AND YET he was so terrible a man! In short, the poor girl (for what could she know of the criminal intellect, which its own professed students perpetually misread, because they persist in try ing to reconcile it with the average intellect of average men, instead of identifying it as a horrible wonder apart) could get by no road to any other conclusion than that he was a terrible man, and must be fled from.
◊ ◊ ◊
OHN Jasper is thus introduced in the opening chapter of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Dickens’s last, unfinished novel. By reason of its contrast between the sordid opium den in Shadwell and the quiet cathedral in the city of Cloisterham — a contrast as antipodal as the opposition of light and shadow in a novel by Hugo — the chapter is one of the most startling in English literature. It strikes the same prophetic note of things to come which is sounded in the witches’ scene heralding the tragedy of Macbeth. It typifies the eternal contest between good and evil; it reveals in Jasper — though yet unnamed — a man suffering from an abnormal state of mind, from a psychosis aggravated by drug intoxication.
The motive driving this man to murder is already present in the opium-induced dream from which he is recovering. Jasper is the Sultan; Edwin Drood, his nephew, is the robber; Rosa Bud — the object of his passion — is the dancing girl whom Edwin has stolen from him. And the ancient English cathedral tower represents the Victorian morality and society against which Jasper is a rebel.
The method he will use to commit the murder of which he dreams is foreshadowed when he seizes a Chinaman “with both hands by the throat”; it is the method of the strangler. And the man emerging from his opium debauch seems to fear that he has talked; that he has revealed in his drugged stupor the plan which he is already formulating in his brain, that “horrible wonder apart.”
Here, then, is a potential murderer dramatically presented at the very outset of the novel. There is no doubt that Dickens meant to give us a study of such a man — a study which in its psychological implications was to go far beyond any of a similar nature he had previously made.
The “jaded traveller” returns to Cloisterham and its cathedral to take part in the vesper service. And here Dickens brings in a motif destined to be profoundly significant in the later development of the novel, and about which I shall have more to say. “Then, the Sacristan locks the iron-barred gates that divide the sanctuary from the chancel, and all of the procession having scuttled into their places, hide their faces; and then the intoned words, ‘WHEN THE WICKED MAN —’ rise among groins of arches and beams of roof, awakening muttered thunder.”
Note that Dickens puts the intoned words in capitals, thus stressing their importance. They are from Ezekiel, 18:27: “Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.” That is the Law and the Prophet; how is Jasper to meet them?
In the second chapter, we learn from Mr. Tope, the Verger, that Jasper has seizures. During the service he had “a kind of fit on him after a little. Hs memory grew DAZED.” This information is not surprising, considering the recent orgy during which he had smoked at least five pipefuls of opium. Opium undermines the will power and causes psychosis; in Jasper’s case, a psychosis not unlike paraphrenia, that exuberant development in the victim’s mind of fantastic delusions and hallucinations which yet allow his personality so to preserve itself that it can make normal reactions to social life on occasion.
What sort of man is the physical Jasper, as the inhabitants of Cloisterham know him? “Mr. Jasper is a dark man of some six-and- twenty, with thick, lustrous, well-arranged black hair and whiskers. He looks older than he is, as dark men often do. His voice is deep and good, his face and figure are good, his manner is a little sombre.” He plays the piano, sings well, is a successful teacher of music, and is a reader — witness “the book-shelves on the wall.”
He is young Edwin Drood’s uncle and guardian, undoubtedly a younger brother of Edwin’s mother. He is apparently devoted to Edwin, for whom he shows an almost womanish solicitation. When his nephew comes to visit him, he addresses the youth as “My dear Edwin!” and continues: “Get off your greatcoat, bright boy, and sit down here in your own corner. Your feet are not wet? Pull your boots off. Do pull your boots off.” He makes frequent use of endearing terms, and is not averse to touching the object of his affection.
Nevertheless, “once for all, a look of intentness and intensity — a look of hungry, exacting, watchful, and yet devoted affection — is always, now and ever afterwards, on the Jasper face.” “It is always concentrated. Dickens expresses himself in this way to show the conflict going on in Jasper’s mind. He envies Edwin his carefree life; he is genuinely fond of his nephew, but the fact that Edwin is to marry Rosa has doomed him to destruction.
Jasper has an unusual capacity for seeing things not within his range of vision. “Fixed as the look the young fellow meets, is, there is yet m it some strange power of suddenly including the sketch over the chimney piece.” This sketch is Edwin’s portrait of Rosa Bud, to whom lie has been pledged since childhood — the young girl to whom Jasper gives music lessons and whom he loves with a secret passion.
When Edwin rebels against marriage by anticipation and a life “laid down to scale, and lined and dotted out — like a surveyor’s plan,” Jasper has another seizure and confesses to Edwin that he has been taking opium for a pain. That he is Lay Precentor of the cathedral, choirmaster, and music master, means nothing to him; he hates the cramped monotony of his existence. He is weary of the religious service. He bursts out against the cathedral, which is to him the epitome of the “oppressive respectability” of Cloisterham itself. “No wretched monk who droned his life away in that gloomy place, before me, can have been more tired of it than I am. He could take for relief (and did take) to carving demons out of the stalls and seats and desks. What shall I do? Must I take to carving them out of my heart?”
But this is a confidence between them. “I have reposed it in you, because —” He breaks off, for he has been on the verge of saying: “because we both love Rosa.” And he finally concludes, with reference to his self-revelation: “Take it as a warning, then:”
This speech has a double meaning; it not only admonishes Edwin that he should subdue himself to his vocation, as Jasper has resolved to do, but it reveals the intent to destroy Edwin, who stands between Jasper and Rosa. And “Mr. Jasper’s steadiness of face and figure becomes so marvellous that his breathing seems to have stopped” until Edwin, who is essentially selfish, assures him that he was not prepared for such sacrifice — owing to fondness for him — as the laying bare of his uncle’s inner self.
Edwin has no idea that Jasper loves Rosa; he has missed the deeper, hidden meaning of the warning.
“You won’t be warned, then?” Jasper reiterates, with a quiet smile.
“You can’t be warned, then?“
Thus Jasper makes doubly sure that Edwin has not taken his confidence for the personal threat it really is, since the intent to murder his nephew already occupies his mind.
In his notes for this chapter in which Jasper and Edwin dine together and hold the conversation which I have summarized, Dickens wrote: “Uncle and Nephew. Murder very far off.” But the germ of murder lay in that “horrible wonder apart,” and we may expect to see it develop at our next meeting with Jasper. It is late autumn when he is received for the first time by the pompous ass, Thomas Sapsea; certainly before November 9, Lord Mayor’s Day, for Sapsea has not yet been exalted to the office of mayor, a position he later holds. Jasper has come — evidently at the invitation of the older man — to speak about the late Mrs. Sapsea, and to give his opinion of the amazing epitaph which the widower has composed in her honor. His real purpose in coming is to flatter Sapsea, because he plans to make use of him later on. Or rather, Dickens intends him to make use of Sapsea, for again in the notes written for his own guidance we find: “MR. SAPSEA. Connect Jasper with him. (He will want a solemn donkey by and by.)”
Jasper certainly does flatter Sapsea, and he meets old Durdles, the stonemason, of whom Dickens says: “With the Cathedral crypt he is better acquainted than any living authority.” Durdles has also been summoned by Sapsea in connection with the epitaph. Sapsea gives him the composition — approved by Jasper, — whereupon ensues a conversation which is of paramount importance to the choirmaster.
“Is this to be put in hand at once, Mr. Sapsea?” Durdles inquires.
“Mr. Sapsea, with an Author’s anxiety to rush into publication, replies that it cannot be out of hand too soon.
“ ‘You had better let me have the key then,’ says Durdles.
“ ‘Why, man, it is not to be put inside the monument!’ ”
The italics are mine — for it is my contention that Jasper first conceives the idea of secreting Edwin’s body in this particular tomb as a result of Sapsea’s remark.
Sapsea gets the key to the monument and hands it to Durdles, who tucks it away in a large, inside breast pocket of his flannel coat. Whereupon Jasper remarks: ‘Why, Durdles! you are undermined with pockets!”
“‘And I carries weight in ‘em too, Mr. Jasper. Feel those!’ producing two other large keys.
“‘Hand me Mr. Sapsea’s likewise. Surely this is the heaviest of the three.’”
While Jasper chats with Durdles about the origin of the latter’s nickname, “Stony,” he has an opportunity to weigh the three keys and become familiar with their appearance. He clinks one key against another, and clinks again with a change of keys. The only purpose of this scene is to inform the reader that Jasper is now cognizant of the shape, weight, and ringing tone of the key to the Sapsea tomb. And we may be sure that he notes the fact that Durdles “drops his two keys back into his pocket one by one, and buttons them up”; that he “takes his dinner-bundle from the chair-back on which he hung it when he came in”; and that he “distributes the weight he carries, by tying the third key up in it.” Can there be any doubt that Dickens meant this “third key” to be that of the Sapsea monument? Jasper has indeed obtained a great deal of satisfaction from his visit, for his plan to rid himself of his nephew is now definitely beginning to take shape.
