Peter Rowland: The Disappearance of Edwin Drood

First pub­lished in Great Britain by Con­sta­ble & Com­pa­ny Ltd.

Author's Note

'I am lost with­out my Boswell,' Sher­lock Holmes once re­marked.

The pri­vate pa­pers of Dr John H. Wat­son, MD, late of the In­di­an army, are less vo­lu­mi­nous than those be­queathed to a de­light­ed pos­ter­i­ty by the Laird of Auchin­leck, but the ques­tion of their pub­li­ca­tion has posed prob­lems of a more in­tractable na­ture. Their trustees, Messrs Cox & Co. of Char­ing Cross, have been ad­vised that, the pas­sage of many years notwith­stand­ing, there are cer­tain mat­ters over which, even now, the veil of se­cre­cy must re­main firm­ly drawn. Such ma­te­ri­al as it has oth­er­wise been pos­si­ble to re­lease has proved, in the main, dis­ap­point­ing­ly in­con­se­quen­tial.

Frus­trat­ing though this is for the ded­i­cat­ed re­searcher, anx­ious to sift the con­tents of that bat­tered tin despatch box to his heart's con­tent, there oc­ca­sion­al­ly occur re­lax­ations of the nec­es­sary con­straints. Spec­i­fied time lim­its ex­pire and the records of a par­tic­u­lar case can pass, at last, into the pub­lic do­main. One such case-his­to­ry is set out in the pages that fol­low. The pre­sent ed­i­tor was in­trigued to find, how­ev­er, when pe­rus­ing the manuscript, that parts of the story it had to tell, al­beit in­com­plete and writ­ten from a to­tal­ly dif­fer­ent view­point, had al­ready been chron­i­cled else­where. Dr Wat­son's ac­count, while a com­plete dossier in its own right, thus ac­quired some­thing of a comple­mentary char­ac­ter. This being so, I have taken the lib­er­ty of re­plac­ing its orig­i­nal title. The Ad­ven­ture of the Miss­ing Nephew', by one which (in the cir­cum­stances) ap­peared more ap­pro­pri­ate. Other than this, ed­i­to­ri­al emen­da­tions have been kept to a min­i­mum.

Chapter I

'Well, Wat­son, and what do you make of it' en­quired Holmes lan­guid­ly, from the depths of his favourite arm­chair.

I pulled my own chair near­er the fire, di­gest­ed the let­ter for a sec­ond time and passed it back with a shrug of the shoul­ders. 'Not a great deal,' I con­fessed. 'Your correspon­dent is ob­vi­ous­ly dis­traught and ex­cit­ed. Some­body — his son, pre­sum­ably, or even a grand­son — has left home and he is des­per­ate­ly anx­ious to find him. The notepa­per is of good qual­i­ty and the writ­er ap­pears to be a man of sub­stance, al­though the shak­i­ness of the hand sug­gests some­one of ad­vanc­ing years.'

The doc­u­ment in ques­tion, em­bossed with the ad­dress of 'The Gate House, Clois­ter­ham' and dated 22 De­cem­ber 1894, was rel­a­tive­ly brief. 'My Dear Sir,' it ran, 'I im­plore your as­sis­tance. You are the only per­son who can help me now. I must know, for my own peace of mind, whether my dear boy is alive or dead. This nev­er-end­ing anx­i­ety is driv­ing me to the depths of in­san­i­ty and de­spair. Only you, Mr Holmes, can solve this most baf­fling of prob­lems.

Ex­pense is no ob­ject. I will be with you to­mor­row af­ter­noon and beg that you will do me the hon­our of hear­ing my story and as­sist­ing me with every means at your dis­pos­al. I am, yours dis­tract­ed­ly, John Jasper.'

'I fear', said Holmes, 'that since my much-pub­li­cized re­turn to Baker Street those lit­tle ar­ti­cles by which you sought to bring my mod­est achieve­ments in the sphere of el­e­men­tary anal­y­sis and elu­ci­da­tion to the at­ten­tion of a wider au­di­ence, al­though penned with the best of mo­tives, are prov­ing a mixed bless­ing. There ap­pears to be an omi­nous dis­po­si­tion on the part of Mr Jasper to re­gard me, first and fore­most, as a bu­reau for miss­ing per­sons.'

'But he does refer', I re­marked rather tart­ly, 'to an el­e­ment of mys­tery in this af­fair, which is sure­ly why he is com­ing to you, and he in­sists that you are the only per­son who can help him. I trust I am not to be blamed. Holmes, for at­tract­ing clients to your door at a time when you would oth­er­wise be com­plain­ing of the dearth of busi­ness.'

Holmes smiled. 'The fes­tive sea­son', he said, 'does in­deed have its longueurs. If Mr Jasper can re­lieve the rav­ages of bore­dom then he is most wel­come, but my ex­pe­ri­ence of re­unit­ing fa­thers or grand­fa­thers with long-lost heirs is lim­it­ed and I rather fancy that I will be obliged, at the end of the day, to di­rect the gen­tle­man else­where.' He glanced at his watch and then again at the let­ter, hold­ing it up to the fad­ing light. 'It may just be,' he mused, 'that this af­fair will not be to­tal­ly de­void of points of in­ter­est. The note-pa­per, as you say, is of good qual­i­ty, al­though sick­lied o'er by a cer­tain yel­low­ish tinge which sug­gests a de­gree of an­tiq­ui­ty. You will ob­serve that the date has been squeezed in as an af­terthought and is penned in a dif­fer­ent hand. A wife or sec­re­tary, per­haps? Clois­ter­ham, as you are doubt­less aware, is a cathe­dral city in Kent some forty miles hence. The dog-eared en­ve­lope which con­tained this let­ter, how­ev­er, bears a Sur­rey post­mark. Whether or not a cu­ri­ous ad­dress such as 'The Gate House' con­firms that our client is a man of fi­nan­cial stature re­mains to be seen.'

We did not have to re­main long in sus­pense, for the bell rang even as Holmes ru­mi­nat­ed and a few min­utes later Mrs Hud­son ush­ered Mr John Jasper of Clois­ter­ham into our room. He was a tall man, dressed in a long black coat which had ev­i­dent­ly seen bet­ter days — and so, one was obliged to ac­knowl­edge, had Mr Jasper him­self. His age was dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine. His hair, once black, was heav­i­ly streaked with grey and there was an ap­palling hag­gard­ness about his fea­tures. The most strik­ing as­pect of the man was his dark eyes, which shone with an al­most fa­nat­i­cal light. He col­lapsed with an air of ex­haus­tion into the chair which I speed­i­ly made avail­able and sat there with­out speak­ing for sev­er­al min­utes, breath­ing heav­i­ly. He even­tu­al­ly prof­fered a shak­ing hand and scru­ti­nized each of us close­ly.

A look of mild sur­prise had passed across Holmes's face. 'I be­lieve, sir,' he mur­mured, 'that you and I may have met some years ago, and in rather cu­ri­ous cir­cum­stances, but no mat­ter — you will not re­call the oc­ca­sion. My name is Sher­lock Holmes and this is my friend and col­league Dr Wat­son. You may speak freely in front of him and you have my as­sur­ance, if you so de­sire it, that what you say will notgo be­yond the four walls of this room. How may we be of ser­vice?'

Mr Jasper sum­moned up his strength, drew a deep breath, and launched into his tale...