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John Howard Reid

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"The Mystery of Edwin Drood" comes to a comic conclusion. One of the prose pieces from my latest anthology, "A PACKET OF DREAMS", this pastiche even includes a chapter written by the great Charles Dickens himself.

 

Edwin Drood

 

Far worse than a book with a disturbing or unsatisfactory ending, is a novel with no ending at all. The Mystery of Edwin Drood was intended to intrigue readers for twelve months. Unfortunately, Dickens did not live to see the project through. The serial closed with the sixth number (and that was underwritten by two pages). What we have therefore amounts to slightly more than half of the planned novel.

    Slightly more than half, although the sixth and last number was two pages short? My mathematics are correct. Dickens did write an additional scene, entitled “How Mr Sapsea Ceased To Be a Member of the Eight Club, As Told by Himself”, which was to have been inserted in one of the later monthly numbers. This sketch was published by Dickens’s biographer, John Forster, who also informs us how Dickens planned the novel to finish, namely with the unmasking of Jasper by Datchery (Tartar in disguise) and the choirmaster’s subsequent conviction. The final chapter was to have been set in the prison where Jasper awaits execution.

    But let’s not pin Dickens down. Like all good authors, he may well have changed his mind and decided to go all out for comedy instead.

    So, incorporated into this new spoof of a “conclusion”, here you’ll later find the manuscript account of Mr Sapsea’s encounter at the Eight Club, reproduced almost exactly as Dickens wrote it, although very slightly edited and “improved”.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XLVI

 

A GRITTIER STATE OF THINGS

 

 

 

“It’s no fun being buried alive,” remarked Edwin, stepping into the lamplight.

    If Edwin Drood expected Mr Sapsea to be startled out of his wits by his seemingly spectral re-appearance, he was sorely disappointed. Neither ghosts nor ghosties inspired much in the way of fear in the mayor’s self-centered breast. Besides, all his natural instincts told him that Edwin was no visitor from a ghoulish underworld. Hadn’t he himself proclaimed loud and long to an admiring Cloisterham that Edwin Drood’s sudden disappearance was no mystery, but simply the case of a untried youth who’d changed his hastily-formed matrimonial mind? (In point of fact, to Edwin’s mind, he had survived incarceration and attempted suffocation simply because the mayor’s ostensible friend, Jasper, had proved such a poor hand at smothering and chalk throwing. Never trust an opium addict).

    Although Mr Sapsea afforded him no such invitation, the apparition sat himself down by the mayor’s fireplace. Fantastically pieced together in scorched, muddy clothing, and shaking spasmodically from head to foot, Edwin Drood helped his trembling frame to a large slice of Sapsea’s toast.

    A watchful pause.

    “Butter?” asked Edwin, growing impatient. “I do like a nice piece of butter with my bread.”

    Sapsea pointed towards the scullery. “Why not join me in supper?” he enquired. “Mutton chops, pork sausages, baked potatoes, marrow bones, rum toddies, a pot of ale?”

    “Mr Sapsea,” began Edwin, growing impatient, “you can deny me butter, you can deny me justice, but you can’t deny you are a Blockhead.”

    “If I was to deny it, dear boy,” suggested the mayor, “what would it avail me?”

    “Ah, Mr Sapsea!” exclaimed the ex-incarcerated young man. “I am wrong. Wronged and wrong. Disguise from you is impossible. You know already that I come from somewhere and am going somewhere else.”

    “Where have I heard those words before?” observed Sapsea, nodding his head in a soothing way in a vain endeavor to put the specter at his ease. “You are going away. There is no harm in going away.”

    “Oh, Mr Sapsea!” cried the specter in a very well-behaved tone. “Bless you for those words!” And then, as if ashamed at having given way to his feelings, he looked down again at his slice of toast in an abstracted manner. “I’m still waiting for the butter,” he added by way of afterthought.

    But the mayor was not to be diverted. The longer he kept Drood sitting and eating, the more likely it was that one of his constituents, Durdles or Jasper himself, might stumble into the scene. Yes, he could hear the choirmaster even now, singing in the distance as he approached the Sapsea Monument:

 

Jimmy’s lost his toothbrush,

His toothbrush, his toothbrush,

Jimmy’s teeth will rot-a-totty

Right out of his head.

