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The Mystery of Edwin Drood

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CHAPTER XI. 
A PICTURE AND A RING

Behind the most ancient part of Holborn, London, where certain gabled houses some centuries of age still stand looking on the public way, as if disconsolately looking for the Old Bourne that has long run dry, is a little nook composed of two irregular quadrangles, called Staple Inn. It is one of those nooks, the turning into which out of the clashing street, imparts to the relieved pedestrian the sensation of having put cotton in his ears, and velvet soles on his boots. It is one of those nooks where a few smoky sparrows twitter in smoky trees, as though they called to one another, “Let us play at country,” and where a few feet of garden-mould and a few yards of gravel enable them to do that refreshing violence to their tiny understandings. Moreover, it is one of those nooks which are legal nooks; and it contains a little Hall, with a little lantern in its roof: to what obstructive purposes devoted, and at whose expense, this history knoweth not.

In the days when Cloisterham took offence at the existence of a railroad afar off, as menacing that sensitive constitution, the property of us Britons: the odd fortune of which sacred institution it is to be in exactly equal degrees croaked about, trembled for, and boasted of, whatever happens to anything, anywhere in the world: in those days no neighbouring architecture of lofty proportions had arisen to overshadow Staple Inn. The westering sun bestowed bright glances on it, and the south-west wind blew into it unimpeded.

Neither wind nor sun, however, favoured Staple Inn one December afternoon towards six o’clock, when it was filled with fog, and candles shed murky and blurred rays through the windows of all its then-occupied sets of chambers; notably from a set of chambers in a corner house in the little inner quadrangle, presenting in black and white over its ugly portal the mysterious inscription:

P

J                  T

1747

In which set of chambers, never having troubled his head about the inscription, unless to bethink himself at odd times on glancing up at it, that haply it might mean Perhaps John Thomas, or Perhaps Joe Tyler, sat Mr. Grewgious writing by his fire.

Who could have told, by looking at Mr. Grewgious, whether he had ever known ambition or disappointment? He had been bred to the Bar, and had laid himself out for chamber practice; to draw deeds; “convey the wise it call,” as Pistol says. But Conveyancing and he had made such a very indifferent marriage of it that they had separated by consent—if there can be said to be separation where there has never been coming together.

No. Coy Conveyancing would not come to Mr. Grewgious. She was wooed, not won, and they went their several ways. But an Arbitration being blown towards him by some unaccountable wind, and he gaining great credit in it as one indefatigable in seeking out right and doing right, a pretty fat Receivership was next blown into his pocket by a wind more traceable to its source. So, by chance, he had found his niche. Receiver and Agent now, to two rich estates, and deputing their legal business, in an amount worth having, to a firm of solicitors on the floor below, he had snuffed out his ambition (supposing him to have ever lighted it), and had settled down with his snuffers for the rest of his life under the dry vine and fig-tree of P. J. T., who planted in seventeen-forty-seven.

Many accounts and account-books, many files of correspondence, and several strong boxes, garnished Mr. Grewgious’s room. They can scarcely be represented as having lumbered it, so conscientious and precise was their orderly arrangement. The apprehension of dying suddenly, and leaving one fact or one figure with any incompleteness or obscurity attaching to it, would have stretched Mr. Grewgious stone-dead any day. The largest fidelity to a trust was the life-blood of the man. There are sorts of life-blood that course more quickly, more gaily, more attractively; but there is no better sort in circulation.

There was no luxury in his room. Even its comforts were limited to its being dry and warm, and having a snug though faded fireside. What may be called its private life was confined to the hearth, and an easy-chair, and an old-fashioned occasional round table that was brought out upon the rug after business hours, from a corner where it elsewise remained turned up like a shining mahogany shield. Behind it, when standing thus on the defensive, was a closet, usually containing something good to drink. An outer room was the clerk’s room; Mr. Grewgious’s sleeping-room was across the common stair; and he held some not empty cellarage at the bottom of the common stair. Three hundred days in the year, at least, he crossed over to the hotel in Furnival’s Inn for his dinner, and after dinner crossed back again, to make the most of these simplicities until it should become broad business day once more, with P. J. T., date seventeen-forty-seven.

As Mr. Grewgious sat and wrote by his fire that afternoon, so did the clerk of Mr. Grewgious sit and write by his fire. A pale, puffy-faced, dark-haired person of thirty, with big dark eyes that wholly wanted lustre, and a dissatisfied doughy complexion, that seemed to ask to be sent to the baker’s, this attendant was a mysterious being, possessed of some strange power over Mr. Grewgious. As though he had been called into existence, like a fabulous Familiar, by a magic spell which had failed when required to dismiss him, he stuck tight to Mr. Grewgious’s stool, although Mr. Grewgious’s comfort and convenience would manifestly have been advanced by dispossessing him. A gloomy person with tangled locks, and a general air of having been reared under the shadow of that baleful tree of Java which has given shelter to more lies than the whole botanical kingdom, Mr. Grewgious, nevertheless, treated him with unaccountable consideration.

“Now, Bazzard,” said Mr. Grewgious, on the entrance of his clerk: looking up from his papers as he arranged them for the night: “what is in the wind besides fog?”

“Mr. Drood,” said Bazzard.

“What of him?”

“Has called,” said Bazzard.

“You might have shown him in.”

“I am doing it,” said Bazzard.

The visitor came in accordingly.

“Dear me!” said Mr. Grewgious, looking round his pair of office candles. “I thought you had called and merely left your name and gone. How do you do, Mr. Edwin? Dear me, you’re choking!”

“It’s this fog,” returned Edwin; “and it makes my eyes smart, like Cayenne pepper.”

“Is it really so bad as that? Pray undo your wrappers. It’s fortunate I have so good a fire; but Mr. Bazzard has taken care of me.”

“No I haven’t,” said Mr. Bazzard at the door.

“Ah! then it follows that I must have taken care of myself without observing it,” said Mr. Grewgious. “Pray be seated in my chair. No. I beg! Coming out of such an atmosphere, in my chair.”

Edwin took the easy-chair in the corner; and the fog he had brought in with him, and the fog he took off with his greatcoat and neck-shawl, was speedily licked up by the eager fire.

“I look,” said Edwin, smiling, “as if I had come to stop.”

“—By the by,” cried Mr. Grewgious; “excuse my interrupting you; do stop. The fog may clear in an hour or two. We can have dinner in from just across Holborn. You had better take your Cayenne pepper here than outside; pray stop and dine.”

“You are very kind,” said Edwin, glancing about him as though attracted by the notion of a new and relishing sort of gipsy-party.

“Not at all,” said Mr. Grewgious; “you are very kind to join issue with a bachelor in chambers, and take pot-luck. And I’ll ask,” said Mr. Grewgious, dropping his voice, and speaking with a twinkling eye, as if inspired with a bright thought: “I’ll ask Bazzard. He mightn’t like it else.—Bazzard!”

Bazzard reappeared.

“Dine presently with Mr. Drood and me.”

“If I am ordered to dine, of course I will, sir,” was the gloomy answer.

“Save the man!” cried Mr. Grewgious. “You’re not ordered; you’re invited.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Bazzard; “in that case I don’t care if I do.”

“That’s arranged. And perhaps you wouldn’t mind,” said Mr. Grewgious, “stepping over to the hotel in Furnival’s, and asking them to send in materials for laying the cloth. For dinner we’ll have a tureen of the hottest and strongest soup available, and we’ll have the best made-dish that can be recommended, and we’ll have a joint (such as a haunch of mutton), and we’ll have a goose, or a turkey, or any little stuffed thing of that sort that may happen to be in the bill of fare—in short, we’ll have whatever there is on hand.”

These liberal directions Mr. Grewgious issued with his usual air of reading an inventory, or repeating a lesson, or doing anything else by rote. Bazzard, after drawing out the round table, withdrew to execute them.

“I was a little delicate, you see,” said Mr. Grewgious, in a lower tone, after his clerk’s departure, “about employing him in the foraging or commissariat department. Because he mightn’t like it.”

“He seems to have his own way, sir,” remarked Edwin.

“His own way?” returned Mr. Grewgious. “O dear no! Poor fellow, you quite mistake him. If he had his own way, he wouldn’t be here.”

“I wonder where he would be!” Edwin thought. But he only thought it, because Mr. Grewgious came and stood himself with his back to the other corner of the fire, and his shoulder-blades against the chimneypiece, and collected his skirts for easy conversation.

“I take it, without having the gift of prophecy, that you have done me the favour of looking in to mention that you are going down yonder—where I can tell you, you are expected—and to offer to execute any little commission from me to my charming ward, and perhaps to sharpen me up a bit in any proceedings? Eh, Mr. Edwin?”

“I called, sir, before going down, as an act of attention.”

“Of attention!” said Mr. Grewgious. “Ah! of course, not of impatience?”

“Impatience, sir?”

Mr. Grewgious had meant to be arch—not that he in the remotest degree expressed that meaning—and had brought himself into scarcely supportable proximity with the fire, as if to burn the fullest effect of his archness into himself, as other subtle impressions are burnt into hard metals. But his archness suddenly flying before the composed face and manner of his visitor, and only the fire remaining, he started and rubbed himself.

“I have lately been down yonder,” said Mr. Grewgious, rearranging his skirts; “and that was what I referred to, when I said I could tell you you are expected.”

“Indeed, sir! Yes; I knew that Pussy was looking out for me.”

“Do you keep a cat down there?” asked Mr. Grewgious.

Edwin coloured a little as he explained: “I call Rosa Pussy.”

“O, really,” said Mr. Grewgious, smoothing down his head; “that’s very affable.”

Edwin glanced at his face, uncertain whether or no he seriously objected to the appellation. But Edwin might as well have glanced at the face of a clock.

“A pet name, sir,” he explained again.

“Umps,” said Mr. Grewgious, with a nod. But with such an extraordinary compromise between an unqualified assent and a qualified dissent, that his visitor was much disconcerted.

“Did PRosa—” Edwin began by way of recovering himself.

“PRosa?” repeated Mr. Grewgious.

“I was going to say Pussy, and changed my mind;—did she tell you anything about the Landlesses?”

“No,” said Mr. Grewgious. “What is the Landlesses? An estate? A villa? A farm?”

“A brother and sister. The sister is at the Nuns’ House, and has become a great friend of P—”

“PRosa’s,” Mr. Grewgious struck in, with a fixed face.

“She is a strikingly handsome girl, sir, and I thought she might have been described to you, or presented to you perhaps?”

“Neither,” said Mr. Grewgious. “But here is Bazzard.”

Bazzard returned, accompanied by two waiters—an immovable waiter, and a flying waiter; and the three brought in with them as much fog as gave a new roar to the fire. The flying waiter, who had brought everything on his shoulders, laid the cloth with amazing rapidity and dexterity; while the immovable waiter, who had brought nothing, found fault with him. The flying waiter then highly polished all the glasses he had brought, and the immovable waiter looked through them. The flying waiter then flew across Holborn for the soup, and flew back again, and then took another flight for the made-dish, and flew back again, and then took another flight for the joint and poultry, and flew back again, and between whiles took supplementary flights for a great variety of articles, as it was discovered from time to time that the immovable waiter had forgotten them all. But let the flying waiter cleave the air as he might, he was always reproached on his return by the immovable waiter for bringing fog with him, and being out of breath. At the conclusion of the repast, by which time the flying waiter was severely blown, the immovable waiter gathered up the tablecloth under his arm with a grand air, and having sternly (not to say with indignation) looked on at the flying waiter while he set the clean glasses round, directed a valedictory glance towards Mr. Grewgious, conveying: “Let it be clearly understood between us that the reward is mine, and that Nil is the claim of this slave,” and pushed the flying waiter before him out of the room.

It was like a highly-finished miniature painting representing My Lords of the Circumlocution Department, Commandership-in-Chief of any sort, Government. It was quite an edifying little picture to be hung on the line in the National Gallery.

As the fog had been the proximate cause of this sumptuous repast, so the fog served for its general sauce. To hear the out-door clerks sneezing, wheezing, and beating their feet on the gravel was a zest far surpassing Doctor Kitchener’s. To bid, with a shiver, the unfortunate flying waiter shut the door before he had opened it, was a condiment of a profounder flavour than Harvey. And here let it be noticed, parenthetically, that the leg of this young man, in its application to the door, evinced the finest sense of touch: always preceding himself and tray (with something of an angling air about it), by some seconds: and always lingering after he and the tray had disappeared, like Macbeth’s leg when accompanying him off the stage with reluctance to the assassination of Duncan.

The host had gone below to the cellar, and had brought up bottles of ruby, straw-coloured, and golden drinks, which had ripened long ago in lands where no fogs are, and had since lain slumbering in the shade. Sparkling and tingling after so long a nap, they pushed at their corks to help the corkscrew (like prisoners helping rioters to force their gates), and danced out gaily. If P. J. T. in seventeen-forty-seven, or in any other year of his period, drank such wines—then, for a certainty, P. J. T. was Pretty Jolly Too.

Externally, Mr. Grewgious showed no signs of being mellowed by these glowing vintages. Instead of his drinking them, they might have been poured over him in his high-dried snuff form, and run to waste, for any lights and shades they caused to flicker over his face. Neither was his manner influenced. But, in his wooden way, he had observant eyes for Edwin; and when at the end of dinner, he motioned Edwin back to his own easy-chair in the fireside corner, and Edwin sank luxuriously into it after very brief remonstrance, Mr. Grewgious, as he turned his seat round towards the fire too, and smoothed his head and face, might have been seen looking at his visitor between his smoothing fingers.

“Bazzard!” said Mr. Grewgious, suddenly turning to him.

