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Charles Dickens > The Mystery of Edwin Drood > Chapter XV

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Chapter XV


Neville Landless had started so early and walked at so good a pace,
that when the church-bells began to ring in Cloisterham for morning
service, he was eight miles away. As he wanted his breakfast by
that time, having set forth on a crust of bread, he stopped at the
next roadside tavern to refresh.

Visitors in want of breakfast--unless they were horses or cattle,
for which class of guests there was preparation enough in the way
of water-trough and hay--were so unusual at the sign of The Tilted
Wagon, that it took a long time to get the wagon into the track of
tea and toast and bacon. Neville in the interval, sitting in a
sanded parlour, wondering in how long a time after he had gone, the
sneezy fire of damp fagots would begin to make somebody else warm.

Indeed, The Tilted Wagon, as a cool establishment on the top of a
hill, where the ground before the door was puddled with damp hoofs
and trodden straw; where a scolding landlady slapped a moist baby
(with one red sock on and one wanting), in the bar; where the
cheese was cast aground upon a shelf, in company with a mouldy
tablecloth and a green-handled knife, in a sort of cast-iron canoe;
where the pale-faced bread shed tears of crumb over its shipwreck
in another canoe; where the family linen, half washed and half
dried, led a public life of lying about; where everything to drink
was drunk out of mugs, and everything else was suggestive of a
rhyme to mugs; The Tilted Wagon, all these things considered,
hardly kept its painted promise of providing good entertainment for
Man and Beast. However, Man, in the present case, was not
critical, but took what entertainment he could get, and went on
again after a longer rest than he needed.

He stopped at some quarter of a mile from the house, hesitating
whether to pursue the road, or to follow a cart track between two
high hedgerows, which led across the slope of a breezy heath, and
evidently struck into the road again by-and-by. He decided in
favour of this latter track, and pursued it with some toil; the
rise being steep, and the way worn into deep ruts.

He was labouring along, when he became aware of some other
pedestrians behind him. As they were coming up at a faster pace
than his, he stood aside, against one of the high banks, to let
them pass. But their manner was very curious. Only four of them
passed. Other four slackened speed, and loitered as intending to
follow him when he should go on. The remainder of the party (half-
a-dozen perhaps) turned, and went back at a great rate.

He looked at the four behind him, and he looked at the four before
him. They all returned his look. He resumed his way. The four in
advance went on, constantly looking back; the four in the rear came
closing up.

When they all ranged out from the narrow track upon the open slope
of the heath, and this order was maintained, let him diverge as he
would to either side, there was no longer room to doubt that he was
beset by these fellows. He stopped, as a last test; and they all

'Why do you attend upon me in this way?' he asked the whole body.
'Are you a pack of thieves?'

'Don't answer him,' said one of the number; he did not see which.
'Better be quiet.'

'Better be quiet?' repeated Neville. 'Who said so?'

Nobody replied.

'It's good advice, whichever of you skulkers gave it,' he went on
angrily. 'I will not submit to be penned in between four men
there, and four men there. I wish to pass, and I mean to pass,
those four in front.'

They were all standing still; himself included.

'If eight men, or four men, or two men, set upon one,' he
proceeded, growing more enraged, 'the one has no chance but to set
his mark upon some of them. And, by the Lord, I'll do it, if I am
interrupted any farther!'

Shouldering his heavy stick, and quickening his pace, he shot on to
pass the four ahead. The largest and strongest man of the number
changed swiftly to the side on which he came up, and dexterously
closed with him and went down with him; but not before the heavy
stick had descended smartly.

'Let him be!' said this man in a suppressed voice, as they
struggled together on the grass. 'Fair play! His is the build of
a girl to mine, and he's got a weight strapped to his back besides.
Let him alone. I'll manage him.'

After a little rolling about, in a close scuffle which caused the
faces of both to be besmeared with blood, the man took his knee
from Neville's chest, and rose, saying: 'There! Now take him arm-
in-arm, any two of you!'

