Truda Thurai: The Cinnamon-Peeler’s Daughter

A short story in­spired by: The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dick­ens

Fore­word

Hav­ing spent nine years re­search­ing and writ­ing The Devil Dancers, a novel set in 1950s Cey­lon, I was in­trigued by Dick­ens’s ref­er­ence to that coun­try in Edwin Drood. This, for me, was the real mys­tery. I won­dered what had in­spired him. One might have ex­pect­ed a ref­er­ence to India – or even the North West fron­tier – but why Cey­lon?

I made sev­er­al trips to Rochester and spent a con­sid­er­able amount of time in the Cathe­dral, which was par­tic­u­lar­ly close to Dick­ens’s heart (he want­ed to be buried there), read­ing memo­ri­al plaques. I thought that these might pro­vide a clue as Dick­ens had made a num­ber of ref­er­ences to memo­ri­al tablets and in­scrip­tions in the book: for ex­am­ple, the in­scrip­tion for Mrs Sapsea’s mon­u­ment and the in­scrip­tion over the door of Mr Grew­gious’s lodg­ings.

How­ev­er, while I gained con­sid­er­able in­sight into the con­nec­tion be­tween the Royal En­gi­neers and Rochester (both Edwin Drood and his fa­ther were en­gi­neers), I could find no ref­er­ence to Cey­lon. How­ev­er, a po­ten­tial, al­beit ten­u­ous, link be­tween Dick­ens and that coun­try is pro­vid­ed by an­oth­er memo­ri­al; a grave­stone in a small An­gli­can ceme­tery in Kandy, Sri Lanka (for­mer­ly Cey­lon). This com­mem­o­rates William Charles MacReady (d. 1871), a civil ser­vant and lin­guist whose fa­ther, a cel­e­brat­ed actor, was known to Dick­ens.

Hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly ig­nored memo­ri­al tablets and in­scrip­tions, I now took them as my in­spi­ra­tion. The grave­yard at Kandy pro­vid­ed an­oth­er ex­traor­di­nary story, that of Cap­tain James Mc­Glash­lan. Much clos­er to home, a chance visit to the parish church of Chil­ham, Kent, re­vealed the ex­traor­di­nary ac­count of Fred­er­ick Lacy Dick, a dis­trict mag­is­trate who was as­sas­si­nat­ed in Cey­lon in 1847. The story on his com­mem­o­ra­tive tablet struck a chord with me. It was not only rel­e­vant to the pe­ri­od in which Dick­ens lived and worked, but it pro­vid­ed a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into the life of a British civil ser­vant in Cey­lon. Al­though Dick­ens may never have seen this par­tic­u­lar memo­ri­al, it was the link I was look­ing for and I used it as the basis for the char­ac­ter of Mr Dig­gory in my short story.

Fi­nal­ly, like many oth­ers who have been cap­ti­vat­ed by the Mys­tery of Edwin Drood, I have of­fered a so­lu­tion to its cen­tral enig­ma.

T. Thu­rai
25th May 2012




I

T is mid-sum­mer, yet the sky be­grudges its light; its dull and colour­less sur­face un­re­lieved by the sun’s rays or the move­ment of clouds. But, be­neath this life­less ex­panse, the world bus­tles. A ship glides into port, churn­ing the lead­en water with its prow, its deck-hands scur­ry­ing about like mon­keys, some with ropes, some with boat-hooks, yelling, scrab­bling, eas­ing the ves­sel into its berth. Soon she is at rest, rolling gen­tly with the wash from other boats, ris­ing slow­ly in the water as her holds are re­lieved of their bar­rels and crates.

Now, rocked by the gen­tle lap­ping of waves, she mur­murs to the ves­sels along­side, using that cu­ri­ous clink­ing, clank­ing, tin­kling speech in which boats ex­change sto­ries of high winds and high seas, boast­ing of their ex­ploits and how they brought their cargo safe­ly home de­spite the short­com­ings of their human mas­ters. The ship dreams of the sharp smack of salt water and the hot sun on her deck as sailors swarm about her, their cold, damp feet pat­ter­ing down lad­ders into her hold, their quick, gnarled fin­gers tend­ing her wounds. She slum­bers while they swab her decks, mend her tim­bers and sew patch­es into her sails.

In a few hours, the ship’s keel will sink low in the cold, grey water, weighed down by a new cargo – and new pas­sen­gers; one of whom is sit­ting in the par­lour of one of the many inns and rest-hous­es ranged along the har­bour, whose aim it is to pro­vide sus­te­nance, if not com­fort, to the tide of voy­agers that wash­es through the port.

Wrapped in a shawl, this trav­eller has sought pri­va­cy in a dark cor­ner of the pub­lic-room where the door flies con­stant­ly open and shut, in re­sponse to the ebb and flow of cus­tomers. Seat­ed at a table, she strives to write in the seam of light grudged by a small, grimy win­dow. Be­fore her is a plate of food, un­touched and near­ly cold, a slab of grey meat and a few, colour­less veg­eta­bles con­gealed in gravy.

Heed­less of the may­hem that sur­rounds her, the tramp of feet, the bang­ing of the door, the inn-keep­er shout­ing to his ser­vant, she writes with des­per­ate speed, her hand fly­ing across the page, paus­ing oc­ca­sion­al­ly at a word, then strik­ing it out with a sin­gle deft stroke. Sev­er­al sheets of paper, cov­ered in her close, neat hand­writ­ing are ar­ranged in a ragged pile. Her wrist is aching, but she can­not stop. The let­ter must be post­ed tonight. Fu­ri­ous­ly she writes, on and on, until an­oth­er three sheets have been filled. Then, sign­ing her name with a flour­ish, she sits back and sighs, star­ing out of the small grimy win­dow whose sin­gle, warped pane looks out onto a nar­row alley where trades­men, sailors, trav­ellers, pick-pock­ets and char­la­tans min­gle to­geth­er, all going about their busi­ness.

As she turns her head, the dim light re­veals a face of un­usu­al dark­ness and ex­ot­ic beau­ty. Some of the in­mates of that dark cav­ern are tempt­ed to stare, but one glance from those fierce dark eyes re­pels them. There is some­thing fe­ro­cious about this del­i­cate crea­ture; some­thing of the huntress.

The ink on the last page has dried. She gath­ers up the sheets of paper, taps them into a neat pile, then ex­am­ines the let­ter that she has been at such pains to write, her lips mov­ing as she reads, as if she were recit­ing a prayer.

The Star and An­chor Inn, Southamp­ton 21st May, 18..
From: Miss He­le­na Land­less
To: The Rev­erend Sep­ti­mus Crisparkle, Minor Canon of Clois­ter­ham Cathe­dral

My dear Sep­ti­mus,

I am writ­ing to you from Southamp­ton. To­mor­row, I shall em­bark on a pack­et-boat des­tined for Cey­lon, the coun­try of my birth. In the hours re­main­ing be­fore de­par­ture, I in­tend to set down the rea­son for my re­turn – some­thing which I have not yet fully ex­plained to you and which, I know, has been the cause of much sor­row. Yet it is nec­es­sary if our lives are to fol­low the true and hon­est course which we both de­sire.