“I follow you, sir,” returned Bazzard; who had done his work of consuming meat and drink in a workmanlike manner, though mostly in speechlessness.

“I drink to you, Bazzard; Mr. Edwin, success to Mr. Bazzard!”

“Success to Mr. Bazzard!” echoed Edwin, with a totally unfounded appearance of enthusiasm, and with the unspoken addition: “What in, I wonder!”

“And May!” pursued Mr. Grewgious—“I am not at liberty to be definite—May!—my conversational powers are so very limited that I know I shall not come well out of this—May!—it ought to be put imaginatively, but I have no imagination—May!—the thorn of anxiety is as nearly the mark as I am likely to get—May it come out at last!”

Mr. Bazzard, with a frowning smile at the fire, put a hand into his tangled locks, as if the thorn of anxiety were there; then into his waistcoat, as if it were there; then into his pockets, as if it were there. In all these movements he was closely followed by the eyes of Edwin, as if that young gentleman expected to see the thorn in action. It was not produced, however, and Mr. Bazzard merely said: “I follow you, sir, and I thank you.”

“I am going,” said Mr. Grewgious, jingling his glass on the table with one hand, and bending aside under cover of the other, to whisper to Edwin, “to drink to my ward. But I put Bazzard first. He mightn’t like it else.”

This was said with a mysterious wink; or what would have been a wink, if, in Mr. Grewgious’s hands, it could have been quick enough. So Edwin winked responsively, without the least idea what he meant by doing so.

“And now,” said Mr. Grewgious, “I devote a bumper to the fair and fascinating Miss Rosa. Bazzard, the fair and fascinating Miss Rosa!”

“I follow you, sir,” said Bazzard, “and I pledge you!”

“And so do I!” said Edwin.

“Lord bless me,” cried Mr. Grewgious, breaking the blank silence which of course ensued: though why these pauses should come upon us when we have performed any small social rite, not directly inducive of self-examination or mental despondency, who can tell? “I am a particularly Angular man, and yet I fancy (if I may use the word, not having a morsel of fancy), that I could draw a picture of a true lover’s state of mind, to-night.”

“Let us follow you, sir,” said Bazzard, “and have the picture.”

“Mr. Edwin will correct it where it’s wrong,” resumed Mr. Grewgious, “and will throw in a few touches from the life. I dare say it is wrong in many particulars, and wants many touches from the life, for I was born a Chip, and have neither soft sympathies nor soft experiences. Well! I hazard the guess that the true lover’s mind is completely permeated by the beloved object of his affections. I hazard the guess that her dear name is precious to him, cannot be heard or repeated without emotion, and is preserved sacred. If he has any distinguishing appellation of fondness for her, it is reserved for her, and is not for common ears. A name that it would be a privilege to call her by, being alone with her own bright self, it would be a liberty, a coldness, an insensibility, almost a breach of good faith, to flaunt elsewhere.”

It was wonderful to see Mr. Grewgious sitting bolt upright, with his hands on his knees, continuously chopping this discourse out of himself: much as a charity boy with a very good memory might get his catechism said: and evincing no correspondent emotion whatever, unless in a certain occasional little tingling perceptible at the end of his nose.

“My picture,” Mr. Grewgious proceeded, “goes on to represent (under correction from you, Mr. Edwin), the true lover as ever impatient to be in the presence or vicinity of the beloved object of his affections; as caring very little for his case in any other society; and as constantly seeking that. If I was to say seeking that, as a bird seeks its nest, I should make an ass of myself, because that would trench upon what I understand to be poetry; and I am so far from trenching upon poetry at any time, that I never, to my knowledge, got within ten thousand miles of it. And I am besides totally unacquainted with the habits of birds, except the birds of Staple Inn, who seek their nests on ledges, and in gutter-pipes and chimneypots, not constructed for them by the beneficent hand of Nature. I beg, therefore, to be understood as foregoing the bird’s-nest. But my picture does represent the true lover as having no existence separable from that of the beloved object of his affections, and as living at once a doubled life and a halved life. And if I do not clearly express what I mean by that, it is either for the reason that having no conversational powers, I cannot express what I mean, or that having no meaning, I do not mean what I fail to express. Which, to the best of my belief, is not the case.”

Edwin had turned red and turned white, as certain points of this picture came into the light. He now sat looking at the fire, and bit his lip.

“The speculations of an Angular man,” resumed Mr. Grewgious, still sitting and speaking exactly as before, “are probably erroneous on so globular a topic. But I figure to myself (subject, as before, to Mr. Edwin’s correction), that there can be no coolness, no lassitude, no doubt, no indifference, no half fire and half smoke state of mind, in a real lover. Pray am I at all near the mark in my picture?”

As abrupt in his conclusion as in his commencement and progress, he jerked this inquiry at Edwin, and stopped when one might have supposed him in the middle of his oration.

“I should say, sir,” stammered Edwin, “as you refer the question to me—”

“Yes,” said Mr. Grewgious, “I refer it to you, as an authority.”

“I should say, then, sir,” Edwin went on, embarrassed, “that the picture you have drawn is generally correct; but I submit that perhaps you may be rather hard upon the unlucky lover.”

“Likely so,” assented Mr. Grewgious, “likely so. I am a hard man in the grain.”

“He may not show,” said Edwin, “all he feels; or he may not—”

There he stopped so long, to find the rest of his sentence, that Mr. Grewgious rendered his difficulty a thousand times the greater by unexpectedly striking in with:

“No to be sure; he may not!”

After that, they all sat silent; the silence of Mr. Bazzard being occasioned by slumber.

“His responsibility is very great, though,” said Mr. Grewgious at length, with his eyes on the fire.

Edwin nodded assent, with his eyes on the fire.

“And let him be sure that he trifles with no one,” said Mr. Grewgious; “neither with himself, nor with any other.”

Edwin bit his lip again, and still sat looking at the fire.

“He must not make a plaything of a treasure. Woe betide him if he does! Let him take that well to heart,” said Mr. Grewgious.

Though he said these things in short sentences, much as the supposititious charity boy just now referred to might have repeated a verse or two from the Book of Proverbs, there was something dreamy (for so literal a man) in the way in which he now shook his right forefinger at the live coals in the grate, and again fell silent.

But not for long. As he sat upright and stiff in his chair, he suddenly rapped his knees, like the carved image of some queer Joss or other coming out of its reverie, and said: “We must finish this bottle, Mr. Edwin. Let me help you. I’ll help Bazzard too, though he is asleep. He mightn’t like it else.”

He helped them both, and helped himself, and drained his glass, and stood it bottom upward on the table, as though he had just caught a bluebottle in it.

“And now, Mr. Edwin,” he proceeded, wiping his mouth and hands upon his handkerchief: “to a little piece of business. You received from me, the other day, a certified copy of Miss Rosa’s father’s will. You knew its contents before, but you received it from me as a matter of business. I should have sent it to Mr. Jasper, but for Miss Rosa’s wishing it to come straight to you, in preference. You received it?”

“Quite safely, sir.”

“You should have acknowledged its receipt,” said Mr. Grewgious; “business being business all the world over. However, you did not.”

“I meant to have acknowledged it when I first came in this evening, sir.”

“Not a business-like acknowledgment,” returned Mr. Grewgious; “however, let that pass. Now, in that document you have observed a few words of kindly allusion to its being left to me to discharge a little trust, confided to me in conversation, at such time as I in my discretion may think best.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Mr. Edwin, it came into my mind just now, when I was looking at the fire, that I could, in my discretion, acquit myself of that trust at no better time than the present. Favour me with your attention, half a minute.”

He took a bunch of keys from his pocket, singled out by the candle-light the key he wanted, and then, with a candle in his hand, went to a bureau or escritoire, unlocked it, touched the spring of a little secret drawer, and took from it an ordinary ring-case made for a single ring. With this in his hand, he returned to his chair. As he held it up for the young man to see, his hand trembled.

“Mr. Edwin, this rose of diamonds and rubies delicately set in gold, was a ring belonging to Miss Rosa’s mother. It was removed from her dead hand, in my presence, with such distracted grief as I hope it may never be my lot to contemplate again. Hard man as I am, I am not hard enough for that. See how bright these stones shine!” opening the case. “And yet the eyes that were so much brighter, and that so often looked upon them with a light and a proud heart, have been ashes among ashes, and dust among dust, some years! If I had any imagination (which it is needless to say I have not), I might imagine that the lasting beauty of these stones was almost cruel.”

He closed the case again as he spoke.

“This ring was given to the young lady who was drowned so early in her beautiful and happy career, by her husband, when they first plighted their faith to one another. It was he who removed it from her unconscious hand, and it was he who, when his death drew very near, placed it in mine. The trust in which I received it, was, that, you and Miss Rosa growing to manhood and womanhood, and your betrothal prospering and coming to maturity, I should give it to you to place upon her finger. Failing those desired results, it was to remain in my possession.”

Some trouble was in the young man’s face, and some indecision was in the action of his hand, as Mr. Grewgious, looking steadfastly at him, gave him the ring.

“Your placing it on her finger,” said Mr. Grewgious, “will be the solemn seal upon your strict fidelity to the living and the dead. You are going to her, to make the last irrevocable preparations for your marriage. Take it with you.”

The young man took the little case, and placed it in his breast.

“If anything should be amiss, if anything should be even slightly wrong, between you; if you should have any secret consciousness that you are committing yourself to this step for no higher reason than because you have long been accustomed to look forward to it; then,” said Mr. Grewgious, “I charge you once more, by the living and by the dead, to bring that ring back to me!”

Here Bazzard awoke himself by his own snoring; and, as is usual in such cases, sat apoplectically staring at vacancy, as defying vacancy to accuse him of having been asleep.

“Bazzard!” said Mr. Grewgious, harder than ever.

“I follow you, sir,” said Bazzard, “and I have been following you.”

“In discharge of a trust, I have handed Mr. Edwin Drood a ring of diamonds and rubies. You see?”

Edwin reproduced the little case, and opened it; and Bazzard looked into it.

“I follow you both, sir,” returned Bazzard, “and I witness the transaction.”

Evidently anxious to get away and be alone, Edwin Drood now resumed his outer clothing, muttering something about time and appointments. The fog was reported no clearer (by the flying waiter, who alighted from a speculative flight in the coffee interest), but he went out into it; and Bazzard, after his manner, “followed” him.

Mr. Grewgious, left alone, walked softly and slowly to and fro, for an hour and more. He was restless to-night, and seemed dispirited.

“I hope I have done right,” he said. “The appeal to him seemed necessary. It was hard to lose the ring, and yet it must have gone from me very soon.”

He closed the empty little drawer with a sigh, and shut and locked the escritoire, and came back to the solitary fireside.

“Her ring,” he went on. “Will it come back to me? My mind hangs about her ring very uneasily to-night. But that is explainable. I have had it so long, and I have prized it so much! I wonder—”

He was in a wondering mood as well as a restless; for, though he checked himself at that point, and took another walk, he resumed his wondering when he sat down again.

“I wonder (for the ten-thousandth time, and what a weak fool I, for what can it signify now!) whether he confided the charge of their orphan child to me, because he knew—Good God, how like her mother she has become!”

“I wonder whether he ever so much as suspected that some one doted on her, at a hopeless, speechless distance, when he struck in and won her. I wonder whether it ever crept into his mind who that unfortunate some one was!”

“I wonder whether I shall sleep to-night! At all events, I will shut out the world with the bedclothes, and try.”

Mr. Grewgious crossed the staircase to his raw and foggy bedroom, and was soon ready for bed. Dimly catching sight of his face in the misty looking-glass, he held his candle to it for a moment.

“A likely some one, you, to come into anybody’s thoughts in such an aspect!” he exclaimed. “There! there! there! Get to bed, poor man, and cease to jabber!”

With that, he extinguished his light, pulled up the bedclothes around him, and with another sigh shut out the world. And yet there are such unexplored romantic nooks in the unlikeliest men, that even old tinderous and touchwoody P. J. T. Possibly Jabbered Thus, at some odd times, in or about seventeen-forty-seven.

CHAPTER XII. 
A NIGHT WITH DURDLES

When Mr. Sapsea has nothing better to do, towards evening, and finds the contemplation of his own profundity becoming a little monotonous in spite of the vastness of the subject, he often takes an airing in the Cathedral Close and thereabout. He likes to pass the churchyard with a swelling air of proprietorship, and to encourage in his breast a sort of benignant-landlord feeling, in that he has been bountiful towards that meritorious tenant, Mrs. Sapsea, and has publicly given her a prize. He likes to see a stray face or two looking in through the railings, and perhaps reading his inscription. Should he meet a stranger coming from the churchyard with a quick step, he is morally convinced that the stranger is “with a blush retiring,” as monumentally directed.

Mr. Sapsea’s importance has received enhancement, for he has become Mayor of Cloisterham. Without mayors, and many of them, it cannot be disputed that the whole framework of society—Mr. Sapsea is confident that he invented that forcible figure—would fall to pieces. Mayors have been knighted for “going up” with addresses: explosive machines intrepidly discharging shot and shell into the English Grammar. Mr. Sapsea may “go up” with an address. Rise, Sir Thomas Sapsea! Of such is the salt of the earth.

Mr. Sapsea has improved the acquaintance of Mr. Jasper, since their first meeting to partake of port, epitaph, backgammon, beef, and salad. Mr. Sapsea has been received at the gatehouse with kindred hospitality; and on that occasion Mr. Jasper seated himself at the piano, and sang to him, tickling his ears—figuratively—long enough to present a considerable area for tickling. What Mr. Sapsea likes in that young man is, that he is always ready to profit by the wisdom of his elders, and that he is sound, sir, at the core. In proof of which, he sang to Mr. Sapsea that evening, no kickshaw ditties, favourites with national enemies, but gave him the genuine George the Third home-brewed; exhorting him (as “my brave boys”) to reduce to a smashed condition all other islands but this island, and all continents, peninsulas, isthmuses, promontories, and other geographical forms of land soever, besides sweeping the seas in all directions. In short, he rendered it pretty clear that Providence made a distinct mistake in originating so small a nation of hearts of oak, and so many other verminous peoples.

