At night, when the congregation and clergy are sleeping, John Jasper roams Cloisterham Cathedral. Stone walls that seem to trap him when the sun is high stretch up beyond his sight in darkness and Mr. Jasper feels himself stretch gladly with them into the distant sky. This is the cathedral as he first perceived it as a boy newly arrived from Egypt: ancient, powerful, immense.
He runs his hands over the altar, piscina, organ screen, his footsteps echoing up and down the Pilgrim Steps. He sings; sings loud enough to drive out 13 centuries worth of ghosts. He settles himself in the cathedral library, studying harmonies he is forbidden to perform.
The fragment of hymn he holds in his hands now is one such piece. Its musical structure places it somewhere in the Middle Ages but the style…is like nothing Mr. Jasper has ever encountered. There is no title or date, only the hastily scribbled name of what Mr. Jasper assumes is the composer: Gabriel Tryon.
He found it trapped between the pages of CPE Bach’s Magnificat, where it had been gathering dust while Mr. Jasper dragged his choir through a dozen more renditions of “Lift High the Cross”— the dean’s favorite. Such was the fate of any melody of real daring or artistry that found its way into Cloisterham Cathedral. Those compositions were buried out of sight just as Mr. Jasper himself is buried and there is no escape for any of them. Someone had tried to rescue this piece once, had copied it out hastily but in the end it too was torn apart and silenced.
When he first came to Cloisterham Mr. Jasper himself had naïvely tried to introduce a more challenging composition into the service. But he Verdonck motet he chose experimented too freely with rhythm and too boldly featured the so-called forbidden interval. It earned him puzzled looks in rehearsal, judgmental sniffs during the service and a private scolding from the dean on Monday morning. “The music’s meant to encourage the congregation to contemplate the things for which they ought to be grateful Mr. Jasper,” he said. “Not put them in mind of hell.”
“I don’t believe there is music in hell,” Mr. Jasper had answered softly.
“Be that as it may,” the dean said, “that what-d’you-call-it yesterday was too exotic by half for Cloisterham. A bit too…Coptic as well. Made me wonder, was I in an English cathedral or an Egyptian pyramid? You understand.”
Jasper understands. He understands that he is bound not only by the thick walls of the cathedral but the thick, dull judgment of the people in it. Even Rosa Bud, whose voice would blend sublimely with his own on Tryon’s song, has devoted herself to only the most mundane of melodies. Miss Twinkleton’s influence is no great help in this regard.
Rosa’s face rises up before him, pink and pale, and beside it floats the doughy, mottled visage of the dean. Mr. Jasper notes a certain resemblance between them, like two apples of the same genus in different states of life, one nearly ripe and sweet, one already gone to spoil from the inside.
Mr. Jasper’s face is neither pale nor pink.
He banishes the vision and sings the piece alone.
* * *
It is almost dawn when Mr. Jasper returns to the gatehouse, weak and shaking. It is not the first time he’s come home in such a state. Usually his chills and tremors arise from opium or the want of it. But not today.
Music theory has no explanation for the sensations the few bars have produced in his body and mind. The chord progression was unexpected, the counterpoint unsettling, yes, some of the intervals discordant, even disturbing. But that did not explain how it was that the walls of the cathedral…
…how the walls had sung with him.
“Impossible,” he mutters, splashing his face with water from the basin. “Impossible.”
It was merely echoes off the stone walls in the empty sanctuary producing phantom intervals, he tells himself. Such ghostly notes are not unusual, but Mr. Jasper has never heard so many, nor in these combinations—diminished seconds popping out of major thirds. What business would they have there? It was the sort of brilliant lapse in logic he associated with opium, but purer. More disorienting. True. Musical.
He has sung for hours, judging by the mantel clock and the raw buzzing in his throat. Sung until he shook too badly to go on, and just when he fell silent with exhaustion the walls had sighed, like a man sighs turning over in his sleep whilst continuing to dream. That is the chief impression, Mr. Jasper thinks. That of something in the ancient stone cathedral dreaming, sighing, stirring, turning over and almost—almost—waking up.
If only a fragment of the hymn can produce such wonders, what would the whole piece feel like? What indeed.
