Punchinello, Volume 1, No. 12, June 18, 1870

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Punchinello, Vol.1, No. 12 , June 18,1870

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THE MYSTERY OF MR. E. DROOD.

AN ADAPTATION.

BY ORPHEUS C. KERR.

CHAPTER III.

THE ALMS-HOUSE.

For the purpose of preventing an inconvenient rush of literary tuft-hunters and sight-seers thither next summer, a fictitious name must be bestowed upon the town of the Ritualistic church. Let it stand in these pages as Bumsteadville. Possibly it was not known to the Romans, the Saxons, nor the Normans by that name, if by any name at all; but a name more or less weird and full of damp syllables can be of little moment to a place not owned by any advertising Suburban-Residence benefactors.

A disagreeable and healthy suburb, Bumsteadville, with a strange odor of dried bones from its ancient pauper burial-ground, and many quaint old ruins in the shapes of elderly men engaged as contributors to the monthly magazines of the day. Antiquity pervades Bumsteadville; nothing is new; the very Rye is old; also the Jamaica, Santa Cruz, and a number of the native maids. A drowsy place, with all its changes lying far behind it; or, at least, the sun-browned mendicants passing through say they never saw a place offering so little present change.

In the midst of Bumsteadville stands the Alms-House; a building of an antic order of architecture; still known by its original title to the paynobility and indigentry of the surrounding country, several of whose ancestors abode there in the days before voting was a certain livelihood; although now bearing a door-plate inscribed, “Macassar Female College, Miss CAROWTHERS.” Whether any of the country editors, projectors of American Comic papers, and other inmates of the edifice in times of yore, ever come back in spirit to be astonished by the manner in which modern serious and humorous print can be made productive of anything but penury by publishing True Stories of Lord BYRON and the autobiographies of detached wives, maybe of interest to philosophers, but is of no account to Miss CAROWTHERS. Every day, during school-hours, does Miss CAROWTHERS, in spectacles and high-necked alpaca, preside over her Young Ladies of Fashion, with an austerity and elderliness before which every mental image of Man, even as the most poetical of abstractions, withers and dies. Every night, after the young ladies have retired, does Miss CAROWTHERS put on a freshening aspect, don a more youthful low-necked dress—

As though a rose
Should leave its clothes
And be a bud again,—

and become a sprightlier Miss CAROWTHERS. Every night, at the same hour, does Miss CAROWTHERS discuss with her First Assistant, Mrs. PILLSBURY, the Inalienable Bights of Women; always making certain casual reference to a gentleman in the dim past, whom she was obliged to sue for breach of promise, and to whom, for that reason, Miss CAROWTHERS airily refers, with a toleration bred of the lapse of time, as “Breachy Mr. BLODGETT.”

The pet pupil of the Alms-House is FLORA POTTS, of course called the Flowerpot; for whom a husband has been chosen by the will and bequest of her departed papa, and at whom none of the other Macassar young ladies can look without wondering how it must feel. On the afternoon after the day of the dinner at the boarding-house, the Macassar front-door bell rings, and Mr. EDWIN DROOD is announced as waiting to see Miss FLORA. Having first rubbed her lips and cheeks, alternately, with her fingers, to make them red; held her hands above her head to turn back the circulation and make them white; and added a little lead-penciling to her eyebrows to make them black; the Flowerpot trips innocently down to the parlor, and stops short at some distance from the visitor in a curious sort of angular deflection from the perpendicular.

“O, you absurd creature!” she says, placing a finger in her mouth and slightly wriggling at him. “To go and have to be married to me whether we want to or not! It’s perfectly disgusting.”

“Our parents did rather come a little load on us,” says EDWIN DROOD, not rendered enthusiastic by his reception.

“Can’t we get a habeas corpus, or some other ridiculous thing, and ask some perfectly absurd Judge to serve an injunction on somebody?” she asks, with pretty earnestness. “Don’t, Eddy—do-o-n’t.” “Don’t what, FLORA?” “Don’t try to kiss me, please.” “Why not, FLORA?” “Because I’m enameled.” “Well, I do think,” says EDWIN DROOD, “that you put on the Grecian Bend rather heavily with me. Perhaps I’d better go.”

“I wouldn’t be so exquisitely hateful, Eddy. I got the gum-drops last night, and they were perfectly splendid.”

“Well, that’s a comfort, at any rate,” says her affianced, dimly conscious of a dawning civility in her last remark. “If it’s really possible for you to walk on those high heels of yours, FLORA, let’s try a promenade out-doors.”

Here Miss CAROWTHERS glides into the room to look for her scissors, is reminded by the scene before her of Breachy Mr. BLODGETT; whispers, “Don’t trifle with her young affections, Mr. DROOD, unless you want to be sued, besides being interviewed by all the papers;” and glides out again with a sigh.

FLORA then puts upon her head a fig-leaf trimmed with lace and ribbon, and gets her hoop and stick from behind the hall-door. EDWIN DROOD takes from one of his pockets an india-rubber ball, to practice fly-catches with as he walks; and driving the hoop and throwing and catching the ball, the two go down the ancient turnpike of Bumsteadville together.

“Oh, please, EDDY, scrape yourself close to the fences, so that the girls can’t see you out of the windows,” pleads FLORA. “It’s so utterly absurd to be walking with one that one’s got to marry whether one likes it or not; and you do look so perfectly ridiculous in that short coat, and all your other things so tight.”

He gloomily scrapes against the fences, dropping his ball and catching it on the rebound at every step. “Which way shall we go?” “Up by the store, EDDY, dear.”

They go to the all-sorts country store in question, where EDWIN DROOD buys her some sassafras bull’s-eye candy, and then they turn toward home again.

“Now be a good-tempered EDDY,” she says, trundling her hoop beside him, “and pretend that you aren’t going to be my husband.” “Not if I can help it,” he says, catching the ball almost spitefully. “Then you’re going to have somebody else?” “You make my head ache, so you do,” whispers EDWIN DROOD. “I don’t want to marry anybody at all!”

She tickles him under the arm with her hoop-stick, and turns eyes that are all serious upon his. “I wish, EDDY, that we could be perfectly absurd friends to each other, instead of utterly ridiculous engaged people. It’s exquisitely awful, you know, to have a husband picked out for you by dead folks, and I’m so sick about it sometimes that I hardly have the heart to fix my back-hair. Let each of us forbear, and stop teasing the other.”

Greatly pleased by this perfectly intelligent and forgiving arrangement, EDWIN DROOD says: “You’re right, FLORA, Teasing is played out;” and drives his ball into a perfect frenzy of bounces.

They have arrived near the Ritualistic church, through the windows of which come the organ-notes of one practising within. Something familiar in the grand air rolling out to them causes EDWIN DROOD to repeat, abstractedly, “I feel—I feel—I feel—-“

FLORA, simultaneously affected in the same way, unconsciously murmurs,—-“I feel like a morning star.”

They then join hands, under the same irresistible spell, and take dancing steps, humming, in unison, “Shoo, fly! don’t bodder me.”

“That’s JACK BUMSTEAD’S playing,” whispers EDWIN DROOD; “and he must be breathing this way, too, for I can smell the cloves.”

“O, take me home,” cries FLORA, suddenly throwing her hoop over the young man’s neck, and dragging him violently after her. “I think cloves are perfectly disgusting.”

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