Ruth Alexander: The completion of novel adopted by Universal Studios



CHAPTER XXIV
A STRANGE COINCIDENCE

Mr. Datchery, however, had not long been at the excellent repast provided by Mrs. Tope's care, before a shadow darkened the doorway and he glanced up, then sprang nimbly... for an old buffer with a long white beard, now blowing sideways in the draught... to the threshold. 

"Mr. Grewgious!" he exclaimed. "What brings you here?" 

"Nothing," replied Mr. Grewgious, depositing his hat and stick on the window-ledge, "but the fact that being in a particularly angular frame of mind, and curious to see for myself if and how matters were progressing in Cloisterham, it occurred to me last night to run down for a day or two and stay at the Crozier, leaving Bazzard to hold the fort. Well?" He regarded the other with a quizzical and interested expression. 

"First of all... how is she?" Mr. Datchery queried in a low and earnest tone. 

"She? She is well... if, as I imagine, you refer to Miss Rosa Bud. As well as one can expect under the rather trying circumstances. A little wan and lifeless, perhaps, in her exile. And you?" Mr. Grewgious took a chair, sat bolt upright in it in his accustomed single-hinged attitude, and remarked with an amused twinkle in his eye, "I really must congratulate you on the excellence of your disguise. It is very successful." 

The black eyes beneath the black eyebrows twinkled in return. 

"It must be," admitted their owner, with a sigh of relief more concerned with the first part of his visitor's remarks than the words of encouragement regarding his appearance; "for no one in Cloisterham has the slightest suspicion that I am Neville Landless and not an idle dog living on his means and savouring the probability of spending the rest of his days in this secluded spot. Not even he glanced up significantly at a window visible above the gatehouse door, the panes of which were sparkling in the early morning rays of the summer sun. 

"... Not even our local friend," Mr. Grewgious supplemented, following the look with a particularly concentrated and combative one of his own. "But pray finish your breakfast. I took mine an hour ago," as Neville gestured hospitably towards him with the coffee-pot. 

Neville Landless hastily swallowed the half cold liquid in his cup, very nearly forgetting in the excitement of his unexpected visitor's presence to draw aside his straggling white beard, then sprang to his feet. 

"You could not have come at a more propitious moment, sir," he announced, going briskly to the mantelshelf, taking from it a small box; and returning to open it carefully and submit the contents to Mr. Grewgious, and to whisper, "I found these in a secret press in his room." 

Mr. Grewgious moved forward on his hinges to peer into the little box, and drew back to look up into Neville Landless' eager eyes and nod slowly, as although in confirmation of something he already knew. 

"So our local friend is addicted to smoking opium," he remarked. 

"I have had not the least compunction in ferreting about among Mr. Jasper's belongings," Neville announced frankly, shutting the box and depositing it again on the mantelpiece, "and this is my reward; the first reward of many weeks of patient watching and probing and waiting, made valuable by a strange coincidence. The strange coincidence of the coming to Cloisterham last night of a dreadful old woman, a creature living somewhere near the docks in London, who battens on the weaknesses of such as… " 

"Such as our local friend," put in Mr. Grewgious with illuminating promptness; and screwing round his neck to peer up again at the winking window-panes above the gatehouse. "Why is she here?" 

"To find him. There is something she knows, I am convinced, sir, that we need to know. There is something he would pay her well to keep silent about Wait! Let me fetch her here! 

You'll know how to get out of her what she knows, Mr. Grewgious... isn't it your business in life to do that?" he cried excitedly. 

"I am not sure that the procedure " the lawyer was beginning with a dubious frown when the young man cut him short by seizing his hat, ramming it down hard on his straggling white locks and making for the open doorway. The next moment he had gone from the dim room out into the bright daylight. 

Mr. Grewgious remained sitting stiffly upright in his habitual position with his eyes fastened on the windows of the choirmaster's chambers above the gatehouse. 

Once or twice he thought he saw the curtains quiver stealthily, but put it down to the fixity of his concentrated gaze resulting in an illusion of movement. He was living over again that evening in Jasper's sitting-room up there, near seven months ago, when he had disclosed to Jasper the fact of Edwin Drood and Rosa Bud having come to the discovery that they would be happier apart. He was thinking of the ghastly figure of Jasper, and the ghastly face of Jasper, as he heard this disclosure; and of the writhing action of his body as he fell, a heap of torn and miry clothing, upon the floor. If ever there had been a picture of a man whose mind was tormented and whose soul was tortured, that picture was Jasper, on the terrible night after his nephew's strange disappearance. Was the mystery of Edwin Drood to be unravelled at last? 

