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John Jasper, a respected choirmaster in the Church of England in Cloisteram in 1864, goes to London twice a week, using the name Orrich, for opium "treatments," during which he dreams of marrying Rosa Bud, his music student. Rosa, however, has been engaged to Jasper's nephew, Edwin Drood, called Ned, since her mother died when she was a little girl. On Rosa's eighteenth birthday, Ned, now twenty-one, asks her to go with him to Egypt as his wife, and she kindly admits she has no more feeling for him than for the girls at Miss Twinkleton's seminary, where she lives. The benevolent schoolmaster, Crisparkle, then holds a dinner party to welcome his new student, Neville Landless, and his sister Helena, who will room with Rosa. The Landlesses are orphans from Ceylon. Neville immediately falls in love with Rosa, but is prone to drinking and has a volatile temper. When Ned mocks Neville for his serious intentions toward Rosa, Neville nearly accosts him with a knife. Rumor that Neville has a violent, foreigner's temper quickly spreads around Cloisteram. Rosa, however, forgives Neville when he tells her about the fight. Rosa's kind guardian, Hiram Grewgious, then gives Ned Rosa's mother's ring, with her instructions that it is to be given to Rosa only if he truly loves her. In order to be true to her mother's memory, Ned breaks the engagement and tells Rosa that Neville loves her. Jasper, still believing the couple is going to marry, goes to the cemetery with the drunken caretaker, Durdles, and mysteriously spends hours in the crypts while Durdles sleeps. On Christmas Eve, during a terrible storm, Jasper has Ned and Neville over for a reconciliation dinner. The next morning, Jasper tells Mayor Thomas Sapsea that Ned is missing and accuses Neville, who was last seen with him, of murder. Crisparkle vouches for Neville before the court and he is released. Neville last saw Ned at the river, and insists on helping the men search it. When Ned's watch is found, Jasper pronounces his nephew dead. Grewgious later informs Jasper that Ned and Rosa broke their engagement and Jasper collapses. Then he posts a two-hundred pound reward for information leading to the murderer of Ned. Jasper begs Rosa for her love in exchange for Neville's life. In terror, Rosa warns Neville and swears her love, finally revealing that her engagement to Ned was broken before his disappearance. Neville disappears himself and, disguised as Thackeray, an old man, takes a room at Mrs. Tope's home next door to Jasper. With Grewgious' help, he discovers Jasper's drug paraphernalia and the wax mold to a tomb key. Meanwhile, Jasper is receiving "treatments" from an opium woman. In his dream state, he shouts to Ned and Rosa and nearly chokes the woman. While looking for Mr. Orrich the night of Ned's murder, the woman, a stranger to Ned, had warned him that "Ned" was a cursed name. When the woman returns to Cloisteram to indict Orrich and collect Jasper's reward, Neville, still in disguise as Thackeray, tells her Jasper and Orrich are the same man and has her wait at Mrs. Tope's. Neville returns with Sapsea, and they find the woman dead. Deputy, a young friend of Durdles who customarily walks him home, accuses Jasper of killing the woman, because Jasper was mean to him the night he went to the crypts. Deputy then leads Neville to Durdles, where Jasper's night at the crypts is revealed. That night, Neville finds Ned's tomb and is about to open it when Jasper arrives. Revealing himself, Neville fights Jasper until Durdles returns with the authorities. When they open the tomb, they find the corpse unidentifiable, but after Grewgious spots Rosa's engagement ring in the coffin, the body is identified as Ned's. Durdles accuses Jasper of murder, and he escapes to the belfry, where, shouting Ned and Rosa's names, he jumps to his death. Neville and Rosa then marry.