Charles Dickens.

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

. (page 4 of 103)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 4 of 103)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

fragments of wall, buttress, and pavement, has
seen strange sights. He often speaks of himself
in the third person ; perhaps being a little misty
as to his own identity when he narrates; perhaps
impartially adopting the Cloisterham nomen-
clature in reference to a character of acknow-
ledged distinction. Thus he will say, touching
his strange sights : " Durdles come upon the
old chap," in reference to a buried magnate of
ancient time and high degree, " by striking right
into the coftin with his pick. The old chap
gave Durdles a look with his open eyes, as much
as to say, * Is your name Durdles ? Why, my
man, I've been waiting for you a devil of a
time ! ' And then he turned to powder." With
a two-foot rule always in his pocket, and a
mason's hammer all but always in his hand,
Durdles goes continually sounding and tapping
all about and about the cathedral ; and when-
ever he says to Tope, " Tope, here's another



okl 'un in liere ! " To] e announces it to the
Dean as an established discovery.

In a suit of coarse flannel witli horn buttons,
a yellow neckerchief with draggled ends, an old
hat more russet-coloured than black, and laced
boots of the hue of his stony calling, Durdles
leads a lazy, gipsy sort of life, carrying his
dinner about with him in a small bundle, and
sitting on all manner of tombstones to dine.
This dinner of Durdles's has become quite a
Cloisterham institution : not only because of his
never appearing in public without it, but because
of its having been, on certain renowned occa-
sions, taken into custody along with Durdles (as
drunk and incapable), and exhibited before the
Bench of Justices at the Town-hall. These
occasions, however, have been few and far apart ;
Durdles being as seldom drunk as sober. For
the rest, he is an old bachelor, and he lives in a
little antiquated hole of a house that was never
finished : supposed to be built, so far, of stones
stolen from the city wall. To this abode there
is an approach, ankle deep in stone chips,
resembling a petrified grove of tombstones, urns,
draperies, and broken columns in ail stages of
sculpture. Herein two journeymen incessantly
chip, while other two journeymen, who face
each other, incessantly saw stone ; dipping as
regularly in and out of their sheltering sentry-
bo.xes as if they were mechanical figures em-
blematical of Time and Death.

To Durdles, when he had consumed his glass
of port, Mr. Sapsea intrusts that precious effort
of his Muse. Durdles unfeelingly takes out his
two-foot rule, and measures the lines calmly,
alloying them with stone grit.

"This is for the monument, is it, Mr. Sap-
sea ? "

" The inscription. Yes." Mr. Sapsea waits
for its effect on a common mind.

" It'll come in to a eighth of a inch," says
Durdles. " Your servant, Mr. Jasper. Hope I
see you well."

" How are you, Durdles ?"

" I've got a touch of the Tombatism on me,
Mr. Jasper, but that I must expect."

" You mean the Rheumatism," says Sapsea
in a sharp tone. (He is nettled by having his
composition so mechanically received.)

" No, I don't. I mean, Mr. Sapsea, the
Tombatism. It's another sort from Rheumatism.
Mr. Jasper knows what Durdles means. You
get among them tombs afore it's well light
on a winter morning, and keep on, as the
Catechism says, a walking in the same all the
days of your life, and jw/11 know what Durdles

Edwin Drood, 2.

" It is a bitter cold place," Mr. Jasper assents
with an antipathetic shiver.

" And if it's bitter cold for you, up in the
chancel, with a lot of live breath smoking out
about you, what the bitterness is to Durdles,
down in the crypt among the earthy damps
there, and the dead breath of the old 'uns,"
returns that individual, " Durdles leaves you to
judge. — Is this to be put in hand at once, Mr.

Mr. Sapsea, with an Author's anxiety to rush
into publication, replies that it cannot be out of
hand too soon.

" You had better let me have the key, then,"
says Durdles.

" Why, man, it is not to be put inside the
monument ! "

"Durdles knows, yher^ it's to be put, Mr.
Sapsea ; no man better. Ask 'ere a man in
Cloisterham whether Durdles knor.vs his work;'-*'

Mr. Sapsea rises, takes a key from a drawer,
unlocks an iron safe let into the wall, and takes
from it another key.

'• When Durdles puts a touch or a finish
upon his work, no matter where, inside or out-
side, Durdles likes to look at his work all round,
and see that his work is a doing him credit,"
Durdles explains doggedly.

The key proffered him by the bereaved
widower being a large one, he slips his two-foot
rule into a side-pocket of his flannel trousers
made for it, and deliberately opens his flannel
coat, and opens the mouth of a large breast
pocket within it, before taking the key to place
it in that repository.