Mr. Sapsea, walking slowly this moist evening near the churchyard with his hands behind him, on the look-out for a blushing and retiring stranger, turns a corner, and comes instead into the goodly presence of the Dean, conversing with the Verger and Mr. Jasper. Mr. Sapsea makes his obeisance, and is instantly stricken far more ecclesiastical than any Archbishop of York or Canterbury.

“You are evidently going to write a book about us, Mr. Jasper,” quoth the Dean; “to write a book about us. Well! We are very ancient, and we ought to make a good book. We are not so richly endowed in possessions as in age; but perhaps you will put that in your book, among other things, and call attention to our wrongs.”

Mr. Tope, as in duty bound, is greatly entertained by this.

“I really have no intention at all, sir,” replies Jasper, “of turning author or archæologist. It is but a whim of mine. And even for my whim, Mr. Sapsea here is more accountable than I am.”

“How so, Mr. Mayor?” says the Dean, with a nod of good-natured recognition of his Fetch. “How is that, Mr. Mayor?”

“I am not aware,” Mr. Sapsea remarks, looking about him for information, “to what the Very Reverend the Dean does me the honour of referring.” And then falls to studying his original in minute points of detail.

“Durdles,” Mr. Tope hints.

“Ay!” the Dean echoes; “Durdles, Durdles!”

“The truth is, sir,” explains Jasper, “that my curiosity in the man was first really stimulated by Mr. Sapsea. Mr. Sapsea’s knowledge of mankind and power of drawing out whatever is recluse or odd around him, first led to my bestowing a second thought upon the man: though of course I had met him constantly about. You would not be surprised by this, Mr. Dean, if you had seen Mr. Sapsea deal with him in his own parlour, as I did.”

“O!” cries Sapsea, picking up the ball thrown to him with ineffable complacency and pomposity; “yes, yes. The Very Reverend the Dean refers to that? Yes. I happened to bring Durdles and Mr. Jasper together. I regard Durdles as a Character.”

“A character, Mr. Sapsea, that with a few skilful touches you turn inside out,” says Jasper.

“Nay, not quite that,” returns the lumbering auctioneer. “I may have a little influence over him, perhaps; and a little insight into his character, perhaps. The Very Reverend the Dean will please to bear in mind that I have seen the world.” Here Mr. Sapsea gets a little behind the Dean, to inspect his coat-buttons.

“Well!” says the Dean, looking about him to see what has become of his copyist: “I hope, Mr. Mayor, you will use your study and knowledge of Durdles to the good purpose of exhorting him not to break our worthy and respected Choir-Master’s neck; we cannot afford it; his head and voice are much too valuable to us.”

Mr. Tope is again highly entertained, and, having fallen into respectful convulsions of laughter, subsides into a deferential murmur, importing that surely any gentleman would deem it a pleasure and an honour to have his neck broken, in return for such a compliment from such a source.

“I will take it upon myself, sir,” observes Sapsea loftily, “to answer for Mr. Jasper’s neck. I will tell Durdles to be careful of it. He will mind what I say. How is it at present endangered?” he inquires, looking about him with magnificent patronage.

“Only by my making a moonlight expedition with Durdles among the tombs, vaults, towers, and ruins,” returns Jasper. “You remember suggesting, when you brought us together, that, as a lover of the picturesque, it might be worth my while?”

“I remember!” replies the auctioneer. And the solemn idiot really believes that he does remember.

“Profiting by your hint,” pursues Jasper, “I have had some day-rambles with the extraordinary old fellow, and we are to make a moonlight hole-and-corner exploration to-night.”

“And here he is,” says the Dean.

Durdles with his dinner-bundle in his hand, is indeed beheld slouching towards them. Slouching nearer, and perceiving the Dean, he pulls off his hat, and is slouching away with it under his arm, when Mr. Sapsea stops him.

“Mind you take care of my friend,” is the injunction Mr. Sapsea lays upon him.

“What friend o’ yourn is dead?” asks Durdles. “No orders has come in for any friend o’ yourn.”

“I mean my live friend there.”

“O! him?” says Durdles. “He can take care of himself, can Mister Jarsper.”

“But do you take care of him too,” says Sapsea.

Whom Durdles (there being command in his tone) surlily surveys from head to foot.

“With submission to his Reverence the Dean, if you’ll mind what concerns you, Mr. Sapsea, Durdles he’ll mind what concerns him.”

“You’re out of temper,” says Mr. Sapsea, winking to the company to observe how smoothly he will manage him. “My friend concerns me, and Mr. Jasper is my friend. And you are my friend.”

“Don’t you get into a bad habit of boasting,” retorts Durdles, with a grave cautionary nod. “It’ll grow upon you.”

“You are out of temper,” says Sapsea again; reddening, but again sinking to the company.

“I own to it,” returns Durdles; “I don’t like liberties.”

Mr. Sapsea winks a third wink to the company, as who should say: “I think you will agree with me that I have settled his business;” and stalks out of the controversy.

Durdles then gives the Dean a good evening, and adding, as he puts his hat on, “You’ll find me at home, Mister Jarsper, as agreed, when you want me; I’m a-going home to clean myself,” soon slouches out of sight. This going home to clean himself is one of the man’s incomprehensible compromises with inexorable facts; he, and his hat, and his boots, and his clothes, never showing any trace of cleaning, but being uniformly in one condition of dust and grit.

The lamplighter now dotting the quiet Close with specks of light, and running at a great rate up and down his little ladder with that object—his little ladder under the sacred shadow of whose inconvenience generations had grown up, and which all Cloisterham would have stood aghast at the idea of abolishing—the Dean withdraws to his dinner, Mr. Tope to his tea, and Mr. Jasper to his piano. There, with no light but that of the fire, he sits chanting choir-music in a low and beautiful voice, for two or three hours; in short, until it has been for some time dark, and the moon is about to rise.

Then he closes his piano softly, softly changes his coat for a pea-jacket, with a goodly wicker-cased bottle in its largest pocket, and putting on a low-crowned, flap-brimmed hat, goes softly out. Why does he move so softly to-night? No outward reason is apparent for it. Can there be any sympathetic reason crouching darkly within him?

Repairing to Durdles’s unfinished house, or hole in the city wall, and seeing a light within it, he softly picks his course among the gravestones, monuments, and stony lumber of the yard, already touched here and there, sidewise, by the rising moon. The two journeymen have left their two great saws sticking in their blocks of stone; and two skeleton journeymen out of the Dance of Death might be grinning in the shadow of their sheltering sentry-boxes, about to slash away at cutting out the gravestones of the next two people destined to die in Cloisterham. Likely enough, the two think little of that now, being alive, and perhaps merry. Curious, to make a guess at the two;—or say one of the two!

“Ho! Durdles!”

The light moves, and he appears with it at the door. He would seem to have been “cleaning himself” with the aid of a bottle, jug, and tumbler; for no other cleansing instruments are visible in the bare brick room with rafters overhead and no plastered ceiling, into which he shows his visitor.

“Are you ready?”

“I am ready, Mister Jarsper. Let the old ’uns come out if they dare, when we go among their tombs. My spirit is ready for ’em.”

“Do you mean animal spirits, or ardent?”

“The one’s the t’other,” answers Durdles, “and I mean ’em both.”

He takes a lantern from a hook, puts a match or two in his pocket wherewith to light it, should there be need; and they go out together, dinner-bundle and all.

Surely an unaccountable sort of expedition! That Durdles himself, who is always prowling among old graves, and ruins, like a Ghoul—that he should be stealing forth to climb, and dive, and wander without an object, is nothing extraordinary; but that the Choir-Master or any one else should hold it worth his while to be with him, and to study moonlight effects in such company is another affair. Surely an unaccountable sort of expedition, therefore!

“’Ware that there mound by the yard-gate, Mister Jarsper.”

“I see it. What is it?”

“Lime.”

Mr. Jasper stops, and waits for him to come up, for he lags behind. “What you call quick-lime?”

“Ay!” says Durdles; “quick enough to eat your boots. With a little handy stirring, quick enough to eat your bones.”

They go on, presently passing the red windows of the Travellers’ Twopenny, and emerging into the clear moonlight of the Monks’ Vineyard. This crossed, they come to Minor Canon Corner: of which the greater part lies in shadow until the moon shall rise higher in the sky.

The sound of a closing house-door strikes their ears, and two men come out. These are Mr. Crisparkle and Neville. Jasper, with a strange and sudden smile upon his face, lays the palm of his hand upon the breast of Durdles, stopping him where he stands.

At that end of Minor Canon Corner the shadow is profound in the existing state of the light: at that end, too, there is a piece of old dwarf wall, breast high, the only remaining boundary of what was once a garden, but is now the thoroughfare. Jasper and Durdles would have turned this wall in another instant; but, stopping so short, stand behind it.

“Those two are only sauntering,” Jasper whispers; “they will go out into the moonlight soon. Let us keep quiet here, or they will detain us, or want to join us, or what not.”

Durdles nods assent, and falls to munching some fragments from his bundle. Jasper folds his arms upon the top of the wall, and, with his chin resting on them, watches. He takes no note whatever of the Minor Canon, but watches Neville, as though his eye were at the trigger of a loaded rifle, and he had covered him, and were going to fire. A sense of destructive power is so expressed in his face, that even Durdles pauses in his munching, and looks at him, with an unmunched something in his cheek.

Meanwhile Mr. Crisparkle and Neville walk to and fro, quietly talking together. What they say, cannot be heard consecutively; but Mr. Jasper has already distinguished his own name more than once.

“This is the first day of the week,” Mr. Crisparkle can be distinctly heard to observe, as they turn back; “and the last day of the week is Christmas Eve.”

“You may be certain of me, sir.”

The echoes were favourable at those points, but as the two approach, the sound of their talking becomes confused again. The word “confidence,” shattered by the echoes, but still capable of being pieced together, is uttered by Mr. Crisparkle. As they draw still nearer, this fragment of a reply is heard: “Not deserved yet, but shall be, sir.” As they turn away again, Jasper again hears his own name, in connection with the words from Mr. Crisparkle: “Remember that I said I answered for you confidently.” Then the sound of their talk becomes confused again; they halting for a little while, and some earnest action on the part of Neville succeeding. When they move once more, Mr. Crisparkle is seen to look up at the sky, and to point before him. They then slowly disappear; passing out into the moonlight at the opposite end of the Corner.

It is not until they are gone, that Mr. Jasper moves. But then he turns to Durdles, and bursts into a fit of laughter. Durdles, who still has that suspended something in his cheek, and who sees nothing to laugh at, stares at him until Mr. Jasper lays his face down on his arms to have his laugh out. Then Durdles bolts the something, as if desperately resigning himself to indigestion.

Among those secluded nooks there is very little stir or movement after dark. There is little enough in the high tide of the day, but there is next to none at night. Besides that the cheerfully frequented High Street lies nearly parallel to the spot (the old Cathedral rising between the two), and is the natural channel in which the Cloisterham traffic flows, a certain awful hush pervades the ancient pile, the cloisters, and the churchyard, after dark, which not many people care to encounter. Ask the first hundred citizens of Cloisterham, met at random in the streets at noon, if they believed in Ghosts, they would tell you no; but put them to choose at night between these eerie Precincts and the thoroughfare of shops, and you would find that ninety-nine declared for the longer round and the more frequented way. The cause of this is not to be found in any local superstition that attaches to the Precincts—albeit a mysterious lady, with a child in her arms and a rope dangling from her neck, has been seen flitting about there by sundry witnesses as intangible as herself—but it is to be sought in the innate shrinking of dust with the breath of life in it from dust out of which the breath of life has passed; also, in the widely diffused, and almost as widely unacknowledged, reflection: “If the dead do, under any circumstances, become visible to the living, these are such likely surroundings for the purpose that I, the living, will get out of them as soon as I can.” Hence, when Mr. Jasper and Durdles pause to glance around them, before descending into the crypt by a small side door, of which the latter has a key, the whole expanse of moonlight in their view is utterly deserted. One might fancy that the tide of life was stemmed by Mr. Jasper’s own gatehouse. The murmur of the tide is heard beyond; but no wave passes the archway, over which his lamp burns red behind his curtain, as if the building were a Lighthouse.

They enter, locking themselves in, descend the rugged steps, and are down in the Crypt. The lantern is not wanted, for the moonlight strikes in at the groined windows, bare of glass, the broken frames for which cast patterns on the ground. The heavy pillars which support the roof engender masses of black shade, but between them there are lanes of light. Up and down these lanes they walk, Durdles discoursing of the “old uns” he yet counts on disinterring, and slapping a wall, in which he considers “a whole family on ’em” to be stoned and earthed up, just as if he were a familiar friend of the family. The taciturnity of Durdles is for the time overcome by Mr. Jasper’s wicker bottle, which circulates freely;—in the sense, that is to say, that its contents enter freely into Mr. Durdles’s circulation, while Mr. Jasper only rinses his mouth once, and casts forth the rinsing.

They are to ascend the great Tower. On the steps by which they rise to the Cathedral, Durdles pauses for new store of breath. The steps are very dark, but out of the darkness they can see the lanes of light they have traversed. Durdles seats himself upon a step. Mr. Jasper seats himself upon another. The odour from the wicker bottle (which has somehow passed into Durdles’s keeping) soon intimates that the cork has been taken out; but this is not ascertainable through the sense of sight, since neither can descry the other. And yet, in talking, they turn to one another, as though their faces could commune together.

