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THE PUZZLE OF
DICKENS'S LAST PLOT



THE PUZZLE OF
DICKENS'S LAST PLOT



BY

ANDREW LANG



LONDON
CHAPMAN & HALL, ld.

1905



INTRODUCTION

^^ORSTER tells US that Dickens, in his
later novels, from Bleak House onwards
(1853), ''assiduously cultivated" con-
struction, '' this essential of his art."
Some critics may think, that since so
many of the best novels in the world
'' have no outline, or, if they have an
outline, it is a demned outline," elaborate
construction is not absolutely *' essential."
Really essential are character, ''atmo-
sphere," humour.

But as, in the natural changes of life,
and under the strain of restless and un-
satisfied activity, his old buoyancy and
unequalled high spirits deserted Dickens,

he certainly wrote no lono^er in what

247735



vi Introduction

Scott, speaking of himself, calls the
manner of ''hab nab at a venture." H^
constructed elaborate plots, rich in secret
and surprises. He emulated the manner
of Wilkie Collins, or even of Gaboriauj,
while he combined with some of th^'^
elements of the detective novel, or roma'h
policier, careful study of character.
Except Great Expectations, none of his
later tales rivals in merit his early
picaresque stories of the road, such as
Pickwick and Nicholas Nickhby. ' ' Youth
will be served ; " no sedulous care coula
compensate for the exuberance of '* the
first sprightly runnings." In the early
books the melodrama of the plot, the
secrets of Ralph Nickleby, of Monk, of
Jonas Chuzzlewit, were the least of the
innumerable attractions. But Dickens
was more and more drawn towards the
secret that excites curiosity, and to the
game of hide and seek with the reader



Introduction vii

who tried to anticipate the solution of
the secret.

In April, 1869, Dickens, outworn by the
strain of his American readings ; of that
labour achieved under painful conditions
of ominously bad health— found himself,
as Sir Thomas Watson reported, '' on the
brink of an attack of paralysis of his left
side, and possibly of apoplexy." He there-
fore abandoned a new series of Readings.
We think of Scott's earlier seizures of
a similar kind, after which Peveril, he
said, '' smacked of the apoplexy." But
Dickens's new story of The Mystery
of Edwin Drood, first contemplated in
July, 1869, and altered in character by
the emergence of ''a very curious and new
idea," early in August, does not '' smack
of the apoplexy." We may think that
the mannerisms of Mr. Honeythunder,
the philanthropist, and of Miss Twinkle-
ton, the schoolmistress, are not in the



viii Introduction

author's best vein of humour. ''The
Billickin," on the other hand, the lodging-
house keeper, is '' in very gracious fool-
ing : " her unlooked-for sallies in skir-
mishes with Miss Twinkleton are rich in
mirthful surprises. Mr. Grewgious may
be caricatured too much, but not out of
reason ; and Dickens, always good at
boys, presents a garmUy in Deputy, who
is in not unpleasant contrast with the
pathetic Jo of Bleak Ho2ise, Opinions
may differ as to Edwin and Rosa, but the
more closely one studies Edwin, the
better one thinks of that character. As
far as we are allowed to see Helena
Landless, the restraint which she puts
on her '' tigerish blood " is admirable : she
is very fresh and original. The villain
is all that melodrama can desire, but
what we do miss, I think, is the *' atmo-
sphere " of a small cathedral town. Here
there is a lack of softness and delicacy of



Introduction ix

treatment : on the other hand, the opium
den is studied from the life.

On the whole, Dickens himself was
perhaps most interested in his plot, his
secret, his surprises, his game of hide
and seek with the reader. He threw
himself into the sport with zest : he
spoke to his sister-in-law, Miss Hogarth,
about his fear that he had not sufficiently-
concealed his tracks in the latest
numbers. Yet, when he died in June,
1870, leaving three completed numbers
still unpublished, he left his secret as a
puzzle to the curious. Many efforts
have been made to decipher his purpose,
especially his intentions as to the hero.
Was Edwin Drood killed, or did he
escape ?

