The cramped monotony of my existence grinds me away by the grain. How does our service sound to you?'
'Beautiful! Quite celestial!'
'It often sounds to me quite devilish. I am so weary of it. The echoes of my own voice among the arches seem to mock me with my daily drudging round. No wretched monk who droned his life away in that gloomy place, before me, can have been more tired of it than I am. He could take for relief (and did take) to carving demons out of the stalls and seats and desks. What shall I do? Must I take to carving them out of my heart?'
'I thought you had so exactly found your niche in life, Jack,' Edwin Drood returns, astonished, bending forward in his chair to lay a sympathetic hand on Jasper's knee, and looking at him with an anxious face.
'I know you thought so. They all think so.'
'Well, I suppose they do,' says Edwin, meditating aloud. 'Pussy thinks so.'
'When did she tell you that?'
'The last time I was here. You remember when. Three months ago.'
'How did she phrase it?'
'O, she only said that she had become your pupil, and that you were made for your vocation.'
The younger man glances at the portrait. The elder sees it in him.
'Anyhow, my dear Ned,' Jasper resumes, as he shakes his head with a grave cheerfulness, 'I must subdue myself to my vocation: which is much the same thing outwardly. It's too late to find another now. This is a confidence between us.'
'It shall be sacredly preserved, Jack.'
'I have reposed it in you, because--'
'I feel it, I assure you. Because we are fast friends, and because you love and trust me, as I love and trust you. Both hands, Jack.'
As each stands looking into the other's eyes, and as the uncle holds the nephew's hands, the uncle thus proceeds:
'You know now, don't you, that even a poor monotonous chorister and grinder of music--in his niche--may be troubled with some stray sort of ambition, aspiration, restlessness, dissatisfaction, what shall we call it?'
'Yes, dear Jack.'
'And you will remember?'
'My dear Jack, I only ask you, am I likely to forget what you have said with so much feeling?'
'Take it as a warning, then.'
In the act of having his hands released, and of moving a step back, Edwin pauses for an instant to consider the application of these last words. The instant over, he says, sensibly touched:
'I am afraid I am but a shallow, surface kind of fellow, Jack, and that my headpiece is none of the best. But I needn't say I am young; and perhaps I shall not grow worse as I grow older. At all events, I hope I have something impressible within me, which feels- -deeply feels--the disinterestedness of your painfully laying your inner self bare, as a warning to me.'
Mr. Jasper's steadiness of face and figure becomes so marvellous that his breathing seems to have stopped.
'I couldn't fail to notice, Jack, that it cost you a great effort, and that you were very much moved, and very unlike your usual self. Of course I knew that you were extremely fond of me, but I really was not prepared for your, as I may say, sacrificing yourself to me in that way.'
Mr. Jasper, becoming a breathing man again without the smallest stage of transition between the two extreme states, lifts his shoulders, laughs, and waves his right arm.
'No; don't put the sentiment away, Jack; please don't; for I am very much in earnest. I have no doubt that that unhealthy state of mind which you have so powerfully described is attended with some real suffering, and is hard to bear. But let me reassure you, Jack, as to the chances of its overcoming me. I don't think I am in the way of it. In some few months less than another year, you know, I shall carry Pussy off from school as Mrs. Edwin Drood. I shall then go engineering into the East, and Pussy with me. And although we have our little tiffs now, arising out of a certain unavoidable flatness that attends our love-making, owing to its end being all settled beforehand, still I have no doubt of our getting on capitally then, when it's done and can't be helped.