Elsa Hasbrouck: The Mystery of Edwin Drood — Concluded

First published in Vassar Miscellany, Volume XXXVI, Number 9, 1 June 1907


Illustration by Everett Shinn

The story cen­ters about the mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance of Edwin Drood, the nephew of John Jasper, choir­mas­ter of Clois­ter­ham cathe­dral. Jasper and Drood are most de­vot­ed to each other. Edwin is promised in mar­riage to a young girl named Rosa Bud, who is at school in Clois­ter­ham, a small town not far from Lon­don. The two young peo­ple are not re­al­ly in love with each other, but being or­phans they ac­cept as de­ci­sive the wish of their de­ceased fa­thers that they marry. Mr. Crisparkle, the Minor Canon of the cathe­dral, lives with his moth­er, a dain­ty lit­tle woman called by Dick­ens a china shep­herdess. The Minor Canon takes to live with him a youth, Neville Land­less, of a rather fiery dis­po­si­tion, but who is es­sen­tial­ly hon­est and very fond of Mr. Crisparkle. Neville and his sis­ter He­le­na have been left or­phans and their ed­u­ca­tion has been much ne­glect­ed. Neville is being in­struct­ed by the Minor Canon and He­le­na is sent to the same school with Rosa Bud, with whom she strikes up a warm friend­ship. Dur­dles is the stone­cut­ter of the town; a very ec­cen­tric char­ac­ter, who spends his time rum­mag­ing among the tombs in the cathe­dral close, the keys to all of which he keeps. Mr. Jasper cul­ti­vates his ac­quain­tance and the two make a grue­some mid­night ex­pe­di­tion among the ruins of the old tombs, dur­ing which ex­pe­di­tion Jasper drugs Dur­dles and ap­par­ent­ly takes some­thing from him. Deputy is a very ugly small boy with a great dis­like for Jasper. Mr. Jasper lives in an old gate­house with Mr. Tope, the verg­er of the cathe­dral, and his wife. Neville and Edwin have a vi­o­lent dis­cus­sion about Rosa, al­most com­ing to blows, but are per­suad­ed to be rec­on­ciled. They meet at Jasper's house on Christ­mas eve for that pur­pose. The night is stormy and the two young men go out to watch the wind over the water. Next morn­ing Edwin is not to be found; no traces are dis­cov­ered ex­cept his watch and chain found near the water's edge. Neville is sus­pect­ed. Al­though noth­ing is proved, he leaves town of his own free will. Be­fore his dis­ap­pear­ance, Edwin and Rosa have de­cid­ed not to marry, but have told no per­son of this de­ci­sion ex­cept Mr. Grew­gious, who is Rosa's guardian. After Edwin's dis­ap­pear­ance a strange white-haired gen­tle­man named Datch­ery ap­pears in Clois­ter­ham. A wretched old woman with a rack­ing cough, who is known to be an opium smok­er and to live in Lon­don and to know some­thing of Jasper, also ap­pears in Clois­ter­ham. Datch­ery is ev­i­dent­ly watch­ing Mr. Jasper, who con­fess­es to Rosa that he is pas­sion­ate­ly in love with her. Rosa is much afraid of Jasper and flees to Lon­don to her guardian. Mr. Tar­tar, an ex-lieu­tenant of the navy and friend of Mr. Crisparkle, falls much in love with Rosa and dis­likes Jasper im­mense­ly.


Hav­ing made way with an ex­cel­lent break­fast, Mr. Datch­ery sal­lies forth for a morn­ing stroll with his hat under his arm. At this time of the morn­ing the lit­tle cathe­dral town of Clois­ter­ham is at its bus­i­est, and on this par­tic­u­lar morn­ing Mrs. Tope's board­er finds the in­hab­i­tants all much en­gaged in at­tend­ing to their var­i­ous du­ties, with the sin­gle ex­cep­tion of Deputy whom, on turn­ing a cor­ner, he finds ston­ing the loose stones in the road­way. That ex­treme­ly ugly young per­son on catch­ing sight of Mr. Datch­ery ad­vances rapid­ly to­ward him by turn­ing many suc­ces­sive cartwheels with the great­est ra­pid­i­ty until he lands on his feet im­me­di­ate­ly in front of that gen­tle­man. Then div­ing into the depths of his dis­rep­utable trousers, he pro­duces after much squirm­ing a mar­velous­ly dirty scrap of paper on which are scrib­bled a few al­most il­leg­i­ble words.