* * *
His nephew will soon be off to Egypt, and with him Rosa Bud. What joys Mr. Jasper will find in life at Cloisterham after this occurs he cannot imagine.
“Jack,” Edwin says. Mr. Jasper feels the room is warmer with Edwin settled in his corner. “I’m going to miss all this when I go away.”
Mr. Jasper looks doubtfully around his sitting room.
“Good Lord, not the address, Jack!” the boy says with a laugh. “I meant I shall miss being here with you. I shan’t be able to come visit when I’m tucked away in Egypt, shall I?”
“No,” Mr. Jasper answers quietly. “I don’t like to think about it, Ned.”
Now that Mr. Jasper has called attention to it, Edwin does look round the sitting room at the fire, at his uncle, at the squashy chair in which said uncle is seated. He seems to be seeing these things with new affection. “You know, I think I will miss the old gatehouse after all.” He sighs. “I’ve always been happy here. Who’s to say I’ll like living in Egypt with the camels and sphinxes and mummies.”
“Be sure you carry an umbrella,” is the only advice Jasper offers. “The sun can be quite strong.”
“Why, Jack, that’s right. You’ve been to Egypt, haven’t you? You were born there!”
“That was long ago.”
“How did you handle the camels?”
“I don’t recall them ever being a problem.”
Edwin flings himself back in his chair and pouts with the authority of an infant pharaoh. “Why can’t you go to Egypt with us, Jack?” he demands. “If only it could be the three of us, altogether, it might be more of an adventure. We might sit in our parlor over there. Me in my chair, you at the piano, Rosa singing between us, the camels curled up by the fire. I would want for nothing then with all the family together.”
Mr. Jasper smiles, but the young man sees signs of effort behind it and the tell-tale grip of his uncle’s hand upon the elbow chair. “Oh, Jack, is it the medicine?”
Mr. Jasper shakes his head. In a moment he has mastered himself, though they remain quiet for a time. “You will have family in Egypt, though, Ned,” Mr. Jasper says. “You will have Rosa. And before you know it, children. Uncles are hardly necessary for a family. Great uncles even less so.”
“They’re necessary to me,” the boy says, placing a hand upon his uncle’s. Mr. Jasper regards it before covering it with his own and the only music Mr. Jasper hears is the crackle of the flames in the hearth.
The fireside scene Edwin Drood described is by coincidence nearly realized the next day in Miss Twinkleton’s parlor. Young Drood is in his place, settled in a chair, Jasper in his place behind the piano, Rosa takes her place, singing, between them. Only the camels are absent. For them is substituted the more discerning character of Helena Landless.
Rosa’s singing has undergone no small improvement since the last time she attempted an informal concert. Mr. Jasper no longer hits the keynote quite so insistently, nor keeps his eyes so consistently on his pupil’s lips as she sings, and Rosa is able to sing the whole piece without breaking down in tears. A marked improvement indeed!
The performance over, Mr. Jasper watches from the upstairs window as Edwin and the two ladies make their way across the courtyard and through the gate. Halfway up the street they meet Neville Landless. From his distant position at the window, Mr. Jasper is struck by a certain symmetry between the pairs of young people who together seemed to form a kind of natural quartet.
He turns away.
Briskly, he gathers up his music, humming the simple air so lately performed by his student.
But no, he realizes. This is not Rosa’s air at all. It is the Tryon hymn and being alone, with no other lessons that day, he reopens the piano to accompany himself quietly at first, then with more confidence and volume. The piece only wanted Rosa’s voice to join his own in the harmony. Perhaps with Edwin’s encouragement she might be persuaded to…
“Good God, Jack, what is it?”
Jasper looks up, wild-eyed at the young people in the doorway. For a long moment the only sound is the patter of raindrops on the glass.
One might have thought they’d come upon Mr. Jasper in the opium den, so full of dreadful judgement are their faces. Edwin’s cheeks are rosy from the wind, Helena is dark and disapproving. Rosa trembles like a young lamb sensing danger it does not yet understand.
She feels it, Jasper thinks in triumph. The music calls and her soul can’t help but answer.