 

Jimmy’s lost his toothbrush,

His toothbrush, his toothbrush,

A boy who’s lost his toothbrush.

May as well be dead!

 

    “Dear old Jasper has been faring poorly of late,” began Sapsea solemnly, in an effort to draw Drood’s attention away from the choirmaster’s chorusing. “Whatever personal qualifications may be brought to bear, sometimes I think he is far too fond of his pipe. Hark, I pray you to my unqualified word of wisdom: Moderation. M=O=D=E=R=A=S=H=U=N. Moderation in all things, I always say. Not that it matters.”

    A knock at the door.

    “Come in, dear fellow. Come in!”

    Jasper enters.

    “You know your nephew, Mr Drood, I think.” Mr Sapsea waved airily towards the apparition. “Mr Jasper, Mr Drood. Mr Drood, Mr Jasper.”

    “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with D,” affably remarked Jasper, nimbly throwing his hat at a peg. (It missed and fell to the floor).

    “Oh, goody-goody! Charades!” cried Edwin, starting up and quite forgetting his unbuttered toast. “Something beginning with D? What the dickens can it be?”

    “What does it matter, dear boy, what does it matter?”

    “Oh, Mr Sapsea,” answered Edwin, looking down at his feet, not daring to look the mayor in the eye, “your cognizance is so acute, your glance into the souls of your fellow men so penetrating, that if I was hardy enough to enter into conversation with you, you would have me, sir, at a distinct disadvantage.”

    “But you are conversing, dear boy!”

    “Am I indeed addressing a mere mayor? Are you not actually someone high in Holy Church?”

    “Ah-ha! Now I know you, sirrah!” exclaimed the mayor, jumping up. “Those words! That downcast air! This, Mr Jasper, is the very youth who accosted me in the street that night—that same ill-omened night many nascent moons ago—when I ceased to be a member of the Eight Club! That night of nights! It has haunted my days, seared my dreams like a hot poker!”

    “Haunted?” questioned the choirmaster. “Like the ghost of Christmas Past perhaps?” 

    “You should remember my misfortune well, Mr Jasper. It happened exactly forty-nine nights ago to this very day.”

    “As far as I’m aware, Mr Sapsea, I’ve not heard tell of your misfortunes on that particular fated night.”

    “Nor I!” added an indignant Durdles at the door. “Nor I!” he repeated for emphasis.

    “So join the club,” invited the mayor, pointing to an empty chair.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XLVII

 

HOW MR SAPSEA CEASED TO BE A MEMBER OF THE EIGHT CLUB, AS TOLD BY HIMSELF

 

 

Wishing to take the air, I proceeded by a circuitous route to the Club, it being our weekly night of meeting. I found that we mustered our full strength. We were enrolled under the denomination of the Eight Club. We were eight in number; we met at eight o’clock during eight months of the year; we played eight games of four-handed cribbage at eightpence the game; our frugal supper was composed of eight rolls, eight mutton chops, eight pork sausages, eight baked potatoes, eight marrow-bones, with eight toasts, and eight bottles of ale. There may, or may not be a certain harmony of number in the ruling idea of this reunion (to adopt a phrase of our lively neighbors). In any case, the scheme sprang from my own fertile mind.

    A somewhat popular member of the Eight Club, was a dunce by the name of Kimber. By profession, a dancing-master. A commonplace, hopeless sort of man, wholly destitute of dignity or knowledge of the world.

    As I entered the Club-room, Kimber was making the remark: “And Red-beard still half-believes Sapsea to be very high in the Church.”

    In the act of hanging up my hat on the eighth peg by the door, I caught Kimber’s visual ray. He lowered it, and passed a remark on the next change of the moon. I did not take particular notice of this at the moment, because the world was often pleased to be a little shy of ecclesiastical topics in my presence. For I felt that I was picked out (though perhaps only through a coincidence) to a certain extent to represent what I call our glorious constitution in Church and State. The phrase may be objected to by captious minds; but I own it as mine. I threw it off in argument some little time back. To be exact, I said: “Our Glorious Constitution in Church and State.”

