Tope, as in duty bound, is greatly entertained by this.
'I really have no intention at all, sir,' replies Jasper, 'of turning author or archaeologist. It is but a whim of mine. And even for my whim, Mr. Sapsea here is more accountable than I am.'
'How so, Mr. Mayor?' says the Dean, with a nod of good-natured recognition of his Fetch. 'How is that, Mr. Mayor?'
'I am not aware,' Mr. Sapsea remarks, looking about him for information, 'to what the Very Reverend the Dean does me the honour of referring.' And then falls to studying his original in minute points of detail.
'Durdles,' Mr. Tope hints.
'Ay!' the Dean echoes; 'Durdles, Durdles!'
'The truth is, sir,' explains Jasper, 'that my curiosity in the man was first really stimulated by Mr. Sapsea. Mr. Sapsea's knowledge of mankind and power of drawing out whatever is recluse or odd around him, first led to my bestowing a second thought upon the man: though of course I had met him constantly about. You would not be surprised by this, Mr. Dean, if you had seen Mr. Sapsea deal with him in his own parlour, as I did.'
'O!' cries Sapsea, picking up the ball thrown to him with ineffable complacency and pomposity; 'yes, yes. The Very Reverend the Dean refers to that? Yes. I happened to bring Durdles and Mr. Jasper together. I regard Durdles as a Character.'
'A character, Mr. Sapsea, that with a few skilful touches you turn inside out,' says Jasper.
'Nay, not quite that,' returns the lumbering auctioneer. 'I may have a little influence over him, perhaps; and a little insight into his character, perhaps. The Very Reverend the Dean will please to bear in mind that I have seen the world.' Here Mr. Sapsea gets a little behind the Dean, to inspect his coat-buttons.
'Well!' says the Dean, looking about him to see what has become of his copyist: 'I hope, Mr. Mayor, you will use your study and knowledge of Durdles to the good purpose of exhorting him not to break our worthy and respected Choir-Master's neck; we cannot afford it; his head and voice are much too valuable to us.'
Mr. Tope is again highly entertained, and, having fallen into respectful convulsions of laughter, subsides into a deferential murmur, importing that surely any gentleman would deem it a pleasure and an honour to have his neck broken, in return for such a compliment from such a source.
'I will take it upon myself, sir,' observes Sapsea loftily, 'to answer for Mr. Jasper's neck. I will tell Durdles to be careful of it. He will mind what _I_ say. How is it at present endangered?' he inquires, looking about him with magnificent patronage.
'Only by my making a moonlight expedition with Durdles among the tombs, vaults, towers, and ruins,' returns Jasper. 'You remember suggesting, when you brought us together, that, as a lover of the picturesque, it might be worth my while?'
'I remember!' replies the auctioneer. And the solemn idiot really believes that he does remember.
'Profiting by your hint,' pursues Jasper, 'I have had some day- rambles with the extraordinary old fellow, and we are to make a moonlight hole-and-corner exploration to-night.'
'And here he is,' says the Dean.
Durdles with his dinner-bundle in his hand, is indeed beheld slouching towards them. Slouching nearer, and perceiving the Dean, he pulls off his hat, and is slouching away with it under his arm, when Mr. Sapsea stops him.
'Mind you take care of my friend,' is the injunction Mr. Sapsea lays upon him.
'What friend o' yourn is dead?' asks Durdles. 'No orders has come in for any friend o' yourn.'
'I mean my live friend there.'
'O! him?' says Durdles. 'He can take care of himself, can Mister Jarsper.'
'But do you take care of him too,' says Sapsea.
Whom Durdles (there being command in his tone) surlily surveys from head to foot.
'With submission to his Reverence the Dean, if you'll mind what concerns you, Mr. Sapsea, Durdles he'll mind what concerns him.'
'You're out of temper,' says Mr. Sapsea, winking to the company to observe how smoothly he will manage him.