The Mystery of Edwin Drood HTML version

The Nuns' House
FOR sufficient reasons, which this narrative will itself unfold as it advances, a fictitious
name must be bestowed upon the old Cathedral town. Let it stand in these pages as
Cloisterham. It was once possibly known to the Druids by another name, and certainly to
the Romans by another, and to the Saxons by another, and to the Normans by another;
and a name more or less in the course of many centuries can be of little moment to its
dusty chronicles.
An ancient city, Cloisterham, and no meet dwelling-place for any one with hankerings
after the noisy world. A monotonous, silent city, deriving an earthy flavour throughout
from its Cathedral crypt, and so abounding in vestiges of monastic graves, that the
Cloisterham children grow small salad in the dust of abbots and abbesses, and make dirt-
pies of nuns and friars; while every ploughman in its outlying fields renders to once
puissant Lord Treasurers, Archbishops, Bishops, and such-like, the attention which the
Ogre in the story-book desired to render to his unbidden visitor, and grinds their bones to
make his bread.
A drowsy city, Cloisterham, whose inhabitants seem to suppose, with an inconsistency
more strange than rare, that all its changes lie behind it, and that there are no more to
come. A queer moral to derive from antiquity, yet older than any traceable antiquity. So
silent are the streets of Cloisterham (though prone to echo on the smallest provocation),
that of a summer-day the sunblinds of its shops scarce dare to flap in the south wind;
while the sun-browned tramps, who pass along and stare, quicken their limp a little, that
they may the sooner get beyond the confines of its oppressive respectability. This is a feat
not difficult of achievement, seeing that the streets of Cloisterham city are little more
than one narrow street by which you get into it and get out of it: the rest being mostly
disappointing yards with pumps in them and no thoroughfare - exception made of the
Cathedral-close, and a paved Quaker settlement, in colour and general confirmation very
like a Quakeress's bonnet, up in a shady corner.
In a word, a city of another and a bygone time is Cloisterham, with its hoarse Cathedral-
bell, its hoarse rooks hovering about the Cathedral tower, its hoarser and less distinct
rooks in the stalls far beneath. Fragments of old wall, saint's chapel, chapter-house,
convent and monastery, have got incongruously or obstructively built into many of its
houses and gardens, much as kindred jumbled notions have become incorporated into
many of its citizens' minds. All things in it are of the past. Even its single pawnbroker
takes in no pledges, nor has he for a long time, but offers vainly an unredeemed stock for
sale, of which the costlier articles are dim and pale old watches apparently in a slow
perspiration, tarnished sugar-tongs with ineffectual legs, and odd volumes of dismal
books. The most abundant and the most agreeable evidences of progressing life in
Cloisterham are the evidences of vegetable life in many gardens; even its drooping and
despondent little theatre has its poor strip of garden, receiving the foul fiend, when he
ducks from its stage into the infernal regions, among scarlet-beans or oyster- shells,
according to the season of the year.