Tuesday, December 22, 2015

"This Was a Curious Thing — The Whole Crux to the Mystery Lay in It"

"Sherlock Holmes and the Drood Mystery."
By Edmund Pearson (1880-1937).
First appearance: Boston Evening Transcript, April 2, 1913.
Incorporated into The Secret Book (1914).
Reprinted in The Game Is Afoot (1995) and The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories (2015).
Short short story (~ 9 pages).
Reproduced in full below.
For some reason we just can't escape from Edwin Drood. Recently we had Harry Smith dispatching Sherlock Holmes to solve the case (see HERE), having forgotten that Edmund Pearson did the same thing a decade before:


   "Watson," said Sherlock Holmes, beaming at me across the breakfast table, "can you decipher character from handwriting?"
   He held an envelope toward me as he spoke. I took the envelope and glanced at the superscription. It was addressed to Holmes at our lodging in Baker Street. I tried to remember something of an article I had read on the subject of handwriting.
   "The writer of this," I said, "was a modest self-effacing person, and one of wide knowledge, and considerable ability. He — "
   "Excellent, Watson, excellent! Really, you outdo yourself. Your reading is quite Watsonian, in fact. I fear, however, you are a bit astray as to his modesty, knowledge, and so on. As a matter of fact, this letter is from Mr. Thomas Sapsea."
   "The famous Mayor of Cloisterham?"
   "Quite so. And for pomposity, egregious conceit coupled with downright ignorance, he has not his peer in England. So you did not score a bull's-eye there, my dear fellow."
   "But what does he want of you?" I asked, willing to change the subject. "He isn't going to engage you to solve the mystery of Edwin Drood?"
  "That is precisely what he is doing. He is all at sea in the matter. Come, what do you say to a run down to Cloisterham? We can look into this matter to oblige the mayor, and take a ramble through the cathedral. I'm told they have some very fine gargoyles."
* * *
   An hour later, we were seated in a train for Cloisterham. Holmes had been looking through the morning papers. Now he threw them aside, and turned to me.
   "Have you followed this Drood case?" he asked.
   I replied that I had read many of the accounts and some of the speculations on the subject.
   "I have not followed it as attentively as I should have liked," he returned; "the recent little affair of Colonel Raspopoff and the czarina's rubies has occupied me thoroughly of late. Suppose you go over the chief facts — it will help clear my mind."
   "The facts are these," I said. "Edwin Drood, a young engineer about to leave for Egypt, had two attractions in Cloisterham. One was his affianced wife — a young school­girl named Miss Rosa. Bud. The other was his devoted uncle and guardian, Mr. John Jasper. The latter is choirmaster of the cathedral. There were, it seems, two clouds over his happiness. One of these was the fact that his betrothal to Miss Bud — an arrangement made by their respective parents while Edwin and Rosa were small children — was not wholly to the liking of either of the principals. They had, indeed, come to an agreement, only a few days before Edwin Drood's disappearance, to terminate the engagement. They parted, it is believed, on friendly, if not affectionate terms.
   "The other difficulty lay in the presence, in Cloisterham, of one Neville Landless — a young student from Ceylon. Landless has, it seems, a strain of Oriental blood in his nature — he is of dark complexion and fiery temper. Actual quarrels had occurred between the two, with some violence on Landless's part. To restore them to friendship, however, Mr. Jasper, the uncle of Edwin, arranged for a dinner in his rooms on Christmas Eve, at which they were to be the only guests. The dinner took place, everything passed off amicably, and the two left, together, late in the evening, to walk to the river, and view the great storm which was raging. After that they parted — according to Landless — and Drood has never been seen again. His uncle raised the alarm next morning. Landless was detained, and questioned, while a thorough search was made for the body of Drood. Beyond the discovery of his watch and pin in the weir, nothing has been found. Landless had to be released for lack of evidence, but the feeling in Cloisterham was so strong against him that he had to leave. He is thought to be in London."
