Charles Dickens.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood online

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An ancient English Cathedral Tower? How can the ancient English
Cathedral tower be here! The well-known massive gray square tower
of its old Cathedral? How can that be here! There is no spike of
rusty iron in the air, between the eye and it, from any point of
the real prospect. What is the spike that intervenes, and who has
set it up? Maybe it is set up by the Sultan's orders for the
impaling of a horde of Turkish robbers, one by one. It is so, for
cymbals clash, and the Sultan goes by to his palace in long
procession. Ten thousand scimitars flash in the sunlight, and
thrice ten thousand dancing-girls strew flowers. Then, follow
white elephants caparisoned in countless gorgeous colours, and
infinite in number and attendants. Still the Cathedral Tower rises
in the background, where it cannot be, and still no writhing figure
is on the grim spike. Stay! Is the spike so low a thing as the
rusty spike on the top of a post of an old bedstead that has
tumbled all awry? Some vague period of drowsy laughter must be
devoted to the consideration of this possibility.

Shaking from head to foot, the man whose scattered consciousness
has thus fantastically pieced itself together, at length rises,
supports his trembling frame upon his arms, and looks around. He
is in the meanest and closest of small rooms. Through the ragged
window-curtain, the light of early day steals in from a miserable
court. He lies, dressed, across a large unseemly bed, upon a
bedstead that has indeed given way under the weight upon it. Lying,
also dressed and also across the bed, not longwise, are a Chinaman,
a Lascar, and a haggard woman. The two first are in a sleep or
stupor; the last is blowing at a kind of pipe, to kindle it. And
as she blows, and shading it with her lean hand, concentrates its
red spark of light, it serves in the dim morning as a lamp to show
him what he sees of her.

'Another?' says this woman, in a querulous, rattling whisper.
'Have another?'

He looks about him, with his hand to his forehead.

'Ye've smoked as many as five since ye come in at midnight,' the
woman goes on, as she chronically complains. 'Poor me, poor me, my
head is so bad. Them two come in after ye. Ah, poor me, the
business is slack, is slack! Few Chinamen about the Docks, and
fewer Lascars, and no ships coming in, these say! Here's another
ready for ye, deary. Ye'll remember like a good soul, won't ye,
that the market price is dreffle high just now? More nor three
shillings and sixpence for a thimbleful! And ye'll remember that
nobody but me (and Jack Chinaman t'other side the court; but he
can't do it as well as me) has the true secret of mixing it? Ye'll
pay up accordingly, deary, won't ye?'

She blows at the pipe as she speaks, and, occasionally bubbling at
it, inhales much of its contents.

'O me, O me, my lungs is weak, my lungs is bad! It's nearly ready
for ye, deary. Ah, poor me, poor me, my poor hand shakes like to
drop off! I see ye coming-to, and I ses to my poor self, "I'll
have another ready for him, and he'll bear in mind the market price
of opium, and pay according." O my poor head! I makes my pipes of
old penny ink-bottles, ye see, deary - this is one - and I fits-in a
mouthpiece, this way, and I takes my mixter out of this thimble
with this little horn spoon; and so I fills, deary. Ah, my poor
nerves! I got Heavens-hard drunk for sixteen year afore I took to
this; but this don't hurt me, not to speak of. And it takes away
the hunger as well as wittles, deary.'

She hands him the nearly-emptied pipe, and sinks back, turning over
on her face.

He rises unsteadily from the bed, lays the pipe upon the hearth-
stone, draws back the ragged curtain, and looks with repugnance at
his three companions. He notices that the woman has opium-smoked
herself into a strange likeness of the Chinaman. His form of
cheek, eye, and temple, and his colour, are repeated in her. Said
Chinaman convulsively wrestles with one of his many Gods or Devils,
perhaps, and snarls horribly. The Lascar laughs and dribbles at
the mouth. The hostess is still.

'What visions can SHE have?' the waking man muses, as he turns her
face towards him, and stands looking down at it. 'Visions of many
butchers' shops, and public-houses, and much credit? Of an
increase of hideous customers, and this horrible bedstead set
upright again, and this horrible court swept clean? What can she
rise to, under any quantity of opium, higher than that! - Eh?'

He bends down his ear, to listen to her mutterings.


As he watches the spasmodic shoots and darts that break out of her
face and limbs, like fitful lightning out of a dark sky, some
contagion in them seizes upon him: insomuch that he has to
withdraw himself to a lean arm-chair by the hearth - placed there,
perhaps, for such emergencies - and to sit in it, holding tight,
until he has got the better of this unclean spirit of imitation.