Jasper next appears at the “friendly dinner” planned by Minor Canon Crisparkle and his mother to welcome the advent of Neville and Helena Landless to Cloisterham, a dinner which also brings together as guests Edwin and Rosa, Miss Twinkleton — headmistress of the Nuns’ House, the school in which Rosa is a pupil and to which Helena is soon to be admitted, — and Luke Honeythunder, blustering philanthropist and guardian of the newcomers. The dinner is a “doleful breakdown,” owing to Luke’s bumptious arrogance, — but the confidences which follow are of great significance for Jasper. Then comes the piano scene, during which Jasper accompanies Rosa as she sings, and displays powers of animal magnetism or hypnosis which reveal a new phase of his complex nature.
“It was a consequence of his playing the accompaniment without notes, and of her being a heedless little creature, very apt to go wrong, that he followed her lips most attentively, with his eyes as well as hands; carefully and softly hinting the key-note from time to time.” And not content with this suggestion of Jasper’s dominance of Rosa, Dickens soon adds: “As Jasper watched the pretty lips, and ever and again hinted the one note, as though it were a low whisper from himself, the voice became less steady, until all at once the singer broke into a burst of tears, and shrieked out, with her hands over her eyes: ‘I can’t bear this! I am frightened! Take me away!’”
Miss Landless, who is herself possessed of hypnotic and telepathic powers, at once takes charge of Rosa, while Jasper sits quiet, “not even looking round. Edwin, with his usual obtuseness, remarks:
“Pussy’s not used to an audience; that’s the fact. She got nervous, and couldn’t hold out. Besides, Jack, you are such a conscientious master, and require so much, that I believe you make her afraid of you. No wonder.”
“No wonder,” repeats Helena. But with deeper insight into the cause of Rosa’s breakdown.
“There, Jack, you hear? You would be afraid of him, under similar circumstances, wouldn’t you, Miss Landless?”
“Not under any circumstances,” returns Helena.
“Jasper brought down his hands, looked over his shoulder, and begged to thank Miss Landless for her vindication of his character. Then he fell to dumbly playing, without striking the notes, while his little pupil was taken to an open window for air, and was otherwise petted and restored. When she was brought back, his place was empty.”
He recognizes in Helena Landless a powerful adversary, one who can get the better of him at his own game.
Added meaning is given to this strange scene by Rosa herself, when, in the safety of their bedroom at Miss Twinkleton’s school, she makes a confidante of Helena. After telling her new friend that she feels as though Jasper “could pass in through the wall when he is spoken of,” she adds: “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. When I play, he never moves his eyes from my hands. When I sing, he never moves his eyes from my lips. When he corrects me, and strikes a note, or a chord, or plays a passage, he himself is in the sounds, whispering that he pursues me’ as a lover, and commanding me to keep his secret. 1 avoid his eyes, but he forces me to see them without looking at them. Even when a glaze comes over them (which is sometimes the case), and he seems to wander away into a frightful sort of dream in which he threatens most, he obliges me to know it, and to know that he is sitting close at my side, more terrible to me than ever.”
This is Jasper’s hypnotic power exercising the same sort of fascination a snake has over a bird. And Rosa, frightened by this force, appeals to Helena for protection. It is tacitly given, and Dickens cannot refrain from a bit of foreshadowing which must inevitably arouse the reader’s interest. “There was a slumbering gleam of fire in the intense dark eyes [Helena sj, though they were then softened with compassion and admiration. Let whomsoever it most concerned look well to it!” It is not my purpose in this study to deal with possible plot developments beyond the fragment left by Dickens, so I shall pass over this foreshadowing. The important part of Rosa’s speech is that final sentence in which she acknowledges a shadowy presentiment that Jasper is threatening something fearful in the vague dream into which he seems to wander. That threat is, of course, the destruction of Edwin.
Circumstances further favor Jasper when he overhears the quarrel between Edwin and Neville as they leave the Nuns’ House after escorting Rosa and Helena home. This quarrel grows out of Nevile’s sudden interest in Rosa and his resentment at Edwin’s patronizing attitude toward his fiancée. That he has overheard the dispute is an inevitable conclusion, in view of what occurs later at the gatehouse when he invites them in to his lodgings to take a stirrup cup after having temporarily composed their differences. Being quick to perceive that Neville Landless has formed a dislike for Edwin, he resolves to make the most of it.
His first action upon entering his rooms is to direct attention to Edwin’s portrait of Rosa by shading a lamp to throw the light upon it, and by asking Nevile whether he recognizes it. The ensuing conversation brings out again Edwin’s patronage and indifference to Rosa, and arouses the antagonism of the impetuous Nevi1le. Jasper smiles slightly, and turns away to mix a jug of mulled wine at the fire. When Dickens says, “It seems to require much mixing and compounding,” he is informing the reader that Jasper drugs the concoction.
The young men continue their quarrel until Jasper hands each one of them a large goblet glass of his mixture, fills one for himself, and proposes: “Come, Mr. Neville, we are to drink to my nephew, Ned. As it is his foot that is in the stirrup — metaphorically — our stirrup-cup is to be devoted to him. Ned, my dearest fellow, my love!”
The three men drink, whereupon Jasper deliberately sets out to foment the antagonism existing between his guests and to bring it to a pitch of violence.
“Look at him,” Jasper cries to young Landless. “See where he lounges so easily, Mr. Neville! The world is all before him where to choose. A life of stirring work and interest, a life of change and excitement, a life of domestic ease and love! Look at him!”
The drugged wine is already having its effect on the two young men as Jasper proceeds. Needless to say, his own goblet contains liquid which is free from the drug.
“See how little he heeds it all! It is hardly worth his while to pluck the golden fruit that hangs ripe on the tree for him. And yet con sider the contrast, Mr. Neville. You and I have no prospect of stirring work and interest, or of change and excitement, or of domestic ease and love. You and I have no prospect (unless you are more fortunate than I am, which may easily be), but the tedious unchanging round of this dull place.”
Jasper speaks from the heart, despite his bantering vein; his envy of Edwin and his passion for Rosa are the driving motives for what he says. The desired result is produced; the two young men soon resume their heated words until both become insulting.
“You are a common fellow, and a common boaster,” Nevile finally cries.
“Pooh, pooh,” returns Edwin, “how should you know? You may know a black common fellow, or a black common boaster, when you see him (and no doubt you have a large acquaintance that way), but you are no judge of white men.”
The allusion is to Neville’s swarthy skin; he and his twin sister Helena are from Ceylon. Neville flings the dregs of his goblet at Edwin, and is about to hurl the goblet itself when Jasper seizes his arm.
“‘Ned, my dear fellow!’ he cries in a loud voice; ‘I entreat you, I command you, to be still! Mr. Neville, for shame! Give this glass to me. Open your hand, sir. I WILL have it!
Neville throws him off, dashes the goblet down under the grate, and leaves the house, forgetting his hat.
Jasper has gained his end, for he has established a state of hostility between the two, and has in young Landless a potential suspect as the murderer of Edwin when his plan to destroy his nephew has been fully matured and carried out.
To further this situation, Jasper goes to the home of Mr. Crisparkle on the pretext of returning Neville’s hat. The good Minor Canon has just seen Neville to bed after a distressing interview. He receives Jasper, and there follows a talk between them which presents one of the most baffling mysteries in the novel. Before I go into this mystery, I must turn back to a previous point in the story, the close of the doleful dinner given by Mr. Crisparkle earlier the same evening.
When Mr. Crisparkle and Neville were returning from seeing Mr. Honeythunder off on the omnibus, the Minor Canon’s young charge took occasion to speak of Helena and of himself. He praised his sister in no uncertain terms, but spoke frankly of his own shortcomings resulting from the life he has led.
“And to finish with, sir,” he said, “I have been brought up among abject and servile dependents, of an inferior race, and I may easily have contracted some affinity with them. Sometimes, I don’t know but that it may be a drop of what is tigerish in their blood.” The italics are mine.
Later that same evening, when he is endeavoring to explain his apparently intoxicated condition to Mr. Crisparkle after his quarrel with Edwin, Neville says, with reference to young Drood: “He goaded me, sir, beyond my power of endurance. I cannot say whether or no he meant it at first, but he did it. He certainly meant it at last. In short, sir, in the passion into which he lashed me, I would have cut him down if I could, and I tried to do it.” Again the italics are mine.