A few days ago, you of­fered me all that a woman could wish: mar­riage, re­spectabil­i­ty be­yond my sta­tion and, above all, the life­long com­pan­ion­ship of one whom I con­sid­er to be not only a saint, but also my broth­er’s saviour. Yet, in­stead of the ready ac­cep­tance which you had every right to ex­pect, you re­ceived a mys­ti­fy­ing re­sponse: hes­i­ta­tion and a plea for more time in which to con­sid­er. By my ap­par­ent cool­ness, I fear that I have not only wound­ed you, but con­vinced you of my in­dif­fer­ence.

For­give me, dear sir, for my seem­ing re­luc­tance and be­lieve me when I say that my heart was both warm and will­ing – and al­ways will be. But be­fore I can give you a final an­swer, there is a mat­ter that must first be re­solved: that of my birth. For, as you know, Land­less was the name of my step­fa­ther – a cruel and bru­tal man. Al­though I know some­thing of my real fa­ther’s his­to­ry, I still do not know his name. For this rea­son, I am not only Land­less, but Name­less also. It is a mat­ter which I know to be of great con­cern to your moth­er – and right­ly so.

By mar­ry­ing you in this anony­mous state, I risk caus­ing di­vi­sion with­in your fam­i­ly as well as em­bar­rass­ment with­in the wider world. This I am not pre­pared to do. My dif­fi­dence re­gard­ing your pro­pos­al was not a sign of dis­in­ter­est but of my deep af­fec­tion and re­spect for you.

We have re­cent­ly en­dured many tri­als with re­gard to the mat­ter of Mr Drood’s un­for­tu­nate dis­ap­pear­ance. I must ask your for­bear­ance to wait a lit­tle longer while I seek to solve an­oth­er mys­tery – that of my fa­ther’s iden­ti­ty.

You know lit­tle of my life prior to my ar­rival in Clois­ter­ham; ex­cept for what my broth­er, Neville, con­fid­ed in you. From him you learned that our moth­er had died when we were young, en­trust­ing us to a bru­tal step­fa­ther whose plea­sure it was to beat me while Neville looked on, help­less. You also know that we came from Cey­lon. It is my in­ten­tion, in this let­ter, to tell you as much as I know my­self, in order to ex­plain my rea­son for re­turn­ing there.

So that you may bet­ter un­der­stand my mo­tives, you must learn some­thing of my moth­er’s his­to­ry; painful as it is, for me to im­part.

***

My grand­fa­ther was a salaga­ma or cin­na­mon-peel­er. He lived in a small vil­lage, near to the south­ern coast of the Is­land, with his wife and chil­dren. The bricks of their home were built of mud and cow-dung; the floor was made of com­pact­ed soil and the roof, thatched with palm leaves. In the dry sea­son, the chil­dren would play out­side, run­ning and tum­bling over the sun-baked earth while their moth­er cooked over a clay pot filled with em­bers. Dur­ing mon­soon, they sat in­side, peer­ing out at the rivers of mud that flowed up to the door and the great wa­ter-spouts that gushed from the roof, pour­ing down the ribs of the palm-fronds.

My coun­try is one of ex­tremes: ten­der­ness and fe­roc­i­ty, fate and un­cer­tain­ty, strength and weak­ness. It has but two sea­sons – wet and dry – and trees which, recog­nis­ing no sea­son, flow­er and fruit at the same time. Cey­lon’s wealth has been both its strength and its frailty; a source of great rich­es and a lure to in­vaders. As kings fell to the for­eign pow­ers, so those of more hum­ble ori­gins at­tained an im­por­tance be­yond their rank. So it was with my grand­fa­ther.

It was the for­eign colonists, first the Por­tuguese and then the Dutch, who al­tered the course of gen­er­a­tions and changed the fate of my grand­fa­ther and his fore­bears. To be born into a salaga­ma fam­i­ly was not only to in­her­it a trade, but also a caste – a lowly one. Yet the traders’ weak­ness be­came our fam­i­ly’s strength.

The spice you call cin­na­mon, is called ku­run­du in my own tongue, Sin­halese. It is the inner bark of a tree, re­leased from young branch­es by deft ham­mer­ing; its fra­grance is so strong that ships’ cap­tains claim to smell it many miles out to sea. Per­haps it was this scent that haunt­ed the dreams of traders, draw­ing them from the safe­ty of their Eu­ro­pean homes, in­spir­ing a reck­less pur­suit over land and ocean until, land­ing on our shores they built forts to pro­tect the spice and fought bloody bat­tles for its pos­ses­sion.

For cen­turies, cin­na­mon was Cey­lon’s most pre­cious com­mod­i­ty. Who would have thought that the fra­grant bark of a tree would be more high­ly-prized than all the ru­bies, emer­alds and sap­phires ex­tract­ed from our mines? Yet a crate of dried, brown cin­na­mon quills was worth more than its weight in gold. The for­tunes of the Dutch East India Com­pa­ny de­pend­ed upon its monopoly of the cin­na­mon trade and, for this rea­son, our Dutch rulers pro­tect­ed both the spice and its pro­duc­ers. Thus, de­spite his low caste, my grand­fa­ther – like all salaga­mas – en­joyed a spe­cial sta­tus.

But this all changed under the next wave of in­vaders. The British suc­ceed­ed the Dutch and the prin­ci­ple of ‘lais­sez faire’ re­placed the monopoly that had favoured cin­na­mon-peel­ers, as­sur­ing them of priv­i­leges and a com­fort­able life. New crops, such as cof­fee, began to ap­pear and plan­ta­tion farm­ing with its vast acreages and re­quire­ment for cheap, un­skilled labour su­per­seded tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of pro­duc­tion.

When cin­na­mon was king, even those who were not cin­na­mon-peel­ers sought to be classed as salaga­mas. But now, it was the salaga­mas who sought a new iden­ti­ty, doing ev­ery­thing they could to re­lease their chil­dren from the clutch­es of the Cin­na­mon De­part­ment.

As Cey­lon changed hands, other changes also took place. My grand­fa­ther – a re­luc­tant con­vert to the Dutch Re­formed Church – re­vert­ed to Bud­dhism, the faith of his an­ces­tors. How­ev­er, as he neared the end of his life, a mis­sion­ary con­vinced him of the error of his ways and he con­vert­ed once more to the Chris­tian faith; al­though, this time, it was a British rather than a Dutch strain of Protes­tantism.

My grand­fa­ther died leav­ing a wife and five chil­dren. Un­able to sus­tain them all, my grand­moth­er sent the el­dest out to work as ser­vants. My moth­er was taken in by the same mis­sion­ary who had con­vert­ed her fa­ther. Mr Suther­land and his wife were Scot­tish; a child­less cou­ple whose moral prin­ci­ples were as un­yield­ing as the gran­ite of their na­tive land. Yet this sever­i­ty was tem­pered by a love of lit­tle chil­dren; prompt­ed, no doubt, by their own lack of them.

