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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Mystery Of Edwin Drood - Chapter V - MR. DURDLES AND FRIEND
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The Mystery Of Edwin Drood - Chapter V - MR. DURDLES AND FRIEND Post by :RedShamrock Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dickens Date :June 2011 Read :1172

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The Mystery Of Edwin Drood - Chapter V - MR. DURDLES AND FRIEND

CHAPTER V - MR. DURDLES AND FRIEND


John Jasper, on his way home through the Close, is brought to a
stand-still by the spectacle of Stony Durdles, dinner-bundle and
all, leaning his back against the iron railing of the burial-ground
enclosing it from the old cloister-arches; and a hideous small boy
in rags flinging stones at him as a well-defined mark in the
moonlight. Sometimes the stones hit him, and sometimes they miss
him, but Durdles seems indifferent to either fortune. The hideous
small boy, on the contrary, whenever he hits Durdles, blows a
whistle of triumph through a jagged gap, convenient for the
purpose, in the front of his mouth, where half his teeth are
wanting; and whenever he misses him, yelps out 'Mulled agin!' and
tries to atone for the failure by taking a more correct and vicious
aim.

'What are you doing to the man?' demands Jasper, stepping out into
the moonlight from the shade.

'Making a cock-shy of him,' replies the hideous small boy.

'Give me those stones in your hand.'

'Yes, I'll give 'em you down your throat, if you come a-ketching
hold of me,' says the small boy, shaking himself loose, and
backing. 'I'll smash your eye, if you don't look out!'

'Baby-Devil that you are, what has the man done to you?'

'He won't go home.'

'What is that to you?'

'He gives me a 'apenny to pelt him home if I ketches him out too
late,' says the boy. And then chants, like a little savage, half
stumbling and half dancing among the rags and laces of his
dilapidated boots:-


'Widdy widdy wen!
I--ket--ches--Im--out--ar--ter--ten,
Widdy widdy wy!
Then--E--don't--go--then--I--shy -
Widdy Widdy Wake-cock warning!'


- with a comprehensive sweep on the last word, and one more
delivery at Durdles.

This would seem to be a poetical note of preparation, agreed upon,
as a caution to Durdles to stand clear if he can, or to betake
himself homeward.

John Jasper invites the boy with a beck of his head to follow him
(feeling it hopeless to drag him, or coax him), and crosses to the
iron railing where the Stony (and stoned) One is profoundly
meditating.

'Do you know this thing, this child?' asks Jasper, at a loss for a
word that will define this thing.

'Deputy,' says Durdles, with a nod.

'Is that its--his--name?'

'Deputy,' assents Durdles.

'I'm man-servant up at the Travellers' Twopenny in Gas Works
Garding,' this thing explains. 'All us man-servants at Travellers'
Lodgings is named Deputy. When we're chock full and the Travellers
is all a-bed I come out for my 'elth.' Then withdrawing into the
road, and taking aim, he resumes:-


'Widdy widdy wen!
I--ket--ches--Im--out--ar--ter--'


'Hold your hand,' cries Jasper, 'and don't throw while I stand so
near him, or I'll kill you! Come, Durdles; let me walk home with
you to-night. Shall I carry your bundle?'

'Not on any account,' replies Durdles, adjusting it. 'Durdles was
making his reflections here when you come up, sir, surrounded by
his works, like a poplar Author.--Your own brother-in-law;'
introducing a sarcophagus within the railing, white and cold in the
moonlight. 'Mrs. Sapsea;' introducing the monument of that devoted
wife. 'Late Incumbent;' introducing the Reverend Gentleman's
broken column. 'Departed Assessed Taxes;' introducing a vase and
towel, standing on what might represent the cake of soap. 'Former
pastrycook and Muffin-maker, much respected;' introducing
gravestone. 'All safe and sound here, sir, and all Durdles's work.
Of the common folk, that is merely bundled up in turf and brambles,
the less said the better. A poor lot, soon forgot.'

'This creature, Deputy, is behind us,' says Jasper, looking back.
'Is he to follow us?'

The relations between Durdles and Deputy are of a capricious kind;
for, on Durdles's turning himself about with the slow gravity of
beery suddenness, Deputy makes a pretty wide circuit into the road
and stands on the defensive.

'You never cried Widdy Warning before you begun to-night,' says
Durdles, unexpectedly reminded of, or imagining, an injury.