He silently beseeches her to acknowledge the dark beauty of the piece they have interrupted. But Rosa retreats into the shadows and says nothing.
“We didn’t mean to startle you, Jack,” Edwin says heartily. “We thought a cat had gotten in and was pouncing on the keys. I said to Rosa, ‘I’ve known cats to make infernal rackets but not so infernal as this!’” He strides over to the instrument, but Tryon’s music is tucked safely back in Mr. Jasper’s rooms.
“It can’t be English music,” the boy continues. “Miss Landless, is this kind of thing common where you come from?”
“It is not,” she replies coldly. She stands in front of Rosa, Jasper thinks, like statues stand outside Egyptian tombs and guard the souls within.
“It’s something I discovered in the cathedral library,” Mr. Jasper says stiffly. “The style, I know, is a bit jarring on the uneducated ear.”
“Glad I’m not educated, then,” says Edwin with a laugh. “A person would have to be mad to not be jarred by that!”
“Mad or wicked,” Rosa whispers.
“Oh, now, Pussy, don’t be frightened. Jack doesn’t like to scare you, I’m sure.”
“Of course not,” Jasper affirms. But his hands spring to the keys again as if he wants to strike the notes and watch them jump.
* * *
Mr. Jasper has taken to visiting the cathedral library in the afternoons. He has the first few lines of Tryon’s hymn and is determined to find the rest of it. How difficult, he imagines, can it be to find a piece he first discovered in the cathedral’s library?
Fiendishly difficult, he discovers! Even Mr. Crisparkle can offer no help. He has never heard the name Gabriel Tryon, and, says he “somehow doesn’t like the sound of it now he has.”
Mr. Jasper has all but despaired of hearing the enchanting piece through to its end when help comes from a most unlikely source: Stony Durdles who, hearing Mr. Jasper speak the name Gabriel Tryon in the High Street, looks sharply up and shivers as if someone has walked over his grave—walking over other people’s graves being unavoidable in Cloisterham.
“Stay, Durdles,” Mr. Jasper says, taking leave of Mr. Crisparkle. “Do you know Gabriel Tryon?”
“I know the name,” Durdles confirms. “I know the stone.”
Gabriel Tryon has, lived, worked and died Cloisterham! But Durdles is uncharacteristically noncommittal as to where he is now. “His stone is in the crypt, on the west side, but the stone is broken and the space beneath it empty.”
“He’s left the grave?”
“Not he!” says Durdles, alarmed at the prospect. “But someone made him leave it.”
“I see,” Jasper agrees. “But who would do that?”
“Who indeed?” says Durdles, warming to the topic. “And where? I’ve brought the matter up to the dean but he weren’t bothered by it.”
Durdles clearly finds the dean’s lack of concern disturbing.
“You’re sure the name on this broken stone is Tryon.”
“Gabriel Tryon,” Durdles verifies. “Fourteen hundred and sixty four to fourteen hundred ninety one. That’s all I know but one other thing.”
That the fellow was a precentor, like yourself.”
* * *
“You don’t look well, Jack,” Edwin says to him over breakfast. br />
His nephew probably refers to the shadows which have gathered under Mr. Jasper’s eyes, eyes which look rather glassy in the morning light. He has not been sleeping well. But how can he explain why?
Now that he has made up his mind to hear the hymn to its end, the hymn will not let him rest. He must hear it or go mad. He is able to quiet it with opium, but that brings dreams where Tryon sings insistently to Mr. Jasper from the grave and begs him to come and take the music from him.
He has arranged to visit the crypt with Durdles to see the stone for himself.
“I believe it’s that medicine that makes you ill!” says Edwin. “What will Pussy say? I believe she’s worried about you.”
Rosa is not worried about him, Mr. Jasper knows. At least not the way Edwin means.
Mr. Jasper’s day does not go well. The choir, sensing the master’s mood, are on their best behavior but their voices nonetheless grate. Rosa’s voice is wasted on an insipid ditty about a shepherd and his love. Jasper rather enjoys sharply correcting her and watching her distress.