It was immediately done.

'As to our being a pack of thieves, Mr. Landless,' said the man, as
he spat out some blood, and wiped more from his face; 'you know
better than that at midday. We wouldn't have touched you if you
hadn't forced us. We're going to take you round to the high road,
anyhow, and you'll find help enough against thieves there, if you
want it.--Wipe his face, somebody; see how it's a-trickling down

When his face was cleansed, Neville recognised in the speaker, Joe,
driver of the Cloisterham omnibus, whom he had seen but once, and
that on the day of his arrival.

'And what I recommend you for the present, is, don't talk, Mr.
Landless. You'll find a friend waiting for you, at the high road--
gone ahead by the other way when we split into two parties--and you
had much better say nothing till you come up with him. Bring that
stick along, somebody else, and let's be moving!'

Utterly bewildered, Neville stared around him and said not a word.
Walking between his two conductors, who held his arms in theirs, he
went on, as in a dream, until they came again into the high road,
and into the midst of a little group of people. The men who had
turned back were among the group; and its central figures were Mr.
Jasper and Mr. Crisparkle. Neville's conductors took him up to the
Minor Canon, and there released him, as an act of deference to that

'What is all this, sir? What is the matter? I feel as if I had
lost my senses!' cried Neville, the group closing in around him.

'Where is my nephew?' asked Mr. Jasper, wildly.

'Where is your nephew?' repeated Neville, 'Why do you ask me?'

'I ask you,' retorted Jasper, 'because you were the last person in
his company, and he is not to be found.'

'Not to be found!' cried Neville, aghast.

'Stay, stay,' said Mr. Crisparkle. 'Permit me, Jasper. Mr.
Neville, you are confounded; collect your thoughts; it is of great
importance that you should collect your thoughts; attend to me.'

'I will try, sir, but I seem mad.'

'You left Mr. Jasper last night with Edwin Drood?'


'At what hour?'

'Was it at twelve o'clock?' asked Neville, with his hand to his
confused head, and appealing to Jasper.

'Quite right,' said Mr. Crisparkle; 'the hour Mr. Jasper has
already named to me. You went down to the river together?'

'Undoubtedly. To see the action of the wind there.'

'What followed? How long did you stay there?'

'About ten minutes; I should say not more. We then walked together
to your house, and he took leave of me at the door.'

'Did he say that he was going down to the river again?'

'No. He said that he was going straight back.'

The bystanders looked at one another, and at Mr. Crisparkle. To
whom Mr. Jasper, who had been intensely watching Neville, said, in
a low, distinct, suspicious voice: 'What are those stains upon his

All eyes were turned towards the blood upon his clothes.

'And here are the same stains upon this stick!' said Jasper, taking
it from the hand of the man who held it. 'I know the stick to be
his, and he carried it last night. What does this mean?'

'In the name of God, say what it means, Neville!' urged Mr.

'That man and I,' said Neville, pointing out his late adversary,
'had a struggle for the stick just now, and you may see the same
marks on him, sir. What was I to suppose, when I found myself
molested by eight people? Could I dream of the true reason when
they would give me none at all?'

They admitted that they had thought it discreet to be silent, and
that the struggle had taken place. And yet the very men who had
seen it looked darkly at the smears which the bright cold air had
already dried.

'We must return, Neville,' said Mr. Crisparkle; 'of course you will
be glad to come back to clear yourself?'

'Of course, sir.'

'Mr. Landless will walk at my side,' the Minor Canon continued,
looking around him. 'Come, Neville!'

They set forth on the walk back; and the others, with one
exception, straggled after them at various distances. Jasper
walked on the other side of Neville, and never quitted that
position. He was silent, while Mr. Crisparkle more than once
repeated his former questions, and while Neville repeated his
former answers; also, while they both hazarded some explanatory
conjectures. He was obstinately silent, because Mr. Crisparkle's
manner directly appealed to him to take some part in the
discussion, and no appeal would move his fixed face. When they
drew near to the city, and it was suggested by the Minor Canon that
they might do well in calling on the Mayor at once, he assented
with a stern nod; but he spake no word until they stood in Mr.
Sapsea's parlour.

