Produced by Cornell University, Joshua Hutchinson, Sandra
Brown and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
Produced by Cornell University, Joshua Hutchinson, Sandra
Punchinello, Vol. 1, No. 17, July 23, 1870
THE MYSTERY OF MR. E. DROOD.
BY ORPHEUS C. KERR
BLADAMS ushered in two waiters–one Irish and one German–who wore that look of blended long-suffering and extreme weariness of everything eatable, which, in this country, seems inevitably characteristic of the least personal agency in the serving of meals. (There may be lands in which the not essentially revolting art of cookery can be practiced without engendering irritable gloom in the bosoms of its practitioners, and the spreading of tables does not necessarily entail upon the actors therein a despondency almost sinister; but the American kitchen is the home of beings who never laugh, save in that sardonic bitterness of spirit which grimly mocks the climax of human endurance in the burning of the soup; and the waiter of the American dining-room can scarcely place a dish upon the board without making it eloquent of a blighted existence.) Having dashed the stews upon the reading-table before the fire, and rescued a drowning fly from one of them with his least appetizing thumb-nail, the melancholy Irish attendant polished the spoons with his pocket-handkerchief and hurled them on either side of the plates. Perceiving that his German associate, in listlessly throwing the mugs of ale upon the table, had spilled some of the liquid, he hurriedly wiped the stain away with EDWIN DROOD’S worsted muffler, and dried the sides of the glasses upon the napkin intended for Mr. DIBBLE’S use. There was something of the wild resources of despair, too, in this man’s frequent ghostly dispatch of the German after articles forgotten in the first trip, such as another cracker, the cover of the pepper-cruet, the salt, and one more pinch of butter; and so greatly did his apparent dejection of soul increase as each supplementary luxury arrived and was recklessly slammed into its place, that, upon finally retiring from the room with his associate, his utter hopelessness of aspect gave little suggestion of the future proud political preferment to which, by virtue of his low estate and foreign birth, he was assuredly destined.
[Footnote 1: In anticipation of any critical objection to the introduction of a living fly in December, the Adapter begs leave to suspect than an anachronism is always legitimate in a work of fiction when a point is to be made. Thus, in Chapter VIII of the inimitable “NICHOLAS NICKLEBY,” Mr. SQUEERS tells NICHOLAS that morning has come, “and ready iced, too;” and that “the pump’s froze,” while, only a few pages later, in the same chapter, one of Mr. SQUEERS’ scholars is spoken of as “weeding the garden.”]
The whole scene had been a reproachful commentary upon the stiff American system of discouraging waiters from making remarks upon the weather, inquiring the cost of one’s new coat, conferring with one upon the general prospects of his business for the season, or from indulging in any of the various light conversational diversions whereby barbers, Fulton street tailors, and other depressed gymnasts, are occasionally and wholesomely relieved from the misery of brooding over their equally dispiriting avocations.
After the departure of the future aldermen, or sheriffs, of the city, the good old lawyer accompanied his young guest in an expeditious assimilation of the stews; saying little, but silently regretting, for the sake of good manners, that Mr. BLADAMS could not eat oysters without making a noise as though they were alive in his mouth. At last, mug of ale in hand, he turned to his clerk:
“Sir to you!” responded Mr. BLADAMS, hastily putting down the plate from which he had been drinking his last drop of stew, and grasping his own mug.
“Your health, BLADAMS.–Mr. EDWIN joins me, I’m sure.–And may the–may our–that is, may your–suppose we call it Bump of Happiness–may your Bump of Happiness increase.”
Staring thoughtfully, Mr. BLADAMS felt for the Bump upon his head and, having scratched what he seemed to take for it, replied: “It’s a go, sir. The Bump has increased some since KENT’S Commentaries fell on it from that top-shelf the other day.”
“I am going to toast my lovely ward,” whispered Mr, DIBBLE to EDWIN; “but I put BLADAMS first, because he was once a person to be respected, and I treat him with politeness in place of a good salary.”
“Success to the Bump,” said EDWIN DROOD, rather struck by this piece of practical economy, and newly impressed with the standard fact that politeness costs nothing.
“And now,” continued Mr. DIBBLE, with a wink in which his very ear joined, “I give you the peerless Miss FLORA POTTS. BLADAMS, please remember that there are others here to eat crackers besides yourself, and join us in a health to Miss POTTS.”
“Let the toast pass, drink to the lass!” cried Mr. BLADAMS, husky with crackers. “All ale to her!”
“Count me in, too,” assented EDWIN.
“Dear me!” said the old lawyer, breaking a momentary spell of terror occasioned by Mr. BLADAMS having turned blue and nearly choked to death in a surreptitious attempt to swallow a cracker which he had previously concealed in one of his cheeks. “Dear me! although I am a square, practical man, I do believe that I could draw a picture of a true lover’s state of mind to-night.”
“A regular chromo,” wheezed Mr. BLADAMS, encouragingly; pretending not to notice that his employer was reaching an ineffectual arm after the crackers at his own elbow.