To amuse himself, he takes to weaving Tryon’s passages into the accompaniment. She cannot help but hear it, he knows. But when she turns to him in horror he slips into the besotted shepherd’s guise once more. Let her believe that she is going mad, he thinks. It can only improve her singing.
“You’ve changed the music,” she says, her eyes flashing. “I can’t sing to it.”
“I don’t think so,” he says carelessly. He plays the shepherd’s lament again, but ends on a chord from Tryon.
“There’s nothing there,” Mr. Jasper answers mildly. “Only your besotted shepherd.”
This time he drops a measure in the middle, as if a wolf has crept up midway through the piece and dragged off one of the shepherd’s lambs while its guardian was distracted. Rosa looks so angry Jasper bursts out laughing.
“Mr. Jasper!” Helena Landless has appeared in the doorway, putting herself between the wolf and lamb. “It’s not right!”
Rosa runs to her friend, throwing a reproachful glance over her shoulder.
Mr. Jasper wonders how long it will be before Durdles takes him to the tombs.
* * *
The stone is indeed broken in two, just as Durdles described it. Mr. Jasper contemplates it for a long while as Durdles sleeps on the floor of the crypt. He not just contemplates the empty grave but examines it, searches it, climbs inside.
The hymn is not there.
It was foolish, Mr. Jasper now realizes, to think that he would find the music in the tomb. The fancy was the product of an overtired dreaming mind. But where else could he have thought to search? He looks with envy on the sleeping Durdles in his cloud of mortar dust. Does he dream of statues dancing in his head, demanding that he sculpt them? Probably not. His art is silent and his face, in sleep, is still as stone.
A cool breeze gently blows across Mr. Jasper’s brow from the eastern side of the crypt and on it comes a single note. Mr. Jasper lifts up his head which had dropped into his hands and listens
There! A voice is calling him from the crypt.
Mr. Jasper leaves Durdles to his rest and goes where he is called.
* * *
It is no mystery why Durdles is refreshed when the two men finally make their way out of the crypt. He has, after all, enjoyed a lengthy nap. Yet Durdles remarks that Mr. Jasper, too, appears rejuvenated. One might think he had discovered buried treasure in the crypt while Durdles was sleeping. A treasure small enough to fit into the breast pocket over which he lays his hand as he walks.
“A thousand thanks for a curious and interesting night,” says Mr. Jasper, giving Durdles his hand, “you can make your own way home?”
“I should think so! Good-night Mister Jarsper.”
Each is turning his own way when a rapid fire of stones rattles at the Cathedral wall, and a hideous small creature is beheld opposite, dancing in the moonlight—this is Mr. Durdles’s odd apprentice, Deputy, but he has never looked so demonic as he does right now in Mr. Jasper’s eyes. He thinks he glimpses, for a moment, an inhuman creature, pink and hairy, stunted and clawed. A true baby-devil born out of some abyss in the bowels of the cathedral.
“I shall shed the blood of that impish wretch!” Mr. Jasper cries, pressing his hand more firmly against his breast inside of which his heart bangs as if one of the great cathedral bells were knocking against his ribs. “I know I shall do it!”
“Don’t hurt the boy, Mister Jarsper,” says Durdles. “Recollect yourself!”
Mr. Jasper does recollect himself before the boy is strangled. But as he makes his way home with his treasure he must often stop to look over his shoulder, or turn completely around to search the empty street for hidden predators. He takes the last few yards to the gatehouse at a run, his shoulders bent as if expecting some bird of prey to come down on his head.
* * *
A copy of the now completed hymn sits safely in his pocket as he prepares for Christmas services and goes about the shops. The choirboys note their master’s newfound patience and good cheer, and his new habit of tapping his breast pocket as if for luck.
The night he spent with Durdles in the crypt beneath the cathedral seems as unreal to Mr. Jasper as the parades of white elephants and dancing girls he has seen in the opium den. Had he truly heard a single, plaintive note calling him deeper into the recesses of the crypt? Had he truly found a small, iron door festooned with papist charms? Had he truly swept them all aside and entered an icy chamber which contained a single flimsy coffin? Was the coffin truly filled with holy ashes in which lay the bones of some centuries old priest? Did the skeletonruly hold in its fleshless hands a scroll on which was truly written the entire hymn?