His gaze was not withdrawn from the window until the sound of voices recalled him to the present. It was Mr. Datchery returning, accompanied by a hideous old hag. The lawyer thought he had never seen so gargoyle-like a countenance, nor such a drugged or drunken leer that was sometimes checked by a lightning-like flash from the malignant old eyes, as wrinkled and horrible as the vulture's for ever peering for its prey. 

"'Look down, look down!' he says, deary," she cackled. 

" 'Look down at what lies at the bottom there. Suppose you has something on your mind,' he says, 'should you do it over and over again while you was lying here smoking the pipe of comfort? ' " 

"And would you?" Mr. Datchery asked in a low voice that was yet filled with urgency. 

"'Over and over again,' I told him, 'over and over again.' 'They as died,' he says to me, 'was a relative as died of... what do you think, chucky?... 'as died of Death!' he says. You see, deary I've learned the secret of how to make 'em talk." 

"Yes, yes!" 

Mr. Datchery's voice must have shown his eagerness to hear more too plainly, for the dreadful hag looked at him with a cunning chuckle and hugged her lean body with her withered arms as she muttered, "There's a deal more I could tell you, deary, but I'm a poor old woman without the price of a night's lodging at the Traveller's Tuppenny on me... you understand, deary?" 

"I understand," agreed Mr. Datchery readily. "Come in here and we can talk it over." 

Grewgious rose and stood aside to allow the elderly gentleman with the mop of straggling white hair and the hag to enter. As he did so he happened to glance up once again at the many paned windows of the gatehouse, and this time his eye was caught by something he had not noticed before, and that was a space of darkness where the sun's rays had formerly been reflected. He was nearly positive that one of Jasper's windows was now open when it had been shut before... that the movement he detected was the dropping of a curtain. So nearly positive that he drew Neville aside to convey the suspicion to him by a significant upward glance and the whispered remark : 

"This is a serious matter, my boy. I think you had better call in your worthy mayor. The representative of the Queen's authority should hear her first. On second thoughts, I'll go with you. I scarcely relish the idea of being left alone in her company." 

Neville acquiesced, though not with the best grace. He was so eager to follow up the clue he had chanced upon, at long last, so anxious to do something that would help to bring back the hue of happiness to that wan and lifeless cheek he visualized almost every moment of every day, and to clear his own name of the slur upon it, that the disappointment in his eyes caused Mr. Grewgious to place a sympathetic hand upon his shoulder. 

"Here " Mr. Datchery turned to the old woman, pulled a coin out of his pocket and held it up to her. Her evil eyes glittered greedily. 

"A guinea!.. A golden guinea!" He nodded. "And more of them... four more of them if you'll wait here five minutes." 

Datchery and Mr. Grewgious went out, and shut the door upon her. The moment the echo of their footsteps had died away on the flagstones she began to peer about in the semi-darkness of the room, for there was only light enough to see properly when the door was wide open, like an inquisitive old magpie; and in a moment she started to potter purposefully about, pulling out drawers and rapidly pushing over the contents with her skinny, blackened-nailed claws, as if she were picking over a refuse-heap; opening anything that was capable of being opened, and presently arriving at the mantelshelf and finding the little box Neville had discovered in Jasper's room, and pouncing on it as if she were indeed a magpie. But in the very act of gloating over its contents a bright perpendicular ray of light was suddenly reflected in the mirror above the fireplace, causing her to look up and arrest her picking fingers. 

The door had opened noiselessly an inch or two. It opened wider. She saw a face in the mirror, such a face as caused her to jerk her withered frame round to meet it with a frightened widening of her wicked old eyes. 

Mrs. Tope, who was invariably discreet about the comings and goings of her lodgers (long experience having bestowed upon her almost the gift of second-sight as to their whereabouts), and having heard the door shut a few minutes earlier, knocked at Mr. Datchery's sitting-room door, nevertheless, out of pure habit; and neither expecting nor receiving an answer, walked in carrying a tray to clear away the breakfast things of the idle gentleman living quietly on his means who occupied her damp and vaulted ground-floor chamber. Then Mrs. Tope stopped, paralyzed by the sight of something lying prone upon the hearthrug. The tin tray clattered to the floor, and Mrs. Tope screamed. 

"Why, Mrs. Tope!" cried Mr. Datchery, coming in at that moment followed by the pompous figure of Mr. Sapsea, and Mr. Grewgious, "Why, Mrs. Tope, whatever is the matter?" 

"Look, look!" cried Mrs. Tope hysterically. "Oh, oh! She's dead!" 

Datchery hurried to the spot to which Mrs. Tope had pointed, and bent over the figure of the dreadful hag, hunched now into a small and pitiful bundle of rags and tatters, while Mr. Sapsea spread his hands in a lordly and authoritative gesture and announced in his most pontifical manner, as if hags dead upon the hearthrug of strangers visiting Cloisterham were all in the day's work, "Let all be done in order! Let nothing be touched." 