Al­though she began as a ser­vant, my moth­er soon oc­cu­pied the Suther­land home as its daugh­ter, rec­om­mend­ing her­self to the cou­ple’s af­fec­tions, not only by her sweet na­ture, but also by her readi­ness to learn. An able pupil, she was quick at both let­ters and needle­work; her mind as nim­ble as her fin­gers.

As her adop­tive fa­ther’s sight failed, my moth­er would sit be­side him on the ve­ran­dah, de­scrib­ing the birds in the gar­den: the hoopoes, par­rots and pi­geons; the hum­ming-birds sip­ping nec­tar from fra­grant, trum­pet-shaped flow­ers. To­geth­er they would watch the rapid sun­set then, tak­ing him by the arm, she would lead him in­doors to his favourite chair. After mak­ing him com­fort­able, she would take her place at the table where, shar­ing the lamp­light with Mrs Suther­land, she would read aloud from the Bible; her com­pan­ion nod­ding her ap­proval as she sewed.

As the rev­erend gen­tle­man was no longer able to write, my moth­er be­came his amanu­en­sis, com­mit­ting the ser­mons that he dic­tat­ed to paper and, when oc­ca­sion and style re­quired, tact­ful­ly edit­ing them. Act­ing as his guide, she ac­com­pa­nied him to church, hand­ing him the Bible or prayer-book from which he pre­tend­ed to read, al­though he had long since com­mit­ted their con­tents to mem­o­ry. It was an in­no­cent de­cep­tion in which she read­i­ly par­tic­i­pat­ed for, as he told her, how could a blind preach­er lead the hea­then into light?

Among his many du­ties, Mr Suther­land was a reg­u­lar preach­er at the gar­ri­son church in Kandy. Sit­u­at­ed next to the Tem­ple of the Tooth, the solid square tower and grey stone of the An­gli­can church was a stark con­trast to the curv­ing lines and gold­en finials of its neigh­bour. No doubt the sup­pli­cants at each place of wor­ship in­dulged in silent dis­ap­proval of the other, ap­proach­ing their re­spec­tive gods in a state of silent cen­sure. Yet who can say if prox­im­i­ty to such gaudy and tan­ta­lis­ing ex­oti­cism did not awak­en some­thing of the pagan in my moth­er. For it was here that she met my fa­ther, a young of­fi­cer in the Royal En­gi­neers.

Their at­tach­ment began in­no­cent­ly. After ser­vice, it was Mr Suther­land’s prac­tice to en­gage his parish­ioners in lengthy con­ver­sa­tion at the church door. Tir­ing of the end­less litany of births, mar­riages and deaths, my moth­er would wan­der off into the church­yard to in­spect the crop of head­stones whose num­bers grew steadi­ly every week. Even in death, it seems, the En­glish must stake a claim to land, if only to a plot the length and breadth of a man’s body.

She was deep in thought, con­tem­plat­ing the nar­ra­tive on a young Cap­tain’s grave, when a voice star­tled her.

“Ex­traor­di­nary fel­low!”

It was an ex­cla­ma­tion wrapped around an in­ter­rog­a­tive. A state­ment that de­mand­ed an an­swer.

“Yes, in­deed,” she mur­mured, her eyes still fixed upon the stone.

“I knew him, you know.”

With her hand shield­ing her eyes from the sun, my moth­er turned to her com­pan­ion and was con­front­ed by a young man of mid­dle height and up­right bear­ing, re­splen­dent in a red tunic with a lieu­tenant’s in­signia. The bright trop­i­cal sun glanced off his brass but­tons, set­ting them a-twin­kle so that they re­sem­bled small mir­rors – the sort used by hunters to lure small birds from the safe­ty of their perch.

With his yel­low whiskers and tawny hair, there was some­thing li­on-like about this young sol­dier. My moth­er was both at­tract­ed and dis­turbed by him: re-as­sured by his strength, but also fright­ened by it. He seemed in­vin­ci­ble.

With the ease of one prac­tised in the art of pleas­ant con­ver­sa­tion, he sought to en­gage her in­ter­est, point­ing at the grave-stone.

“He died be­cause of a wager.”

“A wager?”

“Yes. His broth­er of­fi­cers chal­lenged him to walk all the way down to Kandy from Trin­co­ma­lee – near­ly a hun­dred miles. It was a joke – ill-con­ceived, but a joke nonethe­less. No-one ex­pect­ed him to take it se­ri­ous­ly. But Cap­tain James Mc­Glashan was not one to ac­cept de­feat. Al­though only twen­ty-sev­en, he was al­ready a vet­er­an of Wa­ter­loo and the Penin­su­lar War with a fierce rep­u­ta­tion for brav­ery. He would have died rather than ac­cept the taint of cow­ardice. Even for some­thing as tri­fling as a bet.”

“What hap­pened?”

“Al­though it was the rainy sea­son, when snakes emerge from their hid­ing places to in­hab­it the tracks and high­ways, he set out alone, reck­less of dan­ger, de­ter­mined to com­plete the march. Drenched by the mon­soon rain, he slept in the open with only the trees for cover and his wet clothes cling­ing to his skin. Yet, de­spite hard­ship and the cease­less tor­rent falling from the skies, he con­tin­ued, plough­ing along roads that had turned into rivers, a prey to mosquitoes and leech­es. When he ar­rived in Kandy he was rav­ing and out of his wits. For days, he burned with fever until, in a mo­ment of clar­i­ty, he asked for a priest. After re­ceiv­ing the last rites, he fell into a deep sleep and died.”

“So sad!”

“Yes, but he won the wager.”

Look­ing into his eyes, she saw that he was laugh­ing and al­lowed her­self a smile.

“That’s bet­ter. Tell me, what is the at­trac­tion of a grave­yard for such a beau­ti­ful young woman?”

Her skin dark­ened as the blood ran to her cheeks.

“I am the cler­gy­man’s daugh­ter,” she stam­mered. Then, see­ing the iron­ic twist of his mouth, added: “His adopt­ed daugh­ter.”

“De­light­ed to make your ac­quain­tance, Miss Suther­land,” said the Lieu­tenant with a low bow. “Allow me to es­cort you back to the church.”

Shyly tak­ing his arm, my moth­er al­lowed her­self to be led across the coarse-blad­ed grass, shud­der­ing as she passed the grave­stones of five lit­tle sib­lings, all laid out in a row like five stone bob­bins. As they ap­proached the church, she could see her fa­ther in the porch, search­ing for her with faded eyes.

“I will take my leave here, Miss,” said the sol­dier. Then lean­ing to­wards her, he whis­pered: “But I hope to see you again. Soon.”

Click­ing his heels, he winked as he salut­ed her. And she was lost.