"That's 'im," says Deputy, "that's where it is. I learned it offen her this mornin'." This scrap of writ­ing is ap­par­ent­ly of much value to Mr. Datch­ery, for after ex­am­in­ing it with a quiet smile he care­ful­ly folds it, places it in his pock­et­book and stows that away in the breast pock­et of his jack­et; after which he care­ful­ly but­tons up the same. Then pro­duc­ing half a crown he holds it med­i­ta­tive­ly be­tween his thumb and fore­fin­ger while he re­marks, "I have to leave here for a few days and should our friend, Mr. John Jasper, wish to take a jour­ney to Lon­don it will be easy, I sup­pose, to fol­low him and re­port all move­ments to Mr. Grew­gious, Sta­ple's Inn, Lon­don?"

With that he flips the half-crown into the air, turns, and walks off briskly. With a quick dex­ter­ous move­ment, the hideous small boy catch­es the coin and giv­ing a shrill whis­tle of as­sent and un­der­stand­ing, dis­ap­pears in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

Mr. Datch­ery turns his white head in the di­rec­tion of Minor Canon cor­ner and after as­cend­ing the front steps, he knocks vig­or­ous­ly at the door of Mr. Crisparkle's house by means of the shin­ing brass knock­er gleam­ing there­on. Being ad­mit­ted, he is a long time clos­et­ed with the wor­thy cu­rate and does not come forth again till near­ly noon, when he has­tens to take the stage for Lon­don.

When Mr. Crisparkle ap­pears at the lun­cheon table after this in­ter­view, the china shep­herdess no­tices, with some sur­prise, lines of deep thought be­tween his usu­al­ly smil­ing eyes and an ex­pres­sion of un­wont­ed sever­i­ty about the cor­ners of his mouth, while he seems dis­tract­ed in his con­ver­sa­tion. She im­me­di­ate­ly sus­pects in­di­ges­tion, but her son is so far from being him­self that when, after the meal, she pro­duces her usual reme­dies from the clos­et on the stairs, he ac­tu­al­ly re­fus­es to take them, and as he de­parts to his study, re­mark­ing that he is "per­fect­ly well, per­fect­ly well," leaves the poor lady in a state of great be­wil­der­ment. That same evening the sec­ond coach for Lon­don bears among its pas­sen­gers a wretched woman with a rack­ing cough and a ruddy faced cu­rate with an ab­stract­ed man­ner.

It is near­ly nine in the evening in Sta­ple's Inn, Lon­don, and the wind is blow­ing the dark clouds over the face of the moon, now steep­ing the court in pitchy black­ness and now al­low­ing the moon­beams to ren­der it al­most mys­te­ri­ous, al­most at­trac­tive. Sud­den­ly from the door­way of J. P. T. 1747 there emerge three fig­ures, and as the moon is al­lowed to peep out at that par­tic­u­lar mo­ment, we dis­cov­er them to be Mr. Grew­gious, Mr. Crisparkle and Mr. Tar­tar.

Let us fol­low them and see on what er­rand they are bent this late hour of the night. Is­su­ing from the court, they pro­ceed east­ward through many mis­er­able streets and al­leys till they fi­nal­ly ar­rive at a mis­er­able court, es­pe­cial­ly mis­er­able among many such, and stop be­fore the en­trance to a bro­ken stair­case. All this is not ac­com­plished with­out much ref­er­ence to a dirty scrap of paper in the pos­ses­sion of Mr. Tar­tar.

The three hes­i­tate only for an in­stant to make sure that they are right, be­fore as­cend­ing the stair. At the top, Mr. Tar­tar, tak­ing the lead, push­es open the door of a very small, very squalid cham­ber light­ed only by the flick­er­ing gleams from a smol­der­ing fire on the dirty hearth. He push­es open the door and asks, "Are you alone here?" A queru­lous voice an­swers in the af­fir­ma­tive from the fur­ther side of the hearth and the three enter soft­ly.

"Ay, I'm most allus alone now, deary, the busi­ness is so bad, so bad; sit ye down, and I'll have a pipe ready for ye soon, deary, very soon, —what's that? Are there more on ye nor one?"