   "H'm," remarked Holmes, "who found the watch and pin?"
   "A Mr. Crisparkle, minor canon of the cathedral. Landless was living in his house, and reading with him. I may add that Landless has a sister — Miss Helena — who has also come to London."
   "H'm," said Holmes. "Well, here we are at Cloisterham. We can now pursue our investiga-tions on the spot. We will go to see Mr. Sapsea, the mayor."
* * *
   Mr. Sapsea proved to be exactly the pompous Tory jackass that Holmes had described. He had never been out of Cloisterham, and his firm conviction of the hopeless inferiority of all the world outside England was so thoroughly provincial that I suspected him of some connection with the "Saturday Review." He was strong in his belief that young Neville Landless had murdered Drood and thrown his body into the river. And his strongest reason for this belief lay in the complexion of Land­less.
   "It is un-English, Mr. Holmes," said he, "it's un-English and when I see a face that is un-English, I know what to sus­pect of that face."
   "Quite so," said Holmes; "I suppose that everything was done to find the body?"
   "Everything, Mr. Holmes, everything that my — er — knowledge of the world could possibly suggest. Mr. Jasper was unwearied in his efforts. In fact he was worn out by his exertions."
   "No doubt his grief at the disappearance of his nephew had something to do with that, as well."
   "No doubt of it at all."
   "Landless, I hear, is in London?"
   "So I understand, sir, so I understand. But Mr. Crisparkle, his former tutor, has given me — in my capacity as magistrate — assurances that he can be produced at any moment. At present he can be found by applying to Mr. Grewgious, at Staple Inn. Mr. Grewgious is a guardian of the young lady to whom Edwin Drood was betrothed."
   Holmes made a note of Mr. Grewgious's name and address on his shirtcuff. We then rose to depart.
   "I see," said the mayor, "that you are thinking of paying a call on this un-English person in London. That is where you will find a solution of the mystery, I can assure you."
   "It is probable that I shall have occasion to run up to London this evening," said Holmes, "though I believe that Dr. Watson and I will stroll about Cloisterham a bit, first. I want to inspect your gargoyles."
   When we were outside, Holmes's earliest remark was, "But I think we had better have a little chat with Mr. John Jasper."
* * *
   We were directed to Mr. Jasper's rooms, in the gatehouse, by a singularly obnoxious boy, whom we found in the street, flinging stones at the passers-by.
   "That's Jasper's," said he, pointing for an instant toward the arch, and then proceeding with his malevolent pastime.
   "Thanks," said Holmes, shortly, giving the imp sixpence, "here's something for you. And here," he continued, reversing the boy over his knee, and giving him a sound spanking, "here is something else for you."
* * *
   On inquiry it appeared that Mr. Jasper was at home. He would see us, said the landlady, but she added that "the poor gentleman was not well."
   "Indeed?" said Holmes. "What's the matter?"
   "He do be in a sort of daze, I think."
   "Well, well, this gentleman is a doctor — perhaps he can prescribe."
   And with that we went up to Mr. Jasper's room. That gentleman had recovered, apparently, from his daze, for we heard him chanting choir music, as we stood outside the door. Holmes, whose love for music is very keen, was enraptured, and insisted on standing for several moments, while the low and sweet tones of the choirmaster's voice, accompanied by the notes of a piano, floated out to us. At last we knocked and the singer admitted us.
   Mr. Jasper was a dark-whiskered gentleman who dwelt in a gloomy sort of room. He had, himself, a gloomy and reserved manner. Holmes introduced us both, and informed Mr. Jasper that he was in Cloisterham at the request of the mayor, Mr. Sapsea, to look up some points in connection with the disappearance of Edwin Drood.
   "Meaning his murder?" inquired Mr. Jasper.
   "The word I used," said Holmes, "was disappearance."
   "The word I used," returned the other, "was murder. But I must beg to be excused from all discussion of the death of my dear boy. I have taken a vow to discuss it with no one, until the assassin is brought to justice."