" Why, Durdles ! " exclaims Jasper, looking
on amused, " you are undermined with pockets!"

" And I carries weight in 'em too, Mr. Ja^^per.
Feel those !" producing two other large keV''.

" Hand me Mr. Sapsea's likewise. Surely this
is the heaviest of the three."

" You'll find 'em much of a muchness, I ex-
pect," says Durdles. "They all belong to
monuments. They all open Durdles's work.
Durdles keeps the keys of his work mostly.
Not that they're much used."

" By-the-bye," it comes into Jasper's mind to
say as he idly examines the keys, " I have been
going to ask you, many a day, and have always
lorgotten. You know they sometimes call you
Stony Durdles, don't you ?"

" Cloisterham knows me as Durdles, Mr.

" I am aware of that, of course. But the boys
sometimes "

" Oh ! if you mind them young imps of
boys " Durdles gruffly interrupts.



" I don't mind them any more than you do.

But there was a discussion the other day among

the Choir whether Stony stood for Tony "

dinking one key against another.

(" Take care of the wards, Mr, Jasper.") -

" — Or whether Stony stood for Stephen "

cHnking with a change of keys.

(" You can't make a pitch-pipe of 'em, Mr.

" — Or whether the name comes from your
trade. How stands the fact ? "

Mr. Jasper weighs the three keys in his hand,
hfts his head from his idly-stooping attitude over
the fire, and deUvers the keys to Durdles with
an ingenuous and friendly face.

But the stony one is a gruff one likewise, and
that hazy state of his is always an uncertain
state, highly conscious of its dignity, and prone
to take offence. He drops his two keys back
into his pocket one by one, and buttons them
up ; he takes his dinner-bundle from the chair-
back on which he hung it when he came in ; he
distributes the weight he carries, by tying the
third key up in it, as though he were an ostrich,
and liked to dine oft' cold iron; and he gets
out of the room, deigning no word of answer.

Mr. Sapsea then proposes a hit at back-
gammon, which, seasoned with his own improv-
ing conversation, and terminating in a supper
of cold roast beef and salad, beguiles the golden
evening until pretty late. Mr. Sapsea's wisdom
being, in its delivery to mortals, rather of the
diffuse than the epigrammatic order, is by no
means expended even then ; but his visitor
intimates that he will come back for more of
the precious commodity on future occasions,
and Mr. Sapsea lets him off" for the present, to
ponder on the instalment he carries away.



OHN JASPER, on his way home
through the Close, is brought to a
stand-still by the spectacle of Stony
Durdles, dinner-bundle and all, lean-
y^"^ ing his back against the iron railing
of the burial-ground enclosing it from
the old cloister arches ; and a hideous
small boy, in rags, flinging stones at him
as a well-defined mark in the moonlight. Some-
times the stones hit him, and sometimes they
miss him, but Durdles seems indifferent to either
fortune. The hideous small boy, on the con-
trary, whenever he hits Durdles, blows a whistle

of triumph through a jagged gap, convenient for
the purpose, in the front of his mouth, where
half his teeth are wanting; and, whenever he
misses him, yelps out, " Mulled agin ! " and
tries to atone for the failure by taking a more
correct and vicious aim.

" What are you doing to the man ?" demands
Jasper, stepping out into the moonlight from the

" Making a cockshy of him," replies the
hideous small boy.

" Give me those stones in your hand."

" Yes, I'll give 'em you down your throat, if
you come a ketching hold of me," says the small
boy, shaking himself loose, and backing. " I'll
smash your eye if you don't look out ! "

" Baby-Devil that you are, what has the man
done to you ? "

" He won't go home."

" What is that to you ? "

" He gives me a 'apenny to pelt him home if
I ketches him out too late," says the boy. And
then chants, like a little savage, half stumbling
and half dancing among the rags and laces of
his dilapidated boots :

" * 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 ! ' "

— with a comprehensive sweep on the last word,
and one more delivery at Durdles.

This would seem to be a poetical note of pre-
paration, agreed upon, as a caution to Durdles
to stand clear if he can, or to betake himself

John Jasper invites the boy with a beck of his
head to follow him (feeling it hopeless to drag
him, or coax him), and crosses to the iron railing
where the Stony (and stoned) One is profoundly

'* Do you know this thing, this child ? " asks
Jasper, at a loss for a word that will define this

" Deputy," says Durdles with a nod.
r " Is that its — his — name ? "'

" Deputy," assents Durdles.