The dark fig­ure of a hag­gard woman rises out of the shad­ow with a star­tled cry, as the three men be­come more dis­tin­guish­able in the fire­light. But Mr. Tar­tar (for he seems to be the lead­er in this ex­pe­di­tion) calms her, per­haps with money, and as­sures her that the three are come for no bad pur­pose, until she fi­nal­ly sinks, down again by the hearth, over­tak­en by a fit of cough­ing. "Now," says Mr. Tar­tar, when the cough­ing has sub­sid­ed, "let us un­der­stand each other. We have not come to harm you nor to smoke your opium, but to learn the an­swers to a few ques­tions, to hear a story which, I think, you will be able to tell us." '

There is si­lence for a mo­ment then; "Ay, but I tell no sto­ries to the likes o' you. I save 'em for my cus­tomers. Ay, deary, and many a pret­ty story I know, too." As the fire flames up a film is seen to pass over her eyes and she mut­ters, "Sto­ries of death, most­ly, sto­ries of death —but I keep 'em for my cus­tomers. I don't tell 'em to the likes of you."

"Not for gold, much gold?" re­marks Mr. Tar­tar qui­et­ly, as he stretch­es out to­ward her his hand filled with coins which gleam fit­ful­ly in the un­cer­tain light.

The woman makes a quick greedy move­ment for­ward but Mr. Tar­tar's hand clos­es on the money and he says, "The story first and then we will pay you well."

The woman eyes him like an an­i­mal, furtive­ly, sus­pi­cious­ly, but the sight of the money again dis­closed to view is too much for her and she mur­murs: "I'll tell'ee, deary, I'll tell, but take a bit of a smoke, yell like a smoke, and my sto­ries is pleas­an­ter when ye're rest­ing, deary."

"No, we want no opium as I said be­fore, but if you will an­swer our ques­tions truth­ful­ly we'll pay you well. There's some­thing to begin on," toss­ing her a coin. "Now tell me, do you have one Mr. John Jasper among your cus­tomers ?"

The woman starts and asks: "Are ye a friend to him?"

"No. Enemy," is the quiet an­swer.

"Oh! I hate him too, deary. I hate him, too. Oh, I'll tell 'cc o' him. I knows 'im, I knows 'im well, I do, bet­ter nor all the folks in Lon­don," and she nods her head at the fire as it burns, cast­ing red splash­es of light upon the bro­ken hearth, that might be spots of blood, ex­cept that they dis­ap­pear in an in­stant. "I'll tell 'ee o' 'im, I will," she con­tin­ues, "See this 'ere," pulling aside her ragged gar­ment, she dis­clos­es an ugly, livid scar across her with­ered shoul­der. '"E did that, 'e did. 'E was mad with the opium and 'e struck me with a knife from off a Chi­na­man, 'e did. 'E struck me just as 'e 'as so often struck the empty air with 'is fist when 'e's going into 'is opium dreams. I'll not for­give 'im that; I'll not."

Mr. Tar­tar press­es near her and lays an­oth­er coin in her palm, say­ing, "Tell us of those opium dreams of his. Tell us and we'll re­venge you."

So she tells them, in short snatch­es with hor­ri­bly re­al­is­tic il­lus­tra­tions, in­ter­rupt­ed now and again by vi­o­lent fits of cough­ing, when she rocks to and fro, whim­per­ing that her "lungs is so bad, so bad." In this squalid hole, from the lips of such a wretch, they learn of the tragedy en­act­ed in the cathe­dral close that bois­ter­ous, windy Christ­mas eve in Clois­ter­ham. From the woman's words they can pic­ture the scene. They can see in the dark­ness the fig­ures of nephew and uncle. They can hear the soft words, "Dear­est Ned, let us go home through the close, 'twill be short­er that way." Then that blow with some mur­der­ous in­stru­ment, so read­i­ly il­lus­trat­ed by the woman's skin­ny arm. They see the mur­dered and the mur­der­er for an in­stant all alone in the night; then the ghast­ly hid­ing of the body, the re­moval of the watch, chain and shirt pin; the lock­ing of the pon­der­ous doors and the de­struc­tion of the key. Yes, she in­sists 'tis a key which he has talked about. Can it be the key to some tomb, some mon­u­ment of death in that ru­ined church yard? Who can tell? For there were no wit­ness­es. The wind alone caught the one cry, the one word, "Jack," and it whisked that away and about till it has be­come the mere ghost of a cry.

The three men rise dazed with hor­ror, and after pay­ing lib­er­al­ly for their story, be­take them­selves silent­ly back through the many mis­er­able streets and al­leys, ever west­ward till they enter again in under the arch­way of J. P. T. 1747


To­ward noon of the sec­ond day after the strange ex­pe­di­tion of our three friends, we dis­cov­er Mr. Grew­gious seat­ed by his open win­dow ap­par­ent­ly in deep thought. He has just seen Rosa and He­le­na de­part with Mr. Tar­tar for a day's ex­pe­di­tion on that wor­thy sailor's yacht. He is think­ing over the events of the last few days, when sud­den­ly a pierc­ing­ly shrill whis­tle breaks the still­ness of Sta­ple's Inn court and a cry of "widdy, widdy wake-cock warn­ing!" fol­lowed by a few rat­tling stones usher in a very dirty, very hideous small boy who en­quires of a porter loung­ing near, "Hi you, do Mis­ter Grew­gious live 'ere?"

