Charles Dickens.

The mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories online

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singled out by the candle-light the key he
wanted, and then, with a candle in his hand,
went to a bureau or escritoir, 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 be-
longing 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 re-
ceived it was, that, you and Miss Rosa growing
to manhood and womanhood, and your be-
trothal 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

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

" 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 appoint-
ments. The fog was reported no clearer (by
the flying waiter, who alighted from a specula-
tive 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 dis-

" 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 escritoir, 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 cliecked 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 Uke her mother she has become !

" I wonder whether he ever so much as sus-
pected that some one doted on her, at a hope-
less, 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 1 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 any-
body's thoughts ill such an aspect ! " he ex-
claimed. "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 unlike-
liest men, that even old tinderous and touch-
woody P. J. T. Possibly Jabbered Thus, at some
odd times, in or about seventeen-forty-seven.



^?|?■^W^)J^HEN Mr. Sapsea has nothing belter
Hm^JlMcHn iQ ^o towards evening, and finds
the contemplation of his own pro-
fundity becoming a little mono-
tonous 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 meri-
torious 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 per-
haps 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 monu-
mentally directed.

Mr. Sapsea's importance has received en-
hancement, for he has become Mayor of Clois-
terham. Without mayors, and many of them,
it cannot be disputed that the whole framework
of society — Mr. Sapsea is confident that he in-
vented that forcible figure — would fall to pieces.

Mayors have been knighted for "going up"
with addresses : explosive machines intrcjjidly
discharging shot and shell into the English
Grammar. Mr. Sapsea may " go up " with an
addreis. 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 cars — 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,
jjromontories, 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,
a-nd 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 i/iai in your
book, among other things, and call attention to
our wrongs."

Mr. Tope, as in duty bound, is greatly enter-
tained by this.

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

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



" I am r.ot aware," Mr. Sapsea remarks, look-
ing about him lor information, " to what the
Very Reverend the Dean does me the honour
of referring." And then falls to studying his
original in minute i)oints of detail.

" Durdles, ' Mr. Tope hints.

"Ay!" the l)ean echoes; "Durdles, Dur-
dles ! "

" The truth is, sir," explains Jasper, " that
my curiosity in the man was first really stimu-
lated by Mr. Sapsea. Mr. Sapsea's knowledge
of mankind, and power of ilrawing out whatever
is recluse or odd around him, first led to my
bestowing a second thought upon the man :
though of course 1 had met liim 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."

"Oh!" cries Sapsea, picking up the ball
thrown to him with inefiable complacency and
pomposity ; '• yes, ) es. The Very Reverend
the Dean refers to that? Yes. 1 happened to
i)ring Durdles and Mr. Jasper together. I
regard Durdles as a Character."

" A character, Mr. Sapsea, that witli a iew
skilful touches you turn inside out," says Jasper.

" Nay, r.ot quite ihat," 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 know-
ledge of Durdles to the good purpose of exhort-
ing 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 resjiectful convulsions of
laughter, subsides into a deferential murmur,
imj)orting 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
Snpsea loftily, " to answer for Mr. Jasper's neck.
I will tell Durdles to be careful of it. He will
mind what / say. How is it at present endan-
gered?" 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 ?"

" / remember ! " replies tiie auctioneer. And
the solemn idiot really believes that he does

" Profiling by your hint," pursues Jasper, " I
have had some day rambles with the extra-
ordinary 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 tlie 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'

" I mean my live friend there."

"Oh! him?" says Durdles. "He can take
care of himself, can Mister Jarsper."

" But do you take care of him, too," says

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 frienil. And you are m\'

" Don't you get into a bad habit of boasting,"
retorts Durdles with a gra\e cautionary nod.
" It'll grow upon you."

" You are out of temper," says Sapsea again ;
reddening, but again winking to the company.

" I own to it," returns Durdles ; " I don't like

Mr. Sapsea winks a third wink to the com-
pany, 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, Mr. 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 incompre-
hensible 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 lamp-lighter 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 stootl
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 flat-brimmed hat, goes softly
out. Why does he move so softly to-night?
No outward reason is apparent for it. Can
there be any symi)athctic 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, side-
wise, 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 grave-
stones 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 " clean-
ing himself" with the aid of a bottle, jug, and
tumbler ; for no otlier cleansing instruments are
visible in the bare brick room, with rafters over-
head 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 lor 'em."

" Do you mean animal spirits, or ardent?"

"The one's the t'other," answers Du'-'Mes,
" and 1 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 to-
gether, dinner-bundle and all.

Surely an unaccountable sort of expedition !
That Durdles himself, who is always prowling
among old graves and ruins, like a Ghoule —
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 unac-
countable sort of exi)edition, therefore !

'• 'W^are 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,

" 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 mooonlight
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 rille, 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

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. Cri-
sparkle can be distinctly heard to observe as they
turn back ; " and the last day of the week is

" 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 con-
nection with the words from Mr. Crisparkle :
" Remember that I said I answered for you
confidently." Then the sound of their talk be-
comes 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 moon-
light 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

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 be-
tween the two), and is the natural channel in
which the Cloisterham traffic flows, a certain
awful hush pervades the ancient pile, tlie



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 wit-
nesses 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
diftused, and almost as widely unacknowledged,
reflection : " If the dead do, under any circum-
stances, 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 moon-
light 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

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 M'hich support
the roof engender masses of black shade, but
between them there are lanes of light. Up and
down these lanes they walk, Durdles discours-
ing of the "old 'uns" he yet counts on disin-
terring, and slapping a wall in which he con-
siders "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 Dur-
dles 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, Dur-
dles 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 ascer-
tainable 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, Mr. 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 re-
mark, 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-

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 11 of 103)