Now it is worth noting that on these two occasions Jasper could not possibly have overheard what Neville said. On the first occasion, he was still at the dinner table in the Crisparkle home, and then at the piano accompanying Rosa. In the second, he was on his way to the Minor Canon’s house; his knock at the door is not heard by Crisparkle until he descends the stairs after saying good night to Neville. Yet mark what follows, when Jasper is admitted by the Minor Canon.
“We have had an awful scene with him,’ says Jasper, in a low voice.” He refers, of course, to Neville.
“‘Has it been so bad as that?’
“Mr. Crisparkle remonstrates: ‘No, no, no. Do not use such strong words.’
“He might have laid my dear boy dead at my feet. It is no fault of his, that he did not. But that I was, through the mercy of God, swift and strong with him, he would have cut him down on my hearth.’
“The phrase smites home. ‘Ah!’ thinks Mr. Crisparkle, ‘his own words!’
“Seeing what I have seen to-night, and hearing what I have heard, adds Jasper, with great earnestness, 1 shall never know peace of mind when there is danger of those two coming together, with no one else to interfere. It was horrible. There is something of the tiger in his dark blood.’
Ah! thinks Mr. Crisparkle, so he said!
How was Jasper aware of the strong statements made by Neville at two widely separated times, and in places at which Jasper could not conceivably have been present? I repeat that we have here one of the outstanding mysteries of the novel. That Dickens considered this enigma a matter of importance, we cannot doubt, for he has so labored the point that it cannot be overlooked or forgotten. It may possibly be an example of thought transference or reading of the mind, yet Jasper displays no such ability later on in the story, when it might have been to his utmost advantage to do so. I confess that these passages have given me no little concern; I am still at a loss to explain to my own satisfaction how Jasper came to say almost the very words uttered by Neville. What use Dickens would have made of this uncanny knowledge of Jasper’s is a matter for conjecture. I have never as yet seen any discussion of the point I have raised; but the weird, almost verbatim repetition of Neville’s remarks certainly impresses me, as it did Mr. Crisparkle.
Be that as it may, Jasper has achieved his purpose; he has used the adjective “murderous” to qualify the scene which he himself staged between Neville and his nephew.
The dramatic events at the gatehouse occurred in chapter viii of the novel as we have it today, but it was chapter vii in the second number of the story as it was first set down by Dickens. This chapter should be followed by the one entitled “Mr. Durdles and Friend,” which is chapter v of the novel in its current version. This confusing transposition of chapters is explained by a letter which Dickens wrote to Forster, which I quote from the famous biography:
“When I had written [Forster inserts: 22 December, 1869] and, as I thought, disposed of the first two Numbers of my story, Clowes informed me to my horror that they were, together, twelve printed pages too short!!! Consequently I had to transpose a chapter from number two to number one, and remodel number two altogether!
This was the more unlucky, that it came upon me at the time when I was obliged to leave the book in order to get up the readings [Forster inserts: the additional twelve for which Sir Thomas Watson’s consent had been obtained]; quite gone out of my mind since 1 left them off. However, I turned to it and got it done, and both numbers are now in type. Charles Collins has designed an excellent cover.”
I shall follow Dickens’s original order of chapters in my study of Jasper, for that sequence is more logical than the one forced upon the author by the discrepancy of pages which caused him nothing less than horror.
When Jasper is on his way home after his brief visit to Mr. Crisparkle, he comes upon Durdles, who is being stoned by the impish lad, Deputy. After it has been explained to him that the stoning is part of a ritual to urge Durdles homeward whenever he is abroad after ten o’clock, he offers to accompany the stonemason and suggests that he carry his dinner bundle. He is, of course, anxious to find out whether it still contains the key to the Sapsea monument. Durdles declines the offer, but points out various tombs in the churchyard near which they happen to be.
After shaking off Deputy, Jasper walks on with Durdles and brings up the cathedral crypt as a topic of conversation. This leads to the stonemason’s curious existence, and to Jasper’s proposal that Durdles allow him to go about with him and to visit some of the odd nooks in which he works.
“‘What I dwell upon most,’ says Jasper, pursuing his subject of romantic interest, is the remarkable accuracy with which you would seem to find out where people are buried. — What is the matter? That bundle is in your way; let me hold it.’”
He relieves Durdles of the encumbrance, whereupon the stonemason asks for his hammer.
“Clink, clink. And his hammer is handed him.”
In this manner Dickens informs us that the key to the Sapsea monument is still in the bundle.
Durdles now gives Jasper a demonstration of his remarkable accuracy in locating buried persons. Tapping with his hammer, he explains his art of “solid in hollow; and inside solid, hollow again!” When Jasper voices his amazement, Durdles goes to even greater lengths in the display of his powers.
“‘Say that hammer of mine’s a wall — my work,’ ” he announces. “ ‘Two; four; and two is six,’ measuring on the pavement. ‘Six foot inside that wall is Mrs. Sapsea.
“Not really Mrs. Sapsea?’
“ ‘Say Mrs. Sapsea. Her wall’s thicker, but say Mrs. Sapsea. Durdles taps that wall represented by that hammer, and says, after good sounding: “Something betwixt us!” Sure enough, some rubbish has been left in that same six-foot space by Durdles’s men!’” The italics are mine.
Here, in my opinion, is one of the most pertinent points made in this chapter. Some rubbish has been left in the six-foot space — rubbish to which Jasper now plans to add something more gruesome: the remains of his nephew. Some writers have contended that the remarkable accuracy of Durdles in locating buried persons was to have been used by Dickens in the final discovery of the secret burial place of Edwin Drood. I hold that the foregoing scene is developed solely to make Jasper feel assured that Durdles would never be able to find any trace of Edwin’s body if it were put inside the Sapsea monument. It would become part and parcel of the rubbish already there, and hence beyond suspicion. I maintain that, from this moment on, Jasper has solved his problem of where to dispose of Edwin’s body.
Jasper and Durdles proceed on, their way to the stonemason’s home, and at no point in the remaining paragraphs of this chapter does Dickens tell us when Jasper gave up the dinner bundle. Indeed, there is no further mention whatsoever of the homely article so closely associated with Durdles. But note what Dickens does say with regard to Jasper.
“John Jasper returns by another way to his gatehouse, and entering softly with his key finds his fire still burning.” The italics are mine.
Now it strikes me as rather unlikely that Jasper would have locked his house door when he left earlier in the evening to return Neville’s hat. He did not expect to be away for any length of time, and Edwin was in the gatehouse, as we are soon to learn. No, it is my firm conviction that Dickens is here being deliberately ambiguous, but that he is letting us infer that Jasper now has the key to the Sapsea monument. It will be simple enough for him to take an impression of it and to have a duplicate made at his leisure. But, it may be objected, how does he return the original key to the dinner bundle before Durdles is aware of its absence? Let me anticipate a bit, by jumping forward to the memorable chapter entitled “A Night with Durdles.” Sapsea, now Mayor of Cloisterham, is chatting with the Dean, the Verger, and Jasper; in the course of their conversation the Dean remarks: “I hope, Mr. Mayor, you will use your study and knowledge of Durdles to the good purpose of exhorting him not to break our worthy and respected Choir-Master’s neck” — a grim example of foreshadowing on Dickens’s part when one considers the method of capital punishment employed in England.
Mr. Sapsea of course replies that he will answer for Mr. Jasper’s neck. But how is it endangered?
“Only by my making a moonlight expedition with Durdles among the tombs, vaults, towers, and ruins,’ returns Jasper. ‘You remember suggesting, when you brought us together, that, as a lover of the picturesque, it might be worth my while?’
“ ‘I remember!’ replies the auctioneer. And the solemn idiot really believes that he does remember.”
Note what Jasper now says.
“Profiting by your hint, I have had some day-rambles with the extraordinary old fellow, and we are to make a moonlight hole- and-corner exploration to-night.”
Some day-rambles, indeed. It was on one of these — and it may well have been in the course of the first, which could easily have been made the day following Jasper’s abstraction of the Sapsea key — that the Choirmaster returned the article in question to the dinner bundle. That is what I believe actually happened.
At any rate, to revert to the point at which I abandoned chronological order, Jasper has returned home. He takes from a locked press a peculiar-looking pipe, which he fills — but not with tobacco —” and then goes upon inner staircase to contemplate his nephew as he lies sleeping. Then, hushing his footsteps, he passes to his own room, lights his pipe, and delivers himself to the Spectres it invokes at midnight.”
Well may he exult as he enters upon the opium-induced dreams in which he has already slain his nephew countless times! He now has a key to the Sapsea monument, and, better still, the assurance that that particular tomb will be the safest place of all in which to dispose of Edwin’s body. The plan growing in that “horrible wonder apart” is progressing satisfactorily and without a flaw.
