When he recalled that moment, later, he could never quite capture it. It was as if he hadn't really let it sink in, however much he tried. Instead, he could only picture the people rising to their feet, hear the babel of voices and the roar of blood in his ears. And Rosa, fainting.
He always stopped there, because he couldn't think beyond it. Rosa had fainted. Was she all right? Nothing else mattered.
Even the jovial smile on the marshal's face.
"You can go now. Didn't you 'ear 'im? You're free to go."
"Oh. Of course." He looked distractedly at the marshal and then back to Rosa, who was being attended to by all the women in the gallery, each of them proffering bottles of sal volatile from their reticules. "Yes."
"Come on. We need this for the next villain."
Jasper managed to find a speck of focus from somewhere.
"Who are you calling a villain? I'm not guilty."
"Course you ain't, squire, course you ain't. Now shove it."
Jasper's limp somehow managed to express proud indignation as he left the dock and tried to ascertain the best path to Rosa.
"Clear this court," insisted the clerk, shooing people out of the galleries. "There are other cases to try."
By the time Jasper worked out how to reach the gallery, Rosa had been carried out of it. He made his way out on to the courthouse steps, where people milled in throngs, many of them taking a lively interest in him, but he had nothing in his mind but finding Rosa.
At last, he caught sight of Neville Landless leaning gloomily against a pillar.
"Landless, where is my wife? Is your sister with her?"
"I believe so. They are in a room inside there. A waiting room of some kind."
"Thank you." He paused for the merest moment. "Before I go…I owe you an apology of long standing. I should never have accused you of Edwin's murder."
"No, you shouldn't."
"I regret it now, most sincerely. I wish you well."
"I wish you well also. For to wish you ill is to wish Rosa ill, and I would never do that. She loves you, Jasper. Be thankful."
He nodded awkwardly, then passed back inside the courthouse, intent on finding his wife.
When he opened the door of a side room, a collective female gasp met his appearance, together with a great many flapping hands trying to push him back out.
"I have loosened her stays, send him out."
"Oh, it is her husband."
Each of the half-dozen women looked towards him, eyes bright with curiosity. As for Rosa, she lay slumped on the floor, propped against a chair, while various hands wafted various bottles beneath her nose. She had the appearance of a wax doll and for a second Jasper feared she might be dead.
"You can all go," he said brusquely, coming to kneel by her side. "Leave me with her. She will be well."
"Do you have salts?" asked one of the ladies dubiously.
"She has fainted, that is all," he said. "Please, you don't assist by crowding around her. Give her a little room, I pray you."
Last to leave was Helena Crisparkle, who stood at the door and looked at Jasper for a long, almost accusing, moment before joining the rest outside.
He cradled her in his arms and stroked her hair, waiting for her to revive, as he knew she would. Her skin was clammy and cold but eventually it warmed and he knew she would soon open her eyes. He was ridiculously excited about the idea of her waking up in his arms, for the first time in so many weeks. In fact, if he timed it exactly right, perhaps he could wake her, Sleeping-Beauty-like, with a…
He tilted her face up and pressed his lips to hers.
Magically, wonderfully, her eyes flew open. They were hazy and unfocused at first and he felt her heart hammering inside her loosened bodice, as if in panic, but then she melted against him and murmured, "Oh, it is you."
The very words she had spoken to him when she first recognised him after her rescue from the seas. But that time she had not followed them with, "My love." Neither had she laid her head on his chest and wept tears of relief and happiness.
"Hush, it is all over now," he soothed, rocking her in his arms. "It is all over and I can take you home."
Once she was strong enough to stand, he helped her to her feet and walked, slowly but steadily, Rosa on his arm, out of the side room.
A crowd had gathered by the door, all aware that a reunion was taking place – the reunion of the girl who had thrown over a nephew for an uncle, who had then been accused of killing him. Everybody wanted to take a look at this unusual Cloisterham phenomenon.
Fortunately, the Crisparkles took it upon themselves to keep the worst of it at bay, policing the crowd and asking them to disperse, though most were loth to do so.
"There they are!" called a boy. "'E got off lightly, I reckon. Even if he didn't do it. He took his nephew's girl!"
"She's no better than she should be either," commented another.
Jasper, tempted to lash out but knowing that his ankle would not favour him, simply walked through the furore while Rosa kept her eyes to the ground. As they made their way down the courtroom steps, Crisparkle hastened after them.
"I say," he said. "I do wish you'd come and spend the night with us before returning to London. You must be terribly tired and Rosa is feeling the strain. We'd love to offer our hospitality."
"I'm obliged to you, Crisparkle, but I want to be alone with my wife. Perhaps on another occasion…"
"I understand. But please feel welcome to visit us whenever you like."
"I will. Good afternoon."
It was necessary to hire a cab to take them the short distance from the assize court to the railway inn, just to shake off the mob, equal parts well-wisher and cat-caller, that chased them down the steps.