"If 'e do 'e'd not see you at any rate," re­torts the loung­ing porter, shift­ing his po­si­tion more eas­i­ly to look his con­tempt at the hideous small boy.

"You lie, he will," is the an­swer, and catch­ing sight of Mr. Grew­gious' sign over the door op­po­site, Deputy, for it is he, drives into J. P. T's. door­way with­out pay­ing the least at­ten­tion to that gen­tle­man's ini­tials above his head. Mr. Grew­gious re­ceives his strange vis­i­tor with much more in­ter­est than might be ex­pect­ed from so very an­gu­lar a man to­ward so ugly a bit of hu­man­i­ty. Deputy in­forms him that Mr. Jasper is at that mo­ment in Lon­don and might be ex­pect­ed to make a visit to "Her Royal High­ness, the Princess Puffer" that very evening.

"And have you seen her? Does she know of his ar­rival?" ques­tions Mr. Grew­gious.

"Yep. I've saw her," replies Deputy, twist­ing him­self into the most awful con­tor­tions in­dica­tive of his un­easi­ness at being in a spot where there are no stones to throw and noth­ing to throw them at. "But," he adds, "she's a dead 'un, you bet. 'Smoked 'er­self out, she did," with more con­tor­tions hor­ri­ble to see.

Mr. Grew­gious starts, "Does Mr. Jasper know this?"

"Not 'e," says Deputy.

"Thank you, thank you," med­i­ta­tive­ly from Mr. Grew­gious. "Here, take this coin and see that you let us know when Mr. Jasper leaves his lodg­ings this evening."

Deputy snatch­es the money and dis­ap­pears in­stant­ly, re­liev­ing his strained nerves with an extra vol­ley of stones as he darts from the court.

The morn­ing and early af­ter­noon have been bright al­though sul­try, but as the hours pass a great lead­en mass of clouds gath­ers in the west and ad­vances slow­ly to­ward the zenith, slow­ly but so steadi­ly as to de­press one with a sense of im­pend­ing calami­ty, of an in­evitable doom which sweeps all be­fore it. The sun sets some two hours be­fore his usual time, after which the storm ad­vances with greater ra­pid­i­ty, her­ald­ed by low mut­ter­ings of dis­tant thun­der.

Mr. Tar­tar and his two fair com­pan­ions, in order to avoid a wet­ting, re­turn there­fore rather ear­li­er than they had ex­pect­ed. Rosa is safe­ly de­liv­ered over to Miss Twin­kle­ton's care, and Mr. Tar­tar and He­le­na pro­ceed to Sta­ple's Inn to find await­ing them, in­stead of Neville, Mr. Crisparkle, come up to town by the af­ter­noon coach. From He­le­na's ex­pres­sion one could guess that to her this is cer­tain­ly not an un­pleas­ant sur­prise. Neville, it seems, had gone for a walk not ex­pect­ing his sis­ter to re­turn so soon. There­fore Mr. Crisparkle oblig­ing­ly of­fers to bear He­le­na com­pa­ny while Mr. Tar­tar and Mr. Grew­gious at­tend to some very im­por­tant busi­ness which en­gages their at­ten­tion.

As night draws on Neville Land­less who has sought dis­trac­tion in an aim­less ram­ble through the worst parts of the great metropo­lis, finds that he is un­able im­me­di­ate­ly to lo­cate the po­si­tion of his lodg­ings. He hur­ries on, too proud to ask his way, and as he vain­ly seeks for a fa­mil­iar street or alley the storm clouds has­ten to cover the whole sky and a few large drops splash down, all of which ren­ders Neville's quest the more dif­fi­cult.

Sud­den­ly the storm breaks fu­ri­ous­ly. The rain de­scends in sheets, not drops, and the thun­der fol­lows so im­me­di­ate­ly the livid flash­es of light­ning that the very ground seems to shake. Neville dash­es into a squalid court in search of shel­ter, and see­ing for an in­stant dur­ing a flash, a door­way near at hand, he dives into it re­gard­less of con­se­quences. It is a very dirty, very ru­inous door­way which leads to a rick­ety stair, but it serves him for a shel­ter from the storm. As he stands there wait­ing for a lull, a man dash­es into the door­way and up the stairs with­out per­ceiv­ing his pres­ence.