On the following morning, news of the quarrel between Edwin Drood and Neville Landless has reached Miss Twinkleton’s establishment even before breakfast. Although Dickens does not tell us this in so many words, it is inferable that the report was spread by Jasper. Certainly he told Mrs. Crisparkle of the affair, for she says to her son later in the story: “But for Mr. Jasper’s well-bred consideration in coming up to me, next day, after service, — I believe I might never have heard of that disgraceful transaction.” The China Shepherdess does not specify, but the incident to which she refers may well have taken place after the early morning service.
We are now introduced to Hiram Grewgious, the shrewd old lawyer who loved Rosa’s mother and who has acted as the young girl’s guardian ever since she became an orphan. He visits his ward at the Nuns’ House and discharges various duties, chief among which is the satisfaction of his desire to learn whether Rosa wants to go through with her betrothal to Edwin. When he has completed this business, he goes to the cathedral, where he meets Jasper.
“Nothing is the matter? “ Jasper asks him. “You have not been sent for? “ The fact that he speaks “rather quickly” shows how dis concerted he is by the lawyer’s presence in Cloisterham. Has any thing occurred to upset his plan — now rapidly becoming an idée fixe?
Grewgious assures him that he has come of his own accord; that he found Rosa blooming; and that his purpose was to tell her “seriously, what a betrothal by deceased parents is.”
“And what is it — according to your judgment?’
“Mr. Grewgious noticed the whiteness of the lips that asked the question, and put it down to the chilling account of the Cathedral.” Again Jasper fears that something may be afoot to upset his plan.
The old lawyer informs Jasper that his sole intent was to tell Rosa that such a betrothal could not be binding if either party concerned had no real affection for the other, or inclination to carry it out.
“May I ask, had you any especial reason for telling her that?” is Jasper’s query.
Mr. Grewgious retorts that he had only the especial reason of doing his duty, and that no disrespect to Edwin was implied.
“‘I will wager,’ said Jasper, smiling — his lips were still so white that he was conscious of it, and bit and moistened them while speak ing: ‘I will wager that she hinted no wish to be released from Ned?’”
Grewgious assures him that he will win his wager, and eventually concludes: “ ‘ — she seems to have some little delicate instinct that all preliminary arrangements had best be made between Mr. Edwin Drood and herself, don’t you see? She don’t want us, don’t you know?’
“Jasper touched himself on the breast, and said, somewhat indistinctly: ‘You mean me.” This is not a question, it should be noticed, but a statement of fact.
“Mr. Grewgious touched himself on the breast, and said: ‘I mean us. Therefore, let them have their little discussions and councils together, when Mr. Edwin Drood comes back here at Christmas; and then you and I will step in, and put the final touches to the business.’
“So, you settled with her that you would come back at Christmas?’ observed Jasper. ‘I see! — I understand that at Christmas they will complete their preparations for May, and that their marriage will be put in final train by themselves, and that nothing will remain for us but to put ourselves in train also, and have everything rea&y for our formal release from our trusts, on Edwin’s birthday.’
“‘That is my understanding,’ assented Mr. Grewgious, as they shook hands to part. ‘God bless them both!’
“‘God save them both!’ cried Jasper.”
His mind is made up; the plan must go through; Edwin must die. “‘I said, bless them,’ remarked the former, looking back over his shoulder.
“‘I said, save them,’ returned the latter. ‘Is there any difference?’” At this point I would direct the reader’s attention to the fact that Grewgious, by what he has told Jasper, has set a relative time limit beyond which Edwin Drood may not remain alive. In this respect he has forced Jasper’s hand, and is therefore, to a certain degree — albeit completely unaware of the situation and quite innocent, — responsible for the murder which is to come.
A few days later, Mr. Crisparkle has a talk with Helena and Neville Landless, in the course of which he learns of the latter’s love for Rosa. The Minor Canon exacts from Neville a pledge of absolute silence with respect to this love, also the promise that young Landless will make peace with Edwin, provided that Edwin make the first gesture toward the settling of their differences. To attain this end, Mr. Crisparkle hurries to the gatehouse, only to find Jasper asleep on a couch before the fire. “Long afterwards he had cause to remember how Jasper sprang from the couch in a delirious state between sleeping and waking, and crying out: ‘What is the matter? Who did it?”
Jasper has been dreaming his old dream; this time, it would seem that Edwin had already been murdered; the long-cherished plan has been carried out.
Jasper recovers himself, whereupon Mr. Crisparkle expresses his desire that peace may be established between Neville and Edwin. A very perplexed expression comes over Jasper’s face, and he wants to know how such a result can be achieved. Mr. Crisparkle suggests that Jasper might induce Edwin to write a short note indicative of his willingness to shake hands.
“Jasper turned that perplexed face towards the fire. Mr. Crisparkle continuing to observe it, found it even more perplexing than before, inasmuch as it seemed to denote (which could hardly be) some close internal calculation.”
But it can be, and does. Jasper’s plan now involves Nevile as Edwin’s murderer — to-be; how can this aspect of things to come be made plausible if a reconciliation is ef1ected between the two young men? Jasper is indeed calculating.
The Minor Canon tells Jasper that Neville has promised to maintain a friendly attitude toward Edwin, and that he himself will answer for young Landless.
Jasper agrees to do as the Minor Canon desires. He then shows Mr. Crisparkle two entries from his diary — a book later to assume even deeper significance, — entries which express his dread of what Nevile may do to Edwin. Here again he portrays Neville as a potential murder.
Mr. Crisparkle advises Jasper to burn the diary, and departs when Jasper assures him that he will take care that his nephew shall “give way thoroughly.”
On the third day after this interview, Jasper brings to the Minor Canon a letter from young Drood. After making honorable amends, Edwin writes to his uncle: “Ask Mr. Landless to dinner on Christmas eve (the better the day the better the deed) and let there be only we three, and let us shake hands all round there and then, and say no more about it.”
“‘You expect Mr. Neville, then?’ said Mr. Crisparkle.
“‘1 count upon his coming,’ said Mr. Jasper.”
Indeed he does, since there is no doubt in my mind that he was entirely responsible for the request that Mr. Landless be asked to dinner on Christmas Eve, and that Edwin and he be the only others present. Again Jasper’s hand has been forced, and the time schedule of his plan accelerated a little more. Now the good Minor Canon is unwittingly at fault. By his eagerness to establish peace between the young men, he has set an absolute time limit to Jasper’s intent.
JASPER’S next appearance is made in chapter xii, “A Night with Durdles, concerning which Dickens wrote in the notes jotted down for his eyes alone: “Lay the ground for the manner of the murder to come out at last.” We learn at the beginning of this chapter that Mr. Sapsea not only has become Mayor of Cloisterham, but also has improved the acquaintance of Mr. Jasper. He has been received at the gatehouse; Jasper has sung to him and so tickled his vanity that the pompous Mayor considers him “sound, sir, at the core.”
The chat between His Honor, the Dean, Mr. Tope the Verger, and Jasper — to which I have already alluded in my discussion of how Jasper came to possess a duplicate of the key to the Sapsea monument — is then related in detail, and so we come at last to the momentous moonlight expedition taken by Jasper and Durdles.
Jasper sits at his piano chanting choir music for two or three hours until the moon is about to rise. Then, equipped with “a goodly wicker-cased bottle,” he goes to the stonemason’s house.
As the two men start out for the cathedral, Durdles says: “Ware that there mound by the yard-gate, Mister Jasper.’
“‘I see it. What is it?’
“Mr. Jasper stops, and waits for him to come up, for he lags be hind. ‘What you call quick-lime?’
“Ay!’ says Durdles; ‘quick enough to eat your boots. With a little handy stirring, quick enough to eat your bones. ”
Jasper makes no comment, but we may be sure that Durdles’s recipe is straightway registered in his mind, and that it becomes an integral part of his plan.
They hear the sound of a closing house door, and, standing behind a bit of old dwarf wall, see the Minor Canon accompanied by Neville coming out for a walk. As Jasper watches young Landless, “a sense of destructive power” is expressed in his face. His plan is well-nigh perfected, and here is the very man who is to bear the guilt of its fulfillment! Mr. Crisparkle is evidently telling Nevile about Edwin’s letter to Jasper, for Nevile says: “You may be certain of me, sir.” When they move on out of sight, Jasper “turns to Durdles, and bursts into a fit of laughter.” Assured that his chosen scapegoat will be at the select dinner on Christmas Eve, he cannot refrain from open exultation.
Dickens now makes such a point of describing the “certain awful hush” which pervades the cathedral, the cloisters, and the churchyard, arid so emphasizes the fact that the good citizens of Cloister- ham shun these precincts, that the veriest novice can perceive that a man may go about some strange, unusual business there and yet escape observation.