Datchery withdrew his own hand which had made a little journey towards the dead hand on the floor, but not before it had removed surreptitiously something the dead hand was clutching... a scrap of light grey woollen fringe such as might have been torn from a neckerchief or scarf, while the mayor issued another order, "Send for the coroner," to the two or three gaping onlookers who were already crowding round the door, scenting death like a flock of carrion crows. 

Into the group came Jasper, pushing his way through and demanding to know, "What's happened here?" 

It was the first time Mr. Grewgious had seen Jasper since the night he had swooned upstairs in the gatehouse chamber, except for a transitory glimpse or two at Staple Inn, and he could not but be struck by his extreme pallor, the deepened lines about his eyes and mouth, and a certain intensified air of restraint, as though he were in the habit of holding his passions in leash with exceeding difficulty. And again the observant lawyer declared to himself that if ever there was a picture of a soul in torment, here was the picture. 

"What's happened here?" demanded Jasper again. 

"Dead," said Datchery shortly. 

"Dead? Who is she?" 

"She came here," Datchery answered, "asking for you." 

"For me? I don't know her." Jasper stooped and touched the body, turning it half on its side. 

"She asked for you, nevertheless. She seemed to know something about Edwin Drood." 

"About Ned?" 

If Jasper had been shocked by that intelligence, the admirable schooling of his feelings came now into full play. Mr. Grewgious, watching narrowly, thought that of the two Mr. Datchery seemed the more surprised. 

"Ned?" he asked. 

"My nephew; I called him Ned. That would explain why she asked for me. Did she tell you anything? Did she?" 

The choirmaster's natural eagerness to learn something, however trivial, about the beloved nephew who had gone, was cut short by the mayor's words: 

"One thing at a time. We must determine how the woman died," and by Mrs. Tope's frightened gasp that rather spoiled the effect of Mr. Sapsea's exhibition of authority, 

"There's blood on the andiron!" 

Everybody crowded about the hearth to see and gloat over this grim evidence of foul play, Jasper in the forefront. As he bent over the hearth Mr. Datchery's eyes were suddenly attracted to the scarf he was wearing round his neck. It was Jasper's habit to wear a neckerchief, he recollected; he had worn one, a thick black silk one, on the night of his dinner-party on Christmas Eve when Edwin Drood had last been seen alive. The scarf he was wearing now was a thin grey woollen one, buttoned up inside his waistcoat and scarcely visible; except for one pulled-down end beneath. 

Mr. Datchery noticed that a few strands of the woollen fringe were missing; and, noticing, with a sudden jubilant lift of the heart, he drew in a deep breath; took out his pipe and filled it with slow and methodical movements. 

"She was ill when she came. She must have had a seizure; she must have fallen and struck her head here," he explained quietly; and the mayor remarked : 

"I had myself reached that conclusion," with an air of dignified reproof as one whose own bright suggestions had been officiously forestalled. 

At this juncture a murmur went up that the coroner had arrived. Way was immediately made for him to pass through to the body, over which he knelt to place his hand beneath the soiled and ragged bodice and feel if the heart still beat. 

"An accident, Mr. Coroner," stated Mr. Sapsea. "I have determined the cause: you ascertain the identity of this poor creature." 

"Clear the room," ordered the coroner. 

Tope, at the door, was beginning to push outside the group of idle and curious people, bidding them to stand back there, and to close the door upon them, when the head of Deputy was pushed through the crack and with his toothless mouth gaping in a grin, the boy thrust a finger in the direction of the choirmaster and yelled: "I bet Mr. Jasper done 'er in!" 

"Get out, you brat, you can't come in here." Tope raised his fist in a threatening manner, and the imp of evil darted outside again, executing a fantastic dance and chanting: 

"Widdy widdy wen, I bet Mr. Jasper done 'er in, 
Widdy widdy wen, I bet Mr. Jasper done 'er in, 
Widdy widdy wen, I bet Mr. Jasper done 'er in!" 

Jasper and the mayor looked at each other, and Jasper's casual explanation of the extraordinary accusation, "He threw a stone at me once and I punished him," was met by the mayor's soothing, "Yes, yes, of course, of course,... the boy's half-witted." 

They turned again to the matter of the unsavory bundle on the floor, and Mr. Datchery took the opportunity to slip out unseen. He bent his steps quickly towards the churchyard, heedless of the little groups who were gathered here and there gossiping over this latest morsel of Cloisterham news and who eyed him suspiciously as he passed. He found Deputy, as he had expected, indulging in his favorite occupation of shying stones, once again at a lamb feeding harmlessly among the gravestones, and chanting to himself: 

"Widdy widdy wen, hit 'im again! Made a dent in 'is wool, I did." 