   "I hope," said Holmes, "that if there is an assassin, I may have the good fortune — "
   "I hope so, too. Meanwhile — " and Mr. Jasper moved toward the door, as if to usher us out. Holmes tried to question him about the events of Christmas Eve, prior to the young man's disappearance, but Mr. Jasper said that he had made his statement before the mayor, and had nothing to add.
   "Surely," said Holmes, "I have seen you before, Mr. Jasper?"
   Mr. Jasper thought not.
   "I feel almost positive," said my friend; "in London, now — you come to London at times, I take it?"
   Perhaps. But he had never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Holmes. He was quite sure. Quite.
   We departed, and as we strolled down the High Street, Holmes asked me if I would object to spending the night in Cloisterham. "I shall rejoin you tomorrow," he added.
   "But are you going away?"
   "Yes, to London. I am going to follow Mr. Sapsea's advice," he added with a smile.
   "I thought you wanted to see the gargoyles," I objected.
   "So I did. And do you know, my dear fellow, I believe I have seen one of the most interesting of them all."
   Holmes's remark was entirely enigmatic to me, and while I was still puzzling over it, he waved his hand and entered the omnibus for the station. Left thus alone in Cloisterham, I went to the Crozier, where I secured a room for the night. In passing the gatehouse I noticed a curious looking man with his hat in his hand, looking attentively at Mr. Jasper's window. He had, I observed, white hair, which streamed in the wind. Later in the afternoon, having dropped in at the cathedral to hear the vesper service, I saw the same man. He was watching the choirmaster, Mr. Jasper, with profound scrutiny. This made me uneasy. How did I know but what another plot, like that which had been hatched against the nephew, was on foot against the uncle? Seated in the bar at the Crozier, after dinner, I found him again. He willingly entered into conversation with me, and announced himself as one Mr. Datchery — "an idle buffer, living on his means." He was interested in the Drood case and very willing to talk about it. I drew him out as much as I could, and then retired to my room to think it over.
   That he wore a disguise seemed clear to me. His hair looked like a wig. If he was in disguise, who could he be? I thought over all the persons in any way connected with the case, when suddenly the name of Miss Helena Landless occurred to me. Instantly I was convinced that it must be she. The very improbability of the idea fascinated me from the start. What more unlikely than that a young Ceylonese girl should pass herself off for an elderly English man, sitting in bars and drinking elderly English drinks? The improbable is usually true, I remembered. Then I recalled that I had heard that Miss Landless, as a child, used to dress up as a boy. I was now positive about the matter.
* * *
   I was on hand to meet Holmes when he returned the next day. He had two men with him and he introduced them as Mr. Tartar and Mr. Neville Landless. I looked with interest at the suspected man, and then tried to have speech with Holmes. But he drew me apart.
   "These gentlemen," said he, "are going at once to Mr. Crisparkle's. They will remain there until tonight, when I expect to have need of them. You and I will return to your hotel."
   On the way I told him about Mr. Datchery, and my suspicions about that person. He listened eagerly and said that he must have speech with Datchery without delay. When I told him of my belief that Datchery was the sister of Landless, in disguise, Holmes clapped me on the back, and exclaimed:
   "Excellent, Watson, excellent! Quite in your old vein!"
   I flushed with pride at this high praise from the great detective. He left me at the Crozier, while he went forth to find Datchery, and also, he said, to have a word with Mr. Jasper. I supposed that he was about to warn the choirmaster of the fact that he was watched.
   Holmes returned to the inn in capital spirits.
   "We shall have our work cut out for us. Tonight, Watson," said he, "and perhaps we will have another look at the gargoyles."
   During dinner he would talk of nothing except beekeeping. He conversed on this topic, indeed, until long after we had finished our meal, and while we sat smoking in the bar. About eleven, an ancient man, called Durdles, came in, looking for Mister Holmes.
   "Mr. Jasper he's a-comin' down the stair, sir," said he.