Then he comes back, pounces on the Chinaman, and seizing him with
both hands by the throat, turns him violently on the bed. The
Chinaman clutches the aggressive hands, resists, gasps, and

'What do you say?'

A watchful pause.


Slowly loosening his grasp as he listens to the incoherent jargon
with an attentive frown, he turns to the Lascar and fairly drags
him forth upon the floor. As he falls, the Lascar starts into a
half-risen attitude, glares with his eyes, lashes about him
fiercely with his arms, and draws a phantom knife. It then becomes
apparent that the woman has taken possession of this knife, for
safety's sake; for, she too starting up, and restraining and
expostulating with him, the knife is visible in her dress, not in
his, when they drowsily drop back, side by side.

There has been chattering and clattering enough between them, but
to no purpose. When any distinct word has been flung into the air,
it has had no sense or sequence. Wherefore 'unintelligible!' is
again the comment of the watcher, made with some reassured nodding
of his head, and a gloomy smile. He then lays certain silver money
on the table, finds his hat, gropes his way down the broken stairs,
gives a good morning to some rat-ridden doorkeeper, in bed in a
black hutch beneath the stairs, and passes out.

That same afternoon, the massive gray square tower of an old
Cathedral rises before the sight of a jaded traveller. The bells
are going for daily vesper service, and he must needs attend it,
one would say, from his haste to reach the open Cathedral door.
The choir are getting on their sullied white robes, in a hurry,
when he arrives among them, gets on his own robe, and falls into
the procession filing in to service. Then, the Sacristan locks the
iron-barred gates that divide the sanctuary from the chancel, and
all of the procession having scuttled into their places, hide their
faces; and then the intoned words, 'WHEN THE WICKED MAN - ' rise
among groins of arches and beams of roof, awakening muttered


Whosoever has observed that sedate and clerical bird, the rook, may
perhaps have noticed that when he wings his way homeward towards
nightfall, in a sedate and clerical company, two rooks will
suddenly detach themselves from the rest, will retrace their flight
for some distance, and will there poise and linger; conveying to
mere men the fancy that it is of some occult importance to the body
politic, that this artful couple should pretend to have renounced
connection with it.

Similarly, service being over in the old Cathedral with the square
tower, and the choir scuffling out again, and divers venerable
persons of rook-like aspect dispersing, two of these latter retrace
their steps, and walk together in the echoing Close.

Not only is the day waning, but the year. The low sun is fiery and
yet cold behind the monastery ruin, and the Virginia creeper on the
Cathedral wall has showered half its deep-red leaves down on the
pavement. There has been rain this afternoon, and a wintry shudder
goes among the little pools on the cracked, uneven flag-stones, and
through the giant elm-trees as they shed a gust of tears. Their
fallen leaves lie strewn thickly about. Some of these leaves, in a
timid rush, seek sanctuary within the low arched Cathedral door;
but two men coming out resist them, and cast them forth again with
their feet; this done, one of the two locks the door with a goodly
key, and the other flits away with a folio music-book.

'Mr. Jasper was that, Tope?'

'Yes, Mr. Dean.'

'He has stayed late.'

'Yes, Mr. Dean. I have stayed for him, your Reverence. He has
been took a little poorly.'

'Say "taken," Tope - to the Dean,' the younger rook interposes in a
low tone with this touch of correction, as who should say: 'You
may offer bad grammar to the laity, or the humbler clergy, not to
the Dean.'

Mr. Tope, Chief Verger and Showman, and accustomed to be high with
excursion parties, declines with a silent loftiness to perceive
that any suggestion has been tendered to him.

'And when and how has Mr. Jasper been taken - for, as Mr. Crisparkle
has remarked, it is better to say taken - taken - ' repeats the Dean;
'when and how has Mr. Jasper been Taken - '

'Taken, sir,' Tope deferentially murmurs.

' - Poorly, Tope?'

'Why, sir, Mr. Jasper was that breathed - '

'I wouldn't say "That breathed," Tope,' Mr. Crisparkle interposes
with the same touch as before. 'Not English - to the Dean.'

'Breathed to that extent,' the Dean (not unflattered by this
indirect homage) condescendingly remarks, 'would be preferable.'

'Mr. Jasper's breathing was so remarkably short' - thus discreetly
does Mr. Tope work his way round the sunken rock - 'when he came in,
that it distressed him mightily to get his notes out: which was
perhaps the cause of his having a kind of fit on him after a
little. His memory grew DAZED.' Mr. Tope, with his eyes on the
Reverend Mr. Crisparkle, shoots this word out, as defying him to
improve upon it: 'and a dimness and giddiness crept over him as
strange as ever I saw: though he didn't seem to mind it
particularly, himself. However, a little time and a little water
brought him out of his DAZE.' Mr. Tope repeats the word and its
emphasis, with the air of saying: 'As I HAVE made a success, I'll
make it again.'