The two explorers go down to the crypt, locking themselves in. As they wander up and down, Durdles discourses of the “old uns’ he yet counts on disinterring.” Jasper’s wicker bottle circulates freely, so far as the stonemason is concerned — but Mr. Jasper only rinses his mouth once, and casts forth the rinsing.” This can only mean that Jasper has drugged the contents of the bottle.
Before they ascend the great tower, Durdles pauses for breath. He tells Jasper how he was set upon by town boys a year ago, and turned in to the cathedral. He fell asleep, but was awakened by the ghost of a cry. This was followed by the ghost of a dog’s howl. “That was my last Christmas Eve,” he concludes.
What do you mean? is the very abrupt, and, one might say, fierce retort.”
Jasper’s mind is so intent upon his plan to murder his nephew that Durdles’s emphasis of the possessive adjective leads him to wonder whether Durdles has any suspicion of what occupies that “horrible wonder apart”; whether he has an inkling that the Christmas Eve now approaching is to be Edwin’s last.
They go up the winding stairway of the tower and finally look down upon Cloisterham. It is worth noting that Jasper contemplates not only the moonlight view of the panorama spread before him, but “especially that stillest part of it which the Cathedral overshadows” — the churchyard.
The drugged liquor has its effect: Durdles becomes drowsy. They descend into the crypt, where Durdles “appeals to his companion for forty winks of a second each.
“‘If you will have it so, or must have it so,’ replies Jasper, ‘I’ll not leave you here. Take them, while I walk to and fro.’
“Durdles is asleep at once. — He dreams that the footsteps die away into distance of time and of space, and that something touches him, and that something falls from his hand.” Jasper has come up to him softly and removed from his grasp the key to the crypt, which Durdles still holds after locking the iron gate. As he does so, the key falls to the pavement. “Then something clinks and gropes about, and he dreams that he is alone for so long a time, that the lanes of light take new directions as the moon advances in her course.”
This is indeed true, for Jasper, after recovering the key of the crypt from where it has fallen, lets himself out and goes about his sinister business. It takes him first to Durdles’s yard, which overlooks the churchyard, as Mr. Percy Carden has proved by his study of the original manuscript. There he finds a wheelbarrow and loads it with quicklime. It is reasonably inferable that he might find such a means of conveyance, and a spade, at the stonemason’s. Having his duplicate key to the Sapsea monument with him, he then proceeds to open the tomb and add to the rubbish already there enough lime to consume a body. The moon affords him sufficient light for his grim labors. By the time he has finished them, returned the implements he has borrowed, brushed off his clothes, and rejoined Durdles, who finally rouses from his sleep, it is two o’clock.
The key to the crypt door is now lying close to Durdles.
It should be noted that just before the two men ascended the tower, Jasper took the stonemason’s dinner bundle. Now, as they are about to leave the cathedral, Durdles says: “‘Let me get my bundle right, Mister Jarsper, and I’m with you.’
“As he ties it afresh, he is once more conscious that he is very narrowly observed.”
Now I do not believe that Jasper waited until this eventful night to avail himself of the key to the Sapsea monument. He could not depend upon the original, which was in Durdles’s keeping; the very nature of his plan would demand that he have a duplicate of his own. He would certainly need one for further use, and I have already indicated how he obtained it. But I do believe that he wanted to find out whether Durdles still had the original, or whether it had been returned to Mr. Sapsea. Jasper is playing a desperate game, in which he cannot afford to overlook even so slight a detail as this. I likewise believe that Dickens wanted the reader to assume that Jasper took the key to the Sapsea monument from the dinner bundle on this particular night; the reader would then be all the more at sea in his endeavor to figure out how Jasper could again unlock the tomb on the night of Edwin’s murder. I am morally certain that Jasper had a duplicate key, obtained in the way I have demonstrated, and that he kept it in his locked press with his opium pipe.
As the two men separate to go their respective ways homeward, Deputy yelps out his “Widdy widdy wen!” jargon, and pelts Durdles with stones.
““What! Is that baby-devil on the watch there!’ cries Jasper in a fury: so quickly roused, and so violent, that he seems an older devil himself. ‘I shall shed the blood of that impish wretch! I know I shall do it!’”
He is desperately afraid that Deputy has seen him at work in Durdles’s yard or near the Sapsea monument — as probably he has, in view of the note Dickens wrote for his own use: “Keep the boy suspended.” Jasper rushes at Deputy and takes him by the throat, and it is not until the imp declares that he had just come out for his health when he saw the two men emerge from the cathedral that Jasper is somewhat appeased. But, even so, “he goes to his gatehouse, brooding.”
A few days later, Jasper, standing under the elm trees by the cathedral, sees Edwin and Rosa kiss each other goodbye. To him, this kiss is a fervent expression of the love existing between his nephew and the young woman for whom he himself entertains a lustful passion. He does not know that Edwin and Rosa have agreed to break off their engagement: Edwin, because he has been sobered by an interview he has had with old Grewgious; Rosa, because she has long realized that she can love Edwin only as a brother. He does not know that Edwin carries with him a ring of diamonds and rubies, once the property of Rosa’s mother, which Grewgious has given to young Drood with the solemn injunction that it is to be brought back to him if, for any reason whatsoever, Edwin does not place it upon Rosa’s finger as a token of their mutual desire to go through with their marriage. Only three persons know that Edwin has this ring: Grewgious; Bazzard, the old lawyer’s clerk; and Edwin himself.
“He saw us, as we took leave of each other,” Edwin says to Rosa. “Poor fellow! he little thinks we have parted. This will be a blow to him, I am much afraid!”
They have previously agreed that Jasper must be told of their decision, and Rosa has suggested that the information be given him by her guardian, Grewgious.
Rosa hurries on, because she cannot bear to be near Jasper, until she and Edwin are at the door of the Nuns’ House. “Before going in, she gave him one last, wide, wondering look, as if she would have asked him with imploring emphasis: ‘O! don’t you understand?’”
Because she has proposed that Grewgious break the news of their agreement to separate, thus sealing Edwin’s lips, and because she has never spoken to young Drood of the passion which, as she realizes only too well, Jasper feels for her, Rosa, too, in all her innocence, is partly responsible for the fate awaiting her erstwhile fiancé. That parting kiss, overseen by Jasper, has irrevocably sealed his nephew’s doom.
And now it is Christmas Eve in Cloisterham — the eve of that Holy Birthday of which Dickens had so often extolled the sacred and festive spirit in his Christmas books and stories. By some strange revulsion of feeling he now casts aside his “Carol” philosophy to choose December 25th as the day for Edwin Drood’s murder.
Neville Landless spends most of the day before Christmas in preparation for a walking tour; he cannot endure the thought of being a witness to Rosa’s happiness at this joyous time. He finally goes to the dinner at the gatehouse with a strange presentiment of something fearful to come.
Edwin Drood passes a lonely day, but makes one visit which is of extreme importance. Finding that his watch has stopped, he calls at the jeweler’s to have it wound and set. The jeweler seeks to interest him in some of his stock, but “Edwin tells the tempter that he wears no jewellery but his watch and chain, which were his father’s; and his shirt-pin.”
Mark how Dickens emphasizes the heirlooms and the pin.
“‘That I was aware of,’ is the jeweller’s reply, ‘for Mr. Jasper dropped in for a watch-glass the other day, and, in fact, I showed these articles to him, remarking that if he should wish to make a present to a gentleman relative, on any particular occasion — But he said with a smile that he had an inventory in his mind of all the jewellery his gentleman relative ever wore; namely, his watch and chain, and his shirt-pin.’”
It would appear that Jasper broke his watch glass on the night when he made the moonlight expedition with Durdles.
“Twenty minutes past two, Mr. Drood, I set your watch at,” says the jeweler. “Let me recommend you not to let it run down, sir.”
Edwin goes out and later meets the Opium Woman, who has come to Cloisterham “looking for a needle in a haystack,” meaning Jasper. After Edwin gives her some money, she tells him that “Ned’? is a threatened name, a dangerous name to bear. Young Drood is somewhat dismayed as he goes to the dinner; he “resolves — to say nothing of this tonight, but to mention it to Jack (who alone calls him Ned), as an odd coincidence, to-morrow.”
John Jasper spends an agreeable and cheerful day. With a grim double entendre, of which he was sometimes capable, Dickens has him tell the shopkeepers that “his nephew will not be with him long.” He informs Mr. Sapsea of the dinner he plans to give at the gatehouse, whereupon His Honor speaks in an unfriendly manner of Nevile. It is clear that Jasper has voiced his fears with respect to young Landless in His Honor’s presence.
Moved by a kind of sardonic humor, Dickens remarks that Jasper is in beautiful voice on this day, but that “the mere mechanism of his throat is a little tender, for he wears — a large black scarf of strong close-woven silk, slung loosely round his neck.” Meeting Mr. Crisparkle, he tells him that he means to burn his diary at the end of the year. He then makes for the gatehouse, but before he goes up to his rooms, he pauses to “pull off that great black scarf, and hang it in a loop upon his arm. For that brief time, his face is knitted and stern.”