   "Good!" exclaimed Holmes, "come, Watson, we must make haste. This may be a serious business. Now, Durdles!"
   The man called Durdles led us rapidly, and by back ways, to the churchyard. Here he showed us where we could stand, hidden behind a wall, and overlooking the tombs and gravestones. I could not imagine the object of this nocturnal visit. Holmes gave our guide some money, and he made off. While I stood there, looking fearfully about, I thought I saw the figures of two men behind a tomb, at some little distance. I whispered to Holmes, but he motioned for silence.
   "Hush!" he whispered. "Look there!"
   I looked where he indicated, and saw another figure enter the churchyard. He carried some object, which I soon guessed to be a lantern swathed in a dark wrapping. He unfolded a part of this wrapping, when he reached one of the tombs, and I recognized by the light the dark features of Mr. Jasper. What could he be doing here at this hour? He commenced to fumble in his pockets, and presently produced a key with which he approached the door of the tomb. Soon it swung open, and Mr. Jasper seemed about to step inside. But he paused for an instant, and then fell back, with a fearful scream of terror. Once, twice, did that awful cry ring through the silent churchyard. At its second repetition a man stepped from the tomb.
   Then Jasper turned, and ran frantically toward the cathedral.
   The two men whom I had previously noticed sprang from behind a monument and pursued him.
   "Quick!" said Holmes, "after him!"
   We both ran in the same direction as fast as we could. Hindered by the darkness and by our unfamiliarity with the ground, however, we made poor progress. The fleeing choirmaster and his two strange pursuers had already vanished into the gloom of the cathedral. When at last we entered the building the sound of hurrying footsteps far above us was all we could hear. Then, as we paused, for an instant at fault, there came another dreadful cry, and then silence.
   Men with lights burst into the cathedral and led us up the staircase toward the tower. The twisting ascent was a long business, and I knew from Holmes's face that he dreaded what we might find at the top. When we reached the top there lay the choirmaster, Jasper, overpower-ed and bound by Mr. Tartar. The latter, then, had been one of the men I had seen behind the monument.
   "Where is Neville?" said Holmes quickly.
   Tartar shook his head and pointed below.
   "This man," said he, indicating Jasper, "fought with him, and now I fear he really has a murder to answer for."
   One of the men in the group which had followed us to the top stepped forward and looked down toward Jasper. It was the man whom we had seen step out of the tomb. I started when I saw that except for the wig and a few changes in his costume it was the same man who had called himself "Datchery."
   Jasper gazed up at him and his face was distorted with fear.
   "Ned! Ned!" he cried, and hid his face on the stone floor.
   "Yes, yer may hide yer face," said old Durdles, trem­bling with rage, "yer thought yer had murdered him — murdered Mr. Edwin Drood, yer own nephew. Yer hocussed him with liquor fixed with pizen, same's yer tried to hocus Durdles, an' tried to burn him up with quicklime in the tomb. But Durdles found him, Durdles did."
   He advanced and would have ground the head of the prostrate choirmaster under his heel, if some men had not held him back.
* * *
   "Of course," said Holmes to me on the train back to London next morning, "no one in Cloisterham thought of suspecting the eminently respectable Mr. Jasper. They started with the presumption of his innocence. He was a possible object of suspicion to me from the first. This was because he was one of the two men who last saw Edwin Drood. When we had our interview with him — Jasper, I mean — I recognized him as the frequenter of a disreputable opium den near the docks. You may remember that I have had occasion to look into such places in one other little prob­lem we studied together. He was, then, leading a double life. That was as far as I had gone when I returned to London last night But while there I had a talk with Mr. Grewgious, as well as with poor young Landless and his sister. From them I learned that Jasper was in love with his nephew's betrothed, and had, indeed, been persecuting her with his attentions, both before and after Edwin's disappearance. From Mr. Grewgious's manner I became convinced that he, at any rate, viewed Jasper with profound suspicion. But he was a lawyer, and very cautious; he evidently had no certain proof. Other hints which were dropped led me to suspect that he was not mourning the death of young Drood.