'Yer lie, I did,' says Deputy, in his only form of polite
contradiction.

'Own brother, sir,' observes Durdles, turning himself about again,
and as unexpectedly forgetting his offence as he had recalled or
conceived it; 'own brother to Peter the Wild Boy! But I gave him
an object in life.'

'At which he takes aim?' Mr. Jasper suggests.

'That's it, sir,' returns Durdles, quite satisfied; 'at which he
takes aim. I took him in hand and gave him an object. What was he
before? A destroyer. What work did he do? Nothing but
destruction. What did he earn by it? Short terms in Cloisterham
jail. Not a person, not a piece of property, not a winder, not a
horse, nor a dog, nor a cat, nor a bird, nor a fowl, nor a pig, but
what he stoned, for want of an enlightened object. I put that
enlightened object before him, and now he can turn his honest
halfpenny by the three penn'orth a week.'

'I wonder he has no competitors.'

'He has plenty, Mr. Jasper, but he stones 'em all away. Now, I
don't know what this scheme of mine comes to,' pursues Durdles,
considering about it with the same sodden gravity; 'I don't know
what you may precisely call it. It ain't a sort of a--scheme of a-
-National Education?'

'I should say not,' replies Jasper.

'I should say not,' assents Durdles; 'then we won't try to give it
a name.'

'He still keeps behind us,' repeats Jasper, looking over his
shoulder; 'is he to follow us?'

'We can't help going round by the Travellers' Twopenny, if we go
the short way, which is the back way,' Durdles answers, 'and we'll
drop him there.'

So they go on; Deputy, as a rear rank one, taking open order, and
invading the silence of the hour and place by stoning every wall,
post, pillar, and other inanimate object, by the deserted way.

'Is there anything new down in the crypt, Durdles?' asks John
Jasper.

'Anything old, I think you mean,' growls Durdles. 'It ain't a spot
for novelty.'

'Any new discovery on your part, I meant.'

'There's a old 'un under the seventh pillar on the left as you go
down the broken steps of the little underground chapel as formerly
was; I make him out (so fur as I've made him out yet) to be one of
them old 'uns with a crook. To judge from the size of the passages
in the walls, and of the steps and doors, by which they come and
went, them crooks must have been a good deal in the way of the old
'uns! Two on 'em meeting promiscuous must have hitched one another
by the mitre pretty often, I should say.'

Without any endeavour to correct the literality of this opinion,
Jasper surveys his companion--covered from head to foot with old
mortar, lime, and stone grit--as though he, Jasper, were getting
imbued with a romantic interest in his weird life.

'Yours is a curious existence.'

Without furnishing the least clue to the question, whether he
receives this as a compliment or as quite the reverse, Durdles
gruffly answers: 'Yours is another.'

'Well! inasmuch as my lot is cast in the same old earthy, chilly,
never-changing place, Yes. But there is much more mystery and
interest in your connection with the Cathedral than in mine.
Indeed, I am beginning to have some idea of asking you to take me
on as a sort of student, or free 'prentice, under you, and to let
me go about with you sometimes, and see some of these odd nooks in
which you pass your days.'

The Stony One replies, in a general way, 'All right. Everybody
knows where to find Durdles, when he's wanted.' Which, if not
strictly true, is approximately so, if taken to express that
Durdles may always be found in a state of vagabondage somewhere.

'What I dwell upon most,' says Jasper, pursuing his subject of
romantic interest, 'is the remarkable accuracy with which you would
seem to find out where people are buried.--What is the matter?
That bundle is in your way; let me hold it.'

Durdles has stopped and backed a little (Deputy, attentive to all
his movements, immediately skirmishing into the road), and was
looking about for some ledge or corner to place his bundle on, when
thus relieved of it.

'Just you give me my hammer out of that,' says Durdles, 'and I'll
show you.'

Clink, clink. And his hammer is handed him.

'Now, lookee here. You pitch your note, don't you, Mr. Jasper?'

'Yes.'

'So I sound for mine. I take my hammer, and I tap.' (Here he
strikes the pavement, and the attentive Deputy skirmishes at a
rather wider range, as supposing that his head may be in
requisition.) 'I tap, tap, tap. Solid! I go on tapping. Solid
still! Tap again. Holloa! Hollow! Tap again, persevering.
Solid in hollow! Tap, tap, tap, to try it better. Solid in
hollow; and inside solid, hollow again! There you are! Old 'un
crumbled away in stone coffin, in vault!'

