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Charles Dickens > The Mystery of Edwin Drood > Chapter XVIII

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Chapter XVIII


At about this time a stranger appeared in Cloisterham; a white-
haired personage, with black eyebrows. Being buttoned up in a
tightish blue surtout, with a buff waistcoat and gray trousers, he
had something of a military air, but he announced himself at the
Crozier (the orthodox hotel, where he put up with a portmanteau) as
an idle dog who lived upon his means; and he farther announced that
he had a mind to take a lodging in the picturesque old city for a
month or two, with a view of settling down there altogether. Both
announcements were made in the coffee-room of the Crozier, to all
whom it might or might not concern, by the stranger as he stood
with his back to the empty fireplace, waiting for his fried sole,
veal cutlet, and pint of sherry. And the waiter (business being
chronically slack at the Crozier) represented all whom it might or
might not concern, and absorbed the whole of the information.

This gentleman's white head was unusually large, and his shock of
white hair was unusually thick and ample. 'I suppose, waiter,' he
said, shaking his shock of hair, as a Newfoundland dog might shake
his before sitting down to dinner, 'that a fair lodging for a
single buffer might be found in these parts, eh?'

The waiter had no doubt of it.

'Something old,' said the gentleman. 'Take my hat down for a
moment from that peg, will you? No, I don't want it; look into it.
What do you see written there?'

The waiter read: 'Datchery.'

'Now you know my name,' said the gentleman; 'Dick Datchery. Hang
it up again. I was saying something old is what I should prefer,
something odd and out of the way; something venerable,
architectural, and inconvenient.'

'We have a good choice of inconvenient lodgings in the town, sir, I
think,' replied the waiter, with modest confidence in its resources
that way; 'indeed, I have no doubt that we could suit you that far,
however particular you might be. But a architectural lodging!'
That seemed to trouble the waiter's head, and he shook it.

'Anything Cathedraly, now,' Mr. Datchery suggested.

'Mr. Tope,' said the waiter, brightening, as he rubbed his chin
with his hand, 'would be the likeliest party to inform in that

'Who is Mr. Tope?' inquired Dick Datchery.

The waiter explained that he was the Verger, and that Mrs. Tope had
indeed once upon a time let lodgings herself or offered to let
them; but that as nobody had ever taken them, Mrs. Tope's window-
bill, long a Cloisterham Institution, had disappeared; probably had
tumbled down one day, and never been put up again.

'I'll call on Mrs. Tope,' said Mr. Datchery, 'after dinner.'

So when he had done his dinner, he was duly directed to the spot,
and sallied out for it. But the Crozier being an hotel of a most
retiring disposition, and the waiter's directions being fatally
precise, he soon became bewildered, and went boggling about and
about the Cathedral Tower, whenever he could catch a glimpse of it,
with a general impression on his mind that Mrs. Tope's was
somewhere very near it, and that, like the children in the game of
hot boiled beans and very good butter, he was warm in his search
when he saw the Tower, and cold when he didn't see it.

He was getting very cold indeed when he came upon a fragment of
burial-ground in which an unhappy sheep was grazing. Unhappy,
because a hideous small boy was stoning it through the railings,
and had already lamed it in one leg, and was much excited by the
benevolent sportsmanlike purpose of breaking its other three legs,
and bringing it down.

''It 'im agin!' cried the boy, as the poor creature leaped; 'and
made a dint in his wool.'

'Let him be!' said Mr. Datchery. 'Don't you see you have lamed

'Yer lie,' returned the sportsman. ''E went and lamed isself. I
see 'im do it, and I giv' 'im a shy as a Widdy-warning to 'im not
to go a-bruisin' 'is master's mutton any more.'

'Come here.'

'I won't; I'll come when yer can ketch me.'

'Stay there then, and show me which is Mr. Tope's.'

'Ow can I stay here and show you which is Topeseses, when Topeseses
is t'other side the Kinfreederal, and over the crossings, and round
ever so many comers? Stoo-pid! Ya-a-ah!'

'Show me where it is, and I'll give you something.'

'Come on, then.'

This brisk dialogue concluded, the boy led the way, and by-and-by
stopped at some distance from an arched passage, pointing.