"Come here," said Mr. Datchery. 

"Don't you wish you could catch me?" Deputy pulled a face and danced behind a tombstone, eluding the grasp of the old gentleman with the straggly white hair till the chink of a coin falling on the stone brought him within reach of an unexpectedly powerful arm. 

"See that sixpence?" invited Mr. Datchery encouragingly. "Come now, what made you tell that lie about Mr. Jasper?" 

"I seen 'im go in there," Deputy said sullenly, jerking his thumb towards the gatehouse arch. "And he tried to choke me once." 

"Why?" 

"Well, 'cause one night him and Durdles came out of the cathedral, way down they was in the crypt, hours and hours, and I'd waited for 'em to stone Durdles home, 'cause it was arter ten, an' if I catches 'im out after ten I stones 'im, and 'e said I was spying on 'em." 

"When was this?" Datchery asked softly. 

"I dunno. Yes, I do, though. A night or two before the great storm.... Yah!" The expletive was yelled in triumphant celebration of the fact that Deputy had twisted himself free of Mr. Datchery's restraining hand and, fingers to his nose, had skipped off" among the tombstones. Datchery watched him for a few minutes, then bent his steps thoughtfully towards Durdles' hole-in-the-wall cottage. 

He remembered that the stone-mason had promised to show him the crypt at any odd moment that he should feel inclined to inspect Durdles' "old 'uns;" and he had a strong inclination now to keep Stony Durdles to his word. 

Durdles was at home among his stone chippings, and though in a slightly comatose condition owing to having been caught out very much after ten last night, he fell in with Mr. Datchery's suggestion without much ado. 

"I'm told you know more than the Dean about the fine Norman crypts in your cathedral, Durdles, and you remember you promised to show them to me at some time or another," the visitor began. 

"You another of them antiquarians?" asked Durdles, eyeing him sourly. 

"'Mm. Could you take me down in those crypts to-night?" 

"I'd take any gentleman as brings liquor for two... or even liquor for one!" Durdles intimated with a cumbersome wink. 

"Very well, Durdles. I'll be there, at ten exactly to-night, and bring it along with me." 


CHAPTER XXV
THE END OF THE STORY

The coroner having ordered the removal of the body to the mortuary, Mr. Datchery's sitting room was swept and garnished and in its accustomed condition, with the breakfast-things cleared, when he returned. Nevertheless, the idle dog spent an idle ten minutes staring at the spot on the hearthrug where the bundle of rags and tatters had lain, trying to visualize and reconstruct in his mind exactly in what fashion the deed had been done. For that it had been done of fell intent and purpose, he had no doubt whatever. He took out from his pocket the few threads of grey wool that had been clutched in the old woman's withered claw and carefully transferred them to an envelope. They were evidence enough of Jasper's participation in the event, but the evidence Neville Landless sought was that which would set the mind and heart of Rosa at rest, and at the same time would clear him in the eyes of the world and permit him to hold his head up in Cloisterham again. Mr. Datchery could only disappear from the scene... having ascertained after all that Cloisterham was not quite the perfect spot he was seeking in which to spend his few remaining idle years... when Neville Landless was able to occupy it. 

He pondered, with deep excitement but uneasily, over and over on the old woman's reiteration of Jasper's words, "Look down at what is in the bottom there" and, "A relative, a relative, who died of Death" 

The bottom might mean the mill-pool where the minor canon had found Edwin's watch and tie-pin (though, indeed, they might have been flung there afterwards to put searchers off the scent) where, on that wild and well-remembered Christmas eve after they had dined with Jasper and a superficial reconciliation had been effected between them, he and Edwin had stood and watched the fury of the wind lashing the trees and furrowing the dark waters. Or it might mean some lonely corner in the crypt... But what might it mean, in a drugged hallucination? Nothing, perhaps. 

Mr. Datchery was closeted in his dim chamber (with the door shut) for many an hour that day with two callers, Mr. Crisparkle, minor canon of Cloisterham Cathedral, and Mr. Grewgious, the lawyer from London. He took care to leave the door open, as usual, during a part of the day, so that curious eyes should note nothing out of the ordinary, and to stroll, as usual, about the byways and poke into the corners of the old city, with his white locks exposed to the soft winds of heaven, for Mr. Datchery disliked wearing a hat and Cloisterham had long since tolerantly, if with slight derision, accepted his eccentricities as old cities do. 

Some one or other of the three men, too, kept the windows of the choirmaster's rooms above the gatehouse, and the postern stairs, and the incomings and outgoings from those places, well in view. 

