The Mystery of Edwin Drood
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There is no egress from the court but by its entrance. With a
weird peep from the doorway, she watches for his looking back. He
does not look back before disappearing, with a wavering step. She
follows him, peeps from the court, sees him still faltering on
without looking back, and holds him in view.
He repairs to the back of Aldersgate Street, where a door
immediately opens to his knocking. She crouches in another
doorway, watching that one, and easily comprehending that he puts
up temporarily at that house. Her patience is unexhausted by
hours. For sustenance she can, and does, buy bread within a
hundred yards, and milk as it is carried past her.
He comes forth again at noon, having changed his dress, but
carrying nothing in his hand, and having nothing carried for him.
He is not going back into the country, therefore, just yet. She
follows him a little way, hesitates, instantaneously turns
confidently, and goes straight into the house he has quitted.
'Is the gentleman from Cloisterham indoors?
'Just gone out.'
'Unlucky. When does the gentleman return to Cloisterham?'
'At six this evening.'
'Bless ye and thank ye. May the Lord prosper a business where a
civil question, even from a poor soul, is so civilly answered!'
'I'll not miss ye twice!' repeats the poor soul in the street, and
not so civilly. 'I lost ye last, where that omnibus you got into
nigh your journey's end plied betwixt the station and the place. I
wasn't so much as certain that you even went right on to the place.
Now I know ye did. My gentleman from Cloisterham, I'll be there
before ye, and bide your coming. I've swore my oath that I'll not
miss ye twice!'
Accordingly, that same evening the poor soul stands in Cloisterham
High Street, looking at the many quaint gables of the Nuns' House,
and getting through the time as she best can until nine o'clock; at
which hour she has reason to suppose that the arriving omnibus
passengers may have some interest for her. The friendly darkness,
at that hour, renders it easy for her to ascertain whether this be
so or not; and it is so, for the passenger not to be missed twice
arrives among the rest.
'Now let me see what becomes of you. Go on!'
An observation addressed to the air, and yet it might be addressed
to the passenger, so compliantly does he go on along the High
Street until he comes to an arched gateway, at which he
unexpectedly vanishes. The poor soul quickens her pace; is swift,
and close upon him entering under the gateway; but only sees a
postern staircase on one side of it, and on the other side an
ancient vaulted room, in which a large-headed, gray-haired
gentleman is writing, under the odd circumstances of sitting open
to the thoroughfare and eyeing all who pass, as if he were toll-
taker of the gateway: though the way is free.
'Halloa!' he cries in a low voice, seeing her brought to a stand-
still: 'who are you looking for?'
'There was a gentleman passed in here this minute, sir.'
'Of course there was. What do you want with him?'
'Where do he live, deary?'
'Live? Up that staircase.'
'Bless ye! Whisper. What's his name, deary?'
'Surname Jasper, Christian name John. Mr. John Jasper.'
'Has he a calling, good gentleman?'
'Calling? Yes. Sings in the choir.'
'In the spire?'
Mr. Datchery rises from his papers, and comes to his doorstep. 'Do
you know what a cathedral is?' he asks, jocosely.
The woman nods.
'What is it?'
She looks puzzled, casting about in her mind to find a definition,
when it occurs to her that it is easier to point out the
substantial object itself, massive against the dark-blue sky and
the early stars.
'That's the answer. Go in there at seven to-morrow morning, and
you may see Mr. John Jasper, and hear him too.'
'Thank ye! Thank ye!'
The burst of triumph in which she thanks him does not escape the
notice of the single buffer of an easy temper living idly on his
means. He glances at her; clasps his hands behind him, as the wont
of such buffers is; and lounges along the echoing Precincts at her
'Or,' he suggests, with a backward hitch of his head, 'you can go
up at once to Mr. Jasper's rooms there.'
The woman eyes him with a cunning smile, and shakes her head.
'O! you don't want to speak to him?'
She repeats her dumb reply, and forms with her lips a soundless
'You can admire him at a distance three times a day, whenever you
like. It's a long way to come for that, though.'
The woman looks up quickly. If Mr. Datchery thinks she is to be so
induced to declare where she comes from, he is of a much easier
temper than she is. But she acquits him of such an artful thought,
as he lounges along, like the chartered bore of the city, with his
uncovered gray hair blowing about, and his purposeless hands
rattling the loose money in the pockets of his trousers.
The chink of the money has an attraction for her greedy ears.
'Wouldn't you help me to pay for my traveller's lodging, dear
gentleman, and to pay my way along? I am a poor soul, I am indeed,
and troubled with a grievous cough.'
'You know the travellers' lodging, I perceive, and are making
directly for it,' is Mr. Datchery's bland comment, still rattling
his loose money. 'Been here often, my good woman?'
'Once in all my life.'
They have arrived at the entrance to the Monks' Vineyard. An
appropriate remembrance, presenting an exemplary model for
imitation, is revived in the woman's mind by the sight of the
place. She stops at the gate, and says energetically:
'By this token, though you mayn't believe it, That a young
gentleman gave me three-and-sixpence as I was coughing my breath
away on this very grass. I asked him for three-and-sixpence, and
he gave it me.'
'Wasn't it a little cool to name your sum?' hints Mr. Datchery,
still rattling. 'Isn't it customary to leave the amount open?
Mightn't it have had the appearance, to the young gentleman - only
the appearance - that he was rather dictated to?'
'Look'ee here, deary,' she replies, in a confidential and
persuasive tone, 'I wanted the money to lay it out on a medicine as
does me good, and as I deal in. I told the young gentleman so, and
he gave it me, and I laid it out honest to the last brass farden.
I want to lay out the same sum in the same way now; and if you'll
give it me, I'll lay it out honest to the last brass farden again,
upon my soul!'
'What's the medicine?'
'I'll be honest with you beforehand, as well as after. It's
Mr. Datchery, with a sudden change of countenance, gives her a
'It's opium, deary. Neither more nor less. And it's like a human
creetur so far, that you always hear what can be said against it,
but seldom what can be said in its praise.'
Mr. Datchery begins very slowly to count out the sum demanded of
him. Greedily watching his hands, she continues to hold forth on
the great example set him.
'It was last Christmas Eve, just arter dark, the once that I was
here afore, when the young gentleman gave me the three-and-six.'
Mr. Datchery stops in his counting, finds he has counted wrong,
shakes his money together, and begins again.
'And the young gentleman's name,' she adds, 'was Edwin.'
Mr. Datchery drops some money, stoops to pick it up, and reddens
with the exertion as he asks:
'How do you know the young gentleman's name?'
'I asked him for it, and he told it me. I only asked him the two
questions, what was his Chris'en name, and whether he'd a
sweetheart? And he answered, Edwin, and he hadn't.'
Mr. Datchery pauses with the selected coins in his hand, rather as
if he were falling into a brown study of their value, and couldn't