'And Mr. Jasper has gone home quite himself, has he?' asked the

'Your Reverence, he has gone home quite himself. And I'm glad to
see he's having his fire kindled up, for it's chilly after the wet,
and the Cathedral had both a damp feel and a damp touch this
afternoon, and he was very shivery.'

They all three look towards an old stone gatehouse crossing the
Close, with an arched thoroughfare passing beneath it. Through its
latticed window, a fire shines out upon the fast-darkening scene,
involving in shadow the pendent masses of ivy and creeper covering
the building's front. As the deep Cathedral-bell strikes the hour,
a ripple of wind goes through these at their distance, like a
ripple of the solemn sound that hums through tomb and tower, broken
niche and defaced statue, in the pile close at hand.

'Is Mr. Jasper's nephew with him?' the Dean asks.

'No, sir,' replied the Verger, 'but expected. There's his own
solitary shadow betwixt his two windows - the one looking this way,
and the one looking down into the High Street - drawing his own
curtains now.'

'Well, well,' says the Dean, with a sprightly air of breaking up
the little conference, 'I hope Mr. Jasper's heart may not be too
much set upon his nephew. Our affections, however laudable, in
this transitory world, should never master us; we should guide
them, guide them. I find I am not disagreeably reminded of my
dinner, by hearing my dinner-bell. Perhaps, Mr. Crisparkle, you
will, before going home, look in on Jasper?'

'Certainly, Mr. Dean. And tell him that you had the kindness to
desire to know how he was?'

'Ay; do so, do so. Certainly. Wished to know how he was. By all
means. Wished to know how he was.'

With a pleasant air of patronage, the Dean as nearly cocks his
quaint hat as a Dean in good spirits may, and directs his comely
gaiters towards the ruddy dining-room of the snug old red-brick
house where he is at present, 'in residence' with Mrs. Dean and
Miss Dean.

Mr. Crisparkle, Minor Canon, fair and rosy, and perpetually
pitching himself head-foremost into all the deep running water in
the surrounding country; Mr. Crisparkle, Minor Canon, early riser,
musical, classical, cheerful, kind, good-natured, social,
contented, and boy-like; Mr. Crisparkle, Minor Canon and good man,
lately 'Coach' upon the chief Pagan high roads, but since promoted
by a patron (grateful for a well-taught son) to his present
Christian beat; betakes himself to the gatehouse, on his way home
to his early tea.

'Sorry to hear from Tope that you have not been well, Jasper.'

'O, it was nothing, nothing!'

'You look a little worn.'

'Do I? O, I don't think so. What is better, I don't feel so.
Tope has made too much of it, I suspect. It's his trade to make
the most of everything appertaining to the Cathedral, you know.'

'I may tell the Dean - I call expressly from the Dean - that you are
all right again?'

The reply, with a slight smile, is: 'Certainly; with my respects
and thanks to the Dean.'

'I'm glad to hear that you expect young Drood.'

'I expect the dear fellow every moment.'

'Ah! He will do you more good than a doctor, Jasper.'

'More good than a dozen doctors. For I love him dearly, and I
don't love doctors, or doctors' stuff.'

Mr. Jasper is a dark man of some six-and-twenty, with thick,
lustrous, well-arranged black hair and whiskers. He looks older
than he is, as dark men often do. His voice is deep and good, his
face and figure are good, his manner is a little sombre. His room
is a little sombre, and may have had its influence in forming his
manner. It is mostly in shadow. Even when the sun shines
brilliantly, it seldom touches the grand piano in the recess, or
the folio music-books on the stand, or the book-shelves on the
wall, or the unfinished picture of a blooming schoolgirl hanging
over the chimneypiece; her flowing brown hair tied with a blue
riband, and her beauty remarkable for a quite childish, almost
babyish, touch of saucy discontent, comically conscious of itself.
(There is not the least artistic merit in this picture, which is a
mere daub; but it is clear that the painter has made it humorously-
-one might almost say, revengefully - like the original.)

