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Chapter 15 Impeached

  • Neville Landless had started so early and walked at so good a pace, that whe_he church-bells began to ring in Cloisterham for morning service, he wa_ight miles away. As he wanted his breakfast by that time, having set forth o_ crust of bread, he stopped at the next roadside tavern to refresh.
  • Visitors in want of breakfast — unless they were horses or cattle, for whic_lass of guests there was preparation enough in the way of water-trough an_ay — were so unusual at the sign of The Tilted Wagon, that it took a lon_ime to get the wagon into the track of tea and toast and bacon. Neville i_he interval, sitting in a sanded parlour, wondering in how long a time afte_e had gone, the sneezy fire of damp fagots would begin to make somebody els_arm.
  • Indeed, The Tilted Wagon, as a cool establishment on the top of a hill, wher_he 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 on_anting), in the bar; where the cheese was cast aground upon a shelf, i_ompany 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 shipwrec_n another canoe; where the family linen, half washed and half dried, led _ublic 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, al_hese things considered, hardly kept its painted promise of providing goo_ntertainment for Man and Beast. However, Man, in the present case, was no_ritical, but took what entertainment he could get, and went on again after _onger rest than he needed.
  • He stopped at some quarter of a mile from the house, hesitating whether t_ursue the road, or to follow a cart track between two high hedgerows, whic_ed across the slope of a breezy heath, and evidently struck into the roa_gain by-and-by. He decided in favour of this latter track, and pursued i_ith 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 behin_im. As they were coming up at a faster pace than his, he stood aside, agains_ne 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 a_ntending 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. The_ll 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 th_eath, and this order was maintained, let him diverge as he would to eithe_ide, there was no longer room to doubt that he was beset by these fellows. H_topped, as a last test; and they all stopped.
  • 'Why do you attend upon me in this way?' he asked the whole body. 'Are you _ack of thieves?'
  • 'Don't answer him,' said one of the number; he did not see which. 'Better b_uiet.'
  • 'Better be quiet?' repeated Neville. 'Who said so?'
  • Nobody replied.
  • 'It's good advice, whichever of you skulkers gave it,' he went on angrily. '_ill not submit to be penned in between four men there, and four men there. _ish 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, growin_ore 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 th_our ahead. The largest and strongest man of the number changed swiftly to th_ide on which he came up, and dexterously closed with him and went down wit_im; but not before the heavy stick had descended smartly.
  • 'Let him be!' said this man in a suppressed voice, as they struggled togethe_n the grass. 'Fair play! His is the build of a girl to mine, and he's got _eight 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 o_oth 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 spa_ut some blood, and wiped more from his face; 'you know better than that a_idday. We wouldn't have touched you if you hadn't forced us. We're going t_ake you round to the high road, anyhow, and you'll find help enough agains_hieves there, if you want it. — Wipe his face, somebody; see how it'_-trickling down him!'
  • When his face was cleansed, Neville recognised in the speaker, Joe, driver o_he Cloisterham omnibus, whom he had seen but once, and that on the day of hi_rrival.
  • '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 th_ther way when we split into two parties — and you had much better say nothin_ill you come up with him. Bring that stick along, somebody else, and let's b_oving!'
  • Utterly bewildered, Neville stared around him and said not a word. Walkin_etween his two conductors, who held his arms in theirs, he went on, as in _ream, until they came again into the high road, and into the midst of _ittle group of people. The men who had turned back were among the group; an_ts central figures were Mr. Jasper and Mr. Crisparkle. Neville's conductor_ook him up to the Minor Canon, and there released him, as an act of deferenc_o that gentleman.
  • 'What is all this, sir? What is the matter? I feel as if I had lost m_enses!' 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 hi_ompany, 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 ar_onfounded; collect your thoughts; it is of great importance that you shoul_ollect your thoughts; attend to me.'
  • 'I will try, sir, but I seem mad.'
  • 'You left Mr. Jasper last night with Edwin Drood?'
  • 'Yes.'
  • '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 t_e. 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 you_ouse, 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 dress?'
  • All eyes were turned towards the blood upon his clothes.
  • 'And here are the same stains upon this stick!' said Jasper, taking it fro_he hand of the man who held it. 'I know the stick to be his, and he carrie_t last night. What does this mean?'
  • 'In the name of God, say what it means, Neville!' urged Mr. Crisparkle.
  • 'That man and I,' said Neville, pointing out his late adversary, 'had _truggle 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 _ream 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 th_truggle had taken place. And yet the very men who had seen it looked darkl_t the smears which the bright cold air had already dried.
  • 'We must return, Neville,' said Mr. Crisparkle; 'of course you will be glad t_ome back to clear yourself?'
  • 'Of course, sir.'
  • 'Mr. Landless will walk at my side,' the Minor Canon continued, looking aroun_im. 'Come, Neville!'
  • They set forth on the walk back; and the others, with one exception, straggle_fter them at various distances. Jasper walked on the other side of Neville, and never quitted that position. He was silent, while Mr. Crisparkle more tha_nce repeated his former questions, and while Neville repeated his forme_nswers; also, while they both hazarded some explanatory conjectures. He wa_bstinately silent, because Mr. Crisparkle's manner directly appealed to hi_o 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 tha_hey might do well in calling on the Mayor at once, he assented with a ster_od; but he spake no word until they stood in Mr. Sapsea's parlour.
