of contempt. 'No. Doing, working, engineering. My small patrimony was left a part of the capital of the Firm _m with, by my father, a former partner; and I am a charge upon the Firm unti_ come of age; and then I step into my modest share in the concern. Jack — yo_et him at dinner — is, until then, my guardian and trustee.'
'I heard from Mr. Crisparkle of your other good fortune.'
'What do you mean by my other good fortune?'
Neville has made his remark in a watchfully advancing, and yet furtive and sh_anner, very expressive of that peculiar air already noticed, of being at onc_unter and hunted. Edwin has made his retort with an abruptness not at al_olite. They stop and interchange a rather heated look.
'I hope,' says Neville, 'there is no offence, Mr. Drood, in my innocentl_eferring to your betrothal?'
'By George!' cries Edwin, leading on again at a somewhat quicker pace;
'everybody in this chattering old Cloisterham refers to it I wonder no public- house has been set up, with my portrait for the sign of The Betrothed's Head.
Or Pussy's portrait. One or the other.'
'I am not accountable for Mr. Crisparkle's mentioning the matter to me, quit_penly,' Neville begins.
'No; that's true; you are not,' Edwin Drood assents.
'But,' resumes Neville, 'I am accountable for mentioning it to you. And I di_o, on the supposition that you could not fail to be highly proud of it.'
Now, there are these two curious touches of human nature working the secre_prings of this dialogue. Neville Landless is already enough impressed b_ittle Rosebud, to feel indignant that Edwin Drood (far below her) should hol_is prize so lightly. Edwin Drood is already enough impressed by Helena, t_eel indignant that Helena's brother (far below her) should dispose of him s_oolly, and put him out of the way so entirely.
However, the last remark had better be answered. So, says Edwin:
'I don't know, Mr. Neville' (adopting that mode of address from Mr.
Crisparkle), 'that what people are proudest of, they usually talk most about; I don't know either, that what they are proudest of, they most like othe_eople to talk about. But I live a busy life, and I speak under correction b_ou readers, who ought to know everything, and I daresay do.'
By this time they had both become savage; Mr. Neville out in the open; Edwi_rood under the transparent cover of a popular tune, and a stop now and the_o pretend to admire picturesque effects in the moonlight before him.
'It does not seem to me very civil in you,' remarks Neville, at length, 't_eflect upon a stranger who comes here, not having had your advantages, to tr_o make up for lost time. But, to be sure, I was not brought up in "bus_ife," and my ideas of civility were formed among Heathens.'
'Perhaps, the best civility, whatever kind of people we are brought up among,'
retorts Edwin Drood, 'is to mind our own business. If you will set me tha_xample, I promise to follow it.'
'Do you know that you take a great deal too much upon yourself?' is the angr_ejoinder, 'and that in the part of the world I come from, you would be calle_o account for it?'
'By whom, for instance?' asks Edwin Drood, coming to a halt, and surveying th_ther with a look of disdain.
But, here a startling right hand is laid on Edwin's shoulder, and Jaspe_tands between them. For, it would seem that he, too, has strolled round b_he Nuns' House, and has come up behind them on the shadowy side of the road.
'Ned, Ned, Ned!' he says; 'we must have no more of this. I don't like this. _ave overheard high words between you two. Remember, my dear boy, you ar_lmost in the position of host to-night. You belong, as it were, to the place, and in a manner represent it towards a stranger. Mr. Neville is a stranger, and you should respect the obligations of hospitality. And, Mr. Neville,'
laying his left hand on the inner shoulder of that young gentleman, and thu_alking on between them, hand to shoulder on either side: 'you will pardon me; but I appeal to you to govern your temper too. Now, what is amiss? But wh_sk! Let there be nothing amiss, and the question is superfluous. We are al_hree on a good understanding, are we not?'
After a silent struggle between the two young men who shall speak last, Edwi_rood strikes in with: 'So far as I am concerned, Jack, there is no anger i_e.'
'Nor in me,' says Neville Landless, though not so freely; or perhaps s_arelessly. 'But if Mr. Drood knew all that lies behind me, far away fro_ere, he might know better how it is that sharp- edged words have sharp edge_o wound me.'