Storms of such vi­o­lence sel­dom last a great length of time, and al­ready the thun­der is grow­ing more dis­tant. Neville is about to issue forth and re­sume his search for Sta­ple's Inn court when a wild fig­ure rush­es past him out the door and stands for an in­stant in the court as though un­cer­tain where to go. A vivid flash of light­ning — and he sees be­fore him the white face of John Jasper dis­tort­ed with pas­sion and ren­dered dou­bly ghast­ly in the strange light. At that in­stant three men spring out of the dark­ness to­ward that wild fig­ure, and a strange­ly fa­mil­iar voice cries, "John Jasper, I ar­rest thee in the name of the law for the mur­der of thy nephew, Edwin Drood." For an in­stant Jasper stands like a fox driv­en to bay, then, be­fore any­one of the three fig­ures can pre­vent it, there is a quick move­ment of his hand, the re­port of a pis­tol awakes the echoes in the squalid court, and John Jasper, for­mer choir­mas­ter in Clois­ter­ham Cathe­dral, pitch­es for­ward dead at the feet of Mr. Grew­gious, shot through the heart by his own hand.


It is cus­tom­ary among ladies when they have ex­pressed them­selves strong­ly on a cer­tain sub­ject and find on later ev­i­dence, that they are en­tire­ly mis­tak­en in their view; it is cus­tom­ary, I say, for such ladies never to admit them­selves in the wrong, but to im­press upon those around them that what­ev­er they may have said they knew from the very be­gin­ning that af­fairs would turn out as they did; yes, they knew from the very be­gin­ning, only they didn't wish to say. Such is the con­sis­ten­cy of the fem­i­nine in­tel­lect. Thus we find dain­ty lit­tle Mrs. Crisparkle claim­ing that she never could abide that hor­ri­ble Mr. Jasper. She had al­ways said he would come to no good end, and as for Neville Land­less — why young blood will have its way, and though she couldn't say she en­tire­ly ap­proved of his hasty tem­per, yet she did like spir­it, and the young man was very fond of his tutor; which last qual­i­ty made up for many lit­tle fail­ings. The opin­ion of her son was hers in re­gard to He­le­na, which opin­ion, I may say, was so fa­vor­able as to fi­nal­ly bring about the sol­em­niz­ing of a very quiet lit­tle wed­ding in Clois­ter­ham cathe­dral and the in­tro­duc­tion of a sec­ond Mrs. Crisparkle into the cu­rate's house in Minor Canon Cor­ner.

If one had at­tend­ed this quiet lit­tle wed­ding one might have seen among those sit­ting in the old carved pews, a very an­gu­lar gen­tle­man who plen­ti­ful­ly smoothed his head and beamed upon a blush­ing young rose­bud of a girl who clung ten­der­ly and af­fec­tion­ate­ly to the strong arm of Lieu­tenant Tar­tar, late of Her Majesty's navy, who in his turn watched with the pride of own­er­ship every move­ment of his pret­ty bride. Also there was pre­sent the broth­er of He­le­na, a lit­tle pale, a lit­tle worn-look­ing, but with a de­ter­mined manly ex­pres­sion of coun­te­nance which pre­saged well for his com­ing uni­ver­si­ty ca­reer. He looked per­haps a lit­tle sadly at Mrs. Tar­tar, but then life was all be­fore him and he was yet very young.

After the fate­ful night when Lon­don was struck by that ter­rif­i­cal­ly vi­o­lent thun­der storm, the like of which the old­est in­hab­i­tant could not re­call, since that night when John Jasper, mur­der­er, shot him­self through the heart; the old town of Clois­ter­ham has set­tled back to its old quiet rut and the days again pass smooth­ly.

Some stir and ex­cite­ment there was when Jasper's rooms were searched for that mys­te­ri­ous key of which the wretched opium woman had spo­ken; and then Mr. Dur­dles dis­cov­ered (rather late, as it seemed to Crisparkle) that the key to the late Mrs. Sapsea's mon­u­ment was no longer in his pos­ses­sion and could not be found any­where. And, if, dear read­er, you should ever visit Clois­ter­ham and be­hold that noble mon­u­ment erect­ed by Mr. Sapsea in mem­o­ry of his beloved wife, you may won­der of what scene that mon­u­ment was a silent wit­ness on a cer­tain stormy Christ­mas eve. But it is doubt­ful whether the se­cret which is shut in be­hind those key­less doors will ever be dis­closed.