Charles Dickens.

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

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^^'^hen they drew near to the city, and it
was suggested by the ISIinor Canon tliat 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 conceiv-
able reason Avhy his nephew should have sud-
denly absconded, unless Mr. Sapsea could sug-
gest one, and then he would defer. There
was no intelligible likelihood of his having re-
turned 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 in-
separable from his last companion before his
disappearance (not on good terms with pre-
viously), and then, once more, he would defer.
His own state of mind, he being distracted
with doubts, and labouring under dismal appre-
hensions, 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 Land-
less to gaol, under circumstances of grave sus-
picion ; 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 re-
maining 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 im-
ploring Edwin Drood, if for any unknown rea-
son 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



76



THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD.



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
water-marks 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 in 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 ex-
haustion, Jasper merely opened his eyes to say :
" The suspected young man's."

" Do you suspect him ? ' asked Mr. Grew-
gious.

" 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, provok-
ingly 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; 1 took all for granted."

" What is it ? " demanded Jasper once more.

Mr. Grewgious, alternately opening and shut-
ting 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 follow^ed, 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.



MR. GREWGIOUS PRODUCES A STARTLING EFFECT.



77



'= — This young couple came gradually to the
discovery (made on both sides pretty eciually, 1
think) that they would be happier and better,
both in their present and their future lives, as
aftectionate friends, or say ratlier 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 start-
ing drops or bubbles, as if of steel.

"This young couple formed at length the
healthy resolution of interchanging their disco-
veries openly, sensibly, and tenderly. They met
for that purpose. Alter some innocent and gene-
rous 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 out-
spread hands towards its head.

''■ One of this young couple, and that one
your nephew, fearful, however, that in the ten-
derness 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 i



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 15 of 103)