'We shall miss you, Jasper, at the "Alternate Musical Wednesdays"
to-night; but no doubt you are best at home. Good-night. God
bless you! "Tell me, shep-herds, te-e-ell me; tell me-e-e, have
you seen (have you seen, have you seen, have you seen) my-y-y Flo-
o-ora-a pass this way!"' Melodiously good Minor Canon the Reverend
Septimus Crisparkle thus delivers himself, in musical rhythm, as he
withdraws his amiable face from the doorway and conveys it down-

Sounds of recognition and greeting pass between the Reverend
Septimus and somebody else, at the stair-foot. Mr. Jasper listens,
starts from his chair, and catches a young fellow in his arms,

'My dear Edwin!'

'My dear Jack! So glad to see you!'

'Get off your greatcoat, bright boy, and sit down here in your own
corner. Your feet are not wet? Pull your boots off. Do pull your
boots off.'

'My dear Jack, I am as dry as a bone. Don't moddley-coddley,
there's a good fellow. I like anything better than being moddley-

With the check upon him of being unsympathetically restrained in a
genial outburst of enthusiasm, Mr. Jasper stands still, and looks
on intently at the young fellow, divesting himself of his outward
coat, hat, gloves, and so forth. Once for all, a look of
intentness and intensity - a look of hungry, exacting, watchful, and
yet devoted affection - is always, now and ever afterwards, on the
Jasper face whenever the Jasper face is addressed in this
direction. And whenever it is so addressed, it is never, on this
occasion or on any other, dividedly addressed; it is always

'Now I am right, and now I'll take my corner, Jack. Any dinner,

Mr. Jasper opens a door at the upper end of the room, and discloses
a small inner room pleasantly lighted and prepared, wherein a
comely dame is in the act of setting dishes on table.

'What a jolly old Jack it is!' cries the young fellow, with a clap
of his hands. 'Look here, Jack; tell me; whose birthday is it?'

'Not yours, I know,' Mr. Jasper answers, pausing to consider.

'Not mine, you know? No; not mine, _I_ know! Pussy's!'

Fixed as the look the young fellow meets, is, there is yet in it
some strange power of suddenly including the sketch over the

'Pussy's, Jack! We must drink Many happy returns to her. Come,
uncle; take your dutiful and sharp-set nephew in to dinner.'

As the boy (for he is little more) lays a hand on Jasper's
shoulder, Jasper cordially and gaily lays a hand on HIS shoulder,
and so Marseillaise-wise they go in to dinner.

'And, Lord! here's Mrs. Tope!' cries the boy. 'Lovelier than

'Never you mind me, Master Edwin,' retorts the Verger's wife; 'I
can take care of myself.'

'You can't. You're much too handsome. Give me a kiss because it's
Pussy's birthday.'

'I'd Pussy you, young man, if I was Pussy, as you call her,' Mrs.
Tope blushingly retorts, after being saluted. 'Your uncle's too
much wrapt up in you, that's where it is. He makes so much of you,
that it's my opinion you think you've only to call your Pussys by
the dozen, to make 'em come.'

'You forget, Mrs. Tope,' Mr. Jasper interposes, taking his place at
the table with a genial smile, 'and so do you, Ned, that Uncle and
Nephew are words prohibited here by common consent and express
agreement. For what we are going to receive His holy name be

'Done like the Dean! Witness, Edwin Drood! Please to carve, Jack,
for I can't.'

This sally ushers in the dinner. Little to the present purpose, or
to any purpose, is said, while it is in course of being disposed
of. At length the cloth is drawn, and a dish of walnuts and a
decanter of rich-coloured sherry are placed upon the table.

'I say! Tell me, Jack,' the young fellow then flows on: 'do you
really and truly feel as if the mention of our relationship divided
us at all? _I_ don't.'

'Uncles as a rule, Ned, are so much older than their nephews,' is
the reply, 'that I have that feeling instinctively.'

'As a rule! Ah, may-be! But what is a difference in age of half-
a-dozen years or so? And some uncles, in large families, are even
younger than their nephews. By George, I wish it was the case with


'Because if it was, I'd take the lead with you, Jack, and be as
wise as Begone, dull Care! that turned a young man gray, and
Begone, dull Care! that turned an old man to clay. - Halloa, Jack!
Don't drink.'

'Why not?'

'Asks why not, on Pussy's birthday, and no Happy returns proposed!
Pussy, Jack, and many of 'em! Happy returns, I mean.'

Laying an affectionate and laughing touch on the boy's extended
hand, as if it were at once his giddy head and his light heart, Mr.
Jasper drinks the toast in silence.

'Hip, hip, hip, and nine times nine, and one to finish with, and
all that, understood. Hooray, hooray, hooray! - And now, Jack,
let's have a little talk about Pussy. Two pairs of nut-crackers?
Pass me one, and take the other.' Crack. 'How's Pussy getting on

'With her music? Fairly.'