'Lookie yonder. You see that there winder and door?'

'That's Tope's?'

'Yer lie; it ain't. That's Jarsper's.'

'Indeed?' said Mr. Datchery, with a second look of some interest.

'Yes, and I ain't a-goin' no nearer 'IM, I tell yer.'

'Why not?'

''Cos I ain't a-goin' to be lifted off my legs and 'ave my braces
bust and be choked; not if I knows it, and not by 'Im. Wait till I
set a jolly good flint a-flyin' at the back o' 'is jolly old 'ed
some day! Now look t'other side the harch; not the side where
Jarsper's door is; t'other side.'

'I see.'

'A little way in, o' that side, there's a low door, down two steps.
That's Topeseses with 'is name on a hoval plate.'

'Good. See here,' said Mr. Datchery, producing a shilling. 'You
owe me half of this.'

'Yer lie! I don't owe yer nothing; I never seen yer.'

'I tell you you owe me half of this, because I have no sixpence in
my pocket. So the next time you meet me you shall do something
else for me, to pay me.'

'All right, give us 'old.'

'What is your name, and where do you live?'

'Deputy. Travellers' Twopenny, 'cross the green.'

The boy instantly darted off with the shilling, lest Mr. Datchery
should repent, but stopped at a safe distance, on the happy chance
of his being uneasy in his mind about it, to goad him with a demon
dance expressive of its irrevocability.

Mr. Datchery, taking off his hat to give that shock of white hair
of his another shake, seemed quite resigned, and betook himself
whither he had been directed.

Mr. Tope's official dwelling, communicating by an upper stair with
Mr. Jasper's (hence Mrs. Tope's attendance on that gentleman), was
of very modest proportions, and partook of the character of a cool
dungeon. Its ancient walls were massive, and its rooms rather
seemed to have been dug out of them, than to have been designed
beforehand with any reference to them. The main door opened at
once on a chamber of no describable shape, with a groined roof,
which in its turn opened on another chamber of no describable
shape, with another groined roof: their windows small, and in the
thickness of the walls. These two chambers, close as to their
atmosphere, and swarthy as to their illumination by natural light,
were the apartments which Mrs. Tope had so long offered to an
unappreciative city. Mr. Datchery, however, was more appreciative.
He found that if he sat with the main door open he would enjoy the
passing society of all comers to and fro by the gateway, and would
have light enough. He found that if Mr. and Mrs. Tope, living
overhead, used for their own egress and ingress a little side stair
that came plump into the Precincts by a door opening outward, to
the surprise and inconvenience of a limited public of pedestrians
in a narrow way, he would be alone, as in a separate residence. He
found the rent moderate, and everything as quaintly inconvenient as
he could desire. He agreed, therefore, to take the lodging then
and there, and money down, possession to be had next evening, on
condition that reference was permitted him to Mr. Jasper as
occupying the gatehouse, of which on the other side of the gateway,
the Verger's hole-in-the-wall was an appanage or subsidiary part.

The poor dear gentleman was very solitary and very sad, Mrs. Tope
said, but she had no doubt he would 'speak for her.' Perhaps Mr.
Datchery had heard something of what had occurred there last

Mr. Datchery had as confused a knowledge of the event in question,
on trying to recall it, as he well could have. He begged Mrs.
Tope's pardon when she found it incumbent on her to correct him in
every detail of his summary of the facts, but pleaded that he was
merely a single buffer getting through life upon his means as idly
as he could, and that so many people were so constantly making away
with so many other people, as to render it difficult for a buffer
of an easy temper to preserve the circumstances of the several
cases unmixed in his mind.

Mr. Jasper proving willing to speak for Mrs. Tope, Mr. Datchery,
who had sent up his card, was invited to ascend the postern
staircase. The Mayor was there, Mr. Tope said; but he was not to
be regarded in the light of company, as he and Mr. Jasper were
great friends.

'I beg pardon,' said Mr. Datchery, making a leg with his hat under
his arm, as he addressed himself equally to both gentlemen; 'a
selfish precaution on my part, and not personally interesting to
anybody but myself. But as a buffer living on his means, and
having an idea of doing it in this lovely place in peace and quiet,
for remaining span of life, I beg to ask if the Tope family are
quite respectable?'