“This is good stuff, Mister Jarsper!”

“It is very good stuff, I hope.—I bought it on purpose.”

“They don’t show, you see, the old uns don’t, Mister Jarsper!”

“It would be a more confused world than it is, if they could.”

“Well, it would lead towards a mixing of things,” Durdles acquiesces: pausing on the remark, as if the idea of ghosts had not previously presented itself to him in a merely inconvenient light, domestically or chronologically. “But do you think there may be Ghosts of other things, though not of men and women?”

“What things? Flower-beds and watering-pots? horses and harness?”

“No. Sounds.”

“What sounds?”

“Cries.”

“What cries do you mean? Chairs to mend?”

“No. I mean screeches. Now I’ll tell you, Mr. Jarsper. Wait a bit till I put the bottle right.” Here the cork is evidently taken out again, and replaced again. “There! Now it’s right! This time last year, only a few days later, I happened to have been doing what was correct by the season, in the way of giving it the welcome it had a right to expect, when them town-boys set on me at their worst. At length I gave ’em the slip, and turned in here. And here I fell asleep. And what woke me? The ghost of a cry. The ghost of one terrific shriek, which shriek was followed by the ghost of the howl of a dog: a long, dismal, woeful howl, such as a dog gives when a person’s dead. That was my last Christmas Eve.”

“What do you mean?” is the very abrupt, and, one might say, fierce retort.

“I mean that I made inquiries everywhere about, and, that no living ears but mine heard either that cry or that howl. So I say they was both ghosts; though why they came to me, I’ve never made out.”

“I thought you were another kind of man,” says Jasper, scornfully.

“So I thought myself,” answers Durdles with his usual composure; “and yet I was picked out for it.”

Jasper had risen suddenly, when he asked him what he meant, and he now says, “Come; we shall freeze here; lead the way.”

Durdles complies, not over-steadily; opens the door at the top of the steps with the key he has already used; and so emerges on the Cathedral level, in a passage at the side of the chancel. Here, the moonlight is so very bright again that the colours of the nearest stained-glass window are thrown upon their faces. The appearance of the unconscious Durdles, holding the door open for his companion to follow, as if from the grave, is ghastly enough, with a purple hand across his face, and a yellow splash upon his brow; but he bears the close scrutiny of his companion in an insensible way, although it is prolonged while the latter fumbles among his pockets for a key confided to him that will open an iron gate, so to enable them to pass to the staircase of the great tower.

“That and the bottle are enough for you to carry,” he says, giving it to Durdles; “hand your bundle to me; I am younger and longer-winded than you.” Durdles hesitates for a moment between bundle and bottle; but gives the preference to the bottle as being by far the better company, and consigns the dry weight to his fellow-explorer.

Then they go up the winding staircase of the great tower, toilsomely, turning and turning, and lowering their heads to avoid the stairs above, or the rough stone pivot around which they twist. Durdles has lighted his lantern, by drawing from the cold, hard wall a spark of that mysterious fire which lurks in everything, and, guided by this speck, they clamber up among the cobwebs and the dust. Their way lies through strange places. Twice or thrice they emerge into level, low-arched galleries, whence they can look down into the moon-lit nave; and where Durdles, waving his lantern, waves the dim angels’ heads upon the corbels of the roof, seeming to watch their progress. Anon they turn into narrower and steeper staircases, and the night-air begins to blow upon them, and the chirp of some startled jackdaw or frightened rook precedes the heavy beating of wings in a confined space, and the beating down of dust and straws upon their heads. At last, leaving their light behind a stair—for it blows fresh up here—they look down on Cloisterham, fair to see in the moonlight: its ruined habitations and sanctuaries of the dead, at the tower’s base: its moss-softened red-tiled roofs and red-brick houses of the living, clustered beyond: its river winding down from the mist on the horizon, as though that were its source, and already heaving with a restless knowledge of its approach towards the sea.

Once again, an unaccountable expedition this! Jasper (always moving softly with no visible reason) contemplates the scene, and especially that stillest part of it which the Cathedral overshadows. But he contemplates Durdles quite as curiously, and Durdles is by times conscious of his watchful eyes.

Only by times, because Durdles is growing drowsy. As aëronauts lighten the load they carry, when they wish to rise, similarly Durdles has lightened the wicker bottle in coming up. Snatches of sleep surprise him on his legs, and stop him in his talk. A mild fit of calenture seizes him, in which he deems that the ground so far below, is on a level with the tower, and would as lief walk off the tower into the air as not. Such is his state when they begin to come down. And as aëronauts make themselves heavier when they wish to descend, similarly Durdles charges himself with more liquid from the wicker bottle, that he may come down the better.

The iron gate attained and locked—but not before Durdles has tumbled twice, and cut an eyebrow open once—they descend into the crypt again, with the intent of issuing forth as they entered. But, while returning among those lanes of light, Durdles becomes so very uncertain, both of foot and speech, that he half drops, half throws himself down, by one of the heavy pillars, scarcely less heavy than itself, and indistinctly appeals to his companion for forty winks of a second each.

“If you will have it so, or must have it so,” replies Jasper, “I’ll not leave you here. Take them, while I walk to and fro.”

Durdles is asleep at once; and in his sleep he dreams a dream.

It is not much of a dream, considering the vast extent of the domains of dreamland, and their wonderful productions; it is only remarkable for being unusually restless and unusually real. He dreams of lying there, asleep, and yet counting his companion’s footsteps as he walks to and fro. He dreams that the footsteps die away into distance of time and of space, and that something touches him, and that something falls from his hand. Then something clinks and gropes about, and he dreams that he is alone for so long a time, that the lanes of light take new directions as the moon advances in her course. From succeeding unconsciousness he passes into a dream of slow uneasiness from cold; and painfully awakes to a perception of the lanes of light—really changed, much as he had dreamed—and Jasper walking among them, beating his hands and feet.

“Holloa!” Durdles cries out, unmeaningly alarmed.

“Awake at last?” says Jasper, coming up to him. “Do you know that your forties have stretched into thousands?”

“No.”

“They have though.”

“What’s the time?”

“Hark! The bells are going in the Tower!”

They strike four quarters, and then the great bell strikes.

“Two!” cries Durdles, scrambling up; “why didn’t you try to wake me, Mister Jarsper?”

“I did. I might as well have tried to wake the dead—your own family of dead, up in the corner there.”

“Did you touch me?”

“Touch you! Yes. Shook you.”

As Durdles recalls that touching something in his dream, he looks down on the pavement, and sees the key of the crypt door lying close to where he himself lay.

“I dropped you, did I?” he says, picking it up, and recalling that part of his dream. As he gathers himself up again into an upright position, or into a position as nearly upright as he ever maintains, he is again conscious of being watched by his companion.

“Well?” says Jasper, smiling, “are you quite ready? Pray don’t hurry.”

“Let me get my bundle right, Mister Jarsper, and I’m with you.” As he ties it afresh, he is once more conscious that he is very narrowly observed.

“What do you suspect me of, Mister Jarsper?” he asks, with drunken displeasure. “Let them as has any suspicions of Durdles name ’em.”

“I’ve no suspicions of you, my good Mr. Durdles; but I have suspicions that my bottle was filled with something stiffer than either of us supposed. And I also have suspicions,” Jasper adds, taking it from the pavement and turning it bottom upwards, “that it’s empty.”

Durdles condescends to laugh at this. Continuing to chuckle when his laugh is over, as though remonstrant with himself on his drinking powers, he rolls to the door and unlocks it. They both pass out, and Durdles relocks it, and pockets his key.

“A thousand thanks for a curious and interesting night,” says Jasper, giving him his hand; “you can make your own way home?”

“I should think so!” answers Durdles. “If you was to offer Durdles the affront to show him his way home, he wouldn’t go home.

Durdles wouldn’t go home till morning;
And then Durdles wouldn’t go home,

Durdles wouldn’t.” This with the utmost defiance.

“Good-night, then.”

“Good-night, Mister Jarsper.”

Each is turning his own way, when a sharp whistle rends the silence, and the jargon is yelped out:

Widdy widdy wen!
I—ket—ches—Im—out—ar—ter—ten.
Widdy widdy wy!
Then—E—don’t—go—then—I—shy—
Widdy Widdy Wake-cock warning!”

Instantly afterwards, a rapid fire of stones rattles at the Cathedral wall, and the hideous small boy is beheld opposite, dancing in the moonlight.

“What! Is that baby-devil on the watch there!” cries Jasper in a fury: so quickly roused, and so violent, that he seems an older devil himself. “I shall shed the blood of that impish wretch! I know I shall do it!” Regardless of the fire, though it hits him more than once, he rushes at Deputy, collars him, and tries to bring him across. But Deputy is not to be so easily brought across. With a diabolical insight into the strongest part of his position, he is no sooner taken by the throat than he curls up his legs, forces his assailant to hang him, as it were, and gurgles in his throat, and screws his body, and twists, as already undergoing the first agonies of strangulation. There is nothing for it but to drop him. He instantly gets himself together, backs over to Durdles, and cries to his assailant, gnashing the great gap in front of his mouth with rage and malice:

“I’ll blind yer, s’elp me! I’ll stone yer eyes out, s’elp me! If I don’t have yer eyesight, bellows me!” At the same time dodging behind Durdles, and snarling at Jasper, now from this side of him, and now from that: prepared, if pounced upon, to dart away in all manner of curvilinear directions, and, if run down after all, to grovel in the dust, and cry: “Now, hit me when I’m down! Do it!”

“Don’t hurt the boy, Mister Jarsper,” urges Durdles, shielding him. “Recollect yourself.”

“He followed us to-night, when we first came here!”

“Yer lie, I didn’t!” replies Deputy, in his one form of polite contradiction.

“He has been prowling near us ever since!”

“Yer lie, I haven’t,” returns Deputy. “I’d only jist come out for my ’elth when I see you two a-coming out of the Kin-freederel. If

I—ket—ches—Im—out—ar—ter—ten!”

(with the usual rhythm and dance, though dodging behind Durdles), “it ain’t any fault, is it?”

“Take him home, then,” retorts Jasper, ferociously, though with a strong check upon himself, “and let my eyes be rid of the sight of you!”

Deputy, with another sharp whistle, at once expressing his relief, and his commencement of a milder stoning of Mr. Durdles, begins stoning that respectable gentleman home, as if he were a reluctant ox. Mr. Jasper goes to his gatehouse, brooding. And thus, as everything comes to an end, the unaccountable expedition comes to an end—for the time.

CHAPTER XIII. 
BOTH AT THEIR BEST

Miss Twinkleton’s establishment was about to undergo a serene hush. The Christmas recess was at hand. What had once, and at no remote period, been called, even by the erudite Miss Twinkleton herself, “the half,” but what was now called, as being more elegant, and more strictly collegiate, “the term,” would expire to-morrow. A noticeable relaxation of discipline had for some few days pervaded the Nuns’ House. Club suppers had occurred in the bedrooms, and a dressed tongue had been carved with a pair of scissors, and handed round with the curling tongs. Portions of marmalade had likewise been distributed on a service of plates constructed of curlpaper; and cowslip wine had been quaffed from the small squat measuring glass in which little Rickitts (a junior of weakly constitution) took her steel drops daily. The housemaids had been bribed with various fragments of riband, and sundry pairs of shoes more or less down at heel, to make no mention of crumbs in the beds; the airiest costumes had been worn on these festive occasions; and the daring Miss Ferdinand had even surprised the company with a sprightly solo on the comb-and-curlpaper, until suffocated in her own pillow by two flowing-haired executioners.

Nor were these the only tokens of dispersal. Boxes appeared in the bedrooms (where they were capital at other times), and a surprising amount of packing took place, out of all proportion to the amount packed. Largess, in the form of odds and ends of cold cream and pomatum, and also of hairpins, was freely distributed among the attendants. On charges of inviolable secrecy, confidences were interchanged respecting golden youth of England expected to call, “at home,” on the first opportunity. Miss Giggles (deficient in sentiment) did indeed profess that she, for her part, acknowledged such homage by making faces at the golden youth; but this young lady was outvoted by an immense majority.

On the last night before a recess, it was always expressly made a point of honour that nobody should go to sleep, and that Ghosts should be encouraged by all possible means. This compact invariably broke down, and all the young ladies went to sleep very soon, and got up very early.

The concluding ceremony came off at twelve o’clock on the day of departure; when Miss Twinkleton, supported by Mrs. Tisher, held a drawing-room in her own apartment (the globes already covered with brown Holland), where glasses of white-wine and plates of cut pound-cake were discovered on the table. Miss Twinkleton then said: Ladies, another revolving year had brought us round to that festive period at which the first feelings of our nature bounded in our—Miss Twinkleton was annually going to add “bosoms,” but annually stopped on the brink of that expression, and substituted “hearts.” Hearts; our hearts. Hem! Again a revolving year, ladies, had brought us to a pause in our studies—let us hope our greatly advanced studies—and, like the mariner in his bark, the warrior in his tent, the captive in his dungeon, and the traveller in his various conveyances, we yearned for home. Did we say, on such an occasion, in the opening words of Mr. Addison’s impressive tragedy:

“The dawn is overcast, the morning lowers,
And heavily in clouds brings on the day,
The great, th’ important day—?”

Not so. From horizon to zenith all was couleur de rose, for all was redolent of our relations and friends. Might we find them prospering as we expected; might they find us prospering as they expected! Ladies, we would now, with our love to one another, wish one another good-bye, and happiness, until we met again. And when the time should come for our resumption of those pursuits which (here a general depression set in all round), pursuits which, pursuits which;—then let us ever remember what was said by the Spartan General, in words too trite for repetition, at the battle it were superfluous to specify.