It is probably this same black scarf, more than anything else, which led Mr. Howard Duffield to write “John Jasper — Strangler,” an essay extremely ingenious in its presentation of the theory that Jasper belonged to a secret band of Thugs, and that by murdering his nephew he was carrying out a ritual killing in the service of Kali, Goddess of Destruction. I do not accept this theory, for the following reasons.
First of all, Jasper is introduced to us as a man of some six-and- twenty; he is therefore comparatively young. When one considers all that he has accomplished, his very age militates against the possibility of his being a Thug. He must have received his schooling in England; he certainly talks like an educated man, and he uses English idiom. He must also have spent some time taking piano and voice lessons in order to occupy the position he actually holds. He is choirmaster of Cloisterham Cathedral, and a teacher of some ability. I cannot conceive how he had time to serve apprenticeship in the vast brotherhood of Thugs while preparing himself for such a position as the one in which we find him. And, were he a true Thug, I fail to comprehend how he could associate himself, as he does, with the Anglican Catholic Church.
But Mr. Duffield states that Jasper’s appearance suggests his Oriental origin. Is this not a somewhat far-fetched conclusion, reached merely because Jasper is dark and has “thick, lustrous, well- arranged black hair and whiskers”? Now Jasper’s sister was Edwin’s mother, yet Mr. Duffield does not suggest that her son shows any indications of being an Oriental. Perhaps Mr. Duffield was influenced by the fact that Jasper smokes opium. So did Thomas De Quincey, yet I know of no suggestion that he was of Oriental origin.
Some of Mr. Duffield’s statements are so open to argument that his whole theory, arresting though it is, leaves me unconvinced. He says of Jasper, for example: “Incidentally, he is shown to be familiar with the languages of the East, for, when he listens to the mutterings of the opium-drenched Chinaman and the Lascar, he recognizes them as ‘unintelligible gibberish.’” Because a man exclaims “Unintelligible!” when he hears the incoherent ramblings of a Chinaman or a Lascar, I do not see how it is proved that he can himself speak Chinese or an East Indian dialect. Furthermore, at no place in the first chapter does Dickens use the word “gibberish.” As a matter of fact, when Jasper addresses the Chinaman, he asks:
What do you say? If he were familiar with the language, why did he not question him in Chinese?
Again, Mr. Duffield says: “One of the most prominent characters has pinned upon him the grotesque title of ‘Tartar,’ a name as redo.. lent of the East as a whiff of hashish.” Now I should hardly call Tartar “one of the most prominent characters” in the novel. We cannot tell how much Dickens may have planned to develop him later, but of the twenty-three chapters constituting the fragment as we have it, he actually appears in only three. As to his title, I can myself suggest a way in which Dickens might have created it which is as English as roast beef. First Lieutenant Tartar, late of the Royal Navy? “Tar” is a common synonym for “sailor,” short for “jack-tar.” Double the common synonym and you have “Tartar,” a name which has a whiff of the sea.
One more quotation from Mr. Duffield’s article, and I have done. “The literary atmosphere in which The Mystery of Edwin Drood was cradled was dense with a kind of germ for which Dickens’s imagination was genial soil, and which would inevitably fructify into a story essentially akin to The Moonstone — which novel, it is worth noting, contributed, almost verbatim, one crucial paragraph to the Drood narrative.”
I have ransacked Wilkie Collins’s great novel for the paragraph in question. I offer my sincere apologies to Mr. Duffield if I am wrong, but I am forced to the conclusion that he must have meant the following one:
“Dr. Abel informed me,” says Mr. Combe, “of an Irish porter to a warehouse, who forgot, when sober, what he had done when drunk; but, being drunk, again recollected the transactions of his former state of intoxication. On one occasion, being drunk, he had lost a parcel of some value, and in his sober moments could give no account of it. Next time he was intoxicated he recollected that he had left a parcel at a certain house, and there being no address on it, it had remained there safely, and was got on his calling for it.”
Of course, the foregoing paragraph immediately suggests the one from The Mystery of Edwin Drood which I quote below; but I fail to see how Mr. Duffield is justified in his use of the phrase “almost verbatim.”
“As, in some cases of drunkenness, and in others of animal magnetism, there are two states of consciousness which never clash, but each of which pursues its separate course as though it were continuous instead of broken (thus, if I hide my watch when I am drunk, I must be drunk again before I can remember where), so Miss Twinkleton has two distinct and separate phases of being.”
It is true that Dickens had read Confessions of a Thug, by Captain Meadows Taylor, who was a contributor to Dickens’s magazine. The book is a long-winded, picaresque tale — somewhat reminiscent of The Arabian Nights, — based on Taylor’s personal experiences in India in the service of H.H. the Nizam. It contains references to opium, and one allusion to quicklime. It is perhaps worth mentioning that Taylor uses quotations from Macbeth and that there are three references to the same tragedy in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Dickens may well have taken from Taylor’s story some of the Thug methods — notably, murder by strangulation, — but I am still by no means convinced that John Jasper was an Oriental, or a member of a band of Thugs.
As occurred a few days before the murder of Montague Tigg by Jonas Chuzzlewit, a storm of unprecedented fury rages on the eve of the disappearance of Edwin Drood. “But early in the morning, when there is barely enough light in the east to dim the stars, it begins to lull.”
A group of idlers watching some workmen occupied by an examination of damage done to the cathedral tower by the tempest is shoved aside by Mr. Jasper, who calls loudly to Mr. Crisparkle, “at an open window.
“‘Where is my nephew?’
“‘He has not been here. Is he not with you?’
“‘No. He went down to the river last night, with Mr. Neville, to look at the storm, and has not been back. Call Mr. Neville!”
Jasper’s solicitude for the whereabouts of his “dear Ned” comes a trifle late, but his dramatic outburst has its desired effect. “There is no more looking up at the tower, now.”
Neville is sought and apprehended soon after leaving an inn eight miles distant from Cloisterham. Since he does not submit to capture without a struggle, his clothing and walking stick become bloodstained. No sooner is he brought before Mr. Crisparkle and Jasper than the latter begins to address him as the man responsible for Edwin’s disappearance. Where is his nephew, Jasper wants to know.
“I ask you because you were the last person in his company, and he is not to be found.”
Neville, because of his complete innocence, is utterly bewildered by the situation. He admits that he left the gatehouse at midnight in company with Edwin, that they went to the river to see the action of the wind there, and that they remained for some ten minutes. They then walked to Mr. Crisparkle’s, where young Drood took leave of Neville and said he was going back to his uncle’s.
Jasper immediately draws attention to the bloodstains on Nevile’s clothing and stick. Despite the wholly plausible explanation for their presence on these articles, Neville is brought before Mr. Sapsea.
My conclusions derived from the foregoing happenings are that Jasper murdered Edwin Drood between 12:30 and 1:00 o’clock on Christmas morning, and that the slaying took place in Jasper’s rooms at the gatehouse. Only after the violence of the storm had abated, “early in the morning,” when there was “barely enough light in the east to dim the stars,” could he have removed the body to the Sapsea tomb.
Once in the presence of His Honor, Jasper capitalizes on the ascendancy he has gained over Sapsea. He insinuates to such good purpose that Neville is the guilty man that Sapsea is about to consign young Landless to jail, when Mr. Crisparkle undertakes to be responsible for him and for his appearance “whenever demanded.” Again by insinuation, Jasper suggests “that particulars of the dis. appearance should be sent to all outlying places and to London, and that placards and advertisements should be widely circulated imploring Edwin Drood, if for any unknown reason he had withdrawn himself from his uncle’s home and society, to take pity on that loving kinsman’s sore bereavement and distress, and somehow inform him that he was yet alive.” All this is done.
During the next two days, an intensive search for Edwin’s body is made on the river and along its banks. Jasper works with the searchers, and on the evening of the second day returns home to find Mr. Grewgious waiting for him. Rosa has sent for the old lawyer, and in one of the novel’s most dramatic passages Grewgious informs Jasper that Rosa and Edwin had amicably broken off their engagement.
This devastating news is too much for Jasper to bear; with a terrible shriek, he faints dead away. Blinded by his passion for Rosa, he has killed his nephew, whom he once loved, because of a situation which was nonexistent when the murder was done, Grewgious, though he says nothing, now recognizes him for the murderer that he is.
When he recovers consciousness, Jasper strives desperately to make the best of a most difficult situation. At any cost, he must clear himself of all suspicion. He therefore suggests that Edwin may have fled of his own free will rather than face the awkwardness of his position, resulting from the termination of his long-standing engagement with Rosa. Dickens’s private notes refer to this stand as “Jasper’s artful use of the communication on his recovery.”