By a coincidence, in September, 1869,
Dickens was working over the late Lord
Lytton's tale for All the Year Round,
''The Disappearance of John Ackland,"



X Introduction

for the purpose of mystifying the reader
as to whether Ackland was alive or dead.
But he was conspicuously defunct ! [All
the Year Round, September- October,
1869.)

The most careful of the attempts at
a reply about Edwin, a study based on
deep knowledge of Dickens, is '' Watched
by the Dead,'' by the late ingenious
Mr. R. A. Proctor (1887). This book,
to which I owe much aid, is now
out of print. In 1905, Mr. Cuming
Walters revived '* the auld mysterie,"
in his '' Clues to Dickens s Edwin
Drood " (Chapman & Hall and Hey-
wood, Manchester). From the solution
of Mr. Walters I am obliged to dissent.
Of Mr. Proctor's theory I offer some
necessary corrections, and I hope that I
have unravelled some skeins which Mr.
Proctor left in a state of tangle. As one
read and re-read the fragment, points



Introduction xi

very dark seemed, at least, to become
suddenly clear : especially one appeared
to understand the meaning half-revealed
and half-concealed by Jasper's babblings
under the influence of opium. He saw
in his vision, '' that, I never saw that
before." We may be sure that he was
to see ''that'' in real life. We must re-
member that, according to Forster, *' such
was Dickens's interest in things super-
natural that, but for the strong restraining
power of his common sense, he might
have fallen into the follies of spiritualism."
His interest in such matters certainly
peeps out in this novel — there are two
sjoecimens of the supernormal — and he
uiay have gone to the limited extent
vv^hich my hypothesis requires. If I
am right, Dickens went further, and
fared worse, in the too material premoni
ti ons of ''The Signalman" in Miigby
J unction.



xii Introduction

With this brief preface, I proceed to
the analysis of Dickens's last plot. Mr.
William Archer has kindly read the proof
sheets and made valuable suggestions,
but is responsible for none of my
theories.

ANDREW LANG.



St. Andrews, I

September 4, 1905. i



THE PUZZLE OF
DICKENS^S LAST PLOT



THE STORY

Dramatis Persons

For the discovery of Dickens's secret in
Edwin Drood it is necessary to obtain a
clear view of the characters in the tale,
and of their relations to each other.

About the middle of the nineteenth
century there lived in Cloisterham, a
cathedral city sketched from Rochester,
a young University man, Mr. Bud, who
had a friend Mr. Drood, one of a firm
of engineers — somewhere. They were
*Tast friends and old college companions."

B



y ^ '0 f^jPli^ Puzzle of

Both married young. Mr. Bud wedded
a lady unnamed, by whom he was the
father of one child, a daughter, Rosa Bud.
Mr. Drood, whose wife's maiden name
was Jasper, had one son, Edwin Drood.
Mrs. Bud was drowned in a boating
accident, when her daughter, Rosa, was
a child. Mr. Drood, already a widower,
and the bereaved Mr. Bud '' betrothed "
the two children, Rosa and Edwin, and
then expired, when the orphans were
about seven and eleven years old. The
guardian of Rosa was a lawyer, Mr.
Grewgious, who had been in love with
her mother. To Grewgious Mr. Bud
entrusted his wife's engagement ring,
rubies and diamonds, which Grewgious
was to hand over to Edwin Drood, if,
when he attained his majority, he and
Rosa decided to marry.

Grewgious was apparently legal agent
for Edwin, while Edwin's maternal uncle,



Dickens's Last Plot 3

John Jasper (aged about sixteen when
the male parents died), was Edwin's
'* trustee," as well as his uncle and de-
voted friend. Rosa's little fortune was
an annuity producing ;2^25o a-year:
Edwin succeeded to his father's share in
an engineering firm.