So the day passed at length, an interminable day to Neville Landless, whose young heart was in a turmoil of eagerness, doubt, and anticipation beneath the tranquil exterior of old Datchery. 

It was striking ten by the cathedral chimes when he emerged from his lair and walked leisurely the few steps to the cloister arches, where Durdles, dinner-bundle in one hand and lantern in the other, and as covered with limedust and gritty fragments as ever, awaited him. 

"Why they wants to go down among the dead 'uns at night beats Durdles," he grumbled as the two took up their way together without greeting, and headed for the broken steps leading down to the crypt. 

"Have you made any more discoveries recently, Durdles? That's what interests we antiquarian folk, you know." 

"Not since the very old un underneath that pillar, the seventh this side, near a year ago,"... pointing with a stubby first finger of the hand with which he raised the lantern to cast its beams at the spot indicated. "'Ware that lime, Mr. Datchery!" 

"Lime? Where?" 

"By your feet." 

Datchery looked down. A small kiln lay on the stones, overturned and empty of its contents, though some scattered trails of trodden white powder lay round about it. Durdles stared at it open-mouthed. 

"Why!... it's gone! That's queer! Durdles ain't done no work down here since that fresh lot o' lime was brought down." 

He turned his lantern about, throwing the shadows of the railings across the flagstones, then put it down on the ground and took out one of the great iron keys with which his pockets were filled. 

"That's a singular key," Datchery remarked. 

Durdles unlocked the small side door. They passed through, he locked it again, and they descended the rugged steps leading down to the crypt, Mr. Datchery remarking with a shiver as the damp cold reached up to meet them, that this would be an uncanny place in which to pass the night, or to get locked in and lose the key; to which Durdles replied that it certainly would, as there was only one key to fit that lock, and it'd take a deal of noise to be heard through the thickness of the door. Then he volunteered the information that the last time he slept down there himself was not so long ago... just before Christmas, it was, not that he remembered much about it... with a chuckle... because Mr. Jasper had brought a bottle on that occasion and its contents must have been pretty strong stuff; adding significantly, "Mr. Jarsper give Durdles the liquor beforehand." 

Datchery took the hint and handed over the bottle. Durdles, having taken a long and strong pull, grew a trifle less sour and more conversational. 

"That's where I slept when I showed Mr. Jarsper around," he explained, pointing to the base of one of the great pillars as they passed it. 

"Did you sleep long?" 

"Long enough to dream. It seemed like I could hear Mr. Jarsper's footsteps going right through that gate." 

"Why shouldn't you?" Datchery asked. 

"How could he come through a gate what's locked, when there's only one key and Durdles has it in his pocket?" 

"Queer things happen in dreams," Datchery replied carelessly, but meditating nevertheless. "Is it true that you can tell by the sound of your hammer where the dead are buried?" 

"Durdles'll show you." He took a hammer out of one of his many large pockets and tapped the side of an ancient tomb. "Some of 'em 'as old 'uns in 'em and some ain't. Listen!... Solid." The small sound went echoing about the quiet place. "This 'un" (as they approached another) "this 'un's empty. Looted by Richard Three in the wars of the Roses, they was. Listen to the difference in the sound." 

Mr. Datchery was beginning to remark, "Sounds the same to me," when he caught sight of Durdles' puzzled frown, as he rapped on the tomb again, bending his head the better to hear the peculiar note his accustomed ears could differentiate. 

"Queer! This 'un was empty. Durdles told Mr. Jarsper so," he muttered, "and Durdles never makes a mistake, not about the old 'uns. He knows too much about 'em." He knelt down by the tomb and rayed the beam of the lantern slowly over the stone lid to examine it the better. Datchery knelt too, strangely excited. 

"Isn't this fresh plaster?" he asked, passing his hand round the edges. Durdles nodded in a bewildered manner, and Datchery rose to fling away his cloak and pull off his gloves, then knelt once more for a closer examination. 

"Give me your hammer," he ordered crisply. With the puzzled frown deepening on his forehead, Durdles complied, and stood holding the lantern so that its beam fell on the line of fresh plaster at which Datchery was hammering. In less than half an hour the work was done and between them they prised the lid open and stood staring down into the cavity. It was strange work, but Mr. Datchery was too engrossed to observe the gruesomeness of it... nor to observe, indeed, the shadow of a man that crept along the wall behind them. 

"What's that?" he whispered, peering into the coffin depths. "That white stuff?" 

"Why... why... that's dried quick-lime!" Durdles whispered back. 

Datchery straightened up. The words of the old hag Deputy had nicknamed Her Royal Highness the Princess H'opium Puffer were sounding once again in his ears. "'Look down, look down at what lies in the bottom there,' he says to me, deary." 