Mr. Jasper could answer for that without the slightest hesitation.

'That is enough, sir,' said Mr. Datchery.

'My friend the Mayor,' added Mr. Jasper, presenting Mr. Datchery
with a courtly motion of his hand towards that potentate; 'whose
recommendation is actually much more important to a stranger than
that of an obscure person like myself, will testify in their
behalf, I am sure.'

'The Worshipful the Mayor,' said Mr. Datchery, with a low bow,
'places me under an infinite obligation.'

'Very good people, sir, Mr. and Mrs. Tope,' said Mr. Sapsea, with
condescension. 'Very good opinions. Very well behaved. Very
respectful. Much approved by the Dean and Chapter.'

'The Worshipful the Mayor gives them a character,' said Mr.
Datchery, 'of which they may indeed be proud. I would ask His
Honour (if I might be permitted) whether there are not many objects
of great interest in the city which is under his beneficent sway?'

'We are, sir,' returned Mr. Sapsea, 'an ancient city, and an
ecclesiastical city. We are a constitutional city, as it becomes
such a city to be, and we uphold and maintain our glorious

'His Honour,' said Mr. Datchery, bowing, 'inspires me with a desire
to know more of the city, and confirms me in my inclination to end
my days in the city.'

'Retired from the Army, sir?' suggested Mr. Sapsea.

'His Honour the Mayor does me too much credit,' returned Mr.

'Navy, sir?' suggested Mr. Sapsea.

'Again,' repeated Mr. Datchery, 'His Honour the Mayor does me too
much credit.'

'Diplomacy is a fine profession,' said Mr. Sapsea, as a general

'There, I confess, His Honour the Mayor is too many for me,' said
Mr. Datchery, with an ingenious smile and bow; 'even a diplomatic
bird must fall to such a gun.'

Now this was very soothing. Here was a gentleman of a great, not
to say a grand, address, accustomed to rank and dignity, really
setting a fine example how to behave to a Mayor. There was
something in that third-person style of being spoken to, that Mr.
Sapsea found particularly recognisant of his merits and position.

'But I crave pardon,' said Mr. Datchery. 'His Honour the Mayor
will bear with me, if for a moment I have been deluded into
occupying his time, and have forgotten the humble claims upon my
own, of my hotel, the Crozier.'

'Not at all, sir,' said Mr. Sapsea. 'I am returning home, and if
you would like to take the exterior of our Cathedral in your way, I
shall be glad to point it out.'

'His Honour the Mayor,' said Mr. Datchery, 'is more than kind and

As Mr. Datchery, when he had made his acknowledgments to Mr.
Jasper, could not be induced to go out of the room before the
Worshipful, the Worshipful led the way down-stairs; Mr. Datchery
following with his hat under his arm, and his shock of white hair
streaming in the evening breeze.

'Might I ask His Honour,' said Mr. Datchery, 'whether that
gentleman we have just left is the gentleman of whom I have heard
in the neighbourhood as being much afflicted by the loss of a
nephew, and concentrating his life on avenging the loss?'

'That is the gentleman. John Jasper, sir.'

'Would His Honour allow me to inquire whether there are strong
suspicions of any one?'

'More than suspicions, sir,' returned Mr. Sapsea; 'all but

'Only think now!' cried Mr. Datchery.

'But proof, sir, proof must be built up stone by stone,' said the
Mayor. 'As I say, the end crowns the work. It is not enough that
justice should be morally certain; she must be immorally certain--
legally, that is.'

'His Honour,' said Mr. Datchery, 'reminds me of the nature of the
law. Immoral. How true!'

'As I say, sir,' pompously went on the Mayor, 'the arm of the law
is a strong arm, and a long arm. That is the may I put it. A
strong arm and a long arm.'

'How forcible!--And yet, again, how true!' murmured Mr. Datchery.

'And without betraying, what I call the secrets of the prison-
house,' said Mr. Sapsea; 'the secrets of the prison-house is the
term I used on the bench.'

'And what other term than His Honour's would express it?' said Mr.