When the story opens, Edwin is nearly
twenty-one, and is about to proceed to
Egypt, as an engineer. Rosa, at school
in Cloisterham, is about seventeen ; John
Jasper is twenty-six. He is conductor
of the Choir of the Cathedral, a ''lay
precentor ; " he is very dark, with thick
black whiskers, and, for a number of
years, has been a victim to the habit of
opium smoking. He began very early.
He takes this drug both in his lodgings,
over the gate of the Cathedral, and in a
den in East London, kept by a woman
nicknamed '' The Princess Puffer." This
hag, we learn, has been a determined



4 The Puzzle of

drunkard, — '* I drank heaven's-hard,"—
for sixteen years before she took to opium.
If she has been dealing in opium for ten
years (the exact period is not stated), she
has been very disreputable for twenty-six
years, that is ever since John Jasper's
birth. Mr. Cuming Walters suggests
that she is the mother of John Jasper,
and, therefore, maternal grandmother of
Edwin Drood. She detests her client,
Jasper, and plays the spy on his move-
ments, for reasons unexplained.

Jasper is secretly in love with Rosa,
the fiancde of his nephew, and his own
pupil in the musical art. He makes her
aware of his passion, silently, and she
fears and detests him, but keeps these
emotions private. She is a saucy school-
girl, and she and Edwin are on uncom-
fortable terms : she does not love him,
while he perhaps does love her, but is
annoyed by her manner, and by the



Dickens's Last Plot 5

gossip about their betrothal. *' The
bloom is off the plum " of their pre-
arranged loves, he says to his friend,
uncle, and confidant, Jasper, whose own
concealed passion for Rosa is of a
ferocious and homicidal character. Rosa
is aware of this fact ; '* a glaze comes
over his eyes," sometimes, she says, " and
he seems to wander away into a frightful
sort of dream, in which he threatens most.
..." The man appears to have these
frightful dreams even when he is not
under opium.



Opening of the Tale

The tale opens abruptly with an opium-
bred vision of the tower of Cloisterham
Cathedral, beheld by Jasper as he awakens
in the den of the Princess Puffer, between
a Chinaman, a Lascar, and the hag her-
self. This Cathedral tower, thus early



6 The Puzzle of

and emphatically introduced, is to play
a great but more or less mysterious part
in the romance : that is certain. Jasper,
waking, makes experiments on the talk
of the old woman, the Lascar and China-
man in their sleep. He pronounces it
** unintelligible," which satisfies him that
his own babble, when under opium,
must be unintelligible also. He is, pre-
sumably, acquainted with the languages
of the eastern coast of India, and with
Chinese, otherwise, how could he hope
to understand the sleepers ? He is being
watched by the hag, who hates him.

Jasper returns to Cloisterham, where we
are introduced to the Dean, a nonentity,
and to Minor Canon Crisparkle, a mus-
cular Christian in the pink of training,
a classical scholar, and a good honest
fellow. Jasper gives Edwin a dinner,
and gushes over '* his bright boy," a lively
lad, full of chaff, but also full of confiding



Dickens's Last Plot 7

affection and tenderness of heart. Edwin
admits that his betrothal is a bore : Jasper
admits that he loathes his life ; and that
the church singing ''often sounds to me
quite devilish," — and no wonder. After
this dinner, Jasper has a *' weird seizure ; '*
" a strange film comes over Jasper's eyes,"
he *' looks frightfully ill," becomes rigid,
and admits that he '* has been taking
opium for a pain, an agony that some-
times overcomes me." This '* agony,"
we learn, is the pain of hearing Edwin
speak lightly of his love, whom Jasper
so furiously desires. " Take it as a
warning," Jasper says, but Edwin, puzzled,
and full of confiding tenderness, does not
understand.

In the next scene we meet the school-
girl, Rosa, who takes a walk and has a
tiff with Edwin. Sir Luke Fildes's illus-
tration shows Edwin as ''a lad with the
bloom of a lass," with a classic profile;



8 The Puzzle of

and a gracious head of long, thick, fair
hair, long, though we learn it has just
been cut. He wears a soft slouched hat,
and the pea-coat of the period.