"Go to the mayor's house... bring Mr. Sapsea here, and then fetch Mr. Grewgious from the Crozier and Mr. Crisparkle, and tell them to come quickly... to come here. Tell them I think we've found something," he instructed hurriedly, and Durdles, with a few backward glances, and a slightly drunken resentment at being so summanly ordered about but too bewildered to protest shuffled off." 

Datchery heard the dragging footsteps fade away, accompanied by the fitful gleam of the lantern throwing its beam here and there as the shitting old man made his way up the stairway, heard the key turn in the lock, and return, as Durdles unlocked and locked the door after him and then he was left to darkness and his thoughts' But not for long. He was suddenly aware of another lane of light, coming from among the shadows of the pillars and growing brighter as it came, and in another moment Jasper himself stood before him The dark figure of the choirmaster looked peculiarly tall and sinister wrapped in its cloak and Datchery could not but notice the strange intensity of the gleam in his eyes, as he demanded: 

"Why are you opening that tomb?" 

"If it contains what I think it does," Datchery remarked purposefully, "the murderer of Edwin Drood is found." 

"The murderer?- Then you know where Neville Landless is?" Jasper's tone was as quiet and fiercely restrained as Datchery's, and if there was wild tumult in the hearts of both, of elation in one and fear in the other, neither showed a glimpse of it as Datchery replied steadily??? 

Jasper laughed suddenly and shortly. 

"Produce him! Produce him and you shall be rewarded whether you find Edwin Drood or no!" he challenged. 

Datchery said nothing. He merely looked at Jasper. Something Jasper saw in the bright, wild, youthful darkness of the eyes confronting his made him recoil for a moment. The next, he had leaped upon Datchery and borne him to the ground and in a trice the two men were fighting and struggling on the damp stones of the crypt floor. 

Jasper's unexpected attack had given him the mastery, and for a moment Neville felt the life being choked out of him by Jasper's fingers, like iron at his throat; then with a tremendous effort he threw his assailant from him, both men staggered gasping to their feet and the struggle began afresh. 

Above the noise of their labored breathing Neville's ears were alert to catch the sound of help at hand, and none too soon it came. Durdles' key in the lock, the echo of footsteps approaching, of voices, and then the warning flicker of Durdles' lantern, and Durdles' voice saying: 

"This way, gentlemen." 

Then Mr. Crisparkle's clear tones, "Very strange," followed by the mayor's heavy utterance, "Most un-English, this nonsense of opening tombs at night!" 

"I'm a dense man," Mr. Grewgious contributed in a mild reproof, "but the night seems to me as good a time as any to solve a crime, if there is one to be solved." 

They had reached the foot of the stairs, and paused at the sight of the two figures fighting on the floor. 

"Disgraceful! Positively disgraceful, within the very precincts of the church," Mr. Sapsea announced indignantly, as they all came running to the spot. The minor canon seized one of the combatants by the shoulder, Mr. Grewgious the other, and with some difficulty succeeded in wrenching the two apart and holding them apart, gasping and glaring and each ready to spring at the other's throat at' the slightest opportunity. In the act, the straggly white hair and beard of Mr. Datchery which had become partially detached in the fray, fell to the ground. 

"Neville!" cried Mr. Crisparkle. 

"Mr. Jasper!" The mayor stared dumbfounded from one to the other. "What does this mean, you being found here?" he demanded of Neville Landless. 

"Look in that tomb," breathed Neville quietly. 

Mr. Grewgious released him: the minor canon still retained his hold of Jasper. All turned to peer down into the open grave. The only sound was Jasper's stertorous, tortured breathing. 

"Just a few bones," Durdles muttered at length. "Quick-lime has done the rest." 

"There is no possibility of identification," the mayor announced authoritatively. 

Grewgious was stooping over the tomb, turning over and stirring the lime with his cane while the others watched in fascinated horror. A few moments later the lawyer stood upright and plucked something from the end of the stick. 

"I venture to disagree with his worship's pronouncement," he stated, holding up the object. It was a small ring, discolored and coated with lime. The face of Jasper, seeing it, grew livid. 

"I gave this ring to Mr. Drood the day he disappeared," Grewgious went on in a solemn tone. "Just before his engagement to Miss Rosa Bud was broken. He was to have given it to his betrothed only if he could do so with his wholehearted love and devotion. He could not do so. You remember, Mr. Jasper? You remember that I told you of this broken engagement, you remember its effect upon you, the night after your nephew's disappearance? It was only after that disappearance that you knew he was no longer your rival for Miss Rosa's affections. If you had known before... even the night before... Edwin Drood need not have been murdered." 