Rosa held on to his hands as if she feared they might dissolve away from her and wove her fingers together with his.
"You are here. I cannot believe it. It is like a dream."
"I keep expecting the judge to come after us and tell us it was a mistake and the jury meant to find me guilty," confessed Jasper, looking out through the back window to make sure that this was not indeed happening.
"That cannot happen. You are free. We can leave Cloisterham forever."
"You should never have come back," said Jasper, raising an eyebrow at her. "I told you to stay at home."
"What a ridiculous thing to expect of me."
"What if you had lost the child?"
"Jasper, you are five minutes out of prison and already you are scolding me. Do not blame me for loving you."
His features relaxed and he pulled her closer into his side.
"Of course I cannot blame you for that," he said. "But you will take better care of yourself from now on, or I shall have stronger words than this to say about it."
"I promise," she said meekly, laying her head on his shoulder. "Are we going home now?"
He shook his head. "I have various unpleasant duties to discharge first. I must collect my belongings from the gaol and I must visit Caroline – my mother's – grave. And then there are Ned's bones… But I cannot think about all that now. It can all be done tomorrow."
At the mention of the bones, Rosa shivered a little in Jasper's arms.
"Poor Eddy," she said.
"Poor Rosebud," he murmured, kissing the top of her head.
"Impoverished Rosebud," she agreed. "I'm afraid we must sell the house immediately, for I have spent hundreds of pounds on legal fees."
"Innocence is costly."
"Not as much as guilt is."
At the railway inn, they took a room and ordered food to be delivered to it. On opening the door into the chamber, with its uneven floorboards and old-fashioned curtained bed, there was a moment of peculiar shyness, as if neither of them remembered what they should do when alone together.
Rosa lifted her eyes to Jasper and he saw how her bodice rose and fell and a scarlet bloom flushed her cheeks. He had spent every moment of the last six years desiring her, but he had never wanted her more than he did now. But he did not know how to convey it to her.
He reached out and laid his palm against her stomach, now very slightly rounded beneath the severe corset strings. The suggestion of curve set his blood on fire. It was his mark upon her, and it couldn't be disguised.
"The baby," whispered Rosa. "He will know his father now."
Jasper nodded, swallowing.
"And his mother," he whispered back, his mouth turning downwards at the corners.
"Yes, yes," she said urgently, stepping towards him, putting her arms about his neck. "We will be a family. We will be so happy."
Her hands were on his neck. It could so easily have been the knotted hemp. He felt faint with the enormity of it all. His head bent as if of its own accord and his lips sought Rosa's, drawing them into a kiss of passionate urgency.
Every night in his prison bed he had dreamed of kissing her like this once more, trying to catalogue in his memory every dimple and freckle of her. It had been the only way to find sleep some nights. He gathered her close and made her feel his intentions for her. Oh, but…
He broke off, his hand moving back down to her stomach.
"Is it safe?" he asked. "Does it harm the child if we…?"
"I doubt it," she said with a self-conscious smile. "If so, I suppose the harm has already been done, since I think I must have conceived before we were wed…"
Jasper kissed her ruefully downturned lips.
"Ah," he said. "We are continuing my family tradition, are we?"
"No, we are not! He will be born in wedlock, even if he wasn't…Look, surely you want to take the weight off that foot. It must be painful."
"I hadn't even noticed."
"I believe you, you ridiculous man. Go and sit on the bed and I'll take off your boots for you."
Boots, gowns, waistcoats, corsets, all fell by the wayside at a rapid pace until only bare skin shivered in the January cold, warmed less by the fitful flicker from the grate than by the close proximity of another body.
If Jasper's convalescing ankle hampered him, it was only minimally, for their need for each other overrode all over considerations and they joined together within minutes of shedding the last vestiges of clothing.
It was many hours before anything other than sighs and moans and cries of ecstasy could be heard alongside the crackling of the fire in that darkening room. Neither of them noticed the puffing and clanking of trains outside, or the clopping of hooves on the cobbles, or even the knock on the door when the food arrived.
It was found later, quite congealed and half-eaten by the tavern dog. They had to go down and order another meal, while Rosa avoided the knowing eyes of the staff and tried very hard not to yawn her way through the pigeon pie.
"You must eat it all," he said, waving away occasional curious interlopers into their obscure corner of the inn. "I insist. Don't leave the vegetables."
"You do fuss so, Jasper."
"I suppose you mean I am solicitous, which is what a husband should be."
"I suppose I do." She smiled at him, a rather wicked smile, full of unspoken references to the pleasures they had so lately shared.
For the first night in a long time, Jasper slept well and dreamed of nothing.
A Crisparkle Christmas was always a warm affair, coloured red and green and bathed in a golden glow from the fire.
"One more carol, just one more," begged the older Mrs Crisparkle as Jasper rose from the piano in the corner, but he shook his head.
Rosa and Helena appeared at the foot of the stairs together by the big decorated fir tree in the hallway.