'Without, I say, betraying them, I predict to you, knowing the iron
will of the gentleman we have just left (I take the bold step of
calling it iron, on account of its strength), that in this case the
long arm will reach, and the strong arm will strike.--This is our
Cathedral, sir. The best judges are pleased to admire it, and the
best among our townsmen own to being a little vain of it.'

All this time Mr. Datchery had walked with his hat under his arm,
and his white hair streaming. He had an odd momentary appearance
upon him of having forgotten his hat, when Mr. Sapsea now touched
it; and he clapped his hand up to his head as if with some vague
expectation of finding another hat upon it.

'Pray be covered, sir,' entreated Mr. Sapsea; magnificently plying:
'I shall not mind it, I assure you.'

'His Honour is very good, but I do it for coolness,' said Mr.

Then Mr. Datchery admired the Cathedral, and Mr. Sapsea pointed it
out as if he himself had invented and built it: there were a few
details indeed of which he did not approve, but those he glossed
over, as if the workmen had made mistakes in his absence. The
Cathedral disposed of, he led the way by the churchyard, and
stopped to extol the beauty of the evening--by chance--in the
immediate vicinity of Mrs. Sapsea's epitaph.

'And by the by,' said Mr. Sapsea, appearing to descend from an
elevation to remember it all of a sudden; like Apollo shooting down
from Olympus to pick up his forgotten lyre; 'THAT is one of our
small lions. The partiality of our people has made it so, and
strangers have been seen taking a copy of it now and then. I am
not a judge of it myself, for it is a little work of my own. But
it was troublesome to turn, sir; I may say, difficult to turn with

Mr. Datchery became so ecstatic over Mr. Sapsea's composition,
that, in spite of his intention to end his days in Cloisterham, and
therefore his probably having in reserve many opportunities of
copying it, he would have transcribed it into his pocket-book on
the spot, but for the slouching towards them of its material
producer and perpetuator, Durdles, whom Mr. Sapsea hailed, not
sorry to show him a bright example of behaviour to superiors.

'Ah, Durdles! This is the mason, sir; one of our Cloisterham
worthies; everybody here knows Durdles. Mr. Datchery, Durdles a
gentleman who is going to settle here.'

'I wouldn't do it if I was him,' growled Durdles. 'We're a heavy

'You surely don't speak for yourself, Mr. Durdles,' returned Mr.
Datchery, 'any more than for His Honour.'

'Who's His Honour?' demanded Durdles.

'His Honour the Mayor.'

'I never was brought afore him,' said Durdles, with anything but
the look of a loyal subject of the mayoralty, 'and it'll be time
enough for me to Honour him when I am. Until which, and when, and

"Mister Sapsea is his name,
England is his nation,
Cloisterham's his dwelling-place,
Aukshneer's his occupation."'

Here, Deputy (preceded by a flying oyster-shell) appeared upon the
scene, and requested to have the sum of threepence instantly
'chucked' to him by Mr. Durdles, whom he had been vainly seeking up
and down, as lawful wages overdue. While that gentleman, with his
bundle under his arm, slowly found and counted out the money, Mr.
Sapsea informed the new settler of Durdles's habits, pursuits,
abode, and reputation. 'I suppose a curious stranger might come to
see you, and your works, Mr. Durdles, at any odd time?' said Mr.
Datchery upon that.

'Any gentleman is welcome to come and see me any evening if he
brings liquor for two with him,' returned Durdles, with a penny
between his teeth and certain halfpence in his hands; 'or if he
likes to make it twice two, he'll be doubly welcome.'

'I shall come. Master Deputy, what do you owe me?'

'A job.'

'Mind you pay me honestly with the job of showing me Mr. Durdles's
house when I want to go there.'

Deputy, with a piercing broadside of whistle through the whole gap
in his mouth, as a receipt in full for all arrears, vanished.

The Worshipful and the Worshipper then passed on together until
they parted, with many ceremonies, at the Worshipful's door; even
then the Worshipper carried his hat under his arm, and gave his
streaming white hair to the breeze.

Said Mr. Datchery to himself that night, as he looked at his white
hair in the gas-lighted looking-glass over the coffee-room
chimneypiece at the Crozier, and shook it out: 'For a single
buffer, of an easy temper, living idly on his means, I have had a
rather busy afternoon!'

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