The handmaidens of the establishment, in their best caps, then handed the trays, and the young ladies sipped and crumbled, and the bespoken coaches began to choke the street. Then leave-taking was not long about; and Miss Twinkleton, in saluting each young lady’s cheek, confided to her an exceedingly neat letter, addressed to her next friend at law, “with Miss Twinkleton’s best compliments” in the corner. This missive she handed with an air as if it had not the least connexion with the bill, but were something in the nature of a delicate and joyful surprise.

So many times had Rosa seen such dispersals, and so very little did she know of any other Home, that she was contented to remain where she was, and was even better contented than ever before, having her latest friend with her. And yet her latest friendship had a blank place in it of which she could not fail to be sensible. Helena Landless, having been a party to her brother’s revelation about Rosa, and having entered into that compact of silence with Mr. Crisparkle, shrank from any allusion to Edwin Drood’s name. Why she so avoided it, was mysterious to Rosa, but she perfectly perceived the fact. But for the fact, she might have relieved her own little perplexed heart of some of its doubts and hesitations, by taking Helena into her confidence. As it was, she had no such vent: she could only ponder on her own difficulties, and wonder more and more why this avoidance of Edwin’s name should last, now that she knew—for so much Helena had told her—that a good understanding was to be reëstablished between the two young men, when Edwin came down.

It would have made a pretty picture, so many pretty girls kissing Rosa in the cold porch of the Nuns’ House, and that sunny little creature peeping out of it (unconscious of sly faces carved on spout and gable peeping at her), and waving farewells to the departing coaches, as if she represented the spirit of rosy youth abiding in the place to keep it bright and warm in its desertion. The hoarse High Street became musical with the cry, in various silvery voices, “Good-bye, Rosebud darling!” and the effigy of Mr. Sapsea’s father over the opposite doorway seemed to say to mankind: “Gentlemen, favour me with your attention to this charming little last lot left behind, and bid with a spirit worthy of the occasion!” Then the staid street, so unwontedly sparkling, youthful, and fresh for a few rippling moments, ran dry, and Cloisterham was itself again.

If Rosebud in her bower now waited Edwin Drood’s coming with an uneasy heart, Edwin for his part was uneasy too. With far less force of purpose in his composition than the childish beauty, crowned by acclamation fairy queen of Miss Twinkleton’s establishment, he had a conscience, and Mr. Grewgious had pricked it. That gentleman’s steady convictions of what was right and what was wrong in such a case as his, were neither to be frowned aside nor laughed aside. They would not be moved. But for the dinner in Staple Inn, and but for the ring he carried in the breast pocket of his coat, he would have drifted into their wedding-day without another pause for real thought, loosely trusting that all would go well, left alone. But that serious putting him on his truth to the living and the dead had brought him to a check. He must either give the ring to Rosa, or he must take it back. Once put into this narrowed way of action, it was curious that he began to consider Rosa’s claims upon him more unselfishly than he had ever considered them before, and began to be less sure of himself than he had ever been in all his easy-going days.

“I will be guided by what she says, and by how we get on,” was his decision, walking from the gatehouse to the Nuns’ House. “Whatever comes of it, I will bear his words in mind, and try to be true to the living and the dead.”

Rosa was dressed for walking. She expected him. It was a bright, frosty day, and Miss Twinkleton had already graciously sanctioned fresh air. Thus they got out together before it became necessary for either Miss Twinkleton, or the deputy high-priest Mrs. Tisher, to lay even so much as one of those usual offerings on the shrine of Propriety.

“My dear Eddy,” said Rosa, when they had turned out of the High Street, and had got among the quiet walks in the neighbourhood of the Cathedral and the river: “I want to say something very serious to you. I have been thinking about it for a long, long time.”

“I want to be serious with you too, Rosa dear. I mean to be serious and earnest.”

“Thank you, Eddy. And you will not think me unkind because I begin, will you? You will not think I speak for myself only, because I speak first? That would not be generous, would it? And I know you are generous!”

He said, “I hope I am not ungenerous to you, Rosa.” He called her Pussy no more. Never again.

“And there is no fear,” pursued Rosa, “of our quarrelling, is there? Because, Eddy,” clasping her hand on his arm, “we have so much reason to be very lenient to each other!”

“We will be, Rosa.”

“That’s a dear good boy! Eddy, let us be courageous. Let us change to brother and sister from this day forth.”

“Never be husband and wife?”

“Never!”

Neither spoke again for a little while. But after that pause he said, with some effort:

“Of course I know that this has been in both our minds, Rosa, and of course I am in honour bound to confess freely that it does not originate with you.”

“No, nor with you, dear,” she returned, with pathetic earnestness. “That sprung up between us. You are not truly happy in our engagement; I am not truly happy in it. O, I am so sorry, so sorry!” And there she broke into tears.

“I am deeply sorry too, Rosa. Deeply sorry for you.”

“And I for you, poor boy! And I for you!”

This pure young feeling, this gentle and forbearing feeling of each towards the other, brought with it its reward in a softening light that seemed to shine on their position. The relations between them did not look wilful, or capricious, or a failure, in such a light; they became elevated into something more self-denying, honourable, affectionate, and true.

“If we knew yesterday,” said Rosa, as she dried her eyes, “and we did know yesterday, and on many, many yesterdays, that we were far from right together in those relations which were not of our own choosing, what better could we do to-day than change them? It is natural that we should be sorry, and you see how sorry we both are; but how much better to be sorry now than then!”

“When, Rosa?”

“When it would be too late. And then we should be angry, besides.”

Another silence fell upon them.

“And you know,” said Rosa innocently, “you couldn’t like me then; and you can always like me now, for I shall not be a drag upon you, or a worry to you. And I can always like you now, and your sister will not tease or trifle with you. I often did when I was not your sister, and I beg your pardon for it.”

“Don’t let us come to that, Rosa; or I shall want more pardoning than I like to think of.”

“No, indeed, Eddy; you are too hard, my generous boy, upon yourself. Let us sit down, brother, on these ruins, and let me tell you how it was with us. I think I know, for I have considered about it very much since you were here last time. You liked me, didn’t you? You thought I was a nice little thing?”

“Everybody thinks that, Rosa.”

“Do they?” She knitted her brow musingly for a moment, and then flashed out with the bright little induction: “Well, but say they do. Surely it was not enough that you should think of me only as other people did; now, was it?”

The point was not to be got over. It was not enough.

“And that is just what I mean; that is just how it was with us,” said Rosa. “You liked me very well, and you had grown used to me, and had grown used to the idea of our being married. You accepted the situation as an inevitable kind of thing, didn’t you? It was to be, you thought, and why discuss or dispute it?”

It was new and strange to him to have himself presented to himself so clearly, in a glass of her holding up. He had always patronised her, in his superiority to her share of woman’s wit. Was that but another instance of something radically amiss in the terms on which they had been gliding towards a life-long bondage?

“All this that I say of you is true of me as well, Eddy. Unless it was, I might not be bold enough to say it. Only, the difference between us was, that by little and little there crept into my mind a habit of thinking about it, instead of dismissing it. My life is not so busy as yours, you see, and I have not so many things to think of. So I thought about it very much, and I cried about it very much too (though that was not your fault, poor boy); when all at once my guardian came down, to prepare for my leaving the Nuns’ House. I tried to hint to him that I was not quite settled in my mind, but I hesitated and failed, and he didn’t understand me. But he is a good, good man. And he put before me so kindly, and yet so strongly, how seriously we ought to consider, in our circumstances, that I resolved to speak to you the next moment we were alone and grave. And if I seemed to come to it easily just now, because I came to it all at once, don’t think it was so really, Eddy, for O, it was very, very hard, and O, I am very, very sorry!”

Her full heart broke into tears again. He put his arm about her waist, and they walked by the river-side together.

“Your guardian has spoken to me too, Rosa dear. I saw him before I left London.” His right hand was in his breast, seeking the ring; but he checked it, as he thought: “If I am to take it back, why should I tell her of it?”

“And that made you more serious about it, didn’t it, Eddy? And if I had not spoken to you, as I have, you would have spoken to me? I hope you can tell me so? I don’t like it to be all my doing, though it is so much better for us.”

“Yes, I should have spoken; I should have put everything before you; I came intending to do it. But I never could have spoken to you as you have spoken to me, Rosa.”

“Don’t say you mean so coldly or unkindly, Eddy, please, if you can help it.”

“I mean so sensibly and delicately, so wisely and affectionately.”

“That’s my dear brother!” She kissed his hand in a little rapture. “The dear girls will be dreadfully disappointed,” added Rosa, laughing, with the dewdrops glistening in her bright eyes. “They have looked forward to it so, poor pets!”

“Ah! but I fear it will be a worse disappointment to Jack,” said Edwin Drood, with a start. “I never thought of Jack!”

Her swift and intent look at him as he said the words could no more be recalled than a flash of lightning can. But it appeared as though she would have instantly recalled it, if she could; for she looked down, confused, and breathed quickly.

“You don’t doubt its being a blow to Jack, Rosa?”

She merely replied, and that evasively and hurriedly: Why should she? She had not thought about it. He seemed, to her, to have so little to do with it.

“My dear child! can you suppose that any one so wrapped up in another—Mrs. Tope’s expression: not mine—as Jack is in me, could fail to be struck all of a heap by such a sudden and complete change in my life? I say sudden, because it will be sudden to him, you know.”

She nodded twice or thrice, and her lips parted as if she would have assented. But she uttered no sound, and her breathing was no slower.

“How shall I tell Jack?” said Edwin, ruminating. If he had been less occupied with the thought, he must have seen her singular emotion. “I never thought of Jack. It must be broken to him, before the town-crier knows it. I dine with the dear fellow to-morrow and next day—Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—but it would never do to spoil his feast-days. He always worries about me, and moddley-coddleys in the merest trifles. The news is sure to overset him. How on earth shall this be broken to Jack?”

“He must be told, I suppose?” said Rosa.

“My dear Rosa! who ought to be in our confidence, if not Jack?”

“My guardian promised to come down, if I should write and ask him. I am going to do so. Would you like to leave it to him?”

“A bright idea!” cried Edwin. “The other trustee. Nothing more natural. He comes down, he goes to Jack, he relates what we have agreed upon, and he states our case better than we could. He has already spoken feelingly to you, he has already spoken feelingly to me, and he’ll put the whole thing feelingly to Jack. That’s it! I am not a coward, Rosa, but to tell you a secret, I am a little afraid of Jack.”

“No, no! you are not afraid of him!” cried Rosa, turning white, and clasping her hands.

“Why, sister Rosa, sister Rosa, what do you see from the turret?” said Edwin, rallying her. “My dear girl!”

“You frightened me.”

“Most unintentionally, but I am as sorry as if I had meant to do it. Could you possibly suppose for a moment, from any loose way of speaking of mine, that I was literally afraid of the dear fond fellow? What I mean is, that he is subject to a kind of paroxysm, or fit—I saw him in it once—and I don’t know but that so great a surprise, coming upon him direct from me whom he is so wrapped up in, might bring it on perhaps. Which—and this is the secret I was going to tell you—is another reason for your guardian’s making the communication. He is so steady, precise, and exact, that he will talk Jack’s thoughts into shape, in no time: whereas with me Jack is always impulsive and hurried, and, I may say, almost womanish.”

Rosa seemed convinced. Perhaps from her own very different point of view of “Jack,” she felt comforted and protected by the interposition of Mr. Grewgious between herself and him.

And now, Edwin Drood’s right hand closed again upon the ring in its little case, and again was checked by the consideration: “It is certain, now, that I am to give it back to him; then why should I tell her of it?” That pretty sympathetic nature which could be so sorry for him in the blight of their childish hopes of happiness together, and could so quietly find itself alone in a new world to weave fresh wreaths of such flowers as it might prove to bear, the old world’s flowers being withered, would be grieved by those sorrowful jewels; and to what purpose? Why should it be? They were but a sign of broken joys and baseless projects; in their very beauty they were (as the unlikeliest of men had said) almost a cruel satire on the loves, hopes, plans, of humanity, which are able to forecast nothing, and are so much brittle dust. Let them be. He would restore them to her guardian when he came down; he in his turn would restore them to the cabinet from which he had unwillingly taken them; and there, like old letters or old vows, or other records of old aspirations come to nothing, they would be disregarded, until, being valuable, they were sold into circulation again, to repeat their former round.

Let them be. Let them lie unspoken of, in his breast. However distinctly or indistinctly he entertained these thoughts, he arrived at the conclusion, Let them be. Among the mighty store of wonderful chains that are for ever forging, day and night, in the vast iron-works of time and circumstance, there was one chain forged in the moment of that small conclusion, riveted to the foundations of heaven and earth, and gifted with invincible force to hold and drag.

They walked on by the river. They began to speak of their separate plans. He would quicken his departure from England, and she would remain where she was, at least as long as Helena remained. The poor dear girls should have their disappointment broken to them gently, and, as the first preliminary, Miss Twinkleton should be confided in by Rosa, even in advance of the reappearance of Mr. Grewgious. It should be made clear in all quarters that she and Edwin were the best of friends. There had never been so serene an understanding between them since they were first affianced. And yet there was one reservation on each side; on hers, that she intended through her guardian to withdraw herself immediately from the tuition of her music-master; on his, that he did already entertain some wandering speculations whether it might ever come to pass that he would know more of Miss Landless.