   "This was a curious thing — the whole crux to the mystery lay in it. I sat up all night, Watson, and consumed about four ounces of tobacco. It needed some thinking. Why, if Jasper had plotted murder, had he failed to carry it out? The opium, the opium, Watson — you know, yourself, that a confirmed opium-smoker is apt to fail, is almost sure to fail, in any great enterprise. He tries to nerve himself before the deed, and ten to one he merely stupefies himself, and the plot miscarries. This morning I saw Mr. Grewgious again, and charged him in so many words with keeping secret the fact that Drood was alive. He admitted it, and told me that Drood was in Cloisterham masquerading as Datch­ery."
   "But why should he do that?" I asked. "Why did he let Neville rest under suspicion of murder?"
   "Because he had no certain proof of Jasper's guilt," said Holmes, "and he was trying to collect evidence against him. He was himself drugged when the attempt was made upon his life, he was rescued on that occasion by Durdles, and his disappearance was connived at by Mr. Grewgious. The lawyer further told me of the ring which Edwin Drood carried with him, and which the would-be murderer overlooked when he took the watch and pin. Then, it was only necessary for me to drop a hint to Jasper about the ring. That sent him back to the tomb, into which he supposed he had flung Drood's body to be consumed by quicklime. There he found the living, and not the dead Edwin Drood, as you saw. But the opium was really the clew to the whole thing — I went to see the old hag who keeps the den he frequented, and learned from her that he babbled endlessly about the murder in his dreams. He had arrived at a point where he could not distinguish between the real attempt at murder and a vision. He acted as in a vision when he tried to commit the deed, and so it failed.
   "As for your theory about Miss Landless being Datchery — well, my dear fellow, I am glad for the sake of that proper, clerical gentleman, Mr. Crisparkle, that his intended wife has not been masquerading in trousers at the Cloisterham inns. Poor Landless — I shall never forgive myself for his death. His murderer will meet the fate he richly deserves, without a doubt.
   "And now, Watson, we were discussing bees. Have you ever heard of planting buckwheat near the hives? I am told that they do wonderfully on buck­wheat."


As a supplement to the story, Dickens scholar Pete Orford offers insights as to why Holmes would have to be the logical choice to "solve" the Drood mystery:
. . . The alternative route to gaining authority for a solution is to call in the experts, but for many this has involved not a chat with an academic, but the use of the ultimate expert on mystery, Mr Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street. True, he is a fictional character, but as the [British Library's 2014 Gothic] exhibition argued, many have not been deterred by this one small drawback, with Conan Doyle besieged in his life with letters to Holmes, offering advice on beekeeping or applying for the role of housekeeper. The Mystery of Edwin Drood stands alongside Jack the Ripper as the most popular cases for which Holmes has been referred to again and again. Both are mysteries that thwart a final solution, and in both cases the employment of Holmes on the case is wishful thinking inspired by the utmost faith in Holmes to always get it right – in a matter where choosing the right solution boils down to opinion over evidence, Holmes' opinion has a better track record of being correct.  . . .
True to his role as the world's only consulting detective, more than once Holmes has been called in due to, as Orford puts it, "an explosion of solutions and ingenious theories far beyond that which first appeared in the decade following Dickens’ death," all of them coming as a natural reaction to the story's lack of a resolution:
. . . The intrigue of Drood has less to do with the uncertainty of Dickens’s intentions and more to do with the simultaneous development of the detective genre and a passionate group of devotees to spotting and solving perplexing crimes. — Pete Orford, "Holmes and Drood," Cloisterham Tales, 11/12/2014 (full article HERE)
- There was a Hollywood version of Edwin Drood in the mid-thirties; see HERE for the details, and be sure to read the review by theowinthrop.

The bottom line: "And besides, where does escapism leave off and transcendence begin?"
— Charles Dickens

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