Mr. Sapsea being informed by Mr. Crisparkle of the circumstances
under which they desired to make a voluntary statement before him,
Mr. Jasper broke silence by declaring that he placed his whole
reliance, humanly speaking, on Mr. Sapsea's penetration. There was
no conceivable reason why his nephew should have suddenly
absconded, unless Mr. Sapsea could suggest one, and then he would
defer. There was no intelligible likelihood of his having returned
to the river, and been accidentally drowned in the dark, unless it
should appear likely to Mr. Sapsea, and then again he would defer.
He washed his hands as clean as he could of all horrible
suspicions, unless it should appear to Mr. Sapsea that some such
were inseparable from his last companion before his disappearance
(not on good terms with previously), and then, once more, he would
defer. His own state of mind, he being distracted with doubts, and
labouring under dismal apprehensions, was not to be safely trusted;
but Mr. Sapsea's was.

Mr. Sapsea expressed his opinion that the case had a dark look; in
short (and here his eyes rested full on Neville's countenance), an
Un-English complexion. Having made this grand point, he wandered
into a denser haze and maze of nonsense than even a mayor might
have been expected to disport himself in, and came out of it with
the brilliant discovery that to take the life of a fellow-creature
was to take something that didn't belong to you. He wavered
whether or no he should at once issue his warrant for the committal
of Neville Landless to jail, under circumstances of grave
suspicion; and he might have gone so far as to do it but for the
indignant protest of the Minor Canon: who undertook for the young
man's remaining in his own house, and being produced by his own
hands, whenever demanded. Mr. Jasper then understood Mr. Sapsea to
suggest that the river should be dragged, that its banks should be
rigidly examined, that particulars of the disappearance should be
sent to all outlying places and to London, and that placards and
advertisements should be widely circulated imploring Edwin Drood,
if for any unknown reason he had withdrawn himself from his uncle's
home and society, to take pity on that loving kinsman's sore
bereavement and distress, and somehow inform him that he was yet
alive. Mr. Sapsea was perfectly understood, for this was exactly
his meaning (though he had said nothing about it); and measures
were taken towards all these ends immediately.

It would be difficult to determine which was the more oppressed
with horror and amazement: Neville Landless, or John Jasper. But
that Jasper's position forced him to be active, while Neville's
forced him to be passive, there would have been nothing to choose
between them. Each was bowed down and broken.

With the earliest light of the next morning, men were at work upon
the river, and other men--most of whom volunteered for the service-
-were examining the banks. All the livelong day the search went
on; upon the river, with barge and pole, and drag and net; upon the
muddy and rushy shore, with jack-boots, hatchet, spade, rope, dogs,
and all imaginable appliances. Even at night, the river was
specked with lanterns, and lurid with fires; far-off creeks, into
which the tide washed as it changed, had their knots of watchers,
listening to the lapping of the stream, and looking out for any
burden it might bear; remote shingly causeways near the sea, and
lonely points off which there was a race of water, had their
unwonted flaring cressets and rough-coated figures when the next
day dawned; but no trace of Edwin Drood revisited the light of the

All that day, again, the search went on. Now, in barge and boat;
and now ashore among the osiers, or tramping amidst mud and stakes
and jagged stones in low-lying places, where solitary watermarks
and signals of strange shapes showed like spectres, John Jasper
worked and toiled. But to no purpose; for still no trace of Edwin
Drood revisited the light of the sun.

Setting his watches for that night again, so that vigilant eyes
should be kept on every change of tide, he went home exhausted.
Unkempt and disordered, bedaubed with mud that had dried upon him,
and with much of his clothing torn to rags, he had but just dropped
into his easy-chair, when Mr. Grewgious stood before him.

'This is strange news,' said Mr. Grewgious.

'Strange and fearful news.'