"Is Jack sleeping?" asked Jasper anxiously.
"And Louisa?" asked Reverend Crisparkle of his wife.
"She is settled," said Helena. "All the fuss and excitement has exhausted her."
"Not one but two babies in the house at Christmastide," said old Mrs Crisparkle with vast satisfaction. "It's more than I thought I'd see again at my time of life."
"Nonsense, mother, you'll outlast us all," said Septimus, patting the maternal knee.
Jasper moved over to the window and peered out into the cathedral close.
"The snow has stopped," he noted. He turned to Rosa. "Shall we take our constitutional?"
"Excuse us," said Jasper to the room in general, heading for the coat pegs by the door.
"We should walk off some of that meal too," Crisparkle suggested, attempting to rise from his armchair, but Jasper put out a hand to stop him.
"We have graves to visit," he said. "And would prefer to be alone."
"Oh. Oh. Of course." Crisparkle, not ungratefully, sank back into the cushions.
Rosa, wrapping her shawl around her, made an apologetic face. "We shan't be long," she said. "If Jack wakes, just walk up and down with him and sing to him. He likes singing."
"That's as well," said old Mrs Crisparkle. "I suppose he hears a lot."
Jasper smiled at her and bowed his head, prior to pulling on his gloves and opening the door to a blast of cold wind.
Outside, their cheeks rapidly reddened in the cruel gusts, but Jasper and Rosa trod the snowy path undeterred. He took her hand as they entered the cathedral under the gothic stone archway and walked silently up the nave.
They had, out of respect to their hosts, attended the Christmas morning service earlier, and it had been a most peculiar experience for Jasper to have to listen to the choir instead of conduct them. It was like returning to one's home country, only to find that one was only allowed to cross it by train instead of setting foot on its beloved ground. He had irritated Rosa with his constant tutting and complaining about the music until she had moved, Jack asleep in her arms, further along the pew towards Helena.
When Jack had woken up and started bawling, he had seized the opportunity to go outside with him and walk up and down the Close in the snow, singing Schubert Lieder to him until he stopped and yawned and wrapped his tiny hand around Jasper's fingers, a gesture that never failed to touch him.
He wondered what Rosa was thinking in there, facing the organ loft where they had spent that strange night.
Now they were back in the cathedral, alone on Christmas Day afternoon, walking towards the staircase that led to the vaults.
On the bars of the Drood tomb was nailed a new inscription. Jasper and Rosa stood before it, reading it over and over until Rosa crept inside his arm and laid her head against him. He let her dab her eyes on his muffler and tightened his grip on her.
"He won't be forgotten," he whispered.
Rosa shook her head, too tearful to speak.
"Do you ever wonder what he'd think?" she said, as they made their way back up the crypt stairs. "If he could see us now. Married, with a child."
"I hope he'd understand, and wish us well."
Jasper wished he could be convinced of this, but perhaps he would simply have to accept that not everybody was going to approve of him. He had thought of killing his nephew, after all, and probably did not deserve his postmortem forgiveness.
This dark thought accompanied him all the way down to the water's edge, where Rosa led him with determination and fortitude through the uneven ground and stiff, icy grasses.
"The last time I came here, I broke my ankle," he remarked, tripping over a rock that could well have been the culprit.
"I have not come here to think about that time," she said.
At the water's edge, she stopped and looked out over the grey waters in which blobs of snow drifted and melted. In the distance, under iron skies, old hulks of foundered vessels lay, their outlines grim.
"Everyone I loved always died," she said softly. "My parents, my poor Eddy, my lovely, ill-used Tartar."
Jasper tried to hide a wince at the mention of his predecessor, but he reminded himself that she was entitled to her feelings and tried to accord them some respect.
"I thought this was a place of death and it became something else," she continued, looking up at him. "The water had taken so much from me, but it wouldn't take me. Instead it gave me something."
"If I hadn't been here…" said Jasper, with a twitching shudder.
"You were the very last person I wanted to see."
"I know. It's understandable, I suppose."
"I still don't know how you won me over."
"Neither do I."
The snow began to fall again, settling on the brim of Jasper's hat and on Rosa's eyelashes and nose.
"Let us go back. Jack will wake and find himself among strangers," said Jasper.
"They won't be strangers for long. Not if we come back to Cloisterham. Are you sure you can bear it?"
Jasper took a deep breath.
"I was unhappy here, but with you, everything will be different. And we cannot afford to live in London any longer. And the Dean wants to give me another chance as choirmaster, and a larger dwelling. So…"
"It will be so much better than it was, Jasper. And I am much happier for Jack to grow up here than in those filthy London streets, with all the dirt and disease. I am constantly terrified that he will catch something."
"I know. It is the right thing to do. The sensible thing. This water gave you to me, and perhaps I shouldn't stray too far from it."
"Perhaps not." She took his hand and held it for a while, looking over the rippling depths. "Now, let's come in from the cold, love."