THE two young men, having seen the damsels, their charges, enter the courtyard of the Nuns' House, and finding themselves coldly stared at by the brazen doorplate, as if the battered old beau with the glass in his eye were insolent, look at one another, look along the perspective of the moonlit street, and slowly walk away together.
'Do you stay here long, Mr. Drood?' says Neville.
'Not this time,' is the careless answer. 'I leave for London again, to-morrow. But I shall be here, off and on, until next Midsummer; then I shall take my leave of Cloisterham, and England too; for many a long day, I expect.'
'Are you going abroad?'
'Going to wake up Egypt a little,' is the condescending answer.
'Are you reading?'
'Reading?' repeats Edwin Drood with a touch of contempt. 'No. Doing, working, engineering. My small patrimony was left a part of the capital of the Firm I am with, by my father, a former partner; and I am a charge upon the Firm until I come of age; and then I step into my modest share in the concern. Jack--you met him at dinner--is, until then, my guardian and trustee.'
'I heard from Mr. Crisparkle of your other good fortune.'
'What do you mean by my other good fortune?'
Neville has made his remark in a watchfully advancing, and yet furtive and shy manner, very expressive of that peculiar air already noticed, of being at once hunter and hunted. Edwin has made his retort with an abruptness not at all polite. They stop and interchange a rather heated look.
'I hope,' says Neville, 'there is no offence, Mr. Drood, in my innocently referring to your betrothal?'
'By George!' cries Edwin, leading on again at a somewhat quicker pace; 'everybody in this chattering old Cloisterham refers to it. I wonder no public-house has been set up, with my portrait for the sign of The Betrothed's Head. Or Pussy's portrait. One or the other.'