  • Mr. Sapsea being informed by Mr. Crisparkle of the circumstances under whic_hey desired to make a voluntary statement before him, Mr. Jasper brok_ilence by declaring that he placed his whole reliance, humanly speaking, o_r. Sapsea's penetration. There was no conceivable reason why his nephe_hould have suddenly absconded, unless Mr. Sapsea could suggest one, and the_e would defer. There was no intelligible likelihood of his having returned t_he river, and been accidentally drowned in the dark, unless it should appea_ikely to Mr. Sapsea, and then again he would defer. He washed his hands a_lean as he could of all horrible suspicions, unless it should appear to Mr.
  • Sapsea that some such were inseparable from his last companion before hi_isappearance (not on good terms with previously), and then, once more, h_ould defer. His own state of mind, he being distracted with doubts, an_abouring 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 (an_ere 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 o_onsense than even a mayor might have been expected to disport himself in, an_ame 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 whethe_r no he should at once issue his warrant for the committal of Nevill_andless to jail, under circumstances of grave suspicion; and he might hav_one so far as to do it but for the indignant protest of the Minor Canon: wh_ndertook for the young man's remaining in his own house, and being produce_y his own hands, whenever demanded. Mr. Jasper then understood Mr. Sapsea t_uggest that the river should be dragged, that its banks should be rigidl_xamined, that particulars of the disappearance should be sent to all outlyin_laces and to London, and that placards and advertisements should be widel_irculated imploring Edwin Drood, if for any unknown reason he had withdraw_imself from his uncle's home and society, to take pity on that lovin_insman's sore bereavement and distress, and somehow inform him that he wa_et alive. Mr. Sapsea was perfectly understood, for this was exactly hi_eaning (though he had said nothing about it); and measures were taken toward_ll these ends immediately.
  • It would be difficult to determine which was the more oppressed with horro_nd amazement: Neville Landless, or John Jasper. But that Jasper's positio_orced him to be active, while Neville's forced him to be passive, there woul_ave 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 th_anks. All the livelong day the search went on; upon the river, with barge an_ole, and drag and net; upon the muddy and rushy shore, with jack-boots, hatchet, spade, rope, dogs, and all imaginable appliances. Even at night, th_iver was specked with lanterns, and lurid with fires; far-off creeks, int_hich the tide washed as it changed, had their knots of watchers, listening t_he 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 _ace of water, had their unwonted flaring cressets and rough-coated figure_hen the next day dawned; but no trace of Edwin Drood revisited the light o_he sun.
  • All that day, again, the search went on. Now, in barge and boat; and no_shore among the osiers, or tramping amidst mud and stakes and jagged stone_n low-lying places, where solitary watermarks and signals of strange shape_howed like spectres, John Jasper worked and toiled. But to no purpose; fo_till no trace of Edwin Drood revisited the light of the sun.
  • Setting his watches for that night again, so that vigilant eyes should be kep_n 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 tor_o rags, he had but just dropped into his easy-chair, when Mr. Grewgious stoo_efore 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 the_gain as he drooped, worn out, over one side of his easy-chair.
  • Mr. Grewgious smoothed his head and face, and stood looking at the fire.
  • '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.
  • 'Whose?'
  • The curtness of the counter-question, and the cool, slow manner in which, a_e 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 an_xhaustion, 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 youn_an, 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. I_s of my ward. I have a communication to make that will surprise you. A_east, 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 caugh_ight of Mr. Grewgious smoothing his head again, and again looking at th_ire; 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 h_ept his eyes on the fire: 'I might have known it sooner; she gave me th_pening; but I am such an exceedingly Angular man, that it never occurred t_e; I took all for granted.'
  • 'What is it?' demanded Jasper once more.
  • Mr. Grewgious, alternately opening and shutting the palms of his hands as h_armed them at the fire, and looking fixedly at him sideways, and neve_hanging 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 lon_etrothed, and so long recognising their betrothal, and so near being married —'
  • Mr. Grewgious saw a staring white face, and two quivering white lips, in th_asy-chair, and saw two muddy hands gripping its sides. But for the hands, h_ight have thought he had never seen the face.
  • '— This young couple came gradually to the discovery (made on both side_retty equally, I think), that they would be happier and better, both in thei_resent and their future lives, as affectionate friends, or say rather a_rother and sister, than as husband and wife.'
  • Mr. Grewgious saw a lead-coloured face in the easy-chair, and on its surfac_readful starting drops or bubbles, as if of steel.
  • 'This young couple formed at length the healthy resolution of interchangin_heir 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 i_he tenderness of your affection for him you would be bitterly disappointed b_o 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 t_peak 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 wit_ts 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 sa_hem together.'
  • Mr. Grewgious heard a terrible shriek, and saw no ghastly figure, sitting o_tanding; 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 hand_s he warmed them, and looked down at it.