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. In short, Jack, to go back to the old song I was freely quoting at dinner (and who knows old songs better than you?), my wife shall dance, and I will sing, so merrily pass the day. Of Pussy's being beautiful there cannot be a doubt;--and when you are good besides, Little Miss Impudence,' once more apostrophising the portrait, 'I'll burn your comic likeness, and paint your music-master another.'
Mr. Jasper, with his hand to his chin, and with an expression of musing benevolence on his face, has attentively watched every animated look and gesture attending the delivery of these words. He remains in that attitude after they, are spoken, as if in a kind of fascination attendant on his strong interest in the youthful spirit that he loves so well. Then he says with a quiet smile:
'You won't be warned, then?'
'You can't be warned, then?'
'No, Jack, not by you. Besides that I don't really consider myself in danger, I don't like your putting yourself in that position.'
'Shall we go and walk in the churchyard?'
'By all means.