The Mystery of Edwin Drood
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In a suit of coarse flannel with 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 hazy,
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 occasions, taken
into custody along with Durdles (as drunk and incapable), and
exhibited before the Bench of justices at the townhall. 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 all 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-boxes, as if they were mechanical
figures emblematical 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. Sapsea?'
'The Inscription. Yes.' Mr. Sapsea waits for its effect on a
'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
'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 YOU'LL know what Durdles means.'
'It is a bitter cold place,' Mr. Jasper assents, with an
'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 where it's to be put, Mr. Sapsea; no man better.
Ask 'ere a man in Cloisterham whether Durdles knows 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 outside, Durdles likes to look at his work all
round, and see that his work is a-doing him credit,' Durdles
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. Jasper. Feel those!'
producing two other large keys.
'Hand me Mr. Sapsea's likewise. Surely this is the heaviest of the
'You'll find 'em much of a muchness, I expect,' 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
'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 forgotten. You know they sometimes call you Stony
Durdles, don't you?'
'Cloisterham knows me as Durdles, Mr. Jasper.'
'I am aware of that, of course. But the boys sometimes - '
'O! if you mind them young imps of boys - ' Durdles gruffly
'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;' clinking one key against another.
('Take care of the wards, Mr. Jasper.')
'Or whether Stony stood for Stephen;' clinking with a change of
('You can't make a pitch pipe of 'em, Mr. Jasper.')
'Or whether the name comes from your trade. How stands the fact?'
Mr. Jasper weighs the three keys in his hand, lifts his head from
his idly stooping attitude over the fire, and delivers 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 off cold iron; and
he gets out of the room, deigning no word of answer.
Mr. Sapsea then proposes a hit at backgammon, which, seasoned with
his own improving 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.
CHAPTER V - MR. DURDLES AND FRIEND
JOHN JASPER, on his way home through the Close, is brought to a
stand-still by the spectacle of Stony Durdles, dinner-bundle and
all, leaning 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. Sometimes the stones hit him, and sometimes they miss
him, but Durdles seems indifferent to either fortune. The hideous
small boy, on the contrary, 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
'What are you doing to the man?' demands Jasper, stepping out into
the moonlight from the shade.
'Making a cock-shy 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
'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 preparation, agreed upon,
as a caution to Durdles to stand clear if he can, or to betake
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