The Mystery of Edwin Drood
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'Lately, I presume?'
'Well, I had had twelve or fifteen years of knocking about first.
I came here some nine months before you; I had had one crop before
you came. I chose this place, because, having served last in a
little corvette, I knew I should feel more at home where I had a
constant opportunity of knocking my head against the ceiling.
Besides, it would never do for a man who had been aboard ship from
his boyhood to turn luxurious all at once. Besides, again; having
been accustomed to a very short allowance of land all my life, I
thought I'd feel my way to the command of a landed estate, by
beginning in boxes.'
Whimsically as this was said, there was a touch of merry
earnestness in it that made it doubly whimsical.
'However,' said the Lieutenant, 'I have talked quite enough about
myself. It is not my way, I hope; it has merely been to present
myself to you naturally. If you will allow me to take the liberty
I have described, it will be a charity, for it will give me
something more to do. And you are not to suppose that it will
entail any interruption or intrusion on you, for that is far from
Neville replied that he was greatly obliged, and that he thankfully
accepted the kind proposal.
'I am very glad to take your windows in tow,' said the Lieutenant.
'From what I have seen of you when I have been gardening at mine,
and you have been looking on, I have thought you (excuse me) rather
too studious and delicate. May I ask, is your health at all
'I have undergone some mental distress,' said Neville, confused,
'which has stood me in the stead of illness.'
'Pardon me,' said Mr. Tartar.
With the greatest delicacy he shifted his ground to the windows
again, and asked if he could look at one of them. On Neville's
opening it, he immediately sprang out, as if he were going aloft
with a whole watch in an emergency, and were setting a bright
'For Heaven's sake,' cried Neville, 'don't do that! Where are you
going Mr. Tartar? You'll be dashed to pieces!'
'All well!' said the Lieutenant, coolly looking about him on the
housetop. 'All taut and trim here. Those lines and stays shall be
rigged before you turn out in the morning. May I take this short
cut home, and say good-night?'
'Mr. Tartar!' urged Neville. 'Pray! It makes me giddy to see
But Mr. Tartar, with a wave of his hand and the deftness of a cat,
had already dipped through his scuttle of scarlet runners without
breaking a leaf, and 'gone below.'
Mr. Grewgious, his bedroom window-blind held aside with his hand,
happened at the moment to have Neville's chambers under his eye for
the last time that night. Fortunately his eye was on the front of
the house and not the back, or this remarkable appearance and
disappearance might have broken his rest as a phenomenon. But Mr.
Grewgious seeing nothing there, not even a light in the windows,
his gaze wandered from the windows to the stars, as if he would
have read in them something that was hidden from him. Many of us
would, if we could; but none of us so much as know our letters in
the stars yet - or seem likely to do it, in this state of existence
- and few languages can be read until their alphabets are mastered.
CHAPTER XVIII - A SETTLER IN CLOISTERHAM
AT about this time a stranger appeared in Cloisterham; a white-
haired personage, with black eyebrows. Being buttoned up in a
tightish blue surtout, with a buff waistcoat and gray trousers, he
had something of a military air, but he announced himself at the
Crozier (the orthodox hotel, where he put up with a portmanteau) as
an idle dog who lived upon his means; and he farther announced that
he had a mind to take a lodging in the picturesque old city for a
month or two, with a view of settling down there altogether. Both
announcements were made in the coffee-room of the Crozier, to all
whom it might or might not concern, by the stranger as he stood
with his back to the empty fireplace, waiting for his fried sole,
veal cutlet, and pint of sherry. And the waiter (business being
chronically slack at the Crozier) represented all whom it might or
might not concern, and absorbed the whole of the information.
This gentleman's white head was unusually large, and his shock of
white hair was unusually thick and ample. 'I suppose, waiter,' he
said, shaking his shock of hair, as a Newfoundland dog might shake
his before sitting down to dinner, 'that a fair lodging for a
single buffer might be found in these parts, eh?'
The waiter had no doubt of it.
'Something old,' said the gentleman. 'Take my hat down for a
moment from that peg, will you? No, I don't want it; look into it.
What do you see written there?'
The waiter read: 'Datchery.'
'Now you know my name,' said the gentleman; 'Dick Datchery. Hang
it up again. I was saying something old is what I should prefer,
something odd and out of the way; something venerable,
architectural, and inconvenient.'
'We have a good choice of inconvenient lodgings in the town, sir, I
think,' replied the waiter, with modest confidence in its resources
that way; 'indeed, I have no doubt that we could suit you that far,
however particular you might be. But a architectural lodging!'
That seemed to trouble the waiter's head, and he shook it.
'Anything Cathedraly, now,' Mr. Datchery suggested.
'Mr. Tope,' said the waiter, brightening, as he rubbed his chin
with his hand, 'would be the likeliest party to inform in that
'Who is Mr. Tope?' inquired Dick Datchery.
The waiter explained that he was the Verger, and that Mrs. Tope had
indeed once upon a time let lodgings herself or offered to let
them; but that as nobody had ever taken them, Mrs. Tope's window-
bill, long a Cloisterham Institution, had disappeared; probably had
tumbled down one day, and never been put up again.
'I'll call on Mrs. Tope,' said Mr. Datchery, 'after dinner.'
So when he had done his dinner, he was duly directed to the spot,
and sallied out for it. But the Crozier being an hotel of a most
retiring disposition, and the waiter's directions being fatally
precise, he soon became bewildered, and went boggling about and
about the Cathedral Tower, whenever he could catch a glimpse of it,
with a general impression on his mind that Mrs. Tope's was
somewhere very near it, and that, like the children in the game of
hot boiled beans and very good butter, he was warm in his search
when he saw the Tower, and cold when he didn't see it.
He was getting very cold indeed when he came upon a fragment of
burial-ground in which an unhappy sheep was grazing. Unhappy,
because a hideous small boy was stoning it through the railings,
and had already lamed it in one leg, and was much excited by the
benevolent sportsmanlike purpose of breaking its other three legs,
and bringing it down.
''It 'im agin!' cried the boy, as the poor creature leaped; 'and
made a dint in his wool.'
'Let him be!' said Mr. Datchery. 'Don't you see you have lamed
'Yer lie,' returned the sportsman. ''E went and lamed isself. I
see 'im do it, and I giv' 'im a shy as a Widdy-warning to 'im not
to go a-bruisin' 'is master's mutton any more.'
'I won't; I'll come when yer can ketch me.'
'Stay there then, and show me which is Mr. Tope's.'
'Ow can I stay here and show you which is Topeseses, when Topeseses
is t'other side the Kinfreederal, and over the crossings, and round
ever so many comers? Stoo-pid! Ya-a-ah!'
'Show me where it is, and I'll give you something.'
'Come on, then.'
This brisk dialogue concluded, the boy led the way, and by-and-by
stopped at some distance from an arched passage, pointing.
'Lookie yonder. You see that there winder and door?'
'Yer lie; it ain't. That's Jarsper's.'
'Indeed?' said Mr. Datchery, with a second look of some interest.
'Yes, and I ain't a-goin' no nearer 'IM, I tell yer.'
''Cos I ain't a-goin' to be lifted off my legs and 'ave my braces
bust and be choked; not if I knows it, and not by 'Im. Wait till I
set a jolly good flint a-flyin' at the back o' 'is jolly old 'ed
some day! Now look t'other side the harch; not the side where
Jarsper's door is; t'other side.'
'A little way in, o' that side, there's a low door, down two steps.
That's Topeseses with 'is name on a hoval plate.'
'Good. See here,' said Mr. Datchery, producing a shilling. 'You
owe me half of this.'