It was more fantastic than the wildest opium dream, but the proof was locked up in a wooden box inside his night table. Tryon’s hymn #33.
He has not sung it yet. This is no shepherd’s lament to be tossed off after rehearsal or whistled on the street. If there were any justice it would be sung with a full choir and an organist at least. But this is Cloisterham, and so Mr. Jasper must sing it alone. He has chosen Christmas Eve for its midnight debut.
On that evening Mr. Jasper hosts a diplomatic gathering with Edwin Drood and Neville Landless. Later, when the two men have gone off together, the best of friends, he is ready.
The cathedral, it seems, has been waiting for him. Faces of stone and stained glass watch his progress down the empty aisle to his place in the empty choir. His hands shake as he takes the music from his pocket and lights his candle. He has read over the notes a hundred times since plucking it out of the corpse’s hands, has heard it in his mind a hundred more, but this cannot compare to singing it. He closes his eyes for a long moment before beginning, but who does he give thanks to in the silence?
No one knows.
All over Cloisterham, a strange noise is heard. The origin of that noise is a matter of disagreement among the inhabitants.
“A horse is braying.”
“A dog is howling.”
“A baby is crying.”
“An owl is screeching.”
“The bells are ringing.”
Eventually Cloisterham agrees on a solution.
“It is the wind.”
“It is the wind.”
“It is the wind.”
A logical conclusion, for the wind is rising fast. It whips the bare branches of trees, topples chimneys down, tears at the shutters. Only John Jasper is unaware of the storm, lost as he is in his music. And if he does not know know the wind is rising, how can he know that something young and hungry rises with it?
Only once is he distracted from Hymn 33, when the church door seems to bang open and someone seems to stumble inside. A voice perhaps calls out John Jasper’s name. The voice sounds like his nephew’s, but why would Edwin come to the cathedral at this hour?
“Jack!” is called out three times: First in hope, then in confusion, then in fear. There is a shriek of terror that blends wonderfully with the descending thirds in Tryon’s coda, and then the sound of scraping boots, as if something is being dragged against its will across the stone. Then all goes silent.
Mr. Jasper has reached the end of Tryon’s hymn and has collapsed.
* * *
Returning to the gatehouse at dawn, Mr. Jasper is surprised to find it empty, concerned when Edwin does not come back, alarmed when he learns Neville Landless left the city with no explanation for what happened to his companion.
It is not only his nephew’s disappearance which Mr. Jasper finds troubling.
He has perhaps indulged too much in Tryon’s harmonies as he has been known to overindulge in his opium. His nerves, highly-strung already, fray under the conflicting sensations of fear for his nephew and ecstasy of the music. Sometimes when questioning others about the disappearance, the melody strikes itself up without warning in his head. It is particularly insistent the evening that Mr. Grewgious stands by Mr. Jasper’s fire and gives him surprising news. “This young couple,” he says, “the lost youth and Miss Rosa, so long betrothed…”
The opening notes sound so loudly that Mr. Jasper must lean forward to hear him. “Yes?”
“…they would be happier and better…as affectionate friends…than as husband and wife…”
A soprano section joins the tenors, the high, clear voice seeming to swoop and dive like seagulls over an empty beach.
“…they agreed to dissolve their existing, and their intended relations, for ever and ever.”
Church bells ring out, each one clanging hard enough to set his chest abuzz, and Mr. Jasper leaps out of his chair.
“…this young couple parted, firmly, though not without tears and sorrow, on the evening when you last saw them together.”
The music climaxes—too, too beautifully—with Mr. Jasper’s own gasp and high-pitched shriek.
Mr. Grewgious hears no bells or sopranos. He hears only the shriek and the soft thump of Mr. Jasper dropping to the floor in a heap of torn and miry clothes.
* * *
Half a year had come and gone since Edwin Drood’s disappearance. Mr. Jasper has not given up the search for his nephew. He seems to think of nothing else. But pages of music in his room prove otherwise. No one else in Cloisterham sees or hears the compositions he creates, but still the pile grows.
