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 Dean.
‘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-stairs.
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, exclaiming:
‘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-coddleyed.’
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 concentrated.
‘Now I am right, and now I’ll take my corner, Jack. Any dinner, Jack?’
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 chimneypiece.
‘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 ever!’
‘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 praised!’
‘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 us!’
‘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.’
‘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 Jack?’
‘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 enough.’
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 deprecation.
‘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 pleasure.’
‘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 are!), and your connexion.’
‘Yes; I saw what you were tending to. I hate it.’
‘Hate it, Jack?’ (Much bewildered.)
‘I hate it. The cramped monotony of my existence grinds me away by the grain. How does our service sound to you?’
‘Beautiful! Quite celestial!’
‘It often sounds to me quite devilish. I am so weary of it. The echoes of my own voice among the arches seem to mock me with my daily drudging round. No wretched monk who droned his life away in that gloomy place, before me, can have been more tired of it than I am. He could take for relief (and did take) to carving demons out of the stalls and seats and desks. What shall I do? Must I take to carving them out of my heart?’
‘I thought you had so exactly found your niche in life, Jack,’ Edwin Drood returns, astonished, bending forward in his chair to lay a sympathetic hand on Jasper’s knee, and looking at him with an anxious face.
‘I know you thought so. They all think so.’
‘Well, I suppose they do,’ says Edwin, meditating aloud. ‘Pussy thinks so.’
‘When did she tell you that?’
‘The last time I was here. You remember when. Three months ago.’
‘How did she phrase it?’
‘O, she only said that she had become your pupil, and that you were made for your vocation.’
The younger man glances at the portrait. The elder sees it in him.
‘Anyhow, my dear Ned,’ Jasper resumes, as he shakes his head with a grave cheerfulness, ‘I must subdue myself to my vocation: which is much the same thing outwardly. It’s too late to find another now. This is a confidence between us.’
‘It shall be sacredly preserved, Jack.’
‘I have reposed it in you, because —’
‘I feel it, I assure you. Because we are fast friends, and because you love and trust me, as I love and trust you. Both hands, Jack.’
As each stands looking into the other’s eyes, and as the uncle holds the nephew’s hands, the uncle thus proceeds:
‘You know now, don’t you, that even a poor monotonous chorister and grinder of music — in his niche — may be troubled with some stray sort of ambition, aspiration, restlessness, dissatisfaction, what shall we call it?’
‘Yes, dear Jack.’
‘And you will remember?’
‘My dear Jack, I only ask you, am I likely to forget what you have said with so much feeling?’
‘Take it as a warning, then.’
In the act of having his hands released, and of moving a step back, Edwin pauses for an instant to consider the application of these last words. The instant over, he says, sensibly touched:
‘I am afraid I am but a shallow, surface kind of fellow, Jack, and that my headpiece is none of the best. But I needn’t say I am young; and perhaps I shall not grow worse as I grow older. At all events, I hope I have something impressible within me, which feels–-deeply feels — the disinterestedness of your painfully laying your inner self bare, as a warning to me.’
Mr. Jasper’s steadiness of face and figure becomes so marvellous that his breathing seems to have stopped.
‘I couldn’t fail to notice, Jack, that it cost you a great effort, and that you were very much moved, and very unlike your usual self. Of course I knew that you were extremely fond of me, but I really was not prepared for your, as I may say, sacrificing yourself to me in that way.’
Mr. Jasper, becoming a breathing man again without the smallest stage of transition between the two extreme states, lifts his shoulders, laughs, and waves his right arm.
‘No; don’t put the sentiment away, Jack; please don’t; for I am very much in earnest. I have no doubt that that unhealthy state of mind which you have so powerfully described is attended with some real suffering, and is hard to bear. But let me reassure you, Jack, as to the chances of its overcoming me. I don’t think I am in the way of it. In some few months less than another year, you know, I shall carry Pussy off from school as Mrs. Edwin Drood. I shall then go engineering into the East, and Pussy with me. And although we have our little tiffs now, arising out of a certain unavoidable flatness that attends our love-making, owing to its end being all settled beforehand, still I have no doubt of our getting on capitally then, when it’s done and can’t be helped. In short, Jack, to go back to the old song I was freely quoting at dinner (and who knows old songs better than you?), my wife shall dance, and I will sing, so merrily pass the day. Of Pussy’s being beautiful there cannot be a doubt; — and when you are good besides, Little Miss Impudence,’ once more apostrophising the portrait, ‘I’ll burn your comic likeness, and paint your music-master another.’
Mr. Jasper, with his hand to his chin, and with an expression of musing benevolence on his face, has attentively watched every animated look and gesture attending the delivery of these words. He remains in that attitude after they, are spoken, as if in a kind of fascination attendant on his strong interest in the youthful spirit that he loves so well. Then he says with a quiet smile:
‘You won’t be warned, then?’
‘You can’t be warned, then?’
‘No, Jack, not by you. Besides that I don’t really consider myself in danger, I don’t like your putting yourself in that position.’
‘Shall we go and walk in the churchyard?’
‘By all means. You won’t mind my slipping out of it for half a moment to the Nuns’ House, and leaving a parcel there? Only gloves for Pussy; as many pairs of gloves as she is years old to-day. Rather poetical, Jack?’
Mr. Jasper, still in the same attitude, murmurs: ‘“Nothing half so sweet in life,” Ned!’
‘Here’s the parcel in my greatcoat-pocket. They must be presented to-night, or the poetry is gone. It’s against regulations for me to call at night, but not to leave a packet. I am ready, Jack!’
Mr. Jasper dissolves his attitude, and they go out together.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49