He continues to urge such a possibility by stating in the presence of Mr. Crisparkle, who has joined them, that “there was no quarrel or difference between the two young men at their last meeting” — which is undoubtedly the truth. He now exonerates Nevile of all guilt, playing the hypocrite not only because he realizes the old lawyer’s shrewdness, but because he fears Helena Landless. He believes that his present pose will make his own position stronger.
But now Mr. Crisparkle looses another thunderbolt on Jasper’s head. In his desire to be equally honest with Grewgious, the Minor Canon informs the old lawyer of his certainty that Neville will be cleared of all suspicion despite his hot temper, even despite the fact that he declared himself to be in love with Rosa.
Though the Minor Canon’s revelation has “turned him paler,” Jasper maintains his stand. He will cling to his hope that Edwin has disappeared voluntarily unless some trace of him is found “leading to the dreadful inference that he had been done away with.”
Since Jasper, in his now almost maddened state of mind, has created for himself a loophole whereby he may continue to pursue Neville as Edwin’s murderer, such a trace is soon forthcoming. Early on the morning of the next day, Mr. Crisparkle finds on Cloisterham Weir a chain and a gold watch, with the initials “E. D” engraved on its back. When he dives repeatedly with the expectation of recovering Edwin’s body, he finally brings up Edwin’s shirt pin.
That Jasper planted these articles on the weir is the only possible inference to be drawn from the evidence brought out when Neville is taken once again before Mayor Sapsea. Dickens does not make His Honor speak in person — which is a pity, — but merely summarizes his findings. “The watch found at the Weir was challenged by the jeweller as one he had wound and set for Edwin Drood, at twenty minutes past two on that same afternoon [of the day before Christmas]; and it had run down, before being cast into the water; and it was the jeweller’s positive opinion that it had never been rewound.”
Now, the watch had not been cast into the water; it was caught by its chain among the interstices of the timbers forming the weir. And Jasper, with the knowledge of his crime fresh in mind, had never thought of winding the watch after he had removed it from Edwin’s dead body. He had of course realized that non- corrosive metals must not accompany the corpse to its bier of quick lime.
Sapsea’s findings continue. “If he had been murdered, and so artfully disfigured [the italics are mine], or concealed, or both, as that the murderer hoped identification to be impossible, except from something that he wore, assuredly the murderer would seek to remove from the body the most lasting, the best known, and the most easily recognizable, things upon it. Those things would be the watch and shirt-pin.”
“So artfully disfigured”! Can anyone doubt that Jasper has been at work on His Honor, or that this insinuation came from him? What reason could Sapsea have to believe that Edwin had been disfigured, even though murdered, and his jewelry removed to prevent identification? The watch and pin might more logically have been taken because they were valuables. They might well have been thrown on the weir by a panic-stricken killer in his flight. And why should His Honor employ the phrase “the most lasting”? But Jasper, having used quicklime to ensure the destruction of his nephew’s body — as he did, — knows that the remains will be disfigured; and that noncorrosive objects — the most lasting — must not be left on the corpse; his knowledge of these facts breaks through His Honor’s circumlocutions. My contention is that he thus overreaches himself and gives himself away.
Neville is detained and re-detained, while the search for Edwin Drood goes on. At last young Landless is set free, because there is no corpus delicti. But he has to leave Cloisterham under a cloud of suspicion; a social pariah, he goes to London, where he is befriended by Mr. Crisparkle and Grewgious.
John Jasper, a day or two later, shows Mr. Crisparkle a page from his diary worth analyzing. It begins: “My dear boy is murdered.” This is an assertion, and well may Jasper make it. “The discovery of the watch and shirt-pin convinces me that he was murdered that night, and that his jewellery was taken from him to prevent identification by its means.” Here again, Jasper reveals his own guilt. Suppose Edwin has been murdered by a man who dashed his brains out with a club — or who strangled him — and took the jewelry from him to prevent identification by its means. Such a murderer would realize that the body could still be identified by the facial features, by its clothing, or by any distinguishing marks which might exist. He would be mad merely to remove the watch and shirt pin in the hope of preventing identification. But Jasper, who has concealed his nephew’s body in the Sapsea tomb, where he covered it with quicklime, knows full well that the removal of the jewelry will prevent identification of the body by its means. And I maintain that here again Jasper betrays himself as Edwin’s murderer.
The page continues: “All the delusive hopes I had founded on his separation from his betrothed wife, I give to the winds. They perish before this fatal discovery. I now swear, and record the oath on this page, That I nevermore will discuss this mystery with any human creature until I hold the clue to it in my hand.” He realizes that he has already talked too much for his own good — to Hiram Grewgious. “That I never will relax in my secrecy or in my search. That I will fasten the crime of the murder of my dear dead boy upon the murderer.” He is thinking of Neville Landless, destined to be the next victim of that “horrible wonder apart.” “And, That I devote myself to his destruction.”
Here I must direct attention to the letter Dickens wrote to John Forster on Friday, August 6, 1869: “1 laid aside the fancy I told you of, and have a very curious and new idea for my new story. Not a communicable idea (or the interest of the book would be gone), but a very strong one, though difficult to work.”
What was this “very curious and new idea”? I believe it may be summed up in a few sentences. A man — John jasper — plans to com mit a perfect murder because he is driven to it by one of the oldest and most powerful motives: passion for a woman. As I have already shown, perfectly innocent persons — Grewgious, Mr. Crisparkle, and Rosa — are indirectly responsible for the fact that the murder is done at a certain time. The murder, successfully committed if we consider the period with its infantile knowledge of scientific methods of criminal investigation, later proves to have been needless. Then a perfectly innocent person — Minor Canon Crisparkle — unwittingly restores the status quo, with Neville Landless in the position of Edwin Drood. The murderer has to begin all over again. So he devotes himself to the destruction of — himself, as Mr. Montagu Saunders perceived; for all his subsequent plotting to destroy his victim will merely make certain his own guilt. The innocent contributors to the first crime will, in varying ways, help to track down the murderer, thus avenging a death for which they themselves have been partly to blame. Instead of attacking social evils in his last novel, Dickens will have society itself coming down on a lone, offending member. The ring of diamonds and rubies will be the only existing clue to Edwin’s identity and place of burial. John Jasper knows absolutely nothing about this ring — as yet. Certainly this summary embodies an idea which might be termed “curious and new,” and in view of Dickens’s physical and mental condition when he began to develop it, “difficult to work.”
Six months after the disappearance of Edwin Drood, we find Jasper in London, going about his dark business with the intent of putting the blame for the murder of his nephew squarely on Neville’s shoulders. He is spying upon him, and is in turn spied upon by old Hiram Grewgious, who has taken an interest in Neville.
About this same time, he calls upon Rosa when she is alone at the Nuns’ House. School has just closed for the year, and Helena Landless has gone to London to be with her brother. Rosa has never seen Jasper “since the fatal night, except when she was questioned before the Mayor.” But now, by the sun dial in the garden, hypocritically dressed in mourning, he is waiting to speak to her. “The old horrible feeling of being compelled by him, asserts its hold upon her.”
Jasper tells her that he has been waiting to be summoned back as her “faithful music-master.” ‘When she informs him that she has left off that study, he insists that it has been but discontinued, and up- braids her for not having loved Edwin in the right way. When she insists that she will study no more with him, and that she does not care to be subjected to further questioning, he tells her that he will confess —
“‘I do not wish to hear you, sir,’ cries Rosa, rising.”
He threatens that she must listen to him, or she will do more harm to others than she can ever set right.
“Sit down, and there will be no mighty wonder in your music- master s leaning idly against a pedestal and speaking with you, remembering all that has happened, and our shares in it.’”
He is accusing her of having been responsible for Edwin’s dis appearance because she never revealed to her fiancé the love she knew his uncle bore her. And his use of “our” is an admission that he, too, is culpable.
He now lays bare to her his mad passion, intensifying it by the most extravagant terms. “ — In the distasteful work of the day, in the wakeful misery of the night, girded by sordid realities, or wandering through Paradises and Hells of visions into which I rushed, carrying your image in my arms, I loved you madly!”
With great indignation, Rosa rebukes him, accusing him of being false to his nephew and of causing her such fear that she dared not open Edwin’s eyes.
“How beautiful you are!” is his rejoinder. “You are more beautiful in anger than repose. I don’t ask you for your love; give me yourself and your hatred; give me yourself and that pretty rage; give me yourself and that enchanting scorn; it will be enough for me.”
The barriers are down at last; the man reveals to her in all its nakedness the lust that burns within him.
Forcing her to remain despite her tears, he tells her that, had the ties between him and his nephew been less strong, he might even have swept Edwin from his side when she favored him. Now he has heard that Neville Landless loves her, and that is an inexpiable offense in his eyes. He has devoted himself to the destruction of Edwin’s murderer and will work in silence until he holds the clue with which he may entangle that murderer as in a net.