“Subject to the approving, or correcting, judgment of Mr. E. DROOD, I make bold to guess that the modern true lover’s mind, such as it is, is rendered jerky by contemplation of the lady who has made him the object of her virgin affectations,” proceeded Mr. DIBBLE, looking intently at EDWIN, but still making farther and farther reaches toward the distant crackers, even to the increased tilting of his chair. “I venture the conjecture, that if he has any darling pet name for her, such as Pinky-winky,’ ‘Little Fooly,’ ‘Chignonentily,’ or ‘Waxy Wobbles,’ he feels horribly ashamed if any one overhears it, and coughs violently to make believe that be never said it.”
It was curious to see EDWIN listening with changing color to this truthful exposure of his young mind; the while, influenced unconsciously, probably, by the speaker’s example, he, too, had begun reaching and chair-tilting toward the crackers across the table. What time Mr. BLADAMS, at the opposite side of the board, had apparently sunk into a sudden and deep slumber; although from beneath one of his folded arms a finger dreamily rested upon the rim of the cracker-plate, and occasionally gave it a little pull farther away from the approaching hands.
“My picture,” continued Mr. DIBBLE, now quite hoarse, and almost horizontal in his reaching, to EDWIN DROOD, also nearly horizontal in the same way–“my picture goes on to represent the true lover as ever eager to be with his dear one, for the purpose of addressing implacable glares at the Other Young Man with More Property, whom She says she always loved as a Brother when they were Children Together; and of smiling bitterly and biting off the ends of his new gloves (which is more than he can really afford, at his salary,) when She softly tells him that he is making a perfect fool of himself. My picture further represents him to be continually permeated by a consciousness of such tight boots as he ought not to wear, even for the Beloved Object, and of such readiness to have new cloth coats spoiled, by getting hair-oil on the left shoulder, as shall yet bring him to a scene of violence with his distracted tailor. It shows him, likewise, as filled with exciting doubts of his own relative worth: that is, with self-questionings as to whether he shall ever be worth enough to buy that cantering imported saddle horse which he has already promised; to spend every summer in a private cottage at Newport; to fight off Western divorces, and to pay an eloquent lawyer a few thousands for getting him clear, on the plea of insanity, after he shall have shot the Other Young Man with More Property for wanting his wife to be a Sister to him, again, as she was, you know, when they were Children Together.”
EDWIN, despite the coldness of the season, had perspired freely during the latter part of the Picture, and sought to disguise his uneasiness at its beautiful, yet severe truth, by a last push of his extended arm toward the crackers. Quickly observing this, Mr. DIBBLE also made a final desperate reach after the same object; so that both old man and young, while pretending to heed each other’s words only, were two-thirds across the table, with their feet in the air and their chairs poised on one leg each. At that very moment, by some unhappy chance, while nearly the whole weight of the two was pressing upon their edge of the board, Mr. BLADAMS abruptly awoke, and raised his elbows from his edge, to relieve his arms by stretching. Released from his pressure, the table flew up upon two legs with remarkable swiftness, and then turned over upon Mr. DIBBLE and Mr. E. DROOD; bringing the two latter and their chairs to the floor under a shower of plates and crackers, and resting invertedly upon their prostrate forms, like some species of four-pillared monumental temple without a roof.
A person less amiable than the good Mr. DIBBLE would have borrowed the name of an appurtenance of a mill, at least once, as a suitable expression of his feelings upon such a trying occasion; but, instead of this, when Mr. BLADAMS, excitedly crying “fire!” lifted the overturned table from off himself and young guest, he merely arose to a sitting position on the littered carpet, and said to EDWIN, with a smile and a rub: “Pray, am I at all near the mark in my picture?”
“I should say, sir,” responded EDWIN, with a very strange expression of countenance, also rubbing the back of his head, “that you are rather hard upon the feelings of the unluckly lover. He may not show all that he feels–“
There he paused so long to feel his nose and ascertain about its being broken, that Mr. DIBBLE limped to his feet and ended that part of the discussion by hobbling to an open iron safe across the office.
Taking from a private drawer in this repository a small paper parcel, containing a pasteboard box, and opening the latter, the old lawyer produced what looked like a long, flat white cord, with shining tips at either end.
“This, Mr. EDWIN,” said he, with marked emotion, “is a stay-lace, with golden tags, which belonged to Miss FLORA’S mother. It was handed to me, in the abstraction of his grief, by Miss FLORA’S father, on the day of the funeral; be saying that he could never bear to look upon it again. To you, as Miss FLORA’S future husband, I now give it.”
“A stay-lace!” echoed EDWIN, coming forward as quickly as his lameness would allow, and staunching his swollen upper lip with a handkerchief.
“Yes,” was the grave response. “You have undoubtedly noticed, Mr. EDWIN, that in every fashionable romance, the noble and grenadine heroine has a habit of ‘drawing herself up proudly’ whenever any gentleman tries to shake hands with her, or asks her how she can possibly be so majestic with him. This lace was used by Miss FLORA’S mother to draw herself up proudly with; and she drew herself up so much with it, that it finally reached her heart and killed her. I here place it in your hands, that you may ultimately give it to your young wife as a memento of a mother who did nothing by halves but die. If you, by any chance, should not marry the daughter, I solemnly charge you, by the memory of the living and the dead, to bring it back to me.”
Receiving the parcel with some awe, EDWIN placed it in one of his pockets.