    Another lesser member of the Eight Club was Peartree, who somehow had obtained a diploma from the Royal College of Surgeons. Mr Peartree is not accountable to me for his opinions, and I say no more of them here than that he attends the poor gratis whenever they want him, although he is not the official parish doctor. Mr Peartree may justify it to the grasp of his mind thus to do his republican utmost to bring a duly appointed parish officer into contempt. Suffice me to remark that Mr Peartree can never justify his remarkable contempt for a fellow surgeon to me.

    Between Peartree and Kimber there was a sickly sort of feeble-minded alliance, which came under my particular notice when I sold off Kimber by auction. (Goods taken in execution). He was a widower in a white under-waistcoat, and slight shoes with bows, and had two daughters not ill-looking. Indeed, the reverse. Both daughters taught dancing in scholastic establishments for Young Ladies — had done so at Mrs Sapsea’s; nay, Twinkleton’s — and both, in giving lessons, presented the unwomanly spectacle of having little fiddles tucked under their chins. In spite of which the younger one might, if I am correctly informed — I will raise the veil so far as to say I know she might — have soared for life from this degrading taint, but for having the class of mind allotted to what I call the common herd.

    When I sold off Kimber without reserve, Peartree (as poor as he can hold together) had several prime household lots knocked down to him. I am not to be blinded; and of course it was just as plain to me what he intended to do with them, as that he was a brown, hulking sort of revolutionary fellow who had been in India with the soldiers, and ought (for the sake of society) to have his neck broke. I saw the lots shortly afterwards in Kimber’s lodgings — through the window — and I easily made out that there had been a sneaking pretence of lending them till better times. A man with a smaller knowledge of the world than myself might have been led to suspect that Kimber had held back money from his creditors, and fraudulently bought the goods himself. Besides, I knew for certain he had no money, as this would involve a species of forethought on his part, incompatible with the frivolity of a caperer who inoculated other people with capering for his bread.

    As it was the first time I had seen either of these two since the sale, I kept myself in what I call Abeyance. When selling him up, I had delivered a few remarks — shall I say a little homily? — concerning Kimber, which the world did regard as more than usually worth notice. I had come up into my pulpit, it was said, uncommonly like a certain doctor of divinity — and a murmur of recognition had repeated his (I will not name whose) name, before I spoke. I had then gone on to say that all present would find, in the first page of the catalogue that was lying before them, in the last paragraph before the first lot, the following words: “Sold in pursuance of a writ of execution issued by a creditor.” I had then proceeded to remind my friends, that however frivolous, not to say contemptible, the business by which a man got his goods together, still his goods were as dear to him, and as cheap to society (if sold without reserve), as though his pursuits had been of a character that would bear serious contemplation. I had then divided my text (if I may be allowed so to call it) into three heads: firstly, Sold; secondly, In pursuance of a writ of execution; thirdly, Issued by a creditor; with a few moral reflections on each, and winding up with, “Now to the first lot!” in a manner that was complimented when I afterwards mingled with my hearers.

    So, not being certain on what terms I and Kimber stood, I was grave, I was chilling. Kimber, however, moving to me, I moved to Kimber. (I was the creditor who had issued the writ. Not that it matters).

    “I was alluding, Mr Sapsea,” said Kimber, “to a young, red-bearded stranger who entered into conversation with me in the street as I came to the Club. He had been speaking to you just before, it seemed, by the churchyard; and though you had told him who you were, I could hardly persuade this ostentatiously bearded youth that you were not high in the Church.”

    “Young idiot!” said Peartree.

    “Young ass!” agreed Kimber.

    “Idiot and Ass!” said the other five members.

    “Idiot and Ass, gentlemen,” I remonstrated, looking around me, “are strong expressions to apply to a young man of good appearance and address.” My generosity was roused; I own it.

    “You’ll admit he must be a Fool,” said Peartree.

    “You can’t deny that he must be a Blockhead,” added Kimber.

    Their tone of disgust amounted to being offensive. Why should the young man be so calumniated? What had he done? He had only made an innocent and natural mistake. I controlled my generous indignation, and said so.

    “Natural?” repeated Kimber. “He’s a Natural!”

    The remaining six members of the Eight Club laughed unanimously. It stung me. It was a scornful laugh. My anger was roused in behalf of an absent, friendless stranger. I rose (for I had been sitting down).