" I'm man-servant up at the Travellers' Two-
penny in Gas Works Carding," this thing ex-
plains. "All us man -servants at Travellers'
Lodgings is named Deputy. When we're chock-
full, and the Travellers is all abed, I come out
for my 'elth. Then, withdrawing into the road,
and taking aim, he resumes :

" ' Widdy widdy wen !

I — ket — ches — Im — out — ar — ter ' "



" Hold your hand," cries Jasper, " and don't
throw while I stand so near him, or I'll kill
you ! Come, Durdles ; let me walk home with
you to-night. Shall I carry your bundle ? "

" Not on any account," replies Durdles, ad-
justing it. " Durdles was making his reflections
here when you come up, sir, surrounded by
his works, like a popular Author. — Your own
brother-in-law ; " introducing a sarcophagus within
the railing, white and cold in the moonlight.
" Mrs. Sapsea;" introducing the monument of
that devoted wife. " Late Incumbent ; " in-
troducing the Reverend Gentleman's broken
column. "Departed Assessed Taxes;" intro-
ducing a vase and towel, standing on what
might represent the cake of soap. " Former
Pastrycook and Muffin-maker, much respected ;"
introducing gravestone. " All safe and sound
here, sir, and all Durdles's work. Of the com-
mon folk, that is merely bundled up in turf and
brambles, the less said the better. A poor lot,
soon forgot."

" This creature, Deputy, is behind us," says
Jasper, looking back. " Is he to follow us ? "

The relations between Durdles and Deputy
are of a capricious kind ; for, on Durdles turning
himself about with the slow gravity of beery
soddenness. Deputy makes a pretty wide circuit
into the road, and stands on the defensive.

" You never cried Widdy warning before you
begun to-night," says Durdles, unexpectedly re-
minded of, or imagining, an injury.

" Yer lie, I did," says Deputy in his only
form of polite contradiction.

" Own brother, sir," observes Durdles, turning
himself about again, and as unexpectedly forget-
ting his offence as he had recalled or conceived
it ; " own brother to Peter the Wild Boy ! But
I gave him an object in life."

" At which he takes aim ? " Mr. Jasper

" That's it, sir," returns Durdles, quite satis-
fied ; " at which he takes aim. I took him in
hand, and gave him an object. What was he
before ? A destroyer. What work did he do ?
Nothing but destruction. What did he earn by
it ? Short terms in Cloisterham Gaol. Not a
person, not a piece of property, not a winder, not
a horse, nor a dog, nor a cat, nor a bird, nor a fowl,
nor a pig, but what he stoned, for want of an en-
lightened object. I put that enlightened object
before him, and now he can turn his honest
halfpenny by the three-penn'orth a week."

" I wonder he has no competitors."

" He has plenty, Mr. Jasper, but he stones
'em all away. Now, I don't know what this
scheme of mine comes to," pursues Durdles, con-

sidering about it with the same sodden gravity ;
" I don't know what you may precisely call it.
It ain't a sort of a — scheme of a National
Education ? "

" I should say not," replies Jasper.

" /should say not," assents Durdles; " then
we won't try to give it a name."

" He still keeps behind us," repeats Jasper,
looking over his shoulder. " Is he to follow us ?"

" We can't help going round by the Travel-
lers' Twopenny, if we go the short way, which
is the back-way," Durdles answers, " and we'll
drop him there.''

So they go on ; Deputy, as a rear rank one.
taking open order, and invading the silence of
the hour and place by stoning every wall, post,
pillar, and other inanimate object by the deserted

" Is there anything new down in the crypt,
Durdles?" asks John Jasper.

" Anything old, I think you mean," growls
Durdles. " It ain't a spot for novelty."

" Any new discovery on your part, I meant."

" There's a old 'un under the seventh pillar
on the left as you go down the broken steps
of the little underground chapel as formerly
was ; I make him out (so fur as I've made
him out yet) to be one of them old 'uns with a
crook. To judge from the size of the passages
in the walls, and of the steps and doors, by
which they come and went, them crooks must
have been a good deal in the way of the old
'uns ! Two on 'em meeting promiscuous must
have hitched one another by the mitre pretty
often, I should say."

Without any endeavour to correct the literality
of this opinion, Jasper surveys his companion
— covered from head to foot with old mortar,
lime, and stone grit — as though he, Jasper, were
getting imbued with a romantic interest in his
weird life.

" Yours is a curious existence."

Without furnishing the least clue to the ques-
tion, whether he receives this as a compliment
or as quite the reverse, Durdles gruffly answers :
" Yours is another."

