W. E. Crisp: The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Completed in 1914

TO MY READERS

I HAVE no doubt that every lover of the works of Charles Dickens will consider an attempt by any writer to complete the story that great master of English fiction left unfinished an act of great presumption. As I fully agree with that opinion, I now place on record my apology for having attempted the com-pletion of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." If any excuse for my act will be listened to, I beg to observe that having read the published portion of the story quite lately for the first time, the characters created therein haunted me by day and haunted me by night until I consented to write down their whisperings for publication.

W. E. C.

CHAPTER XXIV

MR. DATCHERY GOES FOR A WALK

A

FTER breakfast, while Mrs. Tope was clearing the table, Mr. Datchery seated himself in a prickly horse-hair chair, known in his landlady's vernacular by the misnomer of "heasy." Its principal claim to the adjective came from its propensity to slide the occupant forwards towards its edge until the close proximity of his chin to his chcst suggested the desirability of hitching himself into a more upright position, and as this particular movement was necessary at frequent intervals, the easiness of the chair had certainly the virtue of preventing waste of time by discouraging any inclination to somnolency on the part of the occupant.

Mr. Datchery, however, being particularly wide awake, contented himself with sitting in the chair and resting his elbows on the arms, thus using them as a lever to heave himself into an upright position at the above-mentioned frequent and regular intervals.

Mrs. Tope, while busying herself with the removal of the breakfast-things, opined that it was a fine morning.

Mr. Datchery, jerking himself out of a brown study into which he had fallen, admitted the truth of this remark.

"Even for a walk," added Mrs. Tope, who wondered at the sudden gloom which had come over her usually cheerful lodger.

"Ah yes, walk," assented Mr. Datchery, with the air of a man who is thinking of something else.

"A touch of the liver—" began Mrs. Tope, who by this time had put all the breakfast-things on a tray and, having placed it on the sideboard near the door, was spreading a faded red cloth on the table; "a touch of the liver, sir, is very often—"

"Yes, yes," interrupted Mr. Datchery, and finding any attempt at thinking in the presence of his land-lady a hopeless task, he rose, stretched himself, and added, "a walk I think you said, Mrs. Tope?—a most excellent suggestion, and I thank you for it, I shall take a long walk and will get anything I want in the way of dinner in the course of my—er—my perambulations. I may be an old buffer, Mrs. Tope, but I can do my ten miles at a pinch. I shall put your suggestion into immediate execution and shall not be back till tea-time."

"And good I am sure it'll do you, sir," answered his landlady in the cheerful tone of one who anticipates for herself a relaxation of labour without any diminution of pay. She thereupon hastened to hand her lodger his stick and the hat he so much preferred to carry than to wear.

With a brief nod to Mrs. Tope, Mr. Datchery "sauntered forth into the fresh air of a lovely summer's morning. A light western breeze tempered the heat of what promised to be a scorchingly hot day, but neither heat nor wind occupied the mind of Mr. Datchery who, though walking at the easy pace of one who has no particular object in view, was in reality suppressing his energy until he should reach the outskirts of the town. He stopped soon and gazed around, his right hand gripping his stick with such firmness and youthful strength that any observer would have looked in astonishment first at his white head of hair and then at the tense muscles of the fingers clasped around the stick. Restraining himself as best he might until the last houses of Cloisterham were behind him, Mr. Datchery looked carefully round and seeing no one on the road he continued to walk on leisurely for some little distance until he came to a bend in the highway ; here, after a second and more careful scrutiny of the surrounding country, he took off his hat and whisked off his white wig, thereby uncovering a head of wavy dark brown hair now somewhat tousled by the sudden removal of the tight-fitting wig. Putting the wig into his pocket with a sigh of infinite satisfaction, he set off at a good round pace with the elastic step of a man on the right side of thirty years of age.

"Now," said Mr. Datchery to himself, "you old humbug of a buffer, this is a holiday and you have jolly well earned it. Still, though it's a holiday, you have got to put in a lot of hard thinking, and the subject of your reflections will be connected—and very closely connected, too,—with a certain Mr. Jasper."

The name of Jasper caused Mr. Datchery to swing his walking-stick somewhat viciously and to make various cuts at tufts of grass, odd stones and other objects found at the side of the road as he progressed rapidly on his self-imposed journey.

He walked on thus for over two hours, occasionally clapping his hand to his forehead and stopping suddenly as if the idea which arrested his attention had a similar effect on the muscles of his legs. Various ejaculations escaped his lips—detached words which would have conveyed no meaning to any listener had there been one to hear them, but which were, of course, intelligible to the speaker as they were connected with the under-current of thoughts which raced through his brain.

"Opium," exclaimed Mr. Datchery aloud "Humph!" Then he strode on at a rapid pace. "Old hag," he muttered; then, walking quite slowly, he struck his forehead with his left hand. "She knows something. Ah, I have it—no—yes—black—mail—hag—blackmail!" He again quickened his steps, and walked on vigorously for about a mile without slowing or easing his pace for an instant.

The road was a lonely one and the pedestrian had it to himself for the most part. An occasional waggoner wished him a civil good-morning as he passed, an occasional grimy tramp slowly glowered at him from under his eyebrows as if speculating whether a tale of woe would extract a copper, and then passed silently on, judging from the keen but pre-occupied face of the traveller that he would not easily be deceived by any maudlin humbug.