The grave of Cap­tain Mc­Glashan be­came their meet­ing place. While Mr Suther­land con­versed with his parish­ioners, the Lieu­tenant court­ed his daugh­ter with small gifts: a nosegay of jas­mine to pin in her black hair; love-notes writ­ten on small scraps of paper that could be con­cealed with­in a prayer-book. She kept them all: the dried-up flow­ers, long since turned to dust, and the bil­lets-doux, stored in a cigar box, which I in­her­it­ed. I read them still, small scraps of yel­low paper, mot­tled with age; brief mes­sages – “Be Mine For­ev­er”, “Marry me!” There is also the draw­ing of a heart, pierced by an arrow, bear­ing two names; Amelia and an­oth­er which, crossed through with thick pen-strokes, has been ob­scured.

Under the blind gaze of Mr Suther­land, some­where be­tween the Te Deum and the Lord’s Prayer, the hand­some Lieu­tenant per­suad­ed my moth­er to run away with him. One day, after ser­vice, she slipped out of a side-door and into his arms, aban­don­ing her for­mer life and all who had shown her kind­ness. From that day, her rep­u­ta­tion was de­stroyed, her dis­grace com­plete. I have no ex­pla­na­tion for her ac­tions. In­deed, she never of­fered one. I can only as­sume that the tiger­ish prompt­ing of her blood over­came all ties of duty and loy­al­ty to her pro­tec­tors.

The Suther­lands were left griev­ing and, in the Rev­erend’s case, ob­du­rate. My moth­er was barred from their home for­ev­er, al­though, I be­lieve that Mrs Suther­land se­cret­ly con­trived a means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion once she had dis­cov­ered my moth­er’s where­abouts. But by then it was too late. My moth­er, hav­ing as­sumed mat­ri­mo­ni­al sta­tus, with­out the sanc­tion of the church, had given birth to twins: my broth­er, Neville, and my­self.

De­spite many fine promis­es, my fa­ther never le­git­imised their union – or his chil­dren. My moth­er was an out­cast, one of the grow­ing le­gion of ‘na­tive wives’, bound by af­fec­tion – but not by law – to En­glish men. In po­lite so­ci­ety, they were re­ferred to as con­cu­bines; in less gen­teel cir­cles, whores and pros­ti­tutes.

Se­duced by empty promis­es, these women were sim­ply an­oth­er con­quest, a fur­ther plun­der­ing of an is­land whose rich­es had been pil­laged by suc­ces­sive waves of in­vaders. Gems, cin­na­mon, ar­rack and to­bac­co: ex­tract­ed, re­fined, bot­tled and crat­ed, then sent back home to Eu­rope. All ex­cept the women. These, they left be­hind.

When Neville and I were still ba­bies, my fa­ther’s reg­i­ment left for India. As­sur­ing my moth­er that they would soon be re­unit­ed, my fa­ther ar­ranged a tem­po­rary po­si­tion for her as lady’s maid to Mrs Dig­gory, the wife of a mag­is­trate. But, al­though he promised to send my moth­er money so that she could fol­low him, nei­ther let­ters nor money fol­lowed. After wav­ing him good­bye at the docks, she never saw nor heard from him again. Even­tu­al­ly, she pre­vailed upon the mag­is­trate’s wife – a gen­tle soul – to make en­quiries on her be­half.

One day, Mrs Dig­gory came to the room in which my moth­er was sewing and sit­ting be­side her, took her hand.

“My dear, he is dead.”

Bare­ly able to re­strain her tears, the kind­ly woman told my moth­er what she had dis­cov­ered. My fa­ther had died in the West­ern Ghats work­ing on the con­struc­tion of a rail­way. He lies there still, buried on a moun­tain slope in an un­tend­ed, over­grown grave along­side oth­ers who suc­cumbed to fever or who, like him, fell to their deaths from pre­car­i­ous footholds.

***

Yet this was the be­gin­ning, rather than the end, of my moth­er’s tribu­la­tions. She owed her po­si­tion to my fa­ther’s friend­ship with Mr Dig­gory; a man who, de­spite his po­si­tion of au­thor­i­ty, was more lib­er­al and com­pas­sion­ate than many of his com­pa­tri­ots. Al­though in­de­pen­dent in his views, the mag­is­trate was, nonethe­less, a man of high moral stand­ing, both in­cor­rupt­ible and coura­geous. But these ad­mirable qual­i­ties were to be his un­do­ing.

The mag­is­trate was re­spon­si­ble for the coastal dis­trict just south of the sprawl­ing metropo­lis of Colom­bo. The main town, Ne­gom­bo, con­sist­ed of lit­tle more than a road run­ning par­al­lel to the beach where the harsh bril­lian­cy of the sea ri­valled that of the sun and the fronds of co­conut trees rat­tled like bones in the breeze. Yet the warm salti­ness of Ne­gom­bo’s air of­fered a refuge from the stag­nant vapours of the city and the pink and white vil­las of wealthy Britons sprang up amid the palm trees. Few gave any thought to the other Ne­gom­bo: the law­less strand whose fleet of small wood­en ves­sels served fish­er­men by day and smug­glers by night. Its name­less al­leys, strag­gling down to the beach, formed a high­way for il­lic­it trade and the hov­els that lined them, a refuge for thieves and mur­der­ers.

There was one, in par­tic­u­lar: Don Pedro, the mas­ter of Ne­gom­bo’s crim­i­nal broth­er­hood.

A man of some learn­ing – and even greater cun­ning – he was flu­ent in the na­tive lan­guages of Tamil and Sin­hala as well as En­glish. His ori­gin was a mys­tery, al­though his name in­di­cates some Por­tuguese an­ces­try. In our coun­try, names often sur­vive as the only lega­cy of a for­got­ten race: Pereira, Fer­nan­do, Cruz.

It was ru­moured that Don Pedro re­mained loyal to the re­li­gion of his Eu­ro­pean fore­fa­thers, mak­ing gen­er­ous do­na­tions on saints’ days and slip­ping into the local church at dusk to make his con­fes­sion. Yet such ob­ser­vance marked the full ex­tent of his god­li­ness. In all other things, he led the life of a de­gen­er­ate brig­and.

As soon as Mr Dig­gory moved into the mag­is­trate’s res­i­dence, he was be­sieged by local peo­ple re­quest­ing favours. Every morn­ing, they would form a long queue at the gate, hop­ing for a glimpse of the mag­is­trate as he left for court in his car­riage and wait­ing until his re­turn when, one by one, they were al­lowed through the gate by his ser­vants to pre­sent their de­mands.

In the first weeks of his res­i­den­cy, Mr Dig­gory had been mys­ti­fied by the daily vis­its of a par­tic­u­lar sup­pli­cant: an an­gu­lar, hawk-nosed fel­low of sal­low com­plex­ion and mag­is­te­ri­al bear­ing, well-dressed al­though his cos­tume was a cu­ri­ous mix of ori­en­tal and Eu­ro­pean. Ev­i­dent­ly a man of some sub­stance, his pres­ence in­spired the other pe­ti­tion­ers with awe for, how­ev­er long they had been wait­ing, they al­ways ac­cord­ed him first place in the queue.