The echo of the accusing voice had scarcely died down before Jasper gave a sudden violent spring, wrenched himself free of Mr. Crisparkle's hold, and was running at full speed towards the stairway. The others followed, after the first surprised momentary pause, Durdles shuffling behind, jabbing his stunted, grimy finger in Jasper's direction and shouting: 

"Then them footsteps was no dream! The quick-lime... you used it! The tomb empty... you filled it! The key... you stole it, you must have took an impression of it, for Durdles knows there was but one key like it!" 

That the choirmaster must have a key in his possession was evident, for he had gained the top of the steps and even now they heard it turning in the lock. By the time Durdles had pushed his way ahead to unlock the door with his own key, and they had all crowded out on to the cathedral level in full pursuit, the foremost of them caught sight of Jasper's figure across the cloisters disappearing into the blackness of the narrow stairway arch leading to the cathedral tower. 

They hastened to the tower foot, then stood a moment at a loss to know what to do, or what his purpose could be... there they paused, whispering in low tones of this night's strange happenings, and of what their next move should be. They were not kept long in doubt. 

Suddenly the sound of jangling bells burst into the calm night, and in a second the air was filled with a fury of insane sound that dragged people from their beds to their windows and out into the streets, that soon wera seething with excitement. What could it mean? What unexpected events were visiting the cloistered security of the city, disturbing the ordered peace of the inhabitants? The mayor was quick to join them, with Mr. Grewgious on his heels: while the minor canon and Neville, and Durdles laboring behind, made what haste they could to follow the choirmaster up the winding stairs to the belfry. 

But the stairs were steep and dark; and long before they had felt their way to the top the bells were jangling themselves into silence unguided by human hands: and when they reached the top, and emerged from the empty belfry, where the bells were swinging, on to the leaded roof, they found it was empty. 

Crowding to the rail and looking down on the houses of Cloisterham clustered under the shadow of the cathedral, they saw nothing but a group of people about a dark shape prone on the steps, and more people hurrying from all quarters to thrust through and get their own legitimate share of the business of being harrowed, by gazing down on the shattered body of John Jasper, late choirmaster of Cloisterham Cathedral. 

On a warm August day a week later Mr. Grewgious, Mr. Crisparkle and Neville Landless travelled up to London together, the minor canon to spend a day or two with his friend Tartar, Neville to go to his sister, and Mr. Grewgious to take up the duties of holding the fort where Bazzard had left them off. Datchery had disappeared from Cloisterham, no one knew where, nor, in the nine-day's wonder following Jasper's death, much troubled to inquire. A verdict of suicide while of unsound mind had been brought in, the jury adding a rider that the regrettable ending to the useful life of one so well known and respected among them had been hastened by an overdose of opium, to which drug their late choirmaster had recourse in an attempt to alleviate his grief over the disappearance of his beloved nephew, Edwin Drood. 

The reasoning seemed a sufficiently logical one to Cloisterham, and the cathedral city gradually began to drop back into its accustomed calm, without a stain on its character. 

Mr. Grewgious had already acquainted his ward, Rosa Bud, of the tragedy, and of the fact that Edwin's death had now been definitely established, without going into details of any sort. The first piece of news shocked Rosa's sensitive soul deeply: she was remorseful for her uncontrollable feeling of repulsion against Jasper while he had lived, and reproached herself for the relief she experienced, like the lifting of a heavy cloud, now that he was dead. As for the second, she had known instinctively that Edwin was no longer in the world and the passing months had done their best to heal the inevitable hurt of the going of one whose life had so nearly been bound irrevocably up with her own. 

She knew these bare facts, but she felt a shrinking reluctance at hearing more, when she received her guardian's message telling her of his arrival in London and that he was sending a conveyance for her to come to Staple Inn and talk things ever. She wanted to turn from the blight of those dark days and to bask in the sunshine again, as any other rosebud might. 

Miss Twinkleton having permitted her charge to make the journey from Southampton Street to Staple Inn unaccompanied, under the peculiar circumstances, Rosa presently arrived at her destination and was met by Mr. Grewgious at the top of the stairs that had no front door and that bore the mysterious intrigues: initials P.J.T. He led her gently into the shadowy room and seated her at the round table by the window. 

"Dear me, you resemble your mother more and more every day, my child," the lawyer murmured, his pleasure at having her delightful presence in his chambers disturbed by a sudden feeling of alarm. 

"You wanted to see me... to tell me something more than your letters told? " Rosa asked in some trepidation. "Oh, it's all so dreadful! Must we talk about it?" 

For several days Mr. Grewgious had been pondering over his ward's future. He saw now that her brooding over the double tragedy had made her cheeks thinner and her eyes unnaturally large, and this it was that more than ever now startled him by her resemblance to her mother the last time he had seen her, after she had slipped away for ever. He determined that he must put something into Rosa's mind that would fill it afresh and make her forget the past. So he plunged in, with quite unprofessional haste. 