“I have since worked patiently to wind and wind it round him; and it is slowly winding as I speak.”
Rosa retorts that his belief in the criminality of Mr. Landless is evil.
“Circumstances may accumulate so strongly even against an innocent man, that directed, sharpened, and pointed, they may slay him. One wanting link discovered by perseverance against a guilty man proves his guilt, however slight its evidence before, and he dies. Young Landless stands in deadly peril either way.”
Since he is seeking to terrify Rosa, the second sentence of his speech is meant to impress her even more strongly than the first. He may yet destroy Neville, even though innocent, if he can convince Sapsea of his guilt; but if he can find some means to prove it — some tangible evidence that will damn him, — there is not the faintest ray of hope for Landless! Bow little does he realize that he foretells his own fate; how little does he dream that the ring of diamonds and rubies will be the “one wanting link” he craves, the link which will brand him, not young Landless, a murderer to all the world!
Rosa disclaims any affection for Neville, protesting that he has never addressed himself to her in any way.
Jasper now offers her a bribe typical of his villainy. If she will accept his love, he will renounce his pursuit of Neville; her dear friend Helena will preserve her peace of mind, her good name, and the shadow of the gallows will be removed from her. He, even casts away his fidelity to Edwin after death; the love Neville bears Rosa; his labors of six months in the cause of “just” vengeance.
“There is my past and my present wasted life. There is the desolation of my heart and soul. There is my peace; there is my despair. Stamp them into the dust; so that you take me, were it even mortally hating me!”
Thus he concludes. Rosa is so stunned and terrified that she moves swiftly away from him.
“Not a word of this to any one,” he warns her, “or it will bring down the blow, as certainly as night follows day.”
With one last mad declaration of his passion, m which he swears that she will never be rid of him, that he will pursue her even to death, he leaves her.
Rosa faints as she goes upstairs to her room. Later, when she has recovered, she flees to London to her old guardian, Grewgious. Earlier, I have shown how her plight — as well as that of Nevile and his sister — so move the old lawyer that he takes an active part in a campaign to track down Jasper and prove him the murderer of his nephew. To do so, he goes to Cloisterham disguised as Dick Datchery, leaving Rosa in the care of Miss Twinkleton, who comes to London to be with his ward. Rosa’s horrible ordeal with Jasper is soon dispelled from her mind by her interest in Neville’s friend, Lieutenant Tartar, who returns that interest in full measure.
And so the forces of society begin to range themselves against the lone offender, for such has Jasper become. “Impassive, moody, solitary, resolute, so concentrated on one idea, and on its attendant fixed purpose, that he would share it with no fellow creature, he lived apart from human life.” “The spirit of the man was in moral accordance or interchange with nothing around him.”
Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.” That is the Law and the Prophet, but Jasper has not heeded them. And so he pursues his way to inevitable destruction.
The verse from Ezekiel moves me to wonder how far Dickens may have identified himself with the murderer whose mind — that “horrible wonder apart” — he was studying. Is it not conceivable that in his last novel Dickens was taking himself to task for having flouted the moral code of his day, for having separated from his wife and broken up his home because he — like John Jasper — became infatuated with a lovely young woman? If such a conception is impossible, why did Dickens quote the verse in the abbreviated form which appears in the opening chapter? Did he set it down only in part because of his realization that it applied to him? It is a verse resplendent with hope and with the promise of forgiveness. Neither that hope nor that promise of foregiveness could apply to Jasper, in whose tortured soul there was no spark of contrition. But the words of the prophet must have had meaning for the man who could write — among the last he was ever to set down on paper — the following lines: “Changes of glorious light from moving boughs, songs of birds, scents from gardens, woods, and fields — or, rather, from the one great garden of the whole cultivated island in its yielding time — penetrate into the Cathedral, subdue its earthy odour, and preach the Resurrection and the Life.”
Almost our last glimpse of John Jasper finds him in London on a hot, dusty evening, hurrying to the opium den where we first met him. His need for the drug ended, for a time, with Edwin’s death. Now he craves it again because Rosa has fled, because he plans to destroy Nevile. The old Opium Woman welcomes him like a long-lost stranger, but she seems more interested in plying him with questions than in serving his needs; she has seen the “placards and advertisements” which appeared in London after his nephew disappeared. However, he is soon under the influence of the drug — which does not taste the same, and now appears to have a slower reaction upon him. All of which leads me to believe that the old Opium Woman has weakened her mixture, for a purpose of her own.
“Suppose you had something in your mind; something you were going to do,” Jasper says to her.
“Yes, deary; something I was going to do?”
Should you do it in your fancy, when you were lying here doing this? ”
“Over and over again.”
He is thinking of Neville Landless, and of the destruction he must bring upon him.
“Just like me!” he goes on. “I did it over and over again. I have done it hundreds of thousands of times in this room.
Now his opium-drugged thoughts have reverted to Edwin.
“It’s to be hoped it was pleasant to do, deary.”
“It was pleasant to do! — It was a journey, a difficult and danger out journey. — A hazardous and perilous journey, over abysses where a slip would be destruction. Look down, look down! You see what lies at the bottom there? ”
He fancies himself on the cathedral tower, pointing to the Sapsea tomb far below in the churchyard.
“I did it so often, and through such vast expanses of time, that when it was really done, it seemed not worth the doing, it was done so soon.”
This is a virtual confession to the murder of Edwin Drood.
“Hark!” He hears the cathedral bells sounding the half hour. “Time and place are both at hand.” Half an hour after midnight on Christmas morning — and he and Edwin are together in the gate-house.
“No struggle, no consciousness of peril, no entreaty — and yet I never saw that before.”
He strangled Edwin from behind, with his great black scarf. But in his dreams of the past he could not visualize the actual appearance of a dead body. Now he knows what it looks like.
“Look at it! Look what a poor, mean, miserable thing it is! That must be real. It’s over.”
It is real — no figment of his hallucinations now.
He lapses into oblivion, while the Opium Woman congratulates herself that she may have learned the secret of how to make him talk.
When he departs at last, the old hag follows him, and having found out that he intends to return to Cloisterham at six that same evening, goes to the cathedral city before him. There she awaits his arrival, then pursues him to the gatehouse, where she meets Datchery. In the course of their conversation, Datchery learns that she met and talked with Edwin on that last Christmas Eve. The man who is tracking Jasper down tells the woman she may see the choirmaster in the cathedral the very next morning. Then he seeks Deputy, with whom he has struck up an acquaintance, to give him the task of searching out the creature’s address.
The next day dawns, and from a point of vantage in the cathedral Datchery sees the Opium Woman shake her fist at Mr. Jasper, hug herself in her lean arms, and then shake both fists at the choirmaster.
That is our last glimpse of John Jasper; for death stilled forever the hand of the man who was weaving the threads of his destiny into their final pattern. Charles Dickens was stricken on the very day when he was completing the chapter I have just been discussing. A few deductions based on my prolonged investigation of the novel as he left it may serve to bring this study to a close.
Hiram Grewgious, alias Dick Datchery, knows now why Edwin Drood never returned the ring of diamonds and rubies: he was prevented from doing so because he died in Cloisterham, murdered by his uncle. Grewgious realizes also that the Opium Woman is going to blackmail Jasper, for she, too, suspects him of the murder of his nephew. If he were to learn, through her, of the presence of the ring on Edwin’s person, he would reveal the place where the body lay buried in an attempt to retrieve the evidence that damns him. Prior to this denouement, however, Helena Landless, dressed in her brother’s clothes and playing his part, will confront Jasper and will try to make him incriminate himself through the exercise of her hypnotic power. This attempt will, I feel certain, be unsuccessful.
When Jasper is finally surprised at the Sapsea tomb, he will try to escape by way of the cathedral tower, which he will ascend to commit suicide. Neville Landless will be mortally wounded in pursuit of him, and will die after learning that his innocence has been established. Tartar and Mr. Crisparkle will take Jasper alive. Then will come his confession from the death cell, given as though he were speaking of some other person. And indeed he will be doing just that, for the “horrible wonder apart” will now be so warped and twisted by all its owner has been through that it will no longer belong to the man known in Cloisterham as John Jasper.
He who was respected as lay precentor and choirmaster will be hanged by the neck until dead — which is just another form of strangulation. He will be dumped into an unmarked grave, where his body will be covered with quicklime. Justice, both man-made and poetic, will have been done, for so he treated his nephew, whom he once loved. The wheel will have come full circle.
Out of the depths of his despair and shame, Oscar Wilde wrote “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” With the alteration of but a single word, certain stanzas of that tragic poem make a fitting epitaph for John Jasper — murderer.
“In Maidstone gaol by Maidstone town
And there, till Christ call forth the dead,