Sapsea and Durdles

Next, Jasper and Sapsea, a pompous
ass, auctioneer, and mayor, sit at their
wine, expecting a third guest. Mr.
Sapsea reads his absurd epitaph for his
late wife, who is buried in a '' Monu-
ment," a vault of some ^ort in the
Cathedral churchyard. To them enter
Durdles, a man never sober, yet trusted
with the key of the crypt, ''as contractor
for rough repairs." In the crypt ''he
habitually sleeps off the fumes of liquor."
Of course no Dean would entrust keys
to this incredibly dissipated, dirty, and
insolent creature, to whom Sapsea gives
the key of his vault, for no reason at all,



Dickens's Last Plot 9

as the epitaph, of course, is to be en-
graved on the outside, by Durdles's men.
However, Durdles insists on getting the
key of the vault : he has two other large
keys. Jasper, trifling with them, keeps
clinking them together, so as to know,
even in the dark, by the sound, which
is the key that opens Sapsea's vault, in
the railed-off burial ground, beside the
cloister arches. He has met Durdles at
Sapsea's for no other purpose than to
obtain access at will to Mrs. Sapsea*s
monument. Later in the evening Jasper
finds Durdles more or less drunk, and
being stoned by a gamin, ''Deputy," a
retainer of a tramp's lodging-house.
Durdles fees Deputy, in fact, to drive
him home every night after ten. Jasper
and Deputy fall into feud, and Jasper
has thus a new, keen, and omnipresent
enemy. As he walks with Durdles that
worthy explains (in reply to a question



lo The Puzzle of

by Jasper), that, by tapping a wall, even
if over six feet thick, with his hammer,
he can detect the nature of the contents
of the vault, ''solid in hollow, and inside
solid, hollow again. Old 'un crumbled
away in stone coffin, in vault." He can
also discover the presence of "rubbish
left in that same six foot space by
Durdles's men." Thus, if a foreign body
were introduced into the Sapsea vault,
Durdles could detect its presence by
tapping the outside wall. As Jasper's
purpose clearly is to introduce a foreign
body — that of Edwin who stands between
him and Rosa — into Mrs. Sapsea's vault,
this ''gift" of Durdles is, for Jasper,
an uncomfortable discovery. He goes
home, watches Edwin asleep, and smokes
opium.



Dickens's Last Plot 1 1



The Landlesses

Two new characters are now introduced,
Neville and Helena Landless,* twins,
orphans, of Cingalese extraction, probably
Eurasian ; very dark, the girl '* almost
of the gipsy type;'' both are ''fierce of
look." The young man is to read with
Canon Crisparkle and live with him ; the
girl goes to the same school as Rosa.
The education of both has been utterly
neglected ; instruction has been denied
to them. Neville explains the cause of
their fierceness to Crisparkle. In Ceylon
they were bullied by a cruel stepfather
and several times ran away : the girl was
the leader, always '' dressed as a boy, and
showmg the daring of a man!' Edwin
Drood's air of supercilious ownership of

* Landless is not "Lackland," but a form of de Laundeles,
a Lothian name of the twelfth century, merged later in
that of Ormistoun.



12 The Puzzle of

Rosa Bud (indicated as a fault of youth
and circumstance, not of heart and cha-
racter), irritates Neville Landless, who
falls in love with Rosa at first sight. As
Rosa sings, at Crisparkle's, while Jasper
plays the piano, Jasper s fixed stare pro-
duces an hysterical fit in the girl, who
is soothed by Helena Landless. Helena
shows her aversion to Jasper, who, as
even Edwin now sees, frightens Rosa.
**You would be afraid of him, under
similar circumstances, wouldn't you. Miss
Landless?" asks Edwin. ''Not under
any circumstances," answers Helena, and
Jasper ''thanks Miss Landless for this
vindication of his character."