By springtime he has what seems like a veritable mountain of music with no one to sing it for. He imagines all these works will be lost or buried with him in his coffin, never heard by another living creature. He must keep writing lest the music in his brain drive him mad, but was it truly music with no one there to hear it? The growing pile is like a scream which gets louder every day and yet is still not heard.
And that scream is not the only strange sound Mr. Jasper knows. There are sounds in the cathedral now. Whispering, scuffling, scratching sounds he cannot accurately define. “Moths,” he thinks. “Or mice.” “Rats.” “Squirrels.” “Owls.” “Bats.” But none of God’s creatures seems exactly right.
A horrible thought grows in his mind, that it is Durdles’s strange companion, Deputy, come to exact revenge for Mr. Jasper trying to throttle him. But surely Deputy could not slip away so easily as the makers of these little sounds when Mr. Jasper spins round to catch them?
He resolves to trap the perpetrator. Hearing light footsteps in the cathedral one evening he waits. The footsteps hesitate before coming closer, closer, closer still…. “Caught!” Mr. Jasper shouts, spinning around. But he has missed his mark again and a moment later, stepping out the door, he hears Deputy himself crying across the close to Durdles in the yard. “Widdy widdy wen!”.
Not the right devil, then. But who else would be with Mr. Jasper in the dark cathedral? Who else ever cares to walk there with him?
* * *
His opium dreams, which used to take him to fantastic worlds, are now blessedly quiet. Instead of presiding over chaotic Eastern parades under the drug’s influence, Mr. Jasper now floats alone on a dark blue sea, listening to the waves. Once he imagines Edwin drifting with him, holding Mr. Jasper’s hand as he had that night before the fire. But when Mr. Jasper turns his head to see him Edwin sinks away into the darkness.
As he sinks he calls Mr. Jasper’s name, just as it had been called Christmas Eve in the cathedral. But Edwin had not been in the cathedral that night. Edwin was not interested in Tryon’s hymn, or any other music Mr. Jasper might create.
* * *
Summer sun slants through the high cathedral windows, splashing color on the grey stones of the floor. Today there is a new sound in the sanctuary. One of the plaintive, hungry cries that Mr. Jasper has come to enjoy today resolves itself into a single note and then another. A pathetic, rusty voice attempts to scratch out a simple tune. It is a melody by Hayden, one Jasper has been teaching the boys in the choir. The creatures have been listening, it seems, and they have been trying to learn.
Mr. Jasper hums the keynote until the pitch is matched. He leads his unseen student through the melody and the creature joyfully follows. It is soon joined by other voices, weak but getting stronger.
Jasper had of late left off his midnight visits to the cathedral. Now he returns to the habit. His students are eager to learn, and he is eager to teach them. These are not the restless choirboys who toss their music aside after the service. They are bound to the cathedral, like Jasper himself.
Easily they master hymns and chants, but they truly revel in Mr. Jasper’s creations. When the lesson is over, they patter off into the darkness, always in the same direction, toward the crypt.
He has never seen their faces. They remain in the shadows, as if afraid to let him see them for what they are, but why should Mr. Jasper be afraid? He is nothing like the other denizens of Cloisterham who fear the “exotic” as the dean explained. Mr. Jasper would not mistake the Tryon hymn for a cat walking on piano keys. He has heard the voices of these children and they were beautiful. Why would not Mr. Jasper find them beautiful as well?
It’s only natural that he begins to follow them into the crypt at night.
* * *
Nine months have passed since Edwin Drood’s disappearance but his friends have not forgotten him. Mr. Grewgious, Rosa Bud and Helena Landless believe at last that they have discovered where he is.
“The quick-lime,” Mr. Grewgious instructs the policeman as they stand out by the gate one summer night. “You’ll find the body in there, I’m sure of it. Along with a peculiar ring. Look out for that.”
A figure walks across the close as they work. It is Mr. Jasper, on his way to the cathedral. He appears to take no notice of the group by the quick-lime, does not react when the two young ladies glare at him.
“I know he did it,” Rosa says as she watches him disappear behind the cathedral door. “When we find poor Edwin everyone will know.”
“Keep searching,” Helena orders.