" Well ! inasmuch as my lot is cast in the
same old earthy, chilly, never-changing place.
Yes. But there is much more mystery and in-
terest in your connection with the cathedral
than in mine. Indeed, I am beginning to have
some idea of asking you to take me on as a sort
of student, or free 'prentice, under you, and to
let me go about with you sometimes, and see
some of these odd nooks in which you pass
your days."

The Stony One replies, in a general way, "All



right. Everybody knows where to find Durdles
when he's wanted." Which, if not strictly true,
is approximately so, if taken to express that
Durdles may always be found in a state of
vagabondage somewhere.

" What I dwell upon most," says Jasper, pur-
suing his subject of romantic interest, " is the
remarkable accuracy with which you would seem
to find out where people are buried. — What is
the matter ? That bundle is in your way ; let
me hold it."

Durdles had stopped and backed a little
(Deputy, attentive to all his movements, imme-
diately skirmishing into the road), and was look-
ing about for some ledge or corner to place his
bundle on, when thus relieved of it.

"Just you give me my hammer out of that,"
says Durdles, " and I'll show you."

Clink, clink ! And his hammer is handed

" Now, lookee here. You pitch your note,
don't you, Mr. Jasper ? "

" Yes."

" So I sound for mine. I take my hammer,
and I tap." (Here he strikes the pavement,
and the attentive Deputy skirmishes at a rather
wider range, as supposing that his head may be
in requisition.) " I tap, tap, tap. Solid ! I go
on tapping. Solid still ! Tap again. Holloa !
Hollow ! Tap again, persevering. Solid in
hollow ! Tap, tap, tap, to try it better. Solid in
hollow ; and inside solid, ho'low again ! There
you are ! Old 'un crumbled away in stone coffin
m vault ! "

" Astonishing ! "

" I have even done this," says Durdles, draw-
ing out his two-foot rule (Deputy meanwhile
skirmishing nearer, as suspecting that Treasure
may be about to be discovered, which may some-
how lead to his own enrichment, and the deli-
cious treat of the discoverers being hanged by
the neck, on his evidence, until they are dead).
" Say that hammer of mine's a wall — my work.
Two ; four ; and two is six," measuring on the
pavement. " Six foot inside that wall is Mrs.

" Not really Mrs. Sapsea ? "

" Say Mrs. Sapsea. Her wall's thicker, but
say Mrs. Sapsea. Durdles taps that wall repre-
sented by that hammer, and says, after good
sounding: * Something betwixt us! ' Sure enough,
some rubbish has been left in that same six-foot
space by Durdles's men 1 "

Jasper opines that such accuracy " is a gift."

" 1 wouldn't havQ it at a gift," returns Durdles,
by no means receiving the observation in good
part. " I worked it out for myself. Durdles

comes by his knowledge through grubbing deep
for it, and having it up by the roots when it
don't want to come. — Holloa, you Deputy ! "

" Widdy ! " is Deputy's shrill response, stand-
ing off again.

" Catch that ha'penny. And don't let me see
any more of you to-night, after we come to the
Travellers' Twopenny."

"Warning!" returns Deputy, having caught
the halfpenny, and appearing by this mystic
word to express his assent to the arrangement.

They have but to cro?s what was once the
vineyard, belonging to what was once the Monas-
tery, to come into the narrow back-lane wherein
stands the crazy wooden house of two low stories
currently known as the Travellers' Twopenny :
a house all warped and distorted, like the morals
of the travellers, with scant remains of a lattice-
work porch over the door, and also of a rustic
fence before its stamped-out garden, by reason
of the travellers being so bound to the premises
by a tender sentiment (or so fond of having a
fire by the roadside in the course of the day),
that they can never be persuaded or threatened
into departure, without violently possessing them-
selves of some wooden forget-me-not, and bear-
ing it off.

The semblance of an inn is attempted to be
given to this wretched place by fragments of
conventional red curtaining in the windows,
which rags are made muddily transparent in the
night season by feeble lights of rush or cotton
dip burning dully in the close air of the inside.
As Durdles and Jasper come near, they are ad-
dressed by an inscribed paper lantern over the
door, setting forth the purport of the house.
They are also addressed by some half-dozen
other hideous small boys — whether twopenny
lodgers or followers, or hangers-on of such, who
knows ? — who, as if attracted by some carrion
scent of Deputy in the air, start into the moon-
light, as vultures might gather in the desert, and
instantly fall to stoning him and one another.