The girls go back to their school,
where Rosa explains to Helena her
horror of Jasper's silent love-making :
" I feel that I am never safe from him
. . . a glaze comes over his eyes and he
seems to wander away into a frightful



Dickens's Last Plot 13

sort of dream in which he threatens
most," as already quoted. Helena thus,
and she alone, except Rosa, understands
Jasper thoroughly. She becomes Rosa's
protectress. ** Let whomsoever it most
concerned look well to ity

Thus Jasper has a new observer and
enemy, in addition to the omnipresent
street boy. Deputy, and the detective old
hag of the opium den.

Leaving the Canon's house, Neville
and Edwin quarrel violently over Rosa,
in the open air ; they are followed by
Jasper, and taken to his house to be
reconciled over glasses of mulled wine.
Jasper drugs the wine, and thus pro-
vokes a violent scene ; next day he tells
Crisparkle that Neville is ''murderous."
"' There is something of the tiger in his
dark blood." He spreads the story of
\\\^ fracas in the town.



14 The Puzzle of

Mr. Grewgious

Grewgious, Rosa^s guardian, now comes
down on business ; the girl fails to explain
to him the unsatisfactory relations between
her and Edwin : Grewgious is to return
to her '* at Christmas," if she sends for
him, and she does send. Grewgious, *'an
angular man," all duty and sentiment
(he had loved Rosa's mother), has an
interview with Edwin's trustee, Jasper, for
whom he has no enthusiasm, but whom
he does not in any way suspect. They
part on good terms, to meet at Christmas.
Crisparkle, with whom Helena has fallen
suddenly in love, arranges with Jasper
that Edwin and Landless shall meet and
be reconciled, as both are willing to be,
at a dinner in Jasper's rooms, on Christ-
mas Eve. Jasper, when Crisparkle pro-
poses this, denotes by his manner ''some
close internal calculation." We see that



Dickens's Last Plot 15

he is reckoning how the dinner suits his
plan of campaign, and ''close calculation ''
may refer, as in Mr. Proctor's theory,
to the period of the moon : on Christ-
mas Eve there will be no moonshine at
midnight. Jasper, having worked out
this problem, accepts Crisparkle's pro-
posal, and his assurances about Neville,
and shows Crisparkle a diary in which
he has entered his fears that Edwin's
life is in danger from Neville. Edwin
(who is not in Cloisterham at this
moment) accepts, by letter, the invitation
to meet Neville at Jasper's on Christmas
Eve.

Meanwhile Edwin visits Grewgious
in his London chambers ; is lectured on
his laggard and supercilious behaviour
as a lover, and receives the engagement
ring of the late Mrs. Bud, Rosa's mother,
which is very dear to Grewgious — in the
presence of Bazzard, Grewgious's clerk,



1 6 The Puzzle of

a gloomy writer of an amateur unacted
tragedy. Edwin is to return the ring to
Grewgious, if he and Rosa decide not to
marry. The ring is in a case, and Edwin
places it *' in his breast." We must
understand, in the breast-pocket of his
coat : no other interpretation will pass
muster. '* Her ring — will it come back
to me?" reflects the mournful Grewgious.



The Unaccountable Expedition

Jasper now tells Sapsea, and the Dean,
that he is to make '*a moonlight expe-
dition with Durdles among the tombs,
vaults, towers, and ruins to-night." The
impossible Durdles has the keys neces-
sary for this, '' surely an unaccountable
expedition," Dickens keeps remarking.
The moon seems to rise on this night at
about 7.30 p.m. Jasper takes a big case-
bottle of liquor — drugged, of course— and



Dickens's Last Plot 17

goes to the den of Durdles. In the yard
of this inspector of monuments he is^
bidden to beware of a mound of quick-
lime near the yard gate. '' With a little
handy stirring, quick enough to eat your
bones," says Durdles. There is some con-
siderable distance between this ** mound"
of quicklime and the crypt, of which
Durdles has the key, but the intervening
space is quite empty of human presence, as
the citizens are unwilling to meet ghosts.
In the crypt Durdles drinks a good
deal of the drugged liquor. '' They
are to ascend the great Tower," — and
why they do that is part of the Mystery,
though not an insoluble part. Before
they climb, Durdles tells Jasper that he
was drunk and asleep in the crypt, last
Christmas Eve, and was wakened by
'' the ghost of one terrific shriek, followed
by the ghost of the howl of a dog, a long
dismal, woeful howl, such as a dog gives

c



1 8 The Puzzle of

when a person's dead." Durdles has
made inquiries and, as no one else heard
the shriek and the howl, he calls these
sounds ''ghosts."

