John Jasper, on his way home through the Close, is brought to a stand-still b_he spectacle of Stony Durdles, dinner-bundle and all, leaning his bac_gainst the iron railing of the burial-ground enclosing it from the ol_loister-arches; and a hideous small boy in rags flinging stones at him as _ell-defined mark in the moonlight. Sometimes the stones hit him, an_ometimes they miss him, but Durdles seems indifferent to either fortune. Th_ideous small boy, on the contrary, whenever he hits Durdles, blows a whistl_f triumph through a jagged gap, convenient for the purpose, in the front o_is mouth, where half his teeth are wanting; and whenever he misses him, yelp_ut 'Mulled agin!' and tries to atone for the failure by taking a more correc_nd vicious aim.
'What are you doing to the man?' demands Jasper, stepping out into th_oonlight 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,' say_he boy. And then chants, like a little savage, half stumbling and hal_ancing among the rags and laces of his dilapidated boots:-
— with a comprehensive sweep on the last word, and one more delivery a_urdles.
This would seem to be a poetical note of preparation, agreed upon, as _aution 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 i_opeless to drag him, or coax him), and crosses to the iron railing where th_tony (and stoned) One is profoundly meditating.
'Do you know this thing, this child?' asks Jasper, at a loss for a word tha_ill 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,' thi_hing 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, o_'ll kill you! Come, Durdles; let me walk home with you to-night. Shall _arry your bundle?'
'Not on any account,' replies Durdles, adjusting it. 'Durdles was making hi_eflections here when you come up, sir, surrounded by his works, like a popla_uthor. — Your own brother-in-law;' introducing a sarcophagus within th_ailing, white and cold in the moonlight. 'Mrs. Sapsea;' introducing th_onument of that devoted wife. 'Late Incumbent;' introducing the Reveren_entleman's broken column. 'Departed Assessed Taxes;' introducing a vase an_owel, standing on what might represent the cake of soap. 'Former pastrycoo_nd Muffin-maker, much respected;' introducing gravestone. 'All safe and soun_ere, sir, and all Durdles's work. Of the common folk, that is merely bundle_p 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 t_ollow us?'
The relations between Durdles and Deputy are of a capricious kind; for, o_urdles'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 a_nexpectedly forgetting his offence as he had recalled or conceived it; 'ow_rother 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. _ook him in hand and gave him an object. What was he before? A destroyer. Wha_ork did he do? Nothing but destruction. What did he earn by it? Short term_n Cloisterham jail. Not a person, not a piece of property, not a winder, no_ horse, nor a dog, nor a cat, nor a bird, nor a fowl, nor a pig, but what h_toned, for want of an enlightened object. I put that enlightened objec_efore him, and now he can turn his honest halfpenny by the three penn'orth _eek.'
'I wonder he has no competitors.'
'He has plenty, Mr. Jasper, but he stones 'em all away. Now, I don't know wha_his scheme of mine comes to,' pursues Durdles, considering about it with th_ame sodden gravity; 'I don't know what you may precisely call it. It ain't _ort 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 h_o follow us?'
'We can't help going round by the Travellers' Twopenny, if we go the shor_ay, 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 th_ilence of the hour and place by stoning every wall, post, pillar, and othe_nanimate 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 fo_ovelty.'
'Any new discovery on your part, I meant.'
'There's a old 'un under the seventh pillar on the left as you go down th_roken 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. T_udge 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 wa_f the old 'uns! Two on 'em meeting promiscuous must have hitched one anothe_y the mitre pretty often, I should say.'
Without any endeavour to correct the literality of this opinion, Jaspe_urveys his companion — covered from head to foot with old mortar, lime, an_tone grit — as though he, Jasper, were getting imbued with a romanti_nterest in his weird life.
'Yours is a curious existence.'
Without furnishing the least clue to the question, whether he receives this a_ compliment or as quite the reverse, Durdles gruffly answers: 'Yours i_nother.'
'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 you_onnection with the Cathedral than in mine. Indeed, I am beginning to hav_ome 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 thes_dd nooks in which you pass your days.'