'Perhaps,' says Jasper, in a soothing manner, 'we had better not qualify ou_ood understanding. We had better not say anything having the appearance of _emonstrance or condition; it might not seem generous. Frankly and freely, yo_ee there is no anger in Ned. Frankly and freely, there is no anger in you, Mr. Neville?'
'None at all, Mr. Jasper.' Still, not quite so frankly or so freely; or, be i_aid once again, not quite so carelessly perhaps.
'All over then! Now, my bachelor gatehouse is a few yards from here, and th_eater is on the fire, and the wine and glasses are on the table, and it i_ot a stone's throw from Minor Canon Corner. Ned, you are up and away to- morrow. We will carry Mr. Neville in with us, to take a stirrup-cup.'
'With all my heart, Jack.'
'And with all mine, Mr. Jasper.' Neville feels it impossible to say less, bu_ould rather not go. He has an impression upon him that he has lost hold o_is temper; feels that Edwin Drood's coolness, so far from being infectious, makes him red-hot.
Mr. Jasper, still walking in the centre, hand to shoulder on either side, beautifully turns the Refrain of a drinking song, and they all go up to hi_ooms. There, the first object visible, when he adds the light of a lamp t_hat of the fire, is the portrait over the chimneypicce. It is not an objec_alculated to improve the understanding between the two young men, as rathe_wkwardly reviving the subject of their difference. Accordingly, they bot_lance at it consciously, but say nothing. Jasper, however (who would appea_rom his conduct to have gained but an imperfect clue to the cause of thei_ate high words), directly calls attention to it.
'You recognise that picture, Mr. Neville?' shading the lamp to throw the ligh_pon it.
'I recognise it, but it is far from flattering the original.'
'O, you are hard upon it! It was done by Ned, who made me a present of it.'
'I am sorry for that, Mr. Drood.' Neville apologises, with a real intention t_pologise; 'if I had known I was in the artist's presence —'
'O, a joke, sir, a mere joke,' Edwin cuts in, with a provoking yawn. 'A littl_umouring of Pussy's points! I'm going to paint her gravely, one of thes_ays, if she's good.'
The air of leisurely patronage and indifference with which this is said, a_he speaker throws himself back in a chair and clasps his hands at the back o_is head, as a rest for it, is very exasperating to the excitable and excite_eville. Jasper looks observantly from the one to the other, slightly smiles, and turns his back to mix a jug of mulled wine at the fire. It seems t_equire much mixing and compounding.
'I suppose, Mr. Neville,' says Edwin, quick to resent the indignant protes_gainst himself in the face of young Landless, which is fully as visible a_he portrait, or the fire, or the lamp: 'I suppose that if you painted th_icture of your lady love —'
'I can't paint,' is the hasty interruption.
'That's your misfortune, and not your fault. You would if you could. But i_ou could, I suppose you would make her (no matter what she was in reality), Juno, Minerva, Diana, and Venus, all in one. Eh?'
'I have no lady love, and I can't say.'
'If I were to try my hand,' says Edwin, with a boyish boastfulness getting u_n him, 'on a portrait of Miss Landless — in earnest, mind you; in earnest — you should see what I could do!'
'My sister's consent to sit for it being first got, I suppose? As it neve_ill be got, I am afraid I shall never see what you can do. I must bear th_oss.'
Jasper turns round from the fire, fills a large goblet glass for Neville, fills a large goblet glass for Edwin, and hands each his own; then fills fo_imself, saying:
'Come, Mr. Neville, we are to drink to my nephew, Ned. As it is his foot tha_s in the stirrup — metaphorically — our stirrup-cup is to be devoted to him.
Ned, my dearest fellow, my love!'
Jasper sets the example of nearly emptying his glass, and Neville follows it.
Edwin Drood says, 'Thank you both very much,' and follows the double example.
'Look at him,' cries Jasper, stretching out his hand admiringly and tenderly, though rallyingly too. 'See where he lounges so easily, Mr. Neville! The worl_s all before him where to choose. A life of stirring work and interest, _ife of change and excitement, a life of domestic ease and love! Look at him!'
Edwin Drood's face has become quickly and remarkably flushed with the wine; s_as the face of Neville Landless. Edwin still sits thrown back in his chair, making that rest of clasped hands for his head.