Each day, after bow­ing deeply to the mag­is­trate, this man would pre­sent him with a gift then leave with­out mak­ing any re­quest. Soon, a tide of of­fer­ings threat­ened to over­whelm the house: bales of cloth, cop­per pans and sacks of rice flowed over from the out­house into the scullery and two small goats gam­bolled about the yard, try­ing to eat the wash­ing from the line while hens cack­led in cages piled against a wall.

Puz­zled by this be­haviour and un­able to en­gage with the man in con­ver­sa­tion, the mag­is­trate asked one of his ser­vants to ex­plain.

“Ah,” said the man, look­ing slyly at his mas­ter. “That is Don Pedro, sir. A very pow­er­ful man. He wish­es to enter an agree­ment.”

“What sort of agree­ment?”

“He is a man of busi­ness. He wish­es you to be his part­ner.”

“In re­turn for what?”

“Your si­lence, sir,” the ser­vant replied, sim­ply.

“And what is Don Pedro’s busi­ness?” de­mand­ed the mag­is­trate, his cheeks flush­ing an­gri­ly.

The ser­vant shrugged as if no ex­pla­na­tion were nec­es­sary.

“What sort of busi­ness?” de­mand­ed Mr Dig­gory.

“Buy­ing, sell­ing, con­tra­band, all types of thiev­ery.”

The man gave Mr Dig­gory a side­ways grin and winked, slyly.

“How dare you! How dare you sup­pose …”

Fu­ri­ous, Mr Dig­gory raised his fist as if to strike the man. Quak­ing, the ser­vant wrapped his arms about his head to shield him­self from the blows. Con­front­ed with this quiv­er­ing, pa­thet­ic crea­ture, the mag­is­trate was moved to pity.

“The fault is mine,” he mur­mured, low­er­ing his arm. “I have been a fool.”

The ser­vant peeped out be­tween his hands, cu­ri­ous to see what would hap­pen next.

“I sup­pose,” ven­tured the mag­is­trate, “that Don Pedro is your mas­ter?”

“Yes, sir. You and Don Pedro are both my mas­ters,” af­firmed the ser­vant, wag­ging his head. “Both very good men,” he added, with­out a trace of irony.

“It says in the Bible that a man can­not serve two mas­ters,” said the mag­is­trate, stern­ly.

“I am Hindu, sir,” ex­plained the ser­vant, with a side­ways nod of the head.

Sigh­ing, the mag­is­trate or­dered the man to load all the gifts onto a cart and de­liv­er them back to Don Pedro’s house. With a mes­sage.

“Tell him that I want none of his gifts or his busi­ness. Tell him also that I will put a stop to his ne­far­i­ous trade and, if I catch him, he will hang.”

A few hours later, the ser­vant was seen drag­ging a creak­ing hand­cart piled high with sacks and bun­dles along the lone­ly road that led through co­conut groves and wind­ing tracks to Don

Pedro’s res­i­dence.

He did not re­turn. There was no reply from Don Pedro and, after that, no fur­ther vis­its.

But his tem­per was leg­endary and his rage at the mag­is­trate’s re­jec­tion of his terms can only be imag­ined.

It was the be­gin­ning of a strug­gle that last­ed many months, each man striv­ing for mas­tery over the other. Mr Dig­gory con­trived to end Don Pedro’s trade, lead­ing armed pa­trols to dis­rupt the night-work of the smug­glers, raid­ing il­le­gal drink­ing dens, search­ing the hous­es of Don Pedro’s as­so­ci­ates. The courts were con­stant­ly in ses­sion and the gaols over­flowed with crim­i­nals of all kinds; each one a small thread in Don Pedro’s in­iq­ui­tous web.

Even­tu­al­ly, it seemed that Don Pedro’s power was bro­ken. So it came as no sur­prise when the mas­ter-crim­i­nal — who had hith­er­to di­rect­ed the ac­tiv­i­ties of his ac­com­plices from a dis­tance — was ap­pre­hend­ed dur­ing the bur­glary of a house. Ap­par­ent­ly, the dis­rup­tion of his trade had been so ef­fec­tive, that he had been driv­en to com­mit a crime in per­son al­though, filled with brava­do, he had per­formed the felony in broad day­light.

He was led in tri­umph to the court-house where, prior to ap­pear­ing, he was kept under guard in a small ante-room. Dark and bare, its walls black­ened with mildew, the room was lit by a sin­gle, barred win­dow sit­u­at­ed high over­head. It was bare­ly large enough to admit a small child, even if it had been ac­ces­si­ble from the ground, which made Don Pedro’s es­cape all the more re­mark­able – or, should one say, sus­pi­cious.

The guards swore that they knew noth­ing of his dis­ap­pear­ance until one, in an act of com­pas­sion, had opened the door to offer the pris­on­er a glass of water. The bars, loos­ened from their sock­ets and lying on the floor, told their own story.

In­fu­ri­at­ed by the loss of his pris­on­er and deaf­ened by the hub­bub in the court­room, Mr Dig­gory or­dered sev­er­al mem­bers of the local po­lice to ride with him in pur­suit of Don Pedro. They gal­loped out of Ne­gom­bo, along the sin­gle-track road, past the flick­er­ing sea flecked with tiny boats and the parched, yel­low beach laced with dry­ing nets; past palm trees and fish­er­men’s huts; the ceme­tery with its low wall and white bunting; past rat­tling carts laden with rice; into the mot­tled light of co­conut groves where the sun throws pat­terned shad­ows over the red earth. On they rode, out into open coun­try, where egrets wade through paddy fields and the air is mel­low with the low­ing of oxen. Until, at last, one of the men point­ed to a nar­row track.

“Along there, sir. That is where you will find him.”

“Fol­low me!”

Mr Dig­gory spurred his horse for­ward down the track. So eager was he to re­cap­ture his prey that he did not look back to see if his men had fol­lowed him. The track wound back and forth through dense­ly over­grown scrub­land, com­mon­ly called ‘jun­gle’; a land­scape char­ac­terised by tall grass­es and stunt­ed trees, the haunt of many wild and dan­ger­ous an­i­mals.

After a mile or so, the track opened out onto a clear­ing at whose heart stood a low, sprawl­ing build­ing, more like a sta­ble in con­struc­tion than a house. The place was silent and ap­peared to be de­sert­ed. Hav­ing rid­den into the clear­ing, Mr Dig­gory looked be­hind him to see his men ad­vanc­ing at a slow trot.

“Hurry up!” he or­dered im­pa­tient­ly. “What is de­tain­ing you?”

But at the en­trance to the clear­ing, the men stopped, star­ing at him sul­len­ly.

“What is the mat­ter with you?” de­mand­ed Mr Dig­gory. “Are you afraid?”

