When Jasper is restored, he lays a tender hand upon his nephew's shoulder, and, in a tone of voice less troubled than the purport of his words--indeed with something of raillery or banter in it--thus addresses him:
'There is said to be a hidden skeleton in every house; but you thought there was none in mine, dear Ned.'
'Upon my life, Jack, I did think so. However, when I come to consider that even in Pussy's house--if she had one--and in mine-- if I had one--'
'You were going to say (but that I interrupted you in spite of myself) what a quiet life mine is. No whirl and uproar around me, no distracting commerce or calculation, no risk, no change of place, myself devoted to the art I pursue, my business my pleasure.'
'I really was going to say something of the kind, Jack; but you see, you, speaking of yourself, almost necessarily leave out much that I should have put in. For instance: I should have put in the foreground your being so much respected as Lay Precentor, or Lay Clerk, or whatever you call it, of this Cathedral; your enjoying the reputation of having done such wonders with the choir; your choosing your society, and holding such an independent position in this queer old place; your gift of teaching (why, even Pussy, who don't like being taught, says there never was such a Master as you are!), and your connexion.'
'Yes; I saw what you were tending to. I hate it.'
'Hate it, Jack?' (Much bewildered.)
'I hate it. 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.