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. 20, August 13, 1870
SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 1870.
PUBLISHED BY THE
PUNCHINELLO PUBLISHING COMPANY,
83 NASSAU STREET, NEW YORK.
THE MYSTERY OF MR. E. DROOD.
BY ORPHEUS C. KERR.
FOR THE BEST.
Miss CAROWTHERS’S educational hotbed of female innocence was about to undergo desolation by the temporary dispersal of its intellectual buds and blossoms to their native soils, therefrom to fill home-atmospheres with the mental fragrance of “all the branches.” Holiday Week drew near, when, as Miss CAROWTHERS Ritually expressed it, “all who were true believers of the American Church of England in their hearts would softly celebrate the devout Yearly Festival of Apostolic Christianity, by decking the Only True Church with symbolical evergreens over places where the paint was scratched off, and receiving New Year’s Calls without intoxicating liquors.” In honor of this approaching solemn season of peace on earth, good will to young men, the discipline of Macassar Female College was slightly relaxed: Bible-studies were no longer rigorously inflicted as a punishment for criminal absence of all punctuation from English Composition, and any Young Lady whose father was good pay could actually sneeze in her teacup without being locked into her own room on bread-and-water until she was truly penitent for her sin and wished she was a Christian. Consequently, an air of unusual license pervaded the Alms-House; woman’s rights meetings were held at the heads of stairways to declare, that, whereas MARY AMANDA PARKINSON’S male second-cousin has promised to meet her at the railroad station, and thereby made her pretend to us that the letter was from her father, when all the time ANN LOUISA BAKER accidentally caught sight of the words “My Precious MOLLY” while looking for her scissors in the wrong drawer, and therefore, be it Resolved, that we wish he knew about one shoulder being a little higher than the other, (as she knows the dressmaker told her,) and about that one red whisker under the left hand corner of her chin which she might as well stop trying to keep cut off; dark assemblages resembling walking lobsters were convened in special dormitories at night, to compare brothers and tell how they Byronically said that they never should care for women again after what they had sacrificed for them in the horse-cars without so much as a “Thank you, sir,” but if they ever could be brought to liking a girl now, it would be on account of her not pretending to care for anything but money and a husband’s early grave; and very white parties of pleasure were organized in the halls, at ghostly hours, to go down to the cupboard for a mince-pie under pretense of hearing burglars, and subsequently to drink the mince-pie from curl-papers, accompanied by whispers of “H’sh! don’t eat the crust so loud, or Miss CAROWTHERS ‘ll think it’s a man.”
In addition to these signs of impending freedom, trunks were packed in the rooms, with an adeptness of getting in things with springs twice as wide as any trunk, and of laying cologne-bottles, fans, and brushes, between objects with ruffles so as to perfectly protect the latter, that would have put the most conceited old bachelor to shame. Affected tenderly by thoughts of a separation which, so ridiculously uncertain is human life, might be forever, the young ladies who couldn’t bear each other, and had been quite sorry for each other because she couldn’t help it with such a natural disposition and rough forehead as hers, poor thing!–graciously made-up with each other, in case they should not meet again until in Heaven.–You will not think any more, HENRIETTA TOMLINSON, of what I told you about AUGUSTUS SMITH’S remarks to me that Sunday coming out of chapel. I didn’t let you know before, my dear, but when he had the impudence to say that one of your eyebrows was longer than the other, and that you had a sleepy look as though a little more in the upper-story wouldn’t hurt you, I stood up for you, and told him he ought to be ashamed to talk so on Sunday about you, after you’d taken such pains to please him. That’s just all there was about that whole thing, HENRIETTA, dear, and now I hope we may part friends.–Why shouldn’t we, MARTHA JENKINS? I’m sure I’ve never been the one to be unfriendly, and when Mr. SMITH told me, that he guessed my friend Miss JENKINS didn’t know how much she walked like a camel, I was as sarcastic as I could be, and said I didn’t know before that gentlemen ever made fun of natural deformities.–Yes, HENRIETTA, my love, I know how you’ve always, te-he! spoken well of everybody behind their backs. Gentlemen give you their confidence as soon as they see you, without a bit of fishing for it on your part, and then you have a chance to befriend your poor friends.