So far, nothing truly mysterious has occurred. However, John “Jack” Jasper, choirmaster in the Cathedral town of Cloisterham, has expressed a morbid curiosity in the stonemason Durdles’ craft. More particularly in the crypts beneath the Cathedral. Jasper’s behavior and addiction to opium make him suspect. But is this set up for what is to come or might this be a clever ruse?
Resuming with Chapter Six, part of the second installment that originally appeared in May 1970, the narrative shifts to the Reverend Septimus Crisparkle “feinting and dodging with the utmost artfulness” as he practices the art of boxing. He is a man of thirty-five, single, and resides in Minor Canon Corner–“in the shadow of the Cathedral”–with his widowed mother.
Strangely Septimus has created the pretense for his mother that he is unable to read without spectacles when in fact “he had the eyes of a microscope and a telescope combined.”
At morning breakfast, the Crisparkles pour over a letter announcing the imminent arrival of two wards, Neville and Helena Landless. “An unusually handsome lithe young fellow, and an unusually handsome lithe young girl; much alike; both very dark, and very rich in color; she, of almost the gipsy type; something untamed about them both; a certain air upon them of the hunter and huntress…” Neville is to stay with the Crisparkles and be tutored by Septimus while his twin sister will stay at the Nuns’ House.
The Crisparkles arrange for a dinner and invite Miss Twinkleton and Rosa Bud from the Nuns’ House, Edwin Drood and his uncle, Jasper, to come and meet the newcomers. After the twins’ guardian has deposited them, in Chapter Seven, we learn that Neville and Helena are orphans from Ceylon. “It was well he died when he did, or I might have killed him,” says Neville in an aside to Septimus. Neville is referring to his reviled stepfather who beat his sister and maltreated them both. Septimus is shocked by the admission, and Neville regrets his brashness. Or perhaps hot-headedness?
As for Helena, Neville says, “My sister would have let him tear to pieces, before she would have let him believe that he could make her shed a tear.”
The short conversation makes Septimus “uneasy. It hinted to him that he might, without meaning it, turn aside a trustfulness beneficial to a mis-shapen young mind and perhaps to his own power of directing and improving it.” He invites Neville’s confidence and learns that though the Landless twins were set on quarreling and breaking away, they have been warmed by the reception giving them.
We also learn that though Neville felt cowed by his childhood experiences, “nothing in our misery ever subdued her.” Further Helena had on occasion dressed the part of boy “and showed the daring of a man.”
When he asks about the other guests, Neville realizes Edwin’s relationship to Rosa Bud and remarks, “I understand his air of proprietorship now!”
The private conversation finished they return to the Crisparkles’ residence and to the parlor where Jasper, seated at the piano, “was accompanying Miss Rosebud while she sang.” That is until she has a breakdown and utters, “I can’t bear this! I am frightened! Take me away!”
Is there something about the intensity with which Jasper regards Rosa? Helena seems to notice and silently communicates the fact to her brother with a look. Drood comments, “Jack, you are such a conscientious master, and require so much, that I believe you make her afraid of you.” Drood then suggests that Helena would feel similarly. “You would be afraid of him, under similar circumstances, wouldn’t you, Miss Landless?”
“Not under any circumstances,” replies the lady.
Later Helena and Rosa, pledging to be friends to one another, confide in each other. Rosa tells Helena how she feels haunted by Jasper. “He has made a slave of me with his looks. He has forced me to understand him, without his saying a word; and he has forced me to keep silence, without his uttering a threat.
The chapter ends with Helena holding Rosa protectively. “There was a slumbering gleam of fire in the intense dark eyes, though they were then softened with compassion and admiration. Let whomsoever it most concerned, look well to it!”
It is curious that Rosa lacks passion for her betrothed, but fears that same passion coming from Jasper. Yet she admits Jasper has never spoken to her about that. His looks alone cause her to tremble. More curious still is that Jasper’s love for Rosa was apparent to Helena, but she needed to ask if Rosa loved him.
Read along with The Poisoned Martini each week and examine the the origins of mysteries in the earliest examples of the genre. Next week, stop by for Chapters Eight and Nine.