The pile is thoroughly gone through, but there is no body in the quick-lime. No bones, no ring, no proof of foul play.
“Impossible!” says Rosa. “Mr. Grewgious, tell him to keep looking!”
“No, my dear,” her guardian answers her with disappointment. “We must have been mistaken. Edwin isn’t here.”
“But Durdles showed Mr. Jasper the quick-lime!” Rosa insists. “He said he did.”
“He also showed him the crypt,” Helena suddenly exclaims. “Officers, a crypt. Surely Jasper must have hidden the body there.”
Grewgious agrees. “Not quite as clean as dissolving the whole thing in quick-lime but if Mr. Jasper loved Edwin…”
Here Miss Rosa gives a derisive sniff.
“…if he did love him, underneath at all, perhaps he wanted to give him something like a proper burial. We must search it. I strongly suggest, Rosa, that you stay behind.”
“I will not,” she says. “If Eddy is here, I want to see him. He may never be my husband, but he was dearer to me than anyone.”
Durdles would not be happy to know that there are strangers tromping through his territory without him as a guide, but Durdles does not like to spend too much time in the crypts these days. For Mr. Jasper is not, in fact, the only person in Cloisterham to hear strange footsteps at night, or harsh, squealing voices raised in song.
They have no need of Durdles’s keys this night, as the crypt doors are these days mysteriously left open. Someone, it seems, comes and goes and leaves a faint trail of tiny footprints on the stone floor.
“This is Jasper, you say, walking back and forth here?” one of the policemen inquires.
“Don’t look like it to me,” the other one remarks. It is a wise deduction on his part. Unlike Mr. Jasper, these tiny feet wear no shoes and have odd numbers of toes.
“What’s this, then?” the senior officer asks.
They have followed the footsteps to a small iron door. Crosses, medals and relics lie in a pile on the floor before it. They crunch underfoot as the group moves inside. Rosa clutches at Helena’s hand when they come upon a coffin. The coffin holds a grinning skeleton within and just beyond that…
“Good God!” Mr. Grewgious stumbles back. “Take her away!”
The policemen are in no state to move. The younger officer leans on the coffin to keep from falling over, but he does not take his eyes from the thing upon the floor.
“Rats,” the older officer says roughly. “Rats got to him.”
Mr. Grewgious does not agree. Whatever has been eating Edwin Drood is larger than rats. In fact, piles of rat bones and chewed grey fur lay scattered on the floor along with the bodies of two cats and what might have been an owl. “It the cats were not eating the rats,” Mr. Grewgious mutters, “and the rats…
Mr. Grewgious’s thoughts are scattered by a burst of sound so loud and terrible he nearly falls to his knees.
“Oh, it’s him!” Rosa cries out. “That music! I’d know it anywhere! He means to drive me mad!”
“Come, Rosa!” Helena urges her friend back towards the sanctuary. Mr. Grewgious and the unlucky policemen follow close behind.
Mr. Jasper stands in his usual place, conducting music.
Mr. Grewgious wonders what the children in the choir could be doing here so late at night, but this is simply his mind trying to make sense of the creatures he sees before him. They are the size of children, certainly, with fat pink faces, but the tiny eyes that gaze adoringly at the choirmaster are black as pitch, their short stubby fingers are tipped with thick, curving talons and sparse black hairs sprout all over their soft, bulging bodies. Their shrill voices pierce both his heart and brain so that he cannot walk or think, but only suffer listening to the cacophony pouring from red, lipless mouths quite overfull of teeth.
* * *
The choir is in excellent form tonight, thinks Mr. Jasper. He gazes on his young singers, blissfully keeping time. They are made for music and so normally well-behaved he cannot bring himself to scold them when they leap out of their places now. For they have spotted Mr. Grewgious, who has no business here in Mr. Jasper’s cathedral. The man does not even think to run before the children pounce and tear into the soft skin of his cheeks. Miss Landless does her best to drag Rosa away but the poor girl won’t stop screaming and he thinks she might be mad.
Her cries are not quite in tune with the rest of the choir, Mr. Jasper thinks, but that will come with time and proper instruction.