'See how little he heeds it all!' Jasper proceeds in a bantering vein. 'It i_ardly worth his while to pluck the golden fruit that hangs ripe on the tre_or him. And yet consider the contrast, Mr. Neville. You and I have n_rospect of stirring work and interest, or of change and excitement, or o_omestic ease and love. You and I have no prospect (unless you are mor_ortunate than I am, which may easily be), but the tedious unchanging round o_his dull place.'
'Upon my soul, Jack,' says Edwin, complacently, 'I feel quite apologetic fo_aving my way smoothed as you describe. But you know what I know, Jack, and i_ay not be so very easy as it seems, after all. May it, Pussy?' To th_ortrait, with a snap of his thumb and finger. 'We have got to hit it off yet; haven't we, Pussy? You know what I mean, Jack.'
His speech has become thick and indistinct. Jasper, quiet and self-possessed, looks to Neville, as expecting his answer or comment. When Neville speaks, hi_peech is also thick and indistinct.
'It might have been better for Mr. Drood to have known some hardships,' h_ays, defiantly.
'Pray,' retorts Edwin, turning merely his eyes in that direction, 'pray wh_ight it have been better for Mr. Drood to have known some hardships?'
'Ay,' Jasper assents, with an air of interest; 'let us know why?'
'Because they might have made him more sensible,' says Neville, 'of goo_ortune that is not by any means necessarily the result of his own merits.'
Mr. Jasper quickly looks to his nephew for his rejoinder.
'Have you known hardships, may I ask?' says Edwin Drood, sitting upright.
Mr. Jasper quickly looks to the other for his retort.
'And what have they made you sensible of?'
Mr. Jasper's play of eyes between the two holds good throughout the dialogue, to the end.
'I have told you once before to-night.'
'You have done nothing of the sort.'
'I tell you I have. That you take a great deal too much upon yourself.'
'You added something else to that, if I remember?'
'Yes, I did say something else.'
'Say it again.'
'I said that in the part of the world I come from, you would be called t_ccount for it.'
'Only there?' cries Edwin Drood, with a contemptuous laugh. 'A long way off, _elieve? Yes; I see! That part of the world is at a safe distance.'
'Say here, then,' rejoins the other, rising in a fury. 'Say anywhere! You_anity is intolerable, your conceit is beyond endurance; you talk as if yo_ere some rare and precious prize, instead of a common boaster. You are _ommon fellow, and a common boaster.'
'Pooh, pooh,' says Edwin Drood, equally furious, but more collected; 'ho_hould you know? You may know a black common fellow, or a black commo_oaster, when you see him (and no doubt you have a large acquaintance tha_ay); but you are no judge of white men.'
This insulting allusion to his dark skin infuriates Neville to that violen_egree, that he flings the dregs of his wine at Edwin Drood, and is in the ac_f flinging the goblet after it, when his arm is caught in the nick of time b_asper.
'Ned, my dear fellow!' he cries in a loud voice; 'I entreat you, I comman_ou, to be still!' There has been a rush of all the three, and a clattering o_lasses and overturning of chairs. 'Mr. Neville, for shame! Give this glass t_e. Open your hand, sir. I will have it!'
But Neville throws him off, and pauses for an instant, in a raging passion, with the goblet yet in his uplifted hand. Then, he dashes it down under th_rate, with such force that the broken splinters fly out again in a shower; and he leaves the house.
When he first emerges into the night air, nothing around him is still o_teady; nothing around him shows like what it is; he only knows that he stand_ith a bare head in the midst of a blood-red whirl, waiting to be struggle_ith, and to struggle to the death.
But, nothing happening, and the moon looking down upon him as if he were dea_fter a fit of wrath, he holds his steam-hammer beating head and heart, an_taggers away. Then, he becomes half-conscious of having heard himself bolte_nd barred out, like a dangerous animal; and thinks what shall he do?
Some wildly passionate ideas of the river dissolve under the spell of th_oonlight on the Cathedral and the graves, and the remembrance of his sister, and the thought of what he owes to the good man who has but that very day wo_is confidence and given him his pledge. He repairs to Minor Canon Corner, an_nocks softly at the door.
It is Mr. Crisparkle's custom to sit up last of the early household, ver_oftly touching his piano and practising his favourite parts in concerte_ocal music. The south wind that goes where it lists, by way of Minor Cano_orner on a still night, is not more subdued than Mr. Crisparkle at suc_imes, regardful of the slumbers of the china shepherdess.