    “Gentlemen,” I said with dignity, “I will not remain one of this Club, allowing opprobrium to be cast on an unoffending person in his absence. I will not so violate what I call the sacred rites of hospitality. Gentlemen, until you know how to behave yourselves better, I leave you. Gentlemen, until then I withdraw from this place of meeting whatever personal qualifications I may have brought into it. Gentlemen, until then you cease to be the Eight Club, and must make the best you can of becoming the Seven.”

    I put on my hat and retired. As I went down stairs I distinctly heard them give a suppressed cheer. Such is the power of my innate demeanor and knowledge of mankind. I had forced it out of them.

    Now whom should I meet in the darkened street, within a few yards of the door of the inn where the Club was held, but the self-same, red-bearded young man whose cause I had felt it my duty so warmly — and I will add so disinterestedly — to take up. “Is it Mayor Sapsea,” he enquired doubtfully, “or is it…”

    “It is Mr Sapsea,” I replied.

    “Pardon me, Mr Sapsea; you appear warm, sir.”

    “I have been warm,” I said, “and on your account.'” And having stated the circumstances at some length (my generosity almost overpowered him), I asked him his name.

    “Mr Sapsea,” he answered, looking down, “your penetration is so acute, your glance into the souls of your fellow men is so penetrating, that if I was hardy enough to deny that my name is Poker, what would it avail me?”

    I don’t know that I had quite exactly made out to a fraction that his name was Poker, but I daresay I had been pretty near doing it.

    “Well, well,” said I, trying to put him at his ease by nodding my head in a soothing way. “Your name is Poker, and there is no harm in being a being named Poker.”

    “Oh, Mr Sapsea!” cried the young man, in a very well-behaved manner. “Bless you for those words!” He then, as if ashamed of having given way to his feelings, looked down at his feet again.

    “Come, Poker,” said I, “let me hear more about you. Tell me: Where are you going to, Poker? and where do you come from?”

    “Ah, Mr Sapsea!” exclaimed the young man. “Disguise from you is impossible. You know already that I come from somewhere, and am going somewhere else. If I was to deny it, what would it avail me?”

    “Then don’t deny it,” was my rejoinder.

    “Or,” pursued Poker, in a kind of despondent rapture, “or if I was to deny that I came to this town to see and hear you, sir, what would it avail me? Or if I was to deny…”

    At that point, I was buttonholed by Durdles. At his persuasion, the three of us repaired to The Jolly Jester. I was hungry. Between them, Kimber and Peartree had engineered me out of my supper. So I never did learn what the young man wished to deny. But it is now very plain. Namely, he wished to deny the very fact that I – with my keen mind and honed wits – seemed on the very point of deducing. This faithful youth was no Poker! He sups before us right now. He is Edwin Drood!

 

 

 

CHAPTER XLVIII

 

ALL PATHS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL

 

 

“Where am I?” asked Edwin in a weak voice.

    “Cloisterham cathedral,” was the answer.

    “Who brought me here?”

    “Mayor Sapsea, Mr Jasper and Durdles.”

    “Why do I feel so weak?”

    “You put up a fight. Durdles was forced to knock you to the ground. You hit your head against the table. A fortunate accident it seems. The blow has hammered some sense into your befuddled brains.”

    “Who are you?”

    “Septimus.”

    “Septimus?”

    The good Minor Canon permitted Edwin to examine his rosy and contented face.

    “You are Septimus Crisparkle,” deduced Edwin.

    The Minor Canon nodded in complete agreement.

    “What am I doing here in the cathedral?”

    “Sleeping, to be exact. Closeted in my own bed. A good place where one can speak without interruption, as I now wish to do,” answered the Canon. “In short, in church.”

    “Why?”

    “Because you are ill. Because you are out of sorts. Because you have traipsed the town under assorted inane pseudonyms and in childishly obvious disguises. And forasmuch as you have allowed yourself to engender a noxious prejudice against your uncle, Mr Jasper.”

    “I am in great perplexity, sir. Never! I entertain the greatest respect, indeed affection, for my uncle. He is the finest, the most generous, the most avuncular uncle in the whole world.”