Two hours and more had passed, and during this time Mr. Datchery had walked the better part of some ten miles. It was a little past noon and the early promise of heat had been fully justified in fulfilment. The pedestrian had seated himself on a milestone and was mopping his brow with a large red silk pocket- handkerchief embellished with white spots. "The inner man is a remarkable individual," mused Mr. Datchery to himself. "Here am I with a problem to solve which presents as many variations as ' John was buried here'—' John was buried here' can be written in twenty-four different ways, as my old schoolmaster impressed on me with the aid of a short but particularly willowy cane, and my own problem of Jasper, hag, opium and Drood may, for all I know, twist itself into a hundred-and-twenty-four different shapes—and here am I after only two hours' mental work at my problem, interrupted by an individual who has only one idea and that is ' vittles'!

"The inner man," continued Mr. Datchery, reflectively, "is a tyrant, a nigger-driver, a persistent three-times-a-day worrier. You can never satisfy him for any reasonable length of time. There is no variation about him. He has no watch, no clock, no time-piece of any kind, yet it matters not how busy you are or how important time may be to you"—here Mr. Datchery waved his stick as if addressing three tall poplars which grew behind the hedge close to the milestone on which he was sitting ; but as he did not elicit from them the slightest quiver of a bough or the faintest rustle of a leaf he continued quite cheer¬fully to himself, 'I no matter how urgent is the job you have on hand, the inner man shouts 'vittles.' I want to go on thinking, as I seem to be getting close on the coat-tails of a clue (or, if clue is feminine, close on her apron-strings), but inner man shouts 'vittles.'

" ' Clue,' says I.

" ' Vittles,' says he.

" ' Just let me get to a point that is hovering almost within reach of my mental vision,' says I.

" ' Vittles,' says he.

"' But if I miss that point now I may be hours finding it again,' says I.

" ' Vittles,' says he.

" ' You shall have more than you want at tea-time,* says I, ' if only you will wait just this once.'

" ' Vittles,' says he.

"And," continued Mr. Datchery as he vacated the milestone, "there is no arguing with a tyrant who lives inside you, whom you can't get at and whom you must carry with you from the cradle to the grave,—"there is no argument but one, and that is," he added, gazing around the landscape, "that is to give him his vittles."

At this moment a ruddy-faced plough boy came lumbering over a gate dividing the field of the three poplars from the road. In one hand he held a piece of fat pork in a somewhat melting condition and in the other a large piece of dry bread.

"Vittles, vittles, vittles!" shouted Mr. Datchery's inner man in one breath.

"Hi!" said Mr. Datchery, and he waved his stick to attract the boy's attention

The boy slouched towards him and stood in the middle of the road taking a small bite out of the greasy pork (which contained not a single particle of lean) and a large bite out of the bread.

"Is there any inn near here where I could get some refreshment?" asked Mr. Datchery.

The boy, whose mouth was full to its utmost capacity, attempted to thrust the contents to one side and immediately something resembling half of a small, red apple appeared on the outside of his cheek.

"Huck, wuck, wuck," he answered, jerking his thumb over his left shoulder.

Mr. Datchery regretted that Chinese was a language of which he had not the smallest knowledge. The boy let a portion of the contents of his cheek back into the working machinery of his mouth and re¬commenced chewing.

Mr. Datchery, watching the contour of the red- apple-like cheek grow perceptibly flatter, repeated his question.

"Huck, wuck, arn rooad," began the boy, but becoming sensible after a gulp that a partial vacancy had occurred in his mouth he again raised the pork to his lips. Mr. Datchery hastily produced a sixpence from his pocket and arrested the slowly upward- moving hand by touching the boy's forearm with his walking-stick.

"One moment, my lad," said Mr. Datchery, holding up the sixpence ; "shew me my way to an inn or even a common beer-house and this is yours."

Like magic the red apple disappeared from the side of the boy's cheeks, and as he gave a sudden forward movement of his head the shape of what appeared to be a huge marble became visible sticking in his throat. Mr. Datchery slapped him on the back, the boy's hand was thrust up to his throat, his eyes bulged, and with a sudden vibration of his whole frame the obstacle slid down his throat to its proper destination.

After this strenuous exertion the boy drew one or two long breaths and wiped his eyes (which were watering) with the back of his hand.

"That wur near a clash," said he, again drawing a long breath.

"Yes, you stupid boy," said Mr. Datchery. "Now, tell me, where can I get something to eat and drink?"

"There be the Rile Gearge about a mile furder along this turnpike," answered the boy, greedily eyeing the sixpence which Mr. Datchery still held between his thumb and forefinger. "And," he went on, "if yer goo down this lane "—pointing to a lane beside the field near which they were standing— "thar's the Tooad an Tiddlers, wot's kep' by widder Snagwags. She be a good cook, she be, I tell 'ee."

"Well, I'll go to the widow's," said Mr. Datchery, on receiving another sudden prompting from the inner man. "Here's your sixpence."

"Thank'ee, maaster, will oi goo with 'ee?"

Mr. Datchery walked to the corner of the lane which, leading to falling ground, was but a short distance from the point at which he stood, and he could just discern the gable and chimney-pots of some building about four hundred yards away.

"Is that the inn?" said he, beckoning to the boy. The latter nodded his head, his mouth being again temporarily engaged.

"Oh, then, you needn't come," said Mr. Datchery. Waving him a farewell, he proceeded at a brisk pace towards the hostelry in order to satisfy at the earliest possible moment that persistent tyrant, the inner man.



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