His knock is immediately answered by Mr. Crisparkle himself. When he opens th_oor, candle in hand, his cheerful face falls, and disappointed amazement i_n it.
'Mr. Neville! In this disorder! Where have you been?'
'I have been to Mr. Jasper's, sir. With his nephew.'
The Minor Canon props him by the elbow with a strong hand (in a strictl_cientific manner, worthy of his morning trainings), and turns him into hi_wn little book-room, and shuts the door.'
'I have begun ill, sir. I have begun dreadfully ill.'
'Too true. You are not sober, Mr. Neville.'
'I am afraid I am not, sir, though I can satisfy you at another time that _ave had a very little indeed to drink, and that it overcame me in th_trangest and most sudden manner.'
'Mr. Neville, Mr. Neville,' says the Minor Canon, shaking his head with _orrowful smile; 'I have heard that said before.'
'I think — my mind is much confused, but I think — it is equally true of Mr.
Jasper's nephew, sir.'
'Very likely,' is the dry rejoinder.
'We quarrelled, sir. He insulted me most grossly. He had heated that tigeris_lood I told you of to-day, before then.'
'Mr. Neville,' rejoins the Minor Canon, mildly, but firmly: 'I request you no_o speak to me with that clenched right hand. Unclench it, if you please.'
'He goaded me, sir,' pursues the young man, instantly obeying, 'beyond m_ower of endurance. I cannot say whether or no he meant it at first, but h_id it. He certainly meant it at last. In short, sir,' with an irrepressibl_utburst, 'in the passion into which he lashed me, I would have cut him dow_f I could, and I tried to do it.'
'You have clenched that hand again,' is Mr. Crisparkle's quiet commentary.
'I beg your pardon, sir.'
'You know your room, for I showed it you before dinner; but I will accompan_ou to it once more. Your arm, if you please. Softly, for the house is al_-bed.'
Scooping his hand into the same scientific elbow-rest as before, and backin_t up with the inert strength of his arm, as skilfully as a Police Expert, an_ith an apparent repose quite unattainable by novices, Mr. Crisparkle conduct_is pupil to the pleasant and orderly old room prepared for him. Arrive_here, the young man throws himself into a chair, and, flinging his arms upo_is reading-table, rests his head upon them with an air of wretched self- reproach.
The gentle Minor Canon has had it in his thoughts to leave the room, without _ord. But looking round at the door, and seeing this dejected figure, he turn_ack to it, touches it with a mild hand, says 'Good night!' A sob is his onl_cknowledgment. He might have had many a worse; perhaps, could have had fe_etter.
Another soft knock at the outer door attracts his attention as he goes down- stairs. He opens it to Mr. Jasper, holding in his hand the pupil's hat.
'We have had an awful scene with him,' says Jasper, in a low voice.
'Has it been so bad as that?'
Mr. Crisparkle remonstrates: 'No, no, no. Do not use such strong words.'
'He might have laid my dear boy dead at my feet. It is no fault of his, tha_e did not. But that I was, through the mercy of God, swift and strong wit_im, he would have cut him down on my hearth.'
The phrase smites home. 'Ah!' thinks Mr. Crisparkle, 'his own words!'
'Seeing what I have seen to-night, and hearing what I have heard,' add_asper, with great earnestness, 'I shall never know peace of mind when ther_s danger of those two coming together, with no one else to interfere. It wa_orrible. There is something of the tiger in his dark blood.'
'Ah!' thinks Mr. Crisparkle, 'so he said!'
'You, my dear sir,' pursues Jasper, taking his hand, 'even you, have accepte_ dangerous charge.'
'You need have no fear for me, Jasper,' returns Mr. Crisparkle, with a quie_mile. 'I have none for myself.'
'I have none for myself,' returns Jasper, with an emphasis on the las_ronoun, 'because I am not, nor am I in the way of being, the object of hi_ostility. But you may be, and my dear boy has been. Good night!'
Mr. Crisparkle goes in, with the hat that has so easily, so almos_mperceptibly, acquired the right to be hung up in his hall; hangs it up; an_oes thoughtfully to bed.