Charles Dickens.

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

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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 recom-
mend 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 IMonks'
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 comm.ands a
cross by-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 unwink-
ing, 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 con-
tract 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, look-
ing for a needle in a haystack, and I ain't found
it. Lookee, deary ; give me three-and-sixpence,
and don't you be afeard for me. Ill 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 some-
thing."

He counts the money from his pocket, and



MR. JASPER IN CAPITAL SPIRITS.



71



puts it in her hand. She instantly clutches it
tight, anil rises to her feet with a croaking laugh
of satisfaction.

'• Bless ye ! Ilarkee, dear gen'l'm'n. What's
your Chris'n 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 thankee, deary!" when he adds: "You
were to tell me something ; you may as well do
so."

" So I was, so I was. Well, then. Whisjoer.
You be thankful that your name ain't Ned."

He looks at her quite steadily as he asks :
" "VA'hy ? "

" 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 Xed — so threatened is he, wherever
he may be while I am 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 thankee ! " 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 re-
solves, 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 sur-



prise 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 ser-
vices. He is early among the shop-keepers,
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 j\Ir. 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 any-
thing to be Un-ICnglish, 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. I\Ir.
Sapsea (by a very remarkable coincidence) is ot
exactly that opinion.

Mr. Jasper is in beautiful voice this day. In
the pathetic supplication to have his heart in-
clined 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 tempe-
rament is occasionally prone to take difiicult
music a little too quickly; to-day his time is
l^erfect.

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 a>n 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."



72



THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD.



"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 indis-
position 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."

]\Ir. 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, bihous, 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 your-
self to be, mind and body, as clear as crystal,
and you always are, and never change ; whereas
I am a muddy, sohtary, moping weed. How-
ever, 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 em-
bracing ? "

" 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 expres-
sion, 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 hang 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 trathc
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 shat-
tering the frames too, and bringing the glass
rattling to the ground), they are unusually dark
to-night. The darkness is augmented and con-
fused 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



A BOISTEROUS CHRISTMAS-EVE.



n



themselves so toss and creak, as this tangible
l\irt 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.

No such ])o\ver of wind has blown for many a
winter ni^ht. Chimneys topple in the streets,
and peo[ile 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 tear-
ing at all the shutters, as if warning the people
to get up and fly w'ith it, rather than have the
roots brought down upon their brains.

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

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
dayliglit 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 dis-
placed from 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 Air. Tope and a crowd of early
idlers gather down in Minor Canon Corner,
shading their eyes and watching for their ap-
pearance 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, ])anting, and
clinging to the rail before the Minor Canon's
house.



CHAPTER XV.



IMI'E.VCHED.




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 Ijreakfast by
that time, having set forth on a crust of
bread, he stopped at the next roadside
tavern to refresh.

Visitors in want of breakfost — 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 Waggon, that it took a long time tO'
get the waggon 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 fag-
gots would begin to make somebody else warm.

Indeed, the Tilted Waggon, as a cool esta-
blishment 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 table-cloth and a green-handled knife,
in a sort of cast-iron canoe; where the pale-
faced bread shed tears of crumb over its ship-
wreck 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 sug-
gestive of a rhyme to mugs ; the Tilted Waggon,
all these things considered, hardly kept its
painted promise of providing good entertain-
ment for Man and Beast. However, ]\Lan, in
the present case, was not critical, but took what
entertainment he could get, and went on agair^
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 hedge-
rows, 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
tiack, 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 liim.
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.



74



TH^ MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD.



very curious. Only four of them passed. Other
four slackened speed, and loitered as intending
to follow him when he should go on. The re-
mainder of the party (half-a-dozen, perhaps)
turned, and went back at a great rate.

He looked at the four behind him, and ne
looked at tlie 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 sub-
mit 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 in-
cluded.

" If eight men, or four men, or two men, set
upon one," he proceeded, growing more en-
raged, " 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 la'-gest 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 strai:)ped 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 mid-day. We wouldn't
have touched you if you hadn't forced us. We're
going to take you round to the high-road, any-
how, and you'll find hel]) 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 recog-
nised in the speaker Joe, driver of the Cloister-
ham 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. Cri-
sparkle. 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 INIr. 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 appeal-
ing to Jasi)er.

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

" Undoubtedly. To see the action of the
wind there."



WANTED— ED WIN DROOD.



75



" 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 Avhom INIr. 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 ]\Ir. Crisparkle.

" That man and I," said Neville, pointing
out his late adversar}', " had a struggle for the
stick just now, and you may see the same marks
on him, sir. What Avas 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 dis-
creet 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. Cri-
sparkle. " 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, be-
cause Mr. Crisparkle's manner directly appealed
to him to take some part in the discussion,
and no appeal would move his fixed face.



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 14 of 103)