    “Yet you accuse him of throwing you into a chalk pit!”

    “Never! I tripped and fell, all by myself. I remember now: It was my generous Uncle Jasper who helped me out of the pit. It was my affable uncle told me Mayor Sapsea had inadvertently engineered my downfall. The jackass mayor had so plied me with strong drink, quite oblivious to my well-known fear of depths. Thus was I destined to trip and fall into the chalk pit, whilst homeward bound from The Jolly Jester, singing!”

    “What were you singing? One of your uncle’s songs?”

    “No, unfortunately. As it happens, one that Jackass Sapsea inadvertently taught me. His voice excels in volume. All that it lacks is harmony. I was forced to listen to him reprising the words repeatedly. How did they go?

 

The back is the front,

The front is the back,

Never give tuppence

When a penn’orth will hack.

 

Who has a farthing

Or a ha’penny to spare?

Give it over to me

And you’ll never go bare!

 

    “No wonder the church collection plate is considerably down of late.”

    “Blame it all on fruitless Sapsea!” exclaimed Edwin.

    “Mayor Sapsea has been denounced.”

    “Never! Not Mayor Sapsea! Not the artful auctioneer. Not he who fancies himself Dean without a collar!”

    “You have denounced him.”

    “Me?”

    “That is why we have isolated you from all your friends and acquaintances.”

    “But I know nothing!” protested Edwin. “A host who plies his guests with rum toddies is a hero in most eyes.”

    “That is why we have quarantined you from all your friends and acquaintances in Cloisterham,” repeated the Minor Canon. “When Mr Sapsea is arraigned for fraud and extortion, we will produce true witnesses: Your uncle, Mr Jasper; your lawyer, Mr Grewgious; your private detective, Mr Tartar (alias Dick Datchery); your stonemason, Durdles; and above all, your fiancée, Miss Rosa.”

    On hearing their names called off by the Minor Canon, Jasper, Grewgious, Tartar, Durdles and Rosa creep softly to Edwin’s bedside.

    “Durdles!” exclaims Edwin, clasping the mason’s dusty hand. “How can I ever repay you for bringing me to my senses?”

    “Think naught of it!”

    “I shall… And Rosa, dear Rosa, my Bud of Summer, wilt thou be mine?”

    “I shall… If Reverend Septimus shall announce the bans.”

    “He shall.”

    “And if Mr Tartar shall give me away.”

    “Tartar! Why Tartar?”

    “Mr Datchery then?”

    Tartar dons his Datchery disguise. The copious capacity of Datchery’s gray-haired wig swells Tartar’s head to such an inordinate size he resembles a large baboon with the dropsy.

    Edwin eyes him critically up and down. “No, he is not terribly convincing. Ta-ta, Datchery. I think we shall ask Tartar after all.”

    Tartar doffs his Datchery disguise.

    “On second thought…”

 

So Drood marries his Bud, Crisparkle is elevated to Dean, Durdles receives a year’s supply of empty bottles wherewith to hold his lunch; while Jasper decides to leave Cloisterham for London where he takes up a position as pianist in his favorite opium den. Presently, after Kimber, the caperer, is elected mayor of the cathedral city, Jasper is joined as accompanist by Ex-Mayor Sapsea, who has been forced to depart Cloisterham under a cloud. No longer can he “dress at” the Dean, and must muffle his aspirations in more humble cloth.

    Thus we leave these two former pillars of the Church, literally singing for their supper with none-too-popular ditties of their own composition.

    From Mr Jasper:

 

Squeeze your finger

In the wringer;

Squeeze it dry,

Bye-and-bye.

 

Squeeze your finger

In the mangle;

Squeeze it tight,

Do it right!

 

    And from Mr Sapsea, that famous author of the eye-catching Sapsea Monument which lords it over Cloisterham churchyard to this very day:

 

Stranger, let us surmise,

Let us ask you true :

Canst thou chant it higher?

Canst thou sing it blue?

 

Oh, canst thou do likewise?

Canst thou do the same?

If not, PAUSE, oh stranger!

And with thy blush, RETIRE!

 

       Web Site: John Howard Reid

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Reviewed by m j hollingshead 11/11/2008
interesting review

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