They are obviously meant to be under-
stood as supranormal premonitory sounds;
of the nature of second sight, or rather of
second hearing. Forster gives examples
of Dickens's tendency to believe in such
premonitions : Dickens had himself a
curious premonitory dream. He con-
siderably overdid the premonitory busi-
ness in his otherwise excellent story. The
Signalman, or so it seems to a student
of these things. The shriek and howl
heard by Durdles are to be repeated, we
see, in real life, later, on a Christmas
Eve. The question is — when ? More
probably not on the Christmas Eve just
imminent, when Edwin is to vanish, but
on the Christmas Eve following, when
Jasper is to be unmasked.



Dickens's Last Plot 19

All this while, and later, Jasper exa-
mines Durdles very closely, studying the
effects on him of the drugged drink.
When they reach the top of the tower,
Jasper closely contemplates '' that stillest
part of it " (the landscape) ** which the
Cathedral overshadows ; but he contem-
plates Durdles quite as curiously."

There is a motive for the scrutiny in
either case. Jasper examines the part of
the precincts in the shadow of the Cathe-
dral, because he wishes to assure himself
that it is lonely enough for his later un-
described but easily guessed proceedings
in this night of mystery. He will have
much to do that could not brook wit-
nesses, after the drugged Durdles has
fallen sound asleep. We have already
been assured that the whole area over
which Jasper is to operate is ''utterly
deserted," even when it lies in full moon-
light, about 8.30 p.m. ''One might fancy



20 The Puzzle of

that the tide of life was stemmed by Mr.
Jasper s own gate-house. " The people of
Cloisterham, we hear, would deny that
they believe in ghosts; but they give this
part of the precinct a wide berth (Chapter
XII.). If the region is ''utterly deserted"
at nine o'clock in the evening, when it lies
in the ivory moonlight, much more will it
be free from human presence when it lies
in shadow, between one and two o'clock
after midnight. Jasper, however, from
the tower top closely scrutinizes the area
of his future operations. It is, probably,
for this very purpose of discovering
whether the coast be clear or not, that
Jasper climbs the tower.

He watches Durdles for the purpose
of finding how the drug which he has
administered works, with a view to future
operations on Edwin. Durdles is now
in such a state that "he deems the ground
so far below on a level with the tower.



Dickens's Last Plot 21

and would as lief walk off the tower into
the air as not."

All this is apparently meant to suggest
that Jasper, on Christmas Eve, will repeat
his expedition, with Edwin, whom he will
have drugged, and that he will allow
Edwin to *' walk off the tower into the
air." There are later suggestions to the
same effect, as we shall see, but they are
deliberately misleading. There are also
strong suggestions to the very opposite
effect : it is broadly indicated that Jasper
is to strangle Edwin v/ith a thick black-
silk scarf, which he has just taken to
wearing for the good of his throat.

The pair return to the crypt, Durdles
falls asleep, dreams that Jasper leaves
him, **and that something touches him
and something falls from his hand. Then
something clinks and gropes about," and
the lines of moonlight shift their direction,
as Durdles finds that they have really



22 The Puzzle of

done when he wakens, with Jasper beside
him, while the Cathedral clock strikes
two. They have had many hours, not
less than five, for their expedition. The
key of the crypt lies beside Durdles
on the ground. They go out, and as
Deputy begins stone-throwing, Jasper
half strangles him.



Purpose of the Expedition

Jasper has had ample time to take
models in wax of all Durdles's keys.
But he could have done that in a few
minutes, while Durdles slept, if he had
wax with him, without leaving the


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