One of the men nod­ded, but no word was spo­ken. They just sat there, watch­ing Mr Dig­gory, their hors­es stamp­ing and snort­ing. He had rid­den far out into the coun­try­side, to a des­o­late place far from help. He must have cursed him­self for his reck­less­ness.

“Damn you,” he mut­tered. “I shall do the job my­self.”

Can­ter­ing up to the build­ing, he tried to peer in through the dark win­dows.

“Hello,” he shout­ed. “Hello.”

As he passed one of the win­dows, a hand ap­peared and point­ed a pis­tol at his back. As the bul­let pierced Mr Dig­gory’s heart, his horse reared and whin­nied, throw­ing him to the ground.

This, at least, is the story told by the po­lice­men when they ar­rived home that night with the mag­is­trate’s body slung over the back of his horse. And yet, there were some things that were never ex­plained. His com­pan­ions in­sist­ed that he had been shot by an un­seen hand. Yet why was the mur­der­er not ap­pre­hend­ed? Why was there no at­tempt to give chase?

At about the time the mur­der took place, Don Pedro took care to show him­self in Colom­bo, many miles away. So it could not have been him — at least, not per­son­al­ly — al­though, I often won­der if one of the mag­is­trate’s com­pan­ions that day was not also the ser­vant of two mas­ters.

What is cer­tain is the dis­as­trous ef­fect of her hus­band’s death on Mrs Dig­gory. She lost the son that she was car­ry­ing a few days after giv­ing birth, hav­ing al­ready lost her small daugh­ter the year be­fore. Thus, in the space of a few months, she buried her hus­band and both chil­dren.

Grief-strick­en, she re­fused to re­turn to Eng­land. In­stead, forced to quit the mag­is­trate’s res­i­dence and dis­miss her ser­vants, she sold most of her pos­ses­sions and took a small house next to the ceme­tery where her hus­band and chil­dren were buried. I am told that she lives there still, im­mured with her grief, only ven­tur­ing out to tend the graves of her loved ones.

***

After Mr Dig­gory’s death, my moth­er found her­self, once again, with­out work or a home. Hav­ing rent­ed a sin­gle room off a dark court­yard, she tried to sup­port us by tak­ing in needle­work but could not earn enough to sus­tain us. Des­ti­tute and alone, she sought the com­pa­ny of men who, in her for­mer life, she would have re­viled. Even­tu­al­ly, she was taken on as a house-maid by Mr Land­less, a minor clerk in the East India Com­pa­ny.

Still beau­ti­ful, she won his favour and, once more, be­came a ‘na­tive wife’, gain­ing food and lodg­ing for her­self and her chil­dren. How­ev­er, her po­si­tion was lit­tle bet­ter than that of a ser­vant and, in some ways, in­fe­ri­or; for her sta­tus was al­ways un­cer­tain and the work she per­formed, un­paid.

Being given to drink and ill-hu­mour, Land­less was not a kind man. At best, his at­ti­tude to­wards Neville and my­self was grudg­ing and, as we grew up, we did our best to stay out of his sight and the reach of his cane; a heavy Malac­ca stick tipped with sil­ver that, when wield­ed in a drunk­en rage, would leave its mark for weeks.

You have often up­braid­ed Neville for his propen­si­ty to clench his fist when angry, your rea­son being that you dis­like this dis­play of un­con­trolled ag­gres­sion. But, my dear, this is a mis­ap­pre­hen­sion. Neville has learned to curb his tem­per through many hard­ships. What you ob­serve is a sign of self-re­straint, not lack of it.

When my moth­er, worn out and dis­il­lu­sioned, slipped from life, Neville and I were thrown on Land­less’s mercy. In a ges­ture that oth­ers re­gard­ed as gen­eros­i­ty, but which sprang from a mer­ce­nary na­ture, he adopt­ed us as his chil­dren. In ef­fect, we were his slaves, liv­ing in rags, sleep­ing on mats in the kitchen, cook­ing, clean­ing and tend­ing to his needs. His vi­cious tem­per was not im­proved by drink or the dwin­dling of his for­tune. We be­came the butt of his sadis­tic hu­mour.

“Land­less you are and land­less you shall be!”

And he had other, more painful taunts. He would beat me while Neville watched. Small though he was, my broth­er tried to pro­tect me, launch­ing him­self at Land­less on one oc­ca­sion, bit­ing and scratch­ing, try­ing to re­strain the hand that wield­ed the Malac­ca cane. But it only re­sult­ed in greater pun­ish­ments. On that oc­ca­sion, Land­less beat me un­con­scious. Neville learned never to in­ter­vene, re­strain­ing him­self by clench­ing his fists so that the nails bit into his flesh and drew blood.

We en­dured this cru­el­ty for many years until Mr Land­less died. But, even in death, he con­tin­ued to tor­ment us. The terms of his will dic­tat­ed that we should be despatched to a land that we did not know and a man that we could not like. Our new guardian, Mr Hon­eythun­der was a hu­man­i­tar­i­an of the philo­soph­i­cal kind: his good deeds being a mat­ter of con­jec­ture, rather than ac­tion. It was only when Mr Hon­eythun­der brought us to Clois­ter­ham that we dis­cov­ered true friend­ship.

***

But the dis­ap­pear­ance of Edwin Drood cast a long shad­ow over us: in par­tic­u­lar, my broth­er who, due to the con­nivance of one man and the stu­pid­i­ty of oth­ers, was near­ly hanged. It was only due to the good of­fices of your­self and Mr Grew­gious, the lawyer, that Neville was fi­nal­ly cleared of the im­pu­ta­tion of mur­der so dili­gent­ly fos­tered by Edwin’s uncle, the Cathe­dral choir­mas­ter John Jasper.

The rest you know. But, for the sake of pos­ter­i­ty and those who, in fu­ture, may wish to un­der­stand my pre­sent ac­tions, it is worth recit­ing the facts.

Seized by an un­whole­some pas­sion for Edwin’s fiancée, Rosa Bud, John Jasper sought a means of rid­ding him­self of both young Mr Drood and my broth­er, both of whom he re­gard­ed as his ri­vals in love. It was well-known at the time that my broth­er Neville and Edwin Drood were on bad terms. Jasper sought to prof­it from this by en­gi­neer­ing a meet­ing that would lead to the dis­ap­pear­ance of one and the in­crim­i­na­tion of the other.

On Christ­mas Eve, Jasper in­vit­ed Neville and Edwin to sup­per at his lodg­ings in the Cathe­dral gate­house. With Jasper’s sub­tle con­nivance, a pre­vi­ous meet­ing be­tween these two young men had ended not only in hos­til­i­ty, but also in a vi­o­lent show of tem­per by Neville.

How­ev­er, on this oc­ca­sion, Neville and Edwin re­solved their dif­fer­ences and, leav­ing Jasper’s rooms to­geth­er, walked first to the Cathe­dral and then to the river which was in fu­ri­ous spate, it being a wild and blus­tery evening. After star­ing into the whirling flood for a few min­utes, the young men de­cid­ed to re­turn home, part­ing com­pa­ny at the door of your house where Neville was liv­ing as your pupil.