" Stop, you young brutes," cries Jasper
angrily, " and let us go by ! "

This remonstrance being received with yells
and flying stones, according to a custom of late
years comfortably established among the police
regulations of our English communities, where
Christians are stoned on all sides, as if the days
of St. Stephen were revived, Durdles remarks of
the young savages, with some point, that " they
haven't got an object," and leads the way down
the lane.

At the corner of the lane, Jasper, hotly
enraged, checks his companion and looks back.
All is silent. Next moment, a stone coming



rattling at his hat, and a distant yell of " Wake-
Cock ! Warning ! " followed by a crow, as from
some infernally-hatched Chanticleer, apprising
him under whose victorious fire he stands, he
turns the corner into safety, and takes Durdles
home : Durdles stumbling among the litter of
his stony yard as if he were going to turn head
foremost into one of the unfinished tombs. ■

John Jasper returns by another way to his
gatehouse, and, entering sot'tly with his key,
finds his fire still burning. He takes from a
locked press a peculiar-looking pipe, which he
fills — but not with tobacco — and, having ad-
justed the contents of the bowl very carefully
with a little instrument, ascends an inner stair-
case of only a few steps, leading to two rooms.
One of these is his own sleeping-chamber ; the
other is his nephew's. There is a light in

His nephew lies asleep, calm and untroubled.
John Jasper stands looking down upon him, his
unlighted pipe in his hand, for some time, with
a fixed and deep attention. Then, hushing his
footsteps, he passes to his own room, lights his
pipe, and delivers himself to the Spectres it
invokes at midnisht.



%^HE Reverend Septmius Crisparkle
(Septimus, because six little brother
Crisparkles before him went out, one
by one, as they were born, like six
weak little rushlights, as they were
^^) lighted), having broken the thin morning
ice near Cloisterham Weir with his ami-
able head, much to the invigoration of his
frame, was now assisting his circulation by box-
ing at a looking-glass with great science and
prowess. A fresh and healthy portrait the look-
ing-glass presented of the Reverend Septimus,
feinting and dodging with the utmost artfulness,
and hitting out from the shoulder with the ut-
most straightness, while his radiant features
teemed with innocence, and soft-hearted bene-
volence beamed from his boxing gloves.

It was scarcely breakfast-time yet, for Mrs.
Crisparkle — mother, not wife of the Reverend
Septimus — was only just down, and waiting for
the urn. Indeed, the Reverend Septimus left
off at this very moment to take the pretty old
lady's entering face between his boxing gloves
and kiss it. Having done so with tenderness,

the Reverend Septimus turned to again, counter-
ing with his left, and putting in his right, in a
tremendous manner.

" I say, every morning of my life, that you'll
do it at last. Sept," remarked the old lady,
looking on ; " and so you will."

" Do what, ma dear ? "

*' Break the pier-glass, or burst a blood-

" Neither, please God, ma dear. Here's
wind, ma ! Look at this 1 "

In a concluding round of great severity, the
Reverend Septimus administered and escaped
all sorts of punishment, and wound up by
getting the old lady's cap into Chancery — such
is the technical term used in scientific circles by
the learned in the Noble Art — with a lightness
of touch that hardly stirred the lightest lavender
or cherry ribbon on it. Magnanimously releas-
ing the defeated, just in time to get his gloves
into a drawer and feign to be looking out of
window in a contemplative state of mind whea
a servant entered, the Reverend Septimus then
gave place to the urn and other preparations for
breakfast. These completed, and the two alone
again, it was pleasant to see (or would have
been, if there had been any one to see it, which
there never was) the old lady standing to say
the Lord's Prayer aloud, and her son, Minor
Canon nevertheless, standing with bent head tO'
hear it, he being within five years of forty :
much as he had stood to hear the same words
from the same lips when he was within five
months of four.

What is prettier than an old lady — except a
young lady — when her eyes are bright, when
her figure is trim and compact, when her face is
cheerful and calm, when her dress is as the
dress of a china shepherdess : so dainty in its
colours, so individually assorted to herself, so
neatly moulded on her? Nothing is prettier,
thought the good Minor Canon frequently, when
taking his seat at table opposite his long-widowed
mother. Her thought at such times may be
condensed into the two words that oftenest did
duty together in all her conversations : " My
Sept ! "

They were a good pair to sit breakfasting
together in Minor Canon Corner, Cloisterham.
For Minor Canon Corner was a quiet place in
the shadow of the cathedral, which the cawing
of the rooks, the echoing footsteps of rare

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 4 of 103)