"No, no, my dear, we need never talk of it again. It is on another subject that I wanted to speak to you. You see your friend Helena Landless a good deal, don't your" 

"Nearly every day," replied Rosa, wondering what was coming. 

Mr. Grewgious seated himself before her in his accustomed single-hinged position, a hand on each knee. 

"Have you ever thought of anyone else to... to take Edwin's place... in the possible capacity of a husband, I mean?" he asked, diffidently. 

"Why " Rosa stammered a little, looked 

startled, blushed and cast down her eyes. Then she lifted them bravely. "I did... once... think of someone," she admitted, and sighed. 

"Not Mr. Tartar?... the young naval Lieutenant across the way?" Grewgious asked sharply, but Rosa shook her brown curls. 

"Oh, dear me, no, sir! He amuses and interests me and he's very kind, but he's years and years too old! Quite an old fogey! " 

The lawyer placed his rather bony hand on her small soft one with a relieved sigh. "I asked because Neville Landless has requested my permission to pay his addresses to you, Rosa." 

"Neville Landless!" A look of such happy astonishment, almost ecstasy, suddenly illuminated her features that Grewgious rose with alacrity, and turned towards the door. "Say nothing more, my dear... you have told me all." 

"But I haven't seen Neville for weeks! I don't know where he is!" she cried, running after him. 

"He is here, in the Inn, with his sister." 

"Here!" She was trembling and agitated. "Oh, not now,... not yet! Let me think... let me wait a little " 

"As you wish, my dear. But I know that his feelings towards you are as sincere and as fervent as even I could desire for the daughter of your dear mother; and I think you must have guessed them?" 

Grewgious subsided into his chair again. 

"I think I have," Rosa answered in a low voice. "I think I have always loved him, too. Yes, I know I have! It was after meeting Neville that I was able to make up my mind firmly about poor Eddy... it was then I knew what a poor thing it was I had been trying to substitute for love." 

There came a knock at the door and it opened to admit Mr. Crisparkle. Seeing that he was interrupting confidences, he would have withdrawn after having greeted Miss Rosa, if Grewgious had not invited him to step in. 

"I am not to stop," the minor canon explained, "but I come at Tartar's invitation to suggest you both join us in a little supper in his rooms. Tartar has just run out into Holborn to buy some cooked meats and will be back in five minutes. Miss Rosa, you'll honor us?" 

Miss Rosa, after a brief struggle with her shyness, would and did: Crisparkle offered her his arm and politely escorted her across the quadrangle to the lieutenant's shipshape apartment, followed by Mr. Grewgious after carefully locking his chamber door. 

The first thing Rosa did, while the two gentlemen busied themselves adding to the covers already laid on the table from Mr. Tartar's neat cupboard, was to cross to the window and lean flutteringly out through the screen of climbing nasturtiums and runner beans that flourished in Mr. Tartar's garden boxes: and the first thing she espied, framed in the window of Helena's sitting room across the way, was the outline of the handsome brown head of Neville Landless. 

Rosa stood gazing at the profile with a wildly beating heart; and as if her gaze drew him he suddenly raised his head with that proud, untamed gesture she loved, and before she had time even to drop the curtain their eyes met. For a moment they stood so, looking deep into each other's hearts. Then Rosa did a greatly daring thing. She smiled, lifted her little hand and beckoned. 

Neville needed no second invitation; the ardent radiance of his answering smile and the sudden disappearance of the handsome head showed that; while Rosa, wondering if she had done something very dreadful and forward, turned back into the darkening room, and encountered the minor canon standing rosily behind her in the very act of blowing a kiss over her head to the apparently empty window opposite. This extraordinary proceeding caused Rosa's head to turn again and her eyes to catch a glimpse of Helena's gipsy-like and glowing beauty mischievously returning the minor canon's salute, so that it did not surprise Rosa so very much to hear the rosy Crisparkle stammering something about his friend Tartar, good fellow, welcoming their two friends opposite to join them also at the impromptu supper-table, and that he'd run over and bring them back; and vanish from the room. 

In the shadows, the lawyer was standing so still and so forlornly that Rosa couldn't help running to him and throwing her two arms round his neck with an impulsive gesture, and murmuring into his coat collar: 

"You're not lonely? You mustn't be lonely, now that we are all so happy again!" 

"Lonely?" repeated Mr. Grewgious. "No, no, my dear. No. Tartar and I will be happy enough too, never fear. While you young people are looking into the future, we two old fogies will be living again our dreams of the past, that nobody can ever take away. Life can't be lonely then, can it, my dear?"