All this time, they had been ob­served by Jasper who had fol­lowed them from his lodg­ings, slip­ping un­seen into the street from a small door that leads into the dark arch­way be­neath the gate­house. Wear­ing the dark pea-jack­et and hat which he used to dis­guise him­self for noc­tur­nal sor­ties into the town, he crept soft­ly through the shad­ows.

A dark and stealthy men­ace, he stalked the two young men to the Cathe­dral – eaves­drop­ping on their con­ver­sa­tion — then through Clois­ter­ham’s empty, storm-swept streets, down to the wide sweep of the river. He then fol­lowed them back to your house and, hav­ing watched them bid good­night, he fled back to the gate­house where, con­cealed be­neath the arch, he lay in wait for Edwin.

As soon as his nephew came into view, Jasper stepped out of the shad­ow and hur­ried to­wards him, his ex­pres­sion one of deep­est con­cern.

“Ned, Ned, dear­est boy, where have you been? I have been wor­ried al­most to dis­trac­tion.”

At the word ‘Ned’, Edwin looked at his uncle askance. He had heard the name ear­li­er that day from the lips of an­oth­er who had warned him of a threat to one called ‘Ned’. But the meet­ing had been a chance one and Edwin had dis­missed the warn­ing as the con­fused ram­blings of a va­grant.

See­ing a flash of sus­pi­cion on his nephew’s face, Jasper knew that he must act quick­ly.

There must be no delay, no hes­i­ta­tion.

A few days ear­li­er, with co­pi­ous amounts of wine and lib­er­al flat­tery, Jasper had in­vei­gled the stone­ma­son Dur­dles to con­duct him on a se­cret tour of the Cathe­dral. Telling Dur­dles that he wished to dis­cov­er the mys­ter­ies and se­cret nooks of the great ed­i­fice, Jasper had plied the stone­ma­son with al­co­hol, left him in a drunk­en stu­por and briefly pur­loined his keys in order to un­lock the crypt. The trap was set.

Now, with Edwin be­fore him, Jasper made a show of avun­cu­lar con­cern, wrap­ping an arm around his nephew’s shoul­ders and af­fect­ing that low, sweet voice which was his par­tic­u­lar gift.

In an in­stant, Edwin’s fear was al­layed and his low spir­its leav­ened by the tale of a fan­tas­ti­cal dis­cov­ery. Not un­truth­ful­ly, Jasper re­count­ed how Dur­dles, by tap­ping with his ham­mer on the clois­tral pave­ment, had dis­cov­ered the long-for­got­ten tomb of a Nor­man prelate.

“Shall we not see him? Let us be the first. Come, dear­est boy.”

By this time, the ris­ing wind of early evening had turned into a gale which, with the un­con­trolled aban­don of a gi­gan­tic child, was wil­ful­ly tear­ing branch­es from trees and fling­ing them across the sky. In the grasp of this preter­nat­u­ral force, Clois­ter­ham was shak­en to its an­cient roots. In that state of self-pity which at­tends a sur­feit of wine and rich food, Edwin ig­nored the whis­per­ings of com­mon sense and fol­lowed his uncle, eager for dis­trac­tion and some shel­ter from the bone-bit­ing chill.

Slip­ping silent­ly through the Cathe­dral precincts — where noc­tur­nal shad­ow lingers even in day­light — Jasper led his nephew be­tween an­cient head­stones, their writ­ing ef­faced by time and the rest­less el­e­ments; through the clois­ters and down into the echo­ing crypt. Here, he en­list­ed his nephew’s help in push­ing back the lid of the stone sar­coph­a­gus.

Al­though it was too dark to see into the tomb, his uncle’s vivid ac­count had brought to life the vi­sion of a prelate, mag­nif­i­cent­ly pre­served in all his me­dieval glory, a great gold­en crozi­er lying be­side him, a ruby ring on his fin­ger, his gloved hands pressed to­geth­er in prayer. A cap­tive to imag­i­na­tion, Edwin stared, trans­fixed, into the um­brous hol­low.

“Wait while I fetch a can­dle,” mur­mured Jasper, tread­ing soft­ly back into the shad­ow.

Lean­ing over the tomb, Edwin did not hear his uncle ap­proach­ing qui­et­ly from be­hind. Wield­ing an iron can­dle­stick, Jasper dealt his nephew a sin­gle, vi­o­lent blow that crushed his skull, killing him out­right. Paus­ing only to re­move the jew­ellery that Edwin was ac­cus­tomed to wear – his shirt-pin, watch and chain – Jasper tipped the corpse, ful­ly-clothed, into the tomb and, with an ef­fort that left him weak at the knees, pushed the stone cover back into place.

A few days later, hav­ing as­sist­ed in the drag­ging of the river that fol­lowed Edwin’s dis­ap­pear­ance and, hav­ing learned that the scope of this search would not be ex­tend­ed, Jasper threw the jew­ellery into the river some two miles away at Clois­ter­ham Weir – a place in which you are ac­cus­tomed to swim and from which you, your­self, re­trieved the miss­ing items.

In tak­ing Edwin’s shirt-pin, watch and chain, Jasper be­lieved that he had re­moved the only items by which the body could be iden­ti­fied if, in the un­like­ly event, it were to be dis­cov­ered at some fu­ture date. How­ev­er, he had over­looked one thing. He did not know that, when Edwin re­turned to Clois­ter­ham that Christ­mas, he car­ried a ring, sup­plied to him by Rosa Bud’s guardian, Mr Grew­gious.

This ring was bound up with tragedy, hav­ing been re­trieved from the hand of Rosa’s moth­er after she had drowned. It had sub­se­quent­ly been en­trust­ed to Mr Grew­gious’s care with the in­ten­tion of it being the ring with which Edwin pro­posed to Rosa (their fa­thers, being friends, hav­ing ex­pressed a wish that their only chil­dren should marry each other). At the be­gin­ning of that fate­ful Christ­mas week, Mr Grew­gious had re­leased the ring to Edwin for this pur­pose. How­ev­er, if Edwin failed to com­mit him­self to Rosa, Mr Grew­gious had laid upon him an un­der­tak­ing with these por­ten­tous words: I charge you, by the liv­ing and the dead, to bring that ring back to me!

So, Edwin car­ried the ring, in its box, in the breast-pock­et of his coat, back to Clois­ter­ham where he ar­ranged to meet Rosa with the in­ten­tion of ask­ing her to be his wife. How­ev­er, she pre-empt­ed his pro­pos­al, sug­gest­ing that they put off all idea of mar­riage and that their re­la­tion­ship should, in­stead, be that of broth­er and sis­ter. Re­lieved of the heavy duty placed on them by their par­ents, they em­braced af­fec­tion­ate­ly, ob­served by Jasper who, hav­ing heard noth­ing of their con­ver­sa­tion, as­sumed that their en­gage­ment, so long await­ed, had been con­firmed.