–Oh, well, MARTHA, darling, there’s no need of your getting provoked because I wouldn’t hear you called a camel–he! he!–after you’d been so angelic with him about stepping on the middle back-breadth of your poplin–“Oh, never mind it at all-l, Mayistah SA-MITH; it’s of No-o consequence!” Te-he-he-he! When is it to come off, Miss TOMLINSON? When does your AUGUSTUS finally reward your perseverance with his big red hand?–I haven’t asked him yet, Precious! out of regard for your feelings. He’s so sensitive about having any one think he’s jilted her; quite ridiculous, I tell him.–HENRIETTA TOMLINSON! you–you’d get on your knees to make a man look at you: EVERYbody says that!–But then, you know, MARTHA JENKINS, there are persons who wouldn’t be looked at much, even if they did go on their knees for it, lovey.–M’m’m! Ph’h’h! Please keep by your own trunk, HENRIETTA. I don’t want anything stolen, Miss!–He! he! Of course I’ll go, MARTHA. There’s so much danger of my stealing your old rags!–Don’t provoke me to slap you, Miss!–Who are you pushing against, Camel?–Aow-aouw-k!–Ah-h-h!–R-r-r-r’p, sl’p, p’l-‘l Miss CROWTHERS’ coming!!—-And thus to usher in the merry, merry Christmas time of peace on earth, good will to young men.
At noon on the Saturday preceding Holiday-Week, Miss CAROWTHERS, assisted by her adjutant, Mrs. PILLSBURY, had a Reception in the Cackleorium, when emaciated lemonade and tenacious gingerbread were passed around, and the serene conqueror of Breachy, Mr. BLODGETT, addressed the assembled sweetness. Ladies, the wheel of Time, who, you know, is usually represented as a venerable man of Jewish aspect with a scythe, had brought around once more a festival appealing to all the finer feelings of our imperfect nature. Throbbed there a heart in any of our bos-hem!–in any of the superstructures of our waists, that did not respond with joy and gladness to the sentiment of such a season? In view of Christmas, Ladies, did we say, in the words of–an acceptable Ritualistic translation from the Breviary–
“Day of vengeance, without morrow,
No; that was not our style. We saw in Christmas a happy time to forgive all our friends, to forget all our enemies at the groaning board, and to keep on remembering the poor. Might we find all our relatives well in the homes we were about to revisit, and ready to liquidate our little semi-annual expenses of tuition. Might we find neighborhoods willing to take the resumption of piano-practicing in the forgiving spirit of the Christmas-time, and to accept the singing of Italian airs, at late hours, with the tops of windows down, as occurrences not to be profanely criticized in sleepless beds at a time of year when all animosities should be repressed. With love for all mankind, Ladies, where it was strictly proper, we would now separate until after the Holidays, wishing each other a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Then ensued leave-takings all around; terminating with a delicate consciousness on the part of each young lady present that she was not to be entirely without escort on her way to her home, inasmuch as there was a BILL prepared to go with her and be presented to her parents.
A number of times had FLORA POTTS witnessed this usual breaking up, without any other sensation at herself being left behind in the Alms-House than one of relief from incessant attempts of dearest friends to find out what Mr. E. DROOD wrote about longing to clasp her again, in his last; and on this occasion she came near being really happy in having her dear MAGNOLIA PENDRAGON to remain with her. MAGNOLIA had never mentioned EDWIN’S name since the virtual compact between herself, and her brother, and Mr. SIMPSON, on the Pond shore; which was, perhaps, carrying woman’s friendship rather too far to the other extreme:–she might as least have said, “Are you thinking of something commencing with a D.?” once in a while:–but the Flowerpot, while slightly wondering, of course, found a pleasant change in a companion of her own sex and age who was not always raising the D. in conversation.
A lovely scene was it, and maddening to masculine imagination, when so many of Miss POTTS’S blooming young schoolmates kissed her good-bye in the porch, and gave her a last chance to tell them what he had written, then. It was charming to see that willed-away little creature, without her enamel, waving farewell to the stages departing for the ferry; and to hear the disappearing ones calling out to her: “By-bye, FLORA, dear; EDDY ought to see you now with your natural complexion.” “Au revoir, Pet You’d better hurry in now; here comes a man!”