The bright, frosty day declined as they walked and spoke together. The sun dipped in the river far behind them, and the old city lay red before them, as their walk drew to a close. The moaning water cast its seaweed duskily at their feet, when they turned to leave its margin; and the rooks hovered above them with hoarse cries, darker splashes in the darkening air.

“I will prepare Jack for my flitting soon,” said Edwin, in a low voice, “and I will but see your guardian when he comes, and then go before they speak together. It will be better done without my being by. Don’t you think so?”

“Yes.”

“We know we have done right, Rosa?”

“Yes.”

“We know we are better so, even now?”

“And shall be far, far better so by-and-by.”

Still there was that lingering tenderness in their hearts towards the old positions they were relinquishing, that they prolonged their parting. When they came among the elm-trees by the Cathedral, where they had last sat together, they stopped as by consent, and Rosa raised her face to his, as she had never raised it in the old days;—for they were old already.

“God bless you, dear! Good-bye!”

“God bless you, dear! Good-bye!”

They kissed each other fervently.

“Now, please take me home, Eddy, and let me be by myself.”

“Don’t look round, Rosa,” he cautioned her, as he drew her arm through his, and led her away. “Didn’t you see Jack?”

“No! Where?”

“Under the trees. He saw us, as we took leave of each other. Poor fellow! he little thinks we have parted. This will be a blow to him, I am much afraid!”

She hurried on, without resting, and hurried on until they had passed under the gatehouse into the street; once there, she asked:

“Has he followed us? You can look without seeming to. Is he behind?”

“No. Yes, he is! He has just passed out under the gateway. The dear, sympathetic old fellow likes to keep us in sight. I am afraid he will be bitterly disappointed!”

She pulled hurriedly at the handle of the hoarse old bell, and the gate soon opened. Before going in, she gave him one last, wide, wondering look, as if she would have asked him with imploring emphasis: “O! don’t you understand?” And out of that look he vanished from her view.

CHAPTER XIV. 
WHEN SHALL THESE THREE MEET AGAIN?

Christmas Eve in Cloisterham. A few strange faces in the streets; a few other faces, half strange and half familiar, once the faces of Cloisterham children, now the faces of men and women who come back from the outer world at long intervals to find the city wonderfully shrunken in size, as if it had not washed by any means well in the meanwhile. To these, the striking of the Cathedral clock, and the cawing of the rooks from the Cathedral tower, are like voices of their nursery time. To such as these, it has happened in their dying hours afar off, that they have imagined their chamber-floor to be strewn with the autumnal leaves fallen from the elm-trees in the Close: so have the rustling sounds and fresh scents of their earliest impressions revived when the circle of their lives was very nearly traced, and the beginning and the end were drawing close together.

Seasonable tokens are about. Red berries shine here and there in the lattices of Minor Canon Corner; Mr. and Mrs. Tope are daintily sticking sprigs of holly into the carvings and sconces of the Cathedral stalls, as if they were sticking them into the coat-button-holes of the Dean and Chapter. Lavish profusion is in the shops: particularly in the articles of currants, raisins, spices, candied peel, and moist sugar. An unusual air of gallantry and dissipation is abroad; evinced in an immense bunch of mistletoe hanging in the greengrocer’s shop doorway, and a poor little Twelfth Cake, culminating in the figure of a Harlequin—such a very poor little Twelfth Cake, that one would rather called it a Twenty-fourth Cake or a Forty-eighth Cake—to be raffled for at the pastrycook’s, terms one shilling per member. Public amusements are not wanting. The Wax-Work which made so deep an impression on the reflective mind of the Emperor of China is to be seen by particular desire during Christmas Week only, on the premises of the bankrupt livery-stable-keeper up the lane; and a new grand comic Christmas pantomime is to be produced at the Theatre: the latter heralded by the portrait of Signor Jacksonini the clown, saying “How do you do to-morrow?” quite as large as life, and almost as miserably. In short, Cloisterham is up and doing: though from this description the High School and Miss Twinkleton’s are to be excluded. From the former establishment the scholars have gone home, every one of them in love with one of Miss Twinkleton’s young ladies (who knows nothing about it); and only the handmaidens flutter occasionally in the windows of the latter. It is noticed, by the bye, that these damsels become, within the limits of decorum, more skittish when thus intrusted with the concrete representation of their sex, than when dividing the representation with Miss Twinkleton’s young ladies.

Three are to meet at the gatehouse to-night. How does each one of the three get through the day?

Neville Landless, though absolved from his books for the time by Mr. Crisparkle—whose fresh nature is by no means insensible to the charms of a holiday—reads and writes in his quiet room, with a concentrated air, until it is two hours past noon. He then sets himself to clearing his table, to arranging his books, and to tearing up and burning his stray papers. He makes a clean sweep of all untidy accumulations, puts all his drawers in order, and leaves no note or scrap of paper undestroyed, save such memoranda as bear directly on his studies. This done, he turns to his wardrobe, selects a few articles of ordinary wear—among them, change of stout shoes and socks for walking—and packs these in a knapsack. This knapsack is new, and he bought it in the High Street yesterday. He also purchased, at the same time and at the same place, a heavy walking-stick; strong in the handle for the grip of the hand, and iron-shod. He tries this, swings it, poises it, and lays it by, with the knapsack, on a window-seat. By this time his arrangements are complete.

He dresses for going out, and is in the act of going—indeed has left his room, and has met the Minor Canon on the staircase, coming out of his bedroom upon the same story—when he turns back again for his walking-stick, thinking he will carry it now. Mr. Crisparkle, who has paused on the staircase, sees it in his hand on his immediately reappearing, takes it from him, and asks him with a smile how he chooses a stick?

“Really I don’t know that I understand the subject,” he answers. “I chose it for its weight.”

“Much too heavy, Neville; much too heavy.”

“To rest upon in a long walk, sir?”

“Rest upon?” repeats Mr. Crisparkle, throwing himself into pedestrian form. “You don’t rest upon it; you merely balance with it.”

“I shall know better, with practice, sir. I have not lived in a walking country, you know.”

“True,” says Mr. Crisparkle. “Get into a little training, and we will have a few score miles together. I should leave you nowhere now. Do you come back before dinner?”

“I think not, as we dine early.”

Mr. Crisparkle gives him a bright nod and a cheerful good-bye; expressing (not without intention) absolute confidence and ease.

Neville repairs to the Nuns’ House, and requests that Miss Landless may be informed that her brother is there, by appointment. He waits at the gate, not even crossing the threshold; for he is on his parole not to put himself in Rosa’s way.

His sister is at least as mindful of the obligation they have taken on themselves as he can be, and loses not a moment in joining him. They meet affectionately, avoid lingering there, and walk towards the upper inland country.

“I am not going to tread upon forbidden ground, Helena,” says Neville, when they have walked some distance and are turning; “you will understand in another moment that I cannot help referring to—what shall I say?—my infatuation.”

“Had you not better avoid it, Neville? You know that I can hear nothing.”

“You can hear, my dear, what Mr. Crisparkle has heard, and heard with approval.”

“Yes; I can hear so much.”

“Well, it is this. I am not only unsettled and unhappy myself, but I am conscious of unsettling and interfering with other people. How do I know that, but for my unfortunate presence, you, and—and—the rest of that former party, our engaging guardian excepted, might be dining cheerfully in Minor Canon Corner to-morrow? Indeed it probably would be so. I can see too well that I am not high in the old lady’s opinion, and it is easy to understand what an irksome clog I must be upon the hospitalities of her orderly house—especially at this time of year—when I must be kept asunder from this person, and there is such a reason for my not being brought into contact with that person, and an unfavourable reputation has preceded me with such another person; and so on. I have put this very gently to Mr. Crisparkle, for you know his self-denying ways; but still I have put it. What I have laid much greater stress upon at the same time is, that I am engaged in a miserable struggle with myself, and that a little change and absence may enable me to come through it the better. So, the weather being bright and hard, I am going on a walking expedition, and intend taking myself out of everybody’s way (my own included, I hope) to-morrow morning.”

“When to come back?”

“In a fortnight.”

“And going quite alone?”

“I am much better without company, even if there were any one but you to bear me company, my dear Helena.”

“Mr. Crisparkle entirely agrees, you say?”

“Entirely. I am not sure but that at first he was inclined to think it rather a moody scheme, and one that might do a brooding mind harm. But we took a moonlight walk last Monday night, to talk it over at leisure, and I represented the case to him as it really is. I showed him that I do want to conquer myself, and that, this evening well got over, it is surely better that I should be away from here just now, than here. I could hardly help meeting certain people walking together here, and that could do no good, and is certainly not the way to forget. A fortnight hence, that chance will probably be over, for the time; and when it again arises for the last time, why, I can again go away. Farther, I really do feel hopeful of bracing exercise and wholesome fatigue. You know that Mr. Crisparkle allows such things their full weight in the preservation of his own sound mind in his own sound body, and that his just spirit is not likely to maintain one set of natural laws for himself and another for me. He yielded to my view of the matter, when convinced that I was honestly in earnest; and so, with his full consent, I start to-morrow morning. Early enough to be not only out of the streets, but out of hearing of the bells, when the good people go to church.”

Helena thinks it over, and thinks well of it. Mr. Crisparkle doing so, she would do so; but she does originally, out of her own mind, think well of it, as a healthy project, denoting a sincere endeavour and an active attempt at self-correction. She is inclined to pity him, poor fellow, for going away solitary on the great Christmas festival; but she feels it much more to the purpose to encourage him. And she does encourage him.

He will write to her?

He will write to her every alternate day, and tell her all his adventures.

Does he send clothes on in advance of him?

“My dear Helena, no. Travel like a pilgrim, with wallet and staff. My wallet—or my knapsack—is packed, and ready for strapping on; and here is my staff!”

He hands it to her; she makes the same remark as Mr. Crisparkle, that it is very heavy; and gives it back to him, asking what wood it is? Iron-wood.

Up to this point he has been extremely cheerful. Perhaps, the having to carry his case with her, and therefore to present it in its brightest aspect, has roused his spirits. Perhaps, the having done so with success, is followed by a revulsion. As the day closes in, and the city-lights begin to spring up before them, he grows depressed.

“I wish I were not going to this dinner, Helena.”

“Dear Neville, is it worth while to care much about it? Think how soon it will be over.”

“How soon it will be over!” he repeats gloomily. “Yes. But I don’t like it.”

There may be a moment’s awkwardness, she cheeringly represents to him, but it can only last a moment. He is quite sure of himself.

“I wish I felt as sure of everything else, as I feel of myself,” he answers her.

“How strangely you speak, dear! What do you mean?”

“Helena, I don’t know. I only know that I don’t like it. What a strange dead weight there is in the air!”

She calls his attention to those copperous clouds beyond the river, and says that the wind is rising. He scarcely speaks again, until he takes leave of her, at the gate of the Nuns’ House. She does not immediately enter, when they have parted, but remains looking after him along the street. Twice he passes the gatehouse, reluctant to enter. At length, the Cathedral clock chiming one quarter, with a rapid turn he hurries in.

And so he goes up the postern stair.

Edwin Drood passes a solitary day. Something of deeper moment than he had thought, has gone out of his life; and in the silence of his own chamber he wept for it last night. Though the image of Miss Landless still hovers in the background of his mind, the pretty little affectionate creature, so much firmer and wiser than he had supposed, occupies its stronghold. It is with some misgiving of his own unworthiness that he thinks of her, and of what they might have been to one another, if he had been more in earnest some time ago; if he had set a higher value on her; if, instead of accepting his lot in life as an inheritance of course, he had studied the right way to its appreciation and enhancement. And still, for all this, and though there is a sharp heartache in all this, the vanity and caprice of youth sustain that handsome figure of Miss Landless in the background of his mind.

That was a curious look of Rosa’s when they parted at the gate. Did it mean that she saw below the surface of his thoughts, and down into their twilight depths? Scarcely that, for it was a look of astonished and keen inquiry. He decides that he cannot understand it, though it was remarkably expressive.

As he only waits for Mr. Grewgious now, and will depart immediately after having seen him, he takes a sauntering leave of the ancient city and its neighbourhood. He recalls the time when Rosa and he walked here or there, mere children, full of the dignity of being engaged. Poor children! he thinks, with a pitying sadness.

Finding that his watch has stopped, he turns into the jeweller’s shop, to have it wound and set. The jeweller is knowing on the subject of a bracelet, which he begs leave to submit, in a general and quite aimless way. It would suit (he considers) a young bride, to perfection; especially if of a rather diminutive style of beauty. Finding the bracelet but coldly looked at, the jeweller invites attention to a tray of rings for gentlemen; here is a style of ring, now, he remarks—a very chaste signet—which gentlemen are much given to purchasing, when changing their condition. A ring of a very responsible appearance. With the date of their wedding-day engraved inside, several gentlemen have preferred it to any other kind of memento.

The rings are as coldly viewed as the bracelet. Edwin tells the tempter that he wears no jewellery but his watch and chain, which were his father’s; and his shirt-pin.

“That I was aware of,” is the jeweller’s reply, “for Mr. Jasper dropped in for a watch-glass the other day, and, in fact, I showed these articles to him, remarking that if he should wish to make a present to a gentleman relative, on any particular occasion—But he said with a smile that he had an inventory in his mind of all the jewellery his gentleman relative ever wore; namely, his watch and chain, and his shirt-pin.” Still (the jeweller considers) that might not apply to all times, though applying to the present time. “Twenty minutes past two, Mr. Drood, I set your watch at. Let me recommend you not to let it run down, sir.”

Edwin takes his watch, puts it on, and goes out, thinking: “Dear old Jack! If I were to make an extra crease in my neckcloth, he would think it worth noticing!”