Hes­i­ta­tion now sealed Edwin’s fate. Un­will­ing to tell his uncle of their de­ci­sion, he left Mr Grew­gious to break the news to Jasper that the wed­ding would not take place. Thus, it was only after Edwin’s mur­der that Jasper learned the truth: a dis­cov­ery that in­duced in him a vi­o­lent, ner­vous col­lapse.

How­ev­er, un­de­terred by the wicked and sense­less mur­der one young man, Jasper now set about en­com­pass­ing the life of an­oth­er: my broth­er, Neville. Dear Sep­ti­mus, it angers me to think how your de­cen­cy and truth­ful­ness were abused by that man to fur­ther his own wicked ends. For, after Edwin’s dis­ap­pear­ance, you re­vealed to Jasper what he had not known be­fore: the depth of my broth­er’s feel­ings for Rosa – the ob­ject of Jasper’s in­sane pas­sion.

Hav­ing long ma­ligned Neville as part of his plan to lay the blame for Edwin’s dis­ap­pear­ance else­where, Jasper now re­dou­bled his ef­forts. My broth­er’s utter dis­grace was but the first step in Jasper’s plan to have him hung as a com­mon crim­i­nal. And he may well have suc­ceed­ed, had not Rosa, ter­ri­fied by Jasper’s ad­vances some months after Edwin’s dis­ap­pear­ance, not run away to seek pro­tec­tion with her guardian, Mr Grew­gious, con­vinc­ing him of Jasper’s in­her­ent wicked­ness and strength­en­ing the sus­pi­cions that he al­ready en­ter­tained on that score.

De­ter­mined to un­cov­er the truth, Mr Grew­gious em­ployed an en­quiry agent in Clois­ter­ham whose in­ves­ti­ga­tions soon bore fruit. On the ev­i­dence of an opi­um-sell­er whose den he fre­quent­ed – and to whom he had con­fessed when in­tox­i­cat­ed – John Jasper was ar­rest­ed for his nephew’s mur­der. The tomb was opened and the body, much de­com­posed, was dis­cov­ered.

How­ev­er, con­fi­dent that he had re­moved all means of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, Jasper de­nied any knowl­edge of the body – or that it was Edwin.

But he was un­done. The ring, still in its box, was found in the corpse’s breast-pock­et and, hav­ing been iden­ti­fied by Mr Grew­gious, proved be­yond doubt that the body was that of Edwin. Yet, Jasper still man­aged, in some de­gree, to elude jus­tice. Faced with con­clu­sive proof of his guilt and de­prived of the drug on which he de­pend­ed, he hanged him­self from the bars of his cell with a long, black scarf that he had con­cealed upon him.

Edwin’s body was duly buried with­in the con­se­crat­ed ground of the Cathe­dral grave­yard.

Yet, de­spite the fact that all ques­tions have been an­swered, there are many with­in the tav­erns and par­lours of Clois­ter­ham who still rel­ish the mys­tery that ac­com­pa­nied his dis­ap­pear­ance. And there are some who con­tin­ue to prof­it from it, such as Dur­dles, the stone­ma­son who, for the price of a pint of porter, will re­count sto­ries of ghost­ly screams and haunt­ings. Al­though the facts have been laid bare, the­o­ries still abound and Neville, al­though ab­solved of guilt, is still the vic­tim of whis­per­ing and petty prej­u­dice. I do not think that he will ever be able to re­turn to Clois­ter­ham.

For my­self, I have done with mys­tery. I want no more of it. Puz­zles and co­nun­drums hold no fas­ci­na­tion for me. I abhor half-truths and the shad­ows which breed them. I can­not tol­er­ate con­ceal­ment and can only thrive in the pure sun­light of truth.

It is for that rea­son, my love, that I am mak­ing this jour­ney back to the coun­try of my birth. For there is still one un­solved mys­tery that tor­ments me. My fa­ther’s name. Out of loy­al­ty, my moth­er al­ways with­held it. But I can­not em­bark on a new life with­out a true knowl­edge of who I am.

I am, there­fore, re­turn­ing to Cey­lon to see the only per­son who can un­rav­el this enig­ma. Mrs Dig­gory. I am told that she is still liv­ing in the small house by the ceme­tery in which her hus­band and chil­dren are buried. God will­ing she still has her wits about her and will be able to throw light on the mys­tery of my birth. She, alone, can an­swer the ques­tions that have tor­ment­ed me for years. Only then, when all my self-doubt has been laid to rest, will I be truly free to re­turn and ac­cept your offer of mar­riage.

For that rea­son, dear Sep­ti­mus, I beg you most earnest­ly to pray for my suc­cess.

My heart will be, for­ev­er, yours,

He­le­na


His­tor­i­cal sources for The Cin­na­mon Peel­er’s Daugh­ter:

1. Cap­tain James Mc­Glashan (d. 1817) is buried in the British Gar­ri­son Ceme­tery near to the Tem­ple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka (for­mer­ly Cey­lon). His ex­traor­di­nary trek from Trin­co­ma­lee on Cey­lon’s North-East coast to Kandy is a mat­ter of record. His tomb­stone was trans­ferred to this ceme­tery in the 1880s.

2. The story of Mr Dig­gory was in­spired by the memo­ri­al tablet to Fred­er­ick Lacy Dick (d. 1847) in Chil­ham parish church, Kent. This mon­u­ment records in ex­traor­di­nary de­tail the cir­cum­stances of Mr Dick’s as­sas­si­na­tion “by an un­seen hand” when he was serv­ing as a Dis­trict Mag­is­trate at Ne­gom­bo, Cey­lon. The story was also re­port­ed in The Times (Oc­to­ber 26, 1847).

3. Rochester Cathe­dral (aka Clois­ter­ham) con­tains over 25 memo­ri­al tablets to mem­bers of the Corps of Royal En­gi­neers and the build­ing has en­joyed a par­tic­u­lar­ly close re­la­tion­ship to mil­i­tary en­gi­neers since the time of Bish­op Gun­dulf (d. 1108) who not only re-built the cathe­dral but over­saw con­struc­tion work on Rochester Cas­tle. Many of these memo­ri­al plaques tell sto­ries of the brav­ery, sick­ness and sheer bad luck of sol­diers who died over­seas when the British Em­pire was at the height of its power in the 19th cen­tu­ry. The men who died were ex­treme­ly young by our stan­dards and the com­mem­o­ra­tive in­scrip­tions pro­vide a fas­ci­nat­ing, if sober­ing, in­sight not just into the deaths, but also into the lives and work of those em­ployed in var­i­ous over­seas post­ings. These mon­u­ments also give an idea of the ge­o­graph­i­cal ex­tent of the Em­pire dur­ing this pe­ri­od, with ref­er­ences to places as di­verse as Afghanistan, Africa and Cana­da.