The Mystery of Edwin Drood
AN ancient English Cathedral Tower? How can the ancient English Cathedral tower be
here! The well-known massive gray square tower of its old Cathedral? How can that be
here! There is no spike of rusty iron in the air, between the eye and it, from any point of
the real prospect. What is the spike that intervenes, and who has set it up? Maybe it is set
up by the Sultan's orders for the impaling of a horde of Turkish robbers, one by one. It is
so, for cymbals clash, and the Sultan goes by to his palace in long procession. Ten
thousand scimitars flash in the sunlight, and thrice ten thousand dancing-girls strew
flowers. Then, follow white elephants caparisoned in countless gorgeous colours, and
infinite in number and attendants. Still the Cathedral Tower rises in the background,
where it cannot be, and still no writhing figure is on the grim spike. Stay! Is the spike so
low a thing as the rusty spike on the top of a post of an old bedstead that has tumbled all
awry? Some vague period of drowsy laughter must be devoted to the consideration of this
Shaking from head to foot, the man whose scattered consciousness has thus fantastically
pieced itself together, at length rises, supports his trembling frame upon his arms, and
looks around. He is in the meanest and closest of small rooms. Through the ragged
window-curtain, the light of early day steals in from a miserable court. He lies, dressed,
across a large unseemly bed, upon a bedstead that has indeed given way under the weight
upon it. Lying, also dressed and also across the bed, not longwise, are a Chinaman, a
Lascar, and a haggard woman. The two first are in a sleep or stupor; the last is blowing at
a kind of pipe, to kindle it. And as she blows, and shading it with her lean hand,
concentrates its red spark of light, it serves in the dim morning as a lamp to show him
what he sees of her.
'Another?' says this woman, in a querulous, rattling whisper. 'Have another?'
He looks about him, with his hand to his forehead.
'Ye've smoked as many as five since ye come in at midnight,' the woman goes on, as she
chronically complains. 'Poor me, poor me, my head is so bad. Them two come in after ye.
Ah, poor me, the business is slack, is slack! Few Chinamen about the Docks, and fewer
Lascars, and no ships coming in, these say! Here's another ready for ye, deary. Ye'll
remember like a good soul, won't ye, that the market price is dreffle high just now? More
nor three shillings and sixpence for a thimbleful! And ye'll remember that nobody but me
(and Jack Chinaman t'other side the court; but he can't do it as well as me) has the true
secret of mixing it? Ye'll pay up accordingly, deary, won't ye?'
She blows at the pipe as she speaks, and, occasionally bubbling at it, inhales much of its