He strolls about and about, to pass the time until the dinner-hour. It somehow happens that Cloisterham seems reproachful to him to-day; has fault to find with him, as if he had not used it well; but is far more pensive with him than angry. His wonted carelessness is replaced by a wistful looking at, and dwelling upon, all the old landmarks. He will soon be far away, and may never see them again, he thinks. Poor youth! Poor youth!

As dusk draws on, he paces the Monks’ Vineyard. He has walked to and fro, full half an hour by the Cathedral chimes, and it has closed in dark, before he becomes quite aware of a woman crouching on the ground near a wicket gate in a corner. The gate commands a cross bye-path, little used in the gloaming; and the figure must have been there all the time, though he has but gradually and lately made it out.

He strikes into that path, and walks up to the wicket. By the light of a lamp near it, he sees that the woman is of a haggard appearance, and that her weazen chin is resting on her hands, and that her eyes are staring—with an unwinking, blind sort of steadfastness—before her.

Always kindly, but moved to be unusually kind this evening, and having bestowed kind words on most of the children and aged people he has met, he at once bends down, and speaks to this woman.

“Are you ill?”

“No, deary,” she answers, without looking at him, and with no departure from her strange blind stare.

“Are you blind?”

“No, deary.”

“Are you lost, homeless, faint? What is the matter, that you stay here in the cold so long, without moving?”

By slow and stiff efforts, she appears to contract her vision until it can rest upon him; and then a curious film passes over her, and she begins to shake.

He straightens himself, recoils a step, and looks down at her in a dread amazement; for he seems to know her.

“Good Heaven!” he thinks, next moment. “Like Jack that night!”

As he looks down at her, she looks up at him, and whimpers: “My lungs is weakly; my lungs is dreffle bad. Poor me, poor me, my cough is rattling dry!” and coughs in confirmation horribly.

“Where do you come from?”

“Come from London, deary.” (Her cough still rending her.)

“Where are you going to?”

“Back to London, deary. I came here, looking for a needle in a haystack, and I ain’t found it. Look’ee, deary; give me three-and-sixpence, and don’t you be afeard for me. I’ll get back to London then, and trouble no one. I’m in a business.—Ah, me! It’s slack, it’s slack, and times is very bad!—but I can make a shift to live by it.”

“Do you eat opium?”

“Smokes it,” she replies with difficulty, still racked by her cough. “Give me three-and-sixpence, and I’ll lay it out well, and get back. If you don’t give me three-and-sixpence, don’t give me a brass farden. And if you do give me three-and-sixpence, deary, I’ll tell you something.”

He counts the money from his pocket, and puts it in her hand. She instantly clutches it tight, and rises to her feet with a croaking laugh of satisfaction.

“Bless ye! Hark’ee, dear genl’mn. What’s your Chris’en name?”

“Edwin.”

“Edwin, Edwin, Edwin,” she repeats, trailing off into a drowsy repetition of the word; and then asks suddenly: “Is the short of that name Eddy?”

“It is sometimes called so,” he replies, with the colour starting to his face.

“Don’t sweethearts call it so?” she asks, pondering.

“How should I know?”

“Haven’t you a sweetheart, upon your soul?”

“None.”

She is moving away, with another “Bless ye, and thank’ee, deary!” when he adds: “You were to tell me something; you may as well do so.”

“So I was, so I was. Well, then. Whisper. You be thankful that your name ain’t Ned.”

He looks at her quite steadily, as he asks: “Why?”

“Because it’s a bad name to have just now.”

“How a bad name?”

“A threatened name. A dangerous name.”

“The proverb says that threatened men live long,” he tells her, lightly.

“Then Ned—so threatened is he, wherever he may be while I am a-talking to you, deary—should live to all eternity!” replies the woman.

She has leaned forward to say it in his ear, with her forefinger shaking before his eyes, and now huddles herself together, and with another “Bless ye, and thank’ee!” goes away in the direction of the Travellers’ Lodging House.

This is not an inspiriting close to a dull day. Alone, in a sequestered place, surrounded by vestiges of old time and decay, it rather has a tendency to call a shudder into being. He makes for the better-lighted streets, and resolves as he walks on to say nothing of this to-night, but to mention it to Jack (who alone calls him Ned), as an odd coincidence, to-morrow; of course only as a coincidence, and not as anything better worth remembering.

Still, it holds to him, as many things much better worth remembering never did. He has another mile or so, to linger out before the dinner-hour; and, when he walks over the bridge and by the river, the woman’s words are in the rising wind, in the angry sky, in the troubled water, in the flickering lights. There is some solemn echo of them even in the Cathedral chime, which strikes a sudden surprise to his heart as he turns in under the archway of the gatehouse.

And so he goes up the postern stair.

John Jasper passes a more agreeable and cheerful day than either of his guests. Having no music-lessons to give in the holiday season, his time is his own, but for the Cathedral services. He is early among the shopkeepers, ordering little table luxuries that his nephew likes. His nephew will not be with him long, he tells his provision-dealers, and so must be petted and made much of. While out on his hospitable preparations, he looks in on Mr. Sapsea; and mentions that dear Ned, and that inflammable young spark of Mr. Crisparkle’s, are to dine at the gatehouse to-day, and make up their difference. Mr. Sapsea is by no means friendly towards the inflammable young spark. He says that his complexion is “Un-English.” And when Mr. Sapsea has once declared anything to be Un-English, he considers that thing everlastingly sunk in the bottomless pit.

John Jasper is truly sorry to hear Mr. Sapsea speak thus, for he knows right well that Mr. Sapsea never speaks without a meaning, and that he has a subtle trick of being right. Mr. Sapsea (by a very remarkable coincidence) is of exactly that opinion.

Mr. Jasper is in beautiful voice this day. In the pathetic supplication to have his heart inclined to keep this law, he quite astonishes his fellows by his melodious power. He has never sung difficult music with such skill and harmony, as in this day’s Anthem. His nervous temperament is occasionally prone to take difficult music a little too quickly; to-day, his time is perfect.

These results are probably attained through a grand composure of the spirits. The mere mechanism of his throat is a little tender, for he wears, both with his singing-robe and with his ordinary dress, a large black scarf of strong close-woven silk, slung loosely round his neck. But his composure is so noticeable, that Mr. Crisparkle speaks of it as they come out from Vespers.

“I must thank you, Jasper, for the pleasure with which I have heard you to-day. Beautiful! Delightful! You could not have so outdone yourself, I hope, without being wonderfully well.”

“I am wonderfully well.”

“Nothing unequal,” says the Minor Canon, with a smooth motion of his hand: “nothing unsteady, nothing forced, nothing avoided; all thoroughly done in a masterly manner, with perfect self-command.”

“Thank you. I hope so, if it is not too much to say.”

“One would think, Jasper, you had been trying a new medicine for that occasional indisposition of yours.”

“No, really? That’s well observed; for I have.”

“Then stick to it, my good fellow,” says Mr. Crisparkle, clapping him on the shoulder with friendly encouragement, “stick to it.”

“I will.”

“I congratulate you,” Mr. Crisparkle pursues, as they come out of the Cathedral, “on all accounts.”

“Thank you again. I will walk round to the Corner with you, if you don’t object; I have plenty of time before my company come; and I want to say a word to you, which I think you will not be displeased to hear.”

“What is it?”

“Well. We were speaking, the other evening, of my black humours.”

Mr. Crisparkle’s face falls, and he shakes his head deploringly.

“I said, you know, that I should make you an antidote to those black humours; and you said you hoped I would consign them to the flames.”

“And I still hope so, Jasper.”

“With the best reason in the world! I mean to burn this year’s Diary at the year’s end.”

“Because you—?” Mr. Crisparkle brightens greatly as he thus begins.

“You anticipate me. Because I feel that I have been out of sorts, gloomy, bilious, brain-oppressed, whatever it may be. You said I had been exaggerative. So I have.”

Mr. Crisparkle’s brightened face brightens still more.

“I couldn’t see it then, because I was out of sorts; but I am in a healthier state now, and I acknowledge it with genuine pleasure. I made a great deal of a very little; that’s the fact.”

“It does me good,” cries Mr. Crisparkle, “to hear you say it!”

“A man leading a monotonous life,” Jasper proceeds, “and getting his nerves, or his stomach, out of order, dwells upon an idea until it loses its proportions. That was my case with the idea in question. So I shall burn the evidence of my case, when the book is full, and begin the next volume with a clearer vision.”

“This is better,” says Mr. Crisparkle, stopping at the steps of his own door to shake hands, “than I could have hoped.”

“Why, naturally,” returns Jasper. “You had but little reason to hope that I should become more like yourself. You are always training yourself to be, mind and body, as clear as crystal, and you always are, and never change; whereas I am a muddy, solitary, moping weed. However, I have got over that mope. Shall I wait, while you ask if Mr. Neville has left for my place? If not, he and I may walk round together.”

“I think,” says Mr. Crisparkle, opening the entrance-door with his key, “that he left some time ago; at least I know he left, and I think he has not come back. But I’ll inquire. You won’t come in?”

“My company wait,” said Jasper, with a smile.

The Minor Canon disappears, and in a few moments returns. As he thought, Mr. Neville has not come back; indeed, as he remembers now, Mr. Neville said he would probably go straight to the gatehouse.

“Bad manners in a host!” says Jasper. “My company will be there before me! What will you bet that I don’t find my company embracing?”

“I will bet—or I would, if ever I did bet,” returns Mr. Crisparkle, “that your company will have a gay entertainer this evening.”

Jasper nods, and laughs good-night!

He retraces his steps to the Cathedral door, and turns down past it to the gatehouse. He sings, in a low voice and with delicate expression, as he walks along. It still seems as if a false note were not within his power to-night, and as if nothing could hurry or retard him. Arriving thus under the arched entrance of his dwelling, he pauses for an instant in the shelter to pull off that great black scarf, and bang it in a loop upon his arm. For that brief time, his face is knitted and stern. But it immediately clears, as he resumes his singing, and his way.

And so he goes up the postern stair.

The red light burns steadily all the evening in the lighthouse on the margin of the tide of busy life. Softened sounds and hum of traffic pass it and flow on irregularly into the lonely Precincts; but very little else goes by, save violent rushes of wind. It comes on to blow a boisterous gale.

The Precincts are never particularly well lighted; but the strong blasts of wind blowing out many of the lamps (in some instances shattering the frames too, and bringing the glass rattling to the ground), they are unusually dark to-night. The darkness is augmented and confused, by flying dust from the earth, dry twigs from the trees, and great ragged fragments from the rooks’ nests up in the tower. The trees themselves so toss and creak, as this tangible part of the darkness madly whirls about, that they seem in peril of being torn out of the earth: while ever and again a crack, and a rushing fall, denote that some large branch has yielded to the storm.

Not such power of wind has blown for many a winter night. Chimneys topple in the streets, and people hold to posts and corners, and to one another, to keep themselves upon their feet. The violent rushes abate not, but increase in frequency and fury until at midnight, when the streets are empty, the storm goes thundering along them, rattling at all the latches, and tearing at all the shutters, as if warning the people to get up and fly with it, rather than have the roofs brought down upon their brains.

Still, the red light burns steadily. Nothing is steady but the red light.

All through the night the wind blows, and abates not. But early in the morning, when there is barely enough light in the east to dim the stars, it begins to lull. From that time, with occasional wild charges, like a wounded monster dying, it drops and sinks; and at full daylight it is dead.

It is then seen that the hands of the Cathedral clock are torn off; that lead from the roof has been stripped away, rolled up, and blown into the Close; and that some stones have been displaced upon the summit of the great tower. Christmas morning though it be, it is necessary to send up workmen, to ascertain the extent of the damage done. These, led by Durdles, go aloft; while Mr. Tope and a crowd of early idlers gather down in Minor Canon Corner, shading their eyes and watching for their appearance up there.

This cluster is suddenly broken and put aside by the hands of Mr. Jasper; all the gazing eyes are brought down to the earth by his loudly inquiring of Mr. Crisparkle, at an open window:

“Where is my nephew?”

“He has not been here. Is he not with you?”

“No. He went down to the river last night, with Mr. Neville, to look at the storm, and has not been back. Call Mr. Neville!”

“He left this morning, early.”

“Left this morning early? Let me in! let me in!”

There is no more looking up at the tower, now. All the assembled eyes are turned on Mr. Jasper, white, half-dressed, panting, and clinging to the rail before the Minor Canon’s house.

CHAPTER XV. 
IMPEACHED

Neville Landless had started so early and walked at so good a pace, that when the church-bells began to ring in Cloisterham for morning service, he was eight miles away. As he wanted his breakfast by that time, having set forth on a crust of bread, he stopped at the next roadside tavern to refresh.

Visitors in want of breakfast—unless they were horses or cattle, for which class of guests there was preparation enough in the way of water-trough and hay—were so unusual at the sign of The Tilted Wagon, that it took a long time to get the wagon into the track of tea and toast and bacon. Neville in the interval, sitting in a sanded parlour, wondering in how long a time after he had gone, the sneezy fire of damp fagots would begin to make somebody else warm.

Indeed, The Tilted Wagon, as a cool establishment on the top of a hill, where the ground before the door was puddled with damp hoofs and trodden straw; where a scolding landlady slapped a moist baby (with one red sock on and one wanting), in the bar; where the cheese was cast aground upon a shelf, in company with a mouldy tablecloth and a green-handled knife, in a sort of cast-iron canoe; where the pale-faced bread shed tears of crumb over its shipwreck in another canoe; where the family linen, half washed and half dried, led a public life of lying about; where everything to drink was drunk out of mugs, and everything else was suggestive of a rhyme to mugs; The Tilted Wagon, all these things considered, hardly kept its painted promise of providing good entertainment for Man and Beast. However, Man, in the present case, was not critical, but took what entertainment he could get, and went on again after a longer rest than he needed.