'Astonishing!'

'I have even done this,' says Durdles, drawing out his two-foot
rule (Deputy meanwhile skirmishing nearer, as suspecting that
Treasure may be about to be discovered, which may somehow lead to
his own enrichment, and the delicious treat of the discoverers
being hanged by the neck, on his evidence, until they are dead).
'Say that hammer of mine's a wall--my work. Two; four; and two is
six,' measuring on the pavement. 'Six foot inside that wall is
Mrs. Sapsea.'

'Not really Mrs. Sapsea?'

'Say Mrs. Sapsea. Her wall's thicker, but say Mrs. Sapsea.
Durdles taps, that wall represented by that hammer, and says, after
good sounding: "Something betwixt us!" Sure enough, some rubbish
has been left in that same six-foot space by Durdles's men!'

Jasper opines that such accuracy 'is a gift.'

'I wouldn't have it at a gift,' returns Durdles, by no means
receiving the observation in good part. 'I worked it out for
myself. Durdles comes by HIS knowledge through grubbing deep for
it, and having it up by the roots when it don't want to come.--
Holloa you Deputy!'

'Widdy!' is Deputy's shrill response, standing off again.

'Catch that ha'penny. And don't let me see any more of you to-
night, after we come to the Travellers' Twopenny.'

'Warning!' returns Deputy, having caught the halfpenny, and
appearing by this mystic word to express his assent to the
arrangement.

They have but to cross what was once the vineyard, belonging to
what was once the Monastery, to come into the narrow back lane
wherein stands the crazy wooden house of two low stories currently
known as the Travellers' Twopenny:- a house all warped and
distorted, like the morals of the travellers, with scant remains of
a lattice-work porch over the door, and also of a rustic fence
before its stamped-out garden; by reason of the travellers being so
bound to the premises by a tender sentiment (or so fond of having a
fire by the roadside in the course of the day), that they can never
be persuaded or threatened into departure, without violently
possessing themselves of some wooden forget-me-not, and bearing it
off.

The semblance of an inn is attempted to be given to this wretched
place by fragments of conventional red curtaining in the windows,
which rags are made muddily transparent in the night-season by
feeble lights of rush or cotton dip burning dully in the close air
of the inside. As Durdles and Jasper come near, they are addressed
by an inscribed paper lantern over the door, setting forth the
purport of the house. They are also addressed by some half-dozen
other hideous small boys--whether twopenny lodgers or followers or
hangers-on of such, who knows!--who, as if attracted by some
carrion-scent of Deputy in the air, start into the moonlight, as
vultures might gather in the desert, and instantly fall to stoning
him and one another.

'Stop, you young brutes,' cries Jasper angrily, 'and let us go by!'

This remonstrance being received with yells and flying stones,
according to a custom of late years comfortably established among
the police regulations of our English communities, where Christians
are stoned on all sides, as if the days of Saint Stephen were
revived, Durdles remarks of the young savages, with some point,
that 'they haven't got an object,' and leads the way down the lane.

At the corner of the lane, Jasper, hotly enraged, checks his
companion and looks back. All is silent. Next moment, a stone
coming rattling at his hat, and a distant yell of 'Wake-Cock!
Warning!' followed by a crow, as from some infernally-hatched
Chanticleer, apprising him under whose victorious fire he stands,
he turns the corner into safety, and takes Durdles home: Durdles
stumbling among the litter of his stony yard as if he were going to
turn head foremost into one of the unfinished tombs.

John Jasper returns by another way to his gatehouse, and entering
softly with his key, finds his fire still burning. He takes from a
locked press a peculiar-looking pipe, which he fills--but not with
tobacco--and, having adjusted the contents of the bowl, very
carefully, with a little instrument, ascends an inner staircase of
only a few steps, leading to two rooms. One of these is his own
sleeping chamber: the other is his nephew's. There is a light in
each.

His nephew lies asleep, calm and untroubled. John Jasper stands
looking down upon him, his unlighted pipe in his hand, for some
time, with a fixed and deep attention. Then, hushing his
footsteps, he passes to his own room, lights his pipe, and delivers
himself to the Spectres it invokes at midnight.

Content of CHAPTER V - MR. DURDLES AND FRIEND (Charles Dickens' novel: The Mystery of Edwin Drood)

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