The Stony One replies, in a general way, 'All right. Everybody knows where t_ind Durdles, when he's wanted.' Which, if not strictly true, is approximatel_o, if taken to express that Durdles may always be found in a state o_agabondage somewhere.
'What I dwell upon most,' says Jasper, pursuing his subject of romanti_nterest, 'is the remarkable accuracy with which you would seem to find ou_here people are buried. — What is the matter? That bundle is in your way; le_e hold it.'
Durdles has stopped and backed a little (Deputy, attentive to all hi_ovements, immediately skirmishing into the road), and was looking about fo_ome 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?'
'So I sound for mine. I take my hammer, and I tap.' (Here he strikes th_avement, and the attentive Deputy skirmishes at a rather wider range, a_upposing that his head may be in requisition.) 'I tap, tap, tap. Solid! I g_n tapping. Solid still! Tap again. Holloa! Hollow! Tap again, persevering.
Solid in hollow! Tap, tap, tap, to try it better. Solid in hollow; and insid_olid, hollow again! There you are! Old 'un crumbled away in stone coffin, i_ault!'
'I have even done this,' says Durdles, drawing out his two-foot rule (Deput_eanwhile skirmishing nearer, as suspecting that Treasure may be about to b_iscovered, which may somehow lead to his own enrichment, and the deliciou_reat of the discoverers being hanged by the neck, on his evidence, until the_re dead). 'Say that hammer of mine's a wall — my work. Two; four; and two i_ix,' 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, tha_all represented by that hammer, and says, after good sounding: "Somethin_etwixt us!" Sure enough, some rubbish has been left in that same six-foo_pace 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 th_bservation in good part. 'I worked it out for myself. Durdles comes by hi_nowledge through grubbing deep for it, and having it up by the roots when i_on'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 w_ome to the Travellers' Twopenny.'
'Warning!' returns Deputy, having caught the halfpenny, and appearing by thi_ystic word to express his assent to the arrangement.
They have but to cross what was once the vineyard, belonging to what was onc_he Monastery, to come into the narrow back lane wherein stands the craz_ooden house of two low stories currently known as the Travellers' Twopenny:- a house all warped and distorted, like the morals of the travellers, wit_cant remains of a lattice-work porch over the door, and also of a rusti_ence before its stamped-out garden; by reason of the travellers being s_ound to the premises by a tender sentiment (or so fond of having a fire b_he roadside in the course of the day), that they can never be persuaded o_hreatened into departure, without violently possessing themselves of som_ooden forget-me-not, and bearing it off.
The semblance of an inn is attempted to be given to this wretched place b_ragments of conventional red curtaining in the windows, which rags are mad_uddily transparent in the night-season by feeble lights of rush or cotton di_urning 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 fort_he purport of the house. They are also addressed by some half-dozen othe_ideous small boys — whether twopenny lodgers or followers or hangers-on o_uch, who knows! — who, as if attracted by some carrion-scent of Deputy in th_ir, start into the moonlight, as vultures might gather in the desert, an_nstantly 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 _ustom of late years comfortably established among the police regulations o_ur English communities, where Christians are stoned on all sides, as if th_ays of Saint Stephen were revived, Durdles remarks of the young savages, wit_ome point, that 'they haven't got an object,' and leads the way down th_ane.
At the corner of the lane, Jasper, hotly enraged, checks his companion an_ooks 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 som_nfernally-hatched Chanticleer, apprising him under whose victorious fire h_tands, he turns the corner into safety, and takes Durdles home: Durdle_tumbling among the litter of his stony yard as if he were going to turn hea_oremost into one of the unfinished tombs.
John Jasper returns by another way to his gatehouse, and entering softly wit_is key, finds his fire still burning. He takes from a locked press _eculiar-looking pipe, which he fills — but not with tobacco — and, havin_djusted 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 o_hese is his own sleeping chamber: the other is his nephew's. There is a ligh_n each.
His nephew lies asleep, calm and untroubled. John Jasper stands looking dow_pon him, his unlighted pipe in his hand, for some time, with a fixed and dee_ttention. Then, hushing his footsteps, he passes to his own room, lights hi_ipe, and delivers himself to the Spectres it invokes at midnight.