He stopped at some quarter of a mile from the house, hesitating whether to pursue the road, or to follow a cart track between two high hedgerows, which led across the slope of a breezy heath, and evidently struck into the road again by-and-by. He decided in favour of this latter track, and pursued it with some toil; the rise being steep, and the way worn into deep ruts.

He was labouring along, when he became aware of some other pedestrians behind him. As they were coming up at a faster pace than his, he stood aside, against one of the high banks, to let them pass. But their manner was very curious. Only four of them passed. Other four slackened speed, and loitered as intending to follow him when he should go on. The remainder of the party (half-a-dozen perhaps) turned, and went back at a great rate.

He looked at the four behind him, and he looked at the four before him. They all returned his look. He resumed his way. The four in advance went on, constantly looking back; the four in the rear came closing up.

When they all ranged out from the narrow track upon the open slope of the heath, and this order was maintained, let him diverge as he would to either side, there was no longer room to doubt that he was beset by these fellows. He stopped, as a last test; and they all stopped.

“Why do you attend upon me in this way?” he asked the whole body. “Are you a pack of thieves?”

“Don’t answer him,” said one of the number; he did not see which. “Better be quiet.”

“Better be quiet?” repeated Neville. “Who said so?”

Nobody replied.

“It’s good advice, whichever of you skulkers gave it,” he went on angrily. “I will not submit to be penned in between four men there, and four men there. I wish to pass, and I mean to pass, those four in front.”

They were all standing still; himself included.

“If eight men, or four men, or two men, set upon one,” he proceeded, growing more enraged, “the one has no chance but to set his mark upon some of them. And, by the Lord, I’ll do it, if I am interrupted any farther!”

Shouldering his heavy stick, and quickening his pace, he shot on to pass the four ahead. The largest and strongest man of the number changed swiftly to the side on which he came up, and dexterously closed with him and went down with him; but not before the heavy stick had descended smartly.

“Let him be!” said this man in a suppressed voice, as they struggled together on the grass. “Fair play! His is the build of a girl to mine, and he’s got a weight strapped to his back besides. Let him alone. I’ll manage him.”

After a little rolling about, in a close scuffle which caused the faces of both to be besmeared with blood, the man took his knee from Neville’s chest, and rose, saying: “There! Now take him arm-in-arm, any two of you!”

It was immediately done.

“As to our being a pack of thieves, Mr. Landless,” said the man, as he spat out some blood, and wiped more from his face; “you know better than that at midday. We wouldn’t have touched you if you hadn’t forced us. We’re going to take you round to the high road, anyhow, and you’ll find help enough against thieves there, if you want it.—Wipe his face, somebody; see how it’s a-trickling down him!”

When his face was cleansed, Neville recognised in the speaker, Joe, driver of the Cloisterham omnibus, whom he had seen but once, and that on the day of his arrival.

“And what I recommend you for the present, is, don’t talk, Mr. Landless. You’ll find a friend waiting for you, at the high road—gone ahead by the other way when we split into two parties—and you had much better say nothing till you come up with him. Bring that stick along, somebody else, and let’s be moving!”

Utterly bewildered, Neville stared around him and said not a word. Walking between his two conductors, who held his arms in theirs, he went on, as in a dream, until they came again into the high road, and into the midst of a little group of people. The men who had turned back were among the group; and its central figures were Mr. Jasper and Mr. Crisparkle. Neville’s conductors took him up to the Minor Canon, and there released him, as an act of deference to that gentleman.

“What is all this, sir? What is the matter? I feel as if I had lost my senses!” cried Neville, the group closing in around him.

“Where is my nephew?” asked Mr. Jasper, wildly.

“Where is your nephew?” repeated Neville, “Why do you ask me?”

“I ask you,” retorted Jasper, “because you were the last person in his company, and he is not to be found.”

“Not to be found!” cried Neville, aghast.

“Stay, stay,” said Mr. Crisparkle. “Permit me, Jasper. Mr. Neville, you are confounded; collect your thoughts; it is of great importance that you should collect your thoughts; attend to me.”

“I will try, sir, but I seem mad.”

“You left Mr. Jasper last night with Edwin Drood?”

“Yes.”

“At what hour?”

“Was it at twelve o’clock?” asked Neville, with his hand to his confused head, and appealing to Jasper.

“Quite right,” said Mr. Crisparkle; “the hour Mr. Jasper has already named to me. You went down to the river together?”

“Undoubtedly. To see the action of the wind there.”

“What followed? How long did you stay there?”

“About ten minutes; I should say not more. We then walked together to your house, and he took leave of me at the door.”

“Did he say that he was going down to the river again?”

“No. He said that he was going straight back.”

The bystanders looked at one another, and at Mr. Crisparkle. To whom Mr. Jasper, who had been intensely watching Neville, said, in a low, distinct, suspicious voice: “What are those stains upon his dress?”

All eyes were turned towards the blood upon his clothes.

“And here are the same stains upon this stick!” said Jasper, taking it from the hand of the man who held it. “I know the stick to be his, and he carried it last night. What does this mean?”

“In the name of God, say what it means, Neville!” urged Mr. Crisparkle.

“That man and I,” said Neville, pointing out his late adversary, “had a struggle for the stick just now, and you may see the same marks on him, sir. What was I to suppose, when I found myself molested by eight people? Could I dream of the true reason when they would give me none at all?”

They admitted that they had thought it discreet to be silent, and that the struggle had taken place. And yet the very men who had seen it looked darkly at the smears which the bright cold air had already dried.

“We must return, Neville,” said Mr. Crisparkle; “of course you will be glad to come back to clear yourself?”

“Of course, sir.”

“Mr. Landless will walk at my side,” the Minor Canon continued, looking around him. “Come, Neville!”

They set forth on the walk back; and the others, with one exception, straggled after them at various distances. Jasper walked on the other side of Neville, and never quitted that position. He was silent, while Mr. Crisparkle more than once repeated his former questions, and while Neville repeated his former answers; also, while they both hazarded some explanatory conjectures. He was obstinately silent, because Mr. Crisparkle’s manner directly appealed to him to take some part in the discussion, and no appeal would move his fixed face. When they drew near to the city, and it was suggested by the Minor Canon that they might do well in calling on the Mayor at once, he assented with a stern nod; but he spake no word until they stood in Mr. Sapsea’s parlour.

Mr. Sapsea being informed by Mr. Crisparkle of the circumstances under which they desired to make a voluntary statement before him, Mr. Jasper broke silence by declaring that he placed his whole reliance, humanly speaking, on Mr. Sapsea’s penetration. There was no conceivable reason why his nephew should have suddenly absconded, unless Mr. Sapsea could suggest one, and then he would defer. There was no intelligible likelihood of his having returned to the river, and been accidentally drowned in the dark, unless it should appear likely to Mr. Sapsea, and then again he would defer. He washed his hands as clean as he could of all horrible suspicions, unless it should appear to Mr. Sapsea that some such were inseparable from his last companion before his disappearance (not on good terms with previously), and then, once more, he would defer. His own state of mind, he being distracted with doubts, and labouring under dismal apprehensions, was not to be safely trusted; but Mr. Sapsea’s was.

Mr. Sapsea expressed his opinion that the case had a dark look; in short (and here his eyes rested full on Neville’s countenance), an Un-English complexion. Having made this grand point, he wandered into a denser haze and maze of nonsense than even a mayor might have been expected to disport himself in, and came out of it with the brilliant discovery that to take the life of a fellow-creature was to take something that didn’t belong to you. He wavered whether or no he should at once issue his warrant for the committal of Neville Landless to jail, under circumstances of grave suspicion; and he might have gone so far as to do it but for the indignant protest of the Minor Canon: who undertook for the young man’s remaining in his own house, and being produced by his own hands, whenever demanded. Mr. Jasper then understood Mr. Sapsea to suggest that the river should be dragged, that its banks should be rigidly examined, that particulars of the disappearance should be sent to all outlying places and to London, and that placards and advertisements should be widely circulated imploring Edwin Drood, if for any unknown reason he had withdrawn himself from his uncle’s home and society, to take pity on that loving kinsman’s sore bereavement and distress, and somehow inform him that he was yet alive. Mr. Sapsea was perfectly understood, for this was exactly his meaning (though he had said nothing about it); and measures were taken towards all these ends immediately.

It would be difficult to determine which was the more oppressed with horror and amazement: Neville Landless, or John Jasper. But that Jasper’s position forced him to be active, while Neville’s forced him to be passive, there would have been nothing to choose between them. Each was bowed down and broken.

With the earliest light of the next morning, men were at work upon the river, and other men—most of whom volunteered for the service—were examining the banks. All the livelong day the search went on; upon the river, with barge and pole, and drag and net; upon the muddy and rushy shore, with jack-boots, hatchet, spade, rope, dogs, and all imaginable appliances. Even at night, the river was specked with lanterns, and lurid with fires; far-off creeks, into which the tide washed as it changed, had their knots of watchers, listening to the lapping of the stream, and looking out for any burden it might bear; remote shingly causeways near the sea, and lonely points off which there was a race of water, had their unwonted flaring cressets and rough-coated figures when the next day dawned; but no trace of Edwin Drood revisited the light of the sun.

All that day, again, the search went on. Now, in barge and boat; and now ashore among the osiers, or tramping amidst mud and stakes and jagged stones in low-lying places, where solitary watermarks and signals of strange shapes showed like spectres, John Jasper worked and toiled. But to no purpose; for still no trace of Edwin Drood revisited the light of the sun.

Setting his watches for that night again, so that vigilant eyes should be kept on every change of tide, he went home exhausted. Unkempt and disordered, bedaubed with mud that had dried upon him, and with much of his clothing torn to rags, he had but just dropped into his easy-chair, when Mr. Grewgious stood before him.

“This is strange news,” said Mr. Grewgious.

“Strange and fearful news.”

Jasper had merely lifted up his heavy eyes to say it, and now dropped them again as he drooped, worn out, over one side of his easy-chair.

Mr. Grewgious smoothed his head and face, and stood looking at the fire.

“How is your ward?” asked Jasper, after a time, in a faint, fatigued voice.

“Poor little thing! You may imagine her condition.”

“Have you seen his sister?” inquired Jasper, as before.

“Whose?”

The curtness of the counter-question, and the cool, slow manner in which, as he put it, Mr. Grewgious moved his eyes from the fire to his companion’s face, might at any other time have been exasperating. In his depression and exhaustion, Jasper merely opened his eyes to say: “The suspected young man’s.”

“Do you suspect him?” asked Mr. Grewgious.

“I don’t know what to think. I cannot make up my mind.”

“Nor I,” said Mr. Grewgious. “But as you spoke of him as the suspected young man, I thought you had made up your mind.—I have just left Miss Landless.”

“What is her state?”

“Defiance of all suspicion, and unbounded faith in her brother.”

“Poor thing!”

“However,” pursued Mr. Grewgious, “it is not of her that I came to speak. It is of my ward. I have a communication to make that will surprise you. At least, it has surprised me.”

Jasper, with a groaning sigh, turned wearily in his chair.

“Shall I put it off till to-morrow?” said Mr. Grewgious. “Mind, I warn you, that I think it will surprise you!”

More attention and concentration came into John Jasper’s eyes as they caught sight of Mr. Grewgious smoothing his head again, and again looking at the fire; but now, with a compressed and determined mouth.

“What is it?” demanded Jasper, becoming upright in his chair.

“To be sure,” said Mr. Grewgious, provokingly slowly and internally, as he kept his eyes on the fire: “I might have known it sooner; she gave me the opening; but I am such an exceedingly Angular man, that it never occurred to me; I took all for granted.”

“What is it?” demanded Jasper once more.

Mr. Grewgious, alternately opening and shutting the palms of his hands as he warmed them at the fire, and looking fixedly at him sideways, and never changing either his action or his look in all that followed, went on to reply.

“This young couple, the lost youth and Miss Rosa, my ward, though so long betrothed, and so long recognising their betrothal, and so near being married—”

Mr. Grewgious saw a staring white face, and two quivering white lips, in the easy-chair, and saw two muddy hands gripping its sides. But for the hands, he might have thought he had never seen the face.

“—This young couple came gradually to the discovery (made on both sides pretty equally, I think), that they would be happier and better, both in their present and their future lives, as affectionate friends, or say rather as brother and sister, than as husband and wife.”

Mr. Grewgious saw a lead-coloured face in the easy-chair, and on its surface dreadful starting drops or bubbles, as if of steel.

“This young couple formed at length the healthy resolution of interchanging their discoveries, openly, sensibly, and tenderly. They met for that purpose. After some innocent and generous talk, they agreed to dissolve their existing, and their intended, relations, for ever and ever.”

Mr. Grewgious saw a ghastly figure rise, open-mouthed, from the easy-chair, and lift its outspread hands towards its head.

“One of this young couple, and that one your nephew, fearful, however, that in the tenderness of your affection for him you would be bitterly disappointed by so wide a departure from his projected life, forbore to tell you the secret, for a few days, and left it to be disclosed by me, when I should come down to speak to you, and he would be gone. I speak to you, and he is gone.”

Mr. Grewgious saw the ghastly figure throw back its head, clutch its hair with its hands, and turn with a writhing action from him.

“I have now said all I have to say: except that this young couple parted, firmly, though not without tears and sorrow, on the evening when you last saw them together.”

Mr. Grewgious heard a terrible shriek, and saw no ghastly figure, sitting or standing; saw nothing but a heap of torn and miry clothes upon the floor.

Not changing his action even then, he opened and shut the palms of his hands as he warmed them, and looked down at it.