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.Only the name and the dates—GILES BRENDLE GYMBY, 1789–1866—had been chiselled out of the marble.When Mr Dradles turned to me, I saw that his face, under a layer of stone dust rivuleted with tracks of his perspiration, was red to the point of bursting.He mopped his forehead as I came closer.“You probably do not remember me, Mr Dradles,” I began.“But I came here some time ago in the company of…”“Dradles remembers ’ee, Mr Billy Wilkie Collins, named after a Sirred house painter or some’at,” rasped the red-faced figure.“You was here with Mr Charles D., of all them books an’ such, who was interested in the ol’ ’uns in their dark beds.”“Exactly,” I said.“But I felt that you and I got off on the wrong foot.”Dradles looked down at his worn, holed boots, which, I noted, were not “differentiated.” That is, there was no left or right to them, as had been the custom decades ago.“Dradles’s feet are the only ’uns Dradles has,” he said.“The can’t be no wrong ’un.”I smiled.“True, true.But I felt that I may have left the wrong impression.I brought you this…” I handed him the bottle of fine brandy.Dradles looked at it, mopped his face and neck again, uncorked the bottle, sniffed it, swigged it, squinted at me, and said, “This ’ere is better drink ’an Dradles is used to at the Thatched an’ Twopenny or anywheres else.” He drank again.His assistant, whose face was as red from the heat and labour as Dradles’s, stared stupidly but did not ask for a drink.“Speaking of the Thatched and Twopenny,” I said conversationally, “I do not see your rock-hurling young devil around.What did you call him? Deputy? Is it too early in the day for him to be pelting you homeward?”“That d—— ned boy is dead,” said Dradles.He saw my expression and chuckled.“Oh, Dradles di’n’t kill ’im, though Dradles thought to more ’an a time.No, the pox killed ’im and the pox be welcome to ’im.” He took another deep drink and squinted at me.“No gen’lman, not even Mr D., come up from London to bring Dradles ’spensive drink for no reason, Mr Billy Wilkie Collins.Mr D.wanted me to open doors for ’im with me many keys and tap-tap out the where’bouts of the ol’ ’uns in their hollers.What is that Mr Billy W.C.wants from old Dradles this hot day?”“You may remember that I am an author also,” I said.I handed the stonemason and crypt-cathedral caretaker the copy of All the Year Round.“This, as you see, was last Friday’s number carrying the concluding chapters of my novel The Moonstone.” I opened the periodical to the proper page.Dradles stared at the mass of type but only grunted.I had no idea whether the man could read.My guess was that he could not.“It has come to pass,” I said, “that I also am doing some literary research involving a great cathedral such as this.A great cathedral and its attendant crypts.”“’E wants the keys, Dradles thinks,” said Dradles.“’E wants the keys to the old ’uns’ dark places.” It would have seemed that he was addressing his idiot lop-eared assistant with the haircut that seemed to have been applied with sheep shears, but the boy appeared to be deaf and dumb.“Not at all,” I said with an easy laugh.“The keys are your responsibility and must remain such.I would merely like to visit from time to time and perhaps avail myself of your expertise in tapping out the hollow places.I certainly would never come empty-handed.”Dradles took another swig.The bottle was already more than half empty and the filthy mason’s face, even under the Marley-was-dead coating of dust, was redder than ever (if such a thing was possible).“Dradles does an ’onest day’s work for ’is occasional tipple,” he said thickly.“As do I,” I said with an easy laugh.He nodded then and turned back to his carving—or, rather, to supervising the idiot boy in his carving.Evidently the interview was over and the contract had been consummated.Mopping my own face from the heat, I walked slowly back to the carriage.The puppy—an ungainly but enthusiastic thing with long legs, a short tail, and spots—was leaping with joy on the cushioned seat at the sight of me.“It will be just another minute, driver,” I said.The old man, half-dozing, grunted and let his chin fall back to his liveried chest.I carried the puppy back through the graveyard, past our picnic site.Remembering how Dickens had made us all laugh when he put a towel over his arm and perfectly mimicked the behaviour of an efficient but officious waiter, carrying our dishes from the wall to the table-headstone, expertly pouring wine for us all, I walked on with a smile.The puppy had settled in the crook of my arm, its tail still trying to wag from time to time, and its large eyes looking up adoringly at me.Caroline, Carrie, and I had owned several dogs in the past decade and more.Our last beloved pet had died only months earlier.A gnarled old tree near the rear boundary of the cathedral yard had dropped a branch about four feet long.Still carrying the puppy in my left arm, rubbing the back of its head and neck absently with my thumb as I held it, I picked up the branch, kicked away its small protuberances, and used it as a sort of walking stick.In the weeds beyond the cemetery, I paused and looked around.The carriage and road were out of sight.Nothing and no one moved in the churchyard proper.From far beyond the cathedral came the TIP-TAP-TIP-TAP of Dradles’s—or, rather, Dradles’s apprentice’s—hot and careful work.The only other sound was the buzz and chitter of insects here in the weeds and high grass that led east to the tidal flats.Even the sea and its attending river were silent in this glare of sunlight.With one smooth motion, I wrung the puppy’s neck.The snap was audible but not loud.The small body went limp in my arms.I glanced around again and then dropped the puppy’s carcass into the lime pit.There was no dramatic hiss or bubbling.The little black-and-white-spotted form just lay there, a bit more than half submerged in the thick grey gruel of quick-lime.Bending and using the branch, I carefully prodded the puppy’s ribs and head and hindquarters until the tiny form was just beneath the surface.Then I tossed the branch into the high grass and marked the spot where it landed.Twenty-four hours? Forty-eight? I decided to give it seventy-two hours—and a little more, since I planned to wait until dusk—before coming back to use the same branch to poke out and analyse the results.Softly whistling a tune that had become popular in the music halls that summer, I strolled back through the graveyard to the waiting carriage.CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVENThree days later I received a pleasant note from Dickens thanking me for my letter, implicitly accepting my apologies, and inviting me out to Gad’sHill Place at my earliest convenience [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]