What is striking about this third monthly part is how much Dickens manages to pack into 32 pages and how much he demands from his readers. First of all the variety of tone and scene. We begin in Cloisterham, where the Rev Septimus tries to repair the damage Neville has done to his reputation by his outburst and attack on Edwin. Then we move to London and the Inns of Court, complete with fog reminiscent of Bleak House. Then back to Cloisterham and a scene in which there is menace, mystery and underlying violence.
Pete’s quote from Wilkie Collins in an earlier post, that Drood was ‘the melancholy work of a worn-out brain’ is surely disproved by this number. There is the scene between the ‘china shepherdess’ and her wonderfully innocent son, where we are introduced to her marvellous cupboard full of everything to delight, tempt and console. Then there is the dinner at Grewgious’s chambers, where the ‘flying waiter’ rushes back and forth bringing course after course, and the ‘immovable waiter’ criticizes everything he does. The flying waiter’s leg, we’re told ‘always preceding himself and tray (with something of an angling air about it), by some seconds and always lingering after he and the tray had disappeared, like Macbeth’s leg when accompanying him off the stage with reluctance to the assassination of Duncan’.
The comedy of the dinner at Staple Inn is enhanced and undercut by the introduction of Bazzard, with his ‘dissatisfied doughy complexion, that seemed to ask to be sent to the baker’s’. His hold over Grewgious is obvious but its cause is unclear. We see a new side of the dusty dried up Grewgious when he gives Edwin Rosa’s mother’s ring. He had been in love with her.
The mood of menace and mystery created in the April number accelerates in chapter 12 as Jasper and Durdles make their midnight tour of the Cathedral crypt and tower. The sinister aspect of Jasper is built up slowly in this number. The Rev. Crisparkle finds him asleep when he calls: ‘Long afterwards he had cause to remember how Jasper sprang from the couch in a delirious state between sleeping and waking’. He notes Jasper’s face, which seemed to denote ‘some close internal calculation’. Jasper produces a lengthy diary entry purporting to convey his anxiety about the danger Neville poses to his ‘dear boy’. Two chapters later as Jasper and Durdles overhear Septimus’s conversation with Neville, Jasper watches Neville ‘as though his eyes were at the trigger of a loaded rifle and he had covered him and were going to fire’. Even Durdles notices the ‘destructive fire’ in his eyes. Jasper then laughs so hard he has to rest his face on the wall. Why?
After Jasper has carefully plied Durdles with the contents of the wicker bottle, and stolen the key to the Crypt in order to make a return visit, he is so tense that he nearly throttles the hapless Deputy to death. And that’s where we are left, with a whole month to wait.
I confess I didn’t pay much attention to the adverts in this number, I was so engrossed in the story. I did though have to resort to the dictionary on a couple of occasions. Durdles, under the influence of the wicker bottle has a mild fit of ‘calenture’ which makes him think the ground is on a level with the Cathedral tower and nearly steps out. Am I the only reader who didn’t immediately know that an ‘aeronaut’ was a balloonist?