Jasper had merely lifted up his heavy eyes to say it, and now
dropped them again as he drooped, worn out, over one side of his

Mr. Grewgious smoothed his head and face, and stood looking at the

'How is your ward?' asked Jasper, after a time, in a faint,
fatigued voice.

'Poor little thing! You may imagine her condition.'

'Have you seen his sister?' inquired Jasper, as before.


The curtness of the counter-question, and the cool, slow manner in
which, as he put it, Mr. Grewgious moved his eyes from the fire to
his companion's face, might at any other time have been
exasperating. In his depression and exhaustion, Jasper merely
opened his eyes to say: 'The suspected young man's.'

'Do you suspect him?' asked Mr. Grewgious.

'I don't know what to think. I cannot make up my mind.'

'Nor I,' said Mr. Grewgious. 'But as you spoke of him as the
suspected young man, I thought you HAD made up your mind.--I have
just left Miss Landless.'

'What is her state?'

'Defiance of all suspicion, and unbounded faith in her brother.'

'Poor thing!'

'However,' pursued Mr. Grewgious, 'it is not of her that I came to
speak. It is of my ward. I have a communication to make that will
surprise you. At least, it has surprised me.'

Jasper, with a groaning sigh, turned wearily in his chair.

'Shall I put it off till to-morrow?' said Mr. Grewgious. 'Mind, I
warn you, that I think it will surprise you!'

More attention and concentration came into John Jasper's eyes as
they caught sight of Mr. Grewgious smoothing his head again, and
again looking at the fire; but now, with a compressed and
determined mouth.

'What is it?' demanded Jasper, becoming upright in his chair.

'To be sure,' said Mr. Grewgious, provokingly slowly and
internally, as he kept his eyes on the fire: 'I might have known
it sooner; she gave me the opening; but I am such an exceedingly
Angular man, that it never occurred to me; I took all for granted.'

'What is it?' demanded Jasper once more.

Mr. Grewgious, alternately opening and shutting the palms of his
hands as he warmed them at the fire, and looking fixedly at him
sideways, and never changing either his action or his look in all
that followed, went on to reply.

'This young couple, the lost youth and Miss Rosa, my ward, though
so long betrothed, and so long recognising their betrothal, and so
near being married--'

Mr. Grewgious saw a staring white face, and two quivering white
lips, in the easy-chair, and saw two muddy hands gripping its
sides. But for the hands, he might have thought he had never seen
the face.

'--This young couple came gradually to the discovery (made on both
sides pretty equally, I think), that they would be happier and
better, both in their present and their future lives, as
affectionate friends, or say rather as brother and sister, than as
husband and wife.'

Mr. Grewgious saw a lead-coloured face in the easy-chair, and on
its surface dreadful starting drops or bubbles, as if of steel.

'This young couple formed at length the healthy resolution of
interchanging their discoveries, openly, sensibly, and tenderly.
They met for that purpose. After some innocent and generous talk,
they agreed to dissolve their existing, and their intended,
relations, for ever and ever.'

Mr. Grewgious saw a ghastly figure rise, open-mouthed, from the
easy-chair, and lift its outspread hands towards its head.

'One of this young couple, and that one your nephew, fearful,
however, that in the tenderness of your affection for him you would
be bitterly disappointed by so wide a departure from his projected
life, forbore to tell you the secret, for a few days, and left it
to be disclosed by me, when I should come down to speak to you, and
he would be gone. I speak to you, and he is gone.'

Mr. Grewgious saw the ghastly figure throw back its head, clutch
its hair with its hands, and turn with a writhing action from him.

'I have now said all I have to say: except that this young couple
parted, firmly, though not without tears and sorrow, on the evening
when you last saw them together.'

Mr. Grewgious heard a terrible shriek, and saw no ghastly figure,
sitting or standing; saw nothing but a heap of torn and miry
clothes upon the floor.

Not changing his action even then, he opened and shut the palms of
his hands as he warmed them, and looked down at it.

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