“Don’t stay out in the sun for us, Darling, or the belladonna may lose its effect.”
Oh, rosebud-garden of girls! Oh, fresh young blossoms, to which we of the male and cabbage growth are as cheap vegetables! Cling together while ye may in the fair bouquet of sweet school friendship, of musical parlor-sisterhood. So shall your thorns be known only to each other in such fragrant clustering, and never known at all to Men unless they insensately persist in giving you their hands.
While the Flowerpot was thus receiving fond good-byes, EDWIN DROOD, on his way to see her, suffered an indecision of purpose which might have bred disquiet in a more gigantic mind than his. With the package containing the memorial stay-lace in one pocket, and his hands in two others, he strode up the Bumsteadville turnpike in a light overcoat and a brown study. But for good Mr. DIBBLE’S undeniably truthful picture of a modern lover’s actual situation, he might have allowed matters to go as they would, and sunk into an early marriage without one prayer to Heaven for mercy. Now, however, that picture troubled him even more than the bump which he had got upon his head from the tilting table in the lawyer’s office, and he was disposed to send the stay-lace back to the candid old man. “FLORA and I have about equal intellects,” reasoned he to himself. “Shall I leave the whole question to her, or my own decision! One would be about as profound in wisdom as the other. Which? I guess I’ll toss-up for it.”
He stepped aside from the road, under a leafless tree, and drew from a pocket a badly speckled nickel coin. “Heads for her, tails for me,” he said, with some awe in his tone. The tasteful coin was tossed, and “Heads” stared up at him from the frozen ground. “It’s her inning,” he muttered, and, re-pocketing the money and his hands, went on whistling. Thus the great crises of our laborious human lives are settled by the idle inspiration of a moment, and fate, for good, or evil, comes as it is cent.
The Flowerpot, expecting him, was ready in her walking dress, and, by tacit permission of Miss CAROWTHERS, the two started upon a promenade for the nearest confidential cross-road, each eating half of an apple which Mr. DROOD had brought to disguise his feelings.
“My dear, absurd EDDY,” said FLORA, when they had arrived in a secluded lane not far from St. Cow’s Church, “I want to give you something very serious, and oh! I’m so ridiculously nervous about doing so,–especially after your giving me this apple.”
“Never mind the apple, FLORA. It was the fruit of our First Parents, and has constituted the most available pie of the poor ever since. Don’t allow it to fetter your freedom of speech, and please try to eat it without such a gashing noise.”
“Thank you, EDDY. You have always been liberal with me. And now are you sure you won’t be absurdly angry with me if I give you something?”
He fell away from her a moment, as half anticipating a kiss, but promised that he would restrain his temper.
“Then here you are, EDDY;” and she drew from a pocket in her dress and held out to him a small worsted mitten.
“You give this to me?” he said, accepting it, and tossing it from one hand to the other, as though it were something hot.
“Yes, dear, ridiculous friend; and from this day forth let us give up the cold indifference of people engaged to each other, and be as truly affectionate as brother and sister.”
“Never get married?”
“Not to each other.”
Under the ecstatic influence of the moment, the emancipated young bondman began dancing and turning somersaults like one possessed but, quickly remembering himself, hastened to regain a perpendicular position at her side, and coughed energetically, as though, the recent gymnastics had been prescribed for his cold.
“My own sister!” he exclaimed, “a weight is now lifted from both of our minds, and both of us should be the better for the lifting-cure It is noble in you to let me off so.”
“And it’s perfectly splendid in you, EDDY, to make no horrid fuss about it.”
The beautiful contest of generosities between these two young souls made each as tender toward the other as though the parents of both had been alive and frantically opposed to their mutual attachment.
“We are both sorry that we have ever had any absurd engagement between us,” said FLORA, with a manner of exquisite softness, “and now, that we are like brother and sister, we need not be all the time playing the Pretty with each other, and needn’t be putting on our best things every time we have to meet. You think that my hair always curls in this way, don’t you, EDDY?”