'What a dreadfully conscientious fellow you are, Jack! But _I_
know, Lord bless you! Inattentive, isn't she?'

'She can learn anything, if she will.'

'IF she will! Egad, that's it. But if she won't?'

Crack! - on Mr. Jasper's part.

'How's she looking, Jack?'

Mr. Jasper's concentrated face again includes the portrait as he
returns: 'Very like your sketch indeed.'

'I AM a little proud of it,' says the young fellow, glancing up at
the sketch with complacency, and then shutting one eye, and taking
a corrected prospect of it over a level bridge of nut-crackers in
the air: 'Not badly hit off from memory. But I ought to have
caught that expression pretty well, for I have seen it often

Crack! - on Edwin Drood's part.

Crack! - on Mr. Jasper's part.

'In point of fact,' the former resumes, after some silent dipping
among his fragments of walnut with an air of pique, 'I see it
whenever I go to see Pussy. If I don't find it on her face, I
leave it there. - You know I do, Miss Scornful Pert. Booh!' With a
twirl of the nut-crackers at the portrait.

Crack! crack! crack. Slowly, on Mr. Jasper's part.

Crack. Sharply on the part of Edwin Drood.

Silence on both sides.

'Have you lost your tongue, Jack?'

'Have you found yours, Ned?'

'No, but really; - isn't it, you know, after all - '

Mr. Jasper lifts his dark eyebrows inquiringly.

'Isn't it unsatisfactory to be cut off from choice in such a
matter? There, Jack! I tell you! If I could choose, I would
choose Pussy from all the pretty girls in the world.'

'But you have not got to choose.'

'That's what I complain of. My dead and gone father and Pussy's
dead and gone father must needs marry us together by anticipation.
Why the - Devil, I was going to say, if it had been respectful to
their memory - couldn't they leave us alone?'

'Tut, tut, dear boy,' Mr. Jasper remonstrates, in a tone of gentle

'Tut, tut? Yes, Jack, it's all very well for YOU. YOU can take it
easily. YOUR life is not laid down to scale, and lined and dotted
out for you, like a surveyor's plan. YOU have no uncomfortable
suspicion that you are forced upon anybody, nor has anybody an
uncomfortable suspicion that she is forced upon you, or that you
are forced upon her. YOU can choose for yourself. Life, for YOU,
is a plum with the natural bloom on; it hasn't been over-carefully
wiped off for YOU - '

'Don't stop, dear fellow. Go on.'

'Can I anyhow have hurt your feelings, Jack?'

'How can you have hurt my feelings?'

'Good Heaven, Jack, you look frightfully ill! There's a strange
film come over your eyes.'

Mr. Jasper, with a forced smile, stretches out his right hand, as
if at once to disarm apprehension and gain time to get better.
After a while he says faintly:

'I have been taking opium for a pain - an agony - that sometimes
overcomes me. The effects of the medicine steal over me like a
blight or a cloud, and pass. You see them in the act of passing;
they will be gone directly. Look away from me. They will go all
the sooner.'

With a scared face the younger man complies by casting his eyes
downward at the ashes on the hearth. Not relaxing his own gaze on
the fire, but rather strengthening it with a fierce, firm grip upon
his elbow-chair, the elder sits for a few moments rigid, and then,
with thick drops standing on his forehead, and a sharp catch of his
breath, becomes as he was before. On his so subsiding in his
chair, his nephew gently and assiduously tends him while he quite
recovers. When Jasper is restored, he lays a tender hand upon his
nephew's shoulder, and, in a tone of voice less troubled than the
purport of his words - indeed with something of raillery or banter
in it - thus addresses him:

'There is said to be a hidden skeleton in every house; but you
thought there was none in mine, dear Ned.'

'Upon my life, Jack, I did think so. However, when I come to
consider that even in Pussy's house - if she had one - and in mine -
if I had one - '

'You were going to say (but that I interrupted you in spite of
myself) what a quiet life mine is. No whirl and uproar around me,
no distracting commerce or calculation, no risk, no change of
place, myself devoted to the art I pursue, my business my

'I really was going to say something of the kind, Jack; but you
see, you, speaking of yourself, almost necessarily leave out much
that I should have put in. For instance: I should have put in the
foreground your being so much respected as Lay Precentor, or Lay
Clerk, or whatever you call it, of this Cathedral; your enjoying
the reputation of having done such wonders with the choir; your
choosing your society, and holding such an independent position in
this queer old place; your gift of teaching (why, even Pussy, who
don't like being taught, says there never was such a Master as you

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Online LibraryCharles DickensThe Mystery of Edwin Drood → online text (page 1 of 22)