Laura Schiller: Absolutely No Shame

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 2012 miniseries. On the way to the carriage, Helena and Rev. Crisparkle have another talk about the case. Can she convince him to take her warning to heart this time?

T

HE sight of a tall, black-coat­ed fig­ure com­ing up along­side her and try­ing to take her lug­gage made He­le­na Land­less more ap­pre­hen­sive than she would admit. She was in a hurry; the last thing she want­ed was a re­peat of their last meet­ing. The Minor Canon need not think that he owed her any­thing now.

"I can carry my own bags, sir," she snapped, her Cey­lonese ac­cent com­ing out as it al­ways did under stress.

"But why should you, when a friend of­fers him­self as a beast of bur­den?"

Mr. Crisparkle's voice was so warm, so much like the early days, that it made her hes­i­tate and look at him al­most in spite of her­self. He took ad­van­tage of her un­cer­tain­ty to re­lieve her of both bags.

"A friend?" she re­peat­ed. Was he re­al­ly?

"I wish we had not quar­relled," he said, his eyes shin­ing down at her with what ap­peared to be gen­uine re­gret. If she did not know bet­ter, she never would have rec­og­nized this man as the one who had so re­cent­ly cut her down with a few sharp words. Their voic­es echoed in her mem­o­ry, a dis­cor­dant duet of anger and mis­trust. Mr. Jasper is in love with Rosa – if you can call it that, this rag­ing, angry thing. Dear God, Mr. Crisparkle, you have seen him! In your own house, sit­ting at your own piano, de­vour­ing her with his looks!

Tell me, Miss Land­less, have you ab­so­lute­ly no shame?

"You were cor­rect in sup­pos­ing me to have no shame," said He­le­na, draw­ing her­self up to meet the Minor Canon al­most eye-to-eye. "I am not ashamed of my parent­age, though the cit­i­zens of this town seem to think I should be. I am also not ashamed for what I have told you about Mr. Jasper. Deny it all you want, it is the truth. You know me well enough by now, I hope, to know that I would never will­ful­ly de­ceive you."

"Ex­cept by omis­sion?" Mr. Crisparkle re­tort­ed. "When were you and Mr. Neville going to tell me about your fa­ther?"

"I do not know!"She threw up her hands in ex­as­per­a­tion. "When we found out that Cap­tain Drood was dead, my broth­er and I did not see the sense in tar­nish­ing his rep­u­ta­tion after death and mak­ing a scan­dal just to sat­is­fy our cu­rios­i­ty. We de­cid­ed to, how do you say this? 'Let sleep­ing dogs lie'. But with Mr. Edwin gone, ev­ery­thing has changed, has it not? Every piece of in­for­ma­tion mat­ters. Neville's tim­ing could have been bet­ter, I admit, but I am glad the truth is out. Be­lieve me, I am every bit as eager for this ter­ri­ble mys­tery to be solved as you are!"

She had been march­ing along, keep­ing her eyes on the street ahead of her, with such sin­gle-mind­ed speed that Mr. Crisparkle's big, gen­tle hand on her shoul­der spun her abrupt­ly in his di­rec­tion. He caught her with his other hand, blue eyes meet­ing black with­out a trace of judg­ment or sus­pi­cion. She watched as a blush began to il­lu­mi­nate his pale En­glish com­plex­ion. Could it be that he was ashamed?

"I un­der­stand now," he said, let­ting her go with two po­lite steps back­ward. "I should never have spo­ken to you in such terms … I am out of my depth here, you see. Of course that is never an ex­cuse, but we are so shel­tered here in Clois­ter­ham – we have not had any­thing like a – a mur­der, if mur­der it is, in so many years … " He blinked hard, pos­si­bly blink­ing away tears. "It is a ter­ri­ble thing, and it has over­set us all. Poor Mr. Jasper more than most. Watch­ing my old friend suf­fer day after day, I … "

He­le­na's heart ached for this good min­is­ter, whose harsh re­sponse to her had been noth­ing more than a de­fense against the dark­est side of human na­ture in­trud­ing on his in­no­cent life.

"You do not wish to think ill of him," she said, com­plet­ing his un­spo­ken thought. "I know. But might not a stranger per­ceive what fa­mil­iar eyes have not?"

"Per­haps," he sighed. "Per­haps. But still, to be­lieve him ca­pa­ble of such … "

"I do not take this light­ly, Mr. Crisparkle, far from it. It is a grave thing for me to ac­cuse Mr. Jasper of pur­su­ing Rosa against her will, or bear­ing false wit­ness against Neville. But for the sake of my broth­er and my friend, for your own hon­est na­ture, you can­not – you will not dis­miss my words so eas­i­ly!"

She al­most blushed to hear her own voice be­com­ing so au­thor­i­ta­tive, to one who was not only ten years her se­nior, but en­ti­tled to re­spect as Neville's tutor and a man of God. In­stead she had spo­ken to him as she would to Neville, when her im­pul­sive twin was about to make some se­ri­ous mis­take.

She half-ex­pect­ed Mr. Crisparkle to turn against her one more time, even shout at her, as her step­fa­ther would have done for much less cause. She did not ex­pect him to bow his curly head, then look at her with true con­tri­tion and re­spect

"I defer to your judg­ment," he said. "I will watch Mr. Jasper as close­ly as I can, until he is proven in­no­cent – or guilty. And, Miss He­le­na … I am truly sorry for my hasty, ill-tem­pered words. Can you for­give me?"

Re­lief and some­thing else, some­thing warm and bright ig­nit­ing in the deep­est cor­ner of her heart, made her smile at him.

"Dear sir, I al­ready have."

They walked on to­geth­er, hur­ry­ing to make up for lost time, but al­ways with each other's faces in the cor­ners of their eyes. By the time they ar­rived at the sta­tion, with the car­riage al­ready about to leave, He­le­na could feel time slip away at an alarm­ing rate. The hors­es stamp­ing on the pave­ment, the driv­er's im­pa­tient yell of "All aboard!", the green doors open­ing to let her in, made it all too real. She was leav­ing – and she was leav­ing him.

"This is all hap­pen­ing too quick­ly," she heard her­self say, lean­ing out the win­dow for one last look into those sum­mer-blue eyes. "Rev­erend Crisparkle, kind­est of men, so much kinder than we de­serve –"

Nevile was not the only Land­less twin who could be im­pul­sive. Be­fore she could lose her nerve, He­le­na leaned for­ward to brush her lips against Mr. Crisparkle's cheek. The smile he gave her in re­turn was so ten­ta­tive, she might have imag­ined it, and be­fore ei­ther of them could speak a word, the coach rat­tled away.

Still, she leaned into her seat with a giddy smile on her face. While any other young lady would have been mor­ti­fied, He­le­na Land­less was, once again, ab­so­lute­ly with­out shame.