George F. Gadd: Datchery, the Enigma

THE CASE FOR TARTAR

Впервые опубликовано в "The Dickensian", Vol. 2 (1906), p. 13


M

OST of the pos­si­ble the­o­ries re­gard­ing the mys­tery of Datch­ery have al­ready been the sub­jects of ex­haus­tive ex­am­i­na­tion, and in one or two cases startling re­sults have been achieved; but, so far, not one has met the grat­i­fy­ing re­ward of uni­ver­sal ac­cep­tance, nor is it very like­ly that such recog­ni­tion will be the so­lu­tion­ist's happy lot.

The most el­e­men­tary ex­pla­na­tion of Datch­ery is what we may call the Pro­fes­sion­al De­tec­tive the­o­ry. This sug­ges­tion, in re­la­tion to the work of an artist of Dick­ens's qual­i­ty, is but empty air, and un­wor­thy of se­ri­ous thought. If Datch­ery's crop of white hair be a wig — and we are forced so to con­clude — the idea of dis­guise is ad­mit­ted into the ques­tion, and the the­o­ry is at once de­stroyed. If we deny the wig, greater dif­fi­cul­ties arise, for we have to ex­plain what Forster meant by the Datch­ery "as­sump­tion," and why Dick­ens sur­round­ed the Buffer with mys­tery, and made such point­ed ref­er­ences to his hat­less head of hair.

A more wide­ly ac­cept­ed in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the au­thor's mean­ing is that Baz­zard is the man; but Mr. Grew­gious's clerk, notwith­stand­ing his tragedy and his mys­te­ri­ous ab­sence from Sta­ple Inn, has been con­clu­sive­ly ruled out of court for many rea­sons.

Grew­gious him­self has had his sup­port­ers, but this the­o­ry is, in our opin­ion, the most im­pos­si­ble of all. Phys­i­cal­ly con­sid­ered, his case van­ish­es into thin air. From other stand­points it is also very un­sat­is­fac­to­ry.

There now re­main as his­tor­i­cal can­di­dates but two char­ac­ters, Drood and He­le­na Land­less, for the sup­po­si­tion of a per­son­age whol­ly new to the story is ar­tis­ti­cal­ly in­ad­mis­si­ble. Into the rel­a­tive mer­its of Edwin and the young Cin­galese girl we need not in­quire, since they have of late been much be­fore the pub­lic, and have al­ready re­ceived at­ten­tion in the pages of this jour­nal.

Mr. Datch­ery's move­ments and bear­ing on his in­tro­duc­tion to the read­er are ap­par­ent­ly those of a man who has been in­formed of the per­son­ages and lo­cal­i­ties in­volved in his in­quiry, but who has never be­fore been in per­son­al con­tact with ei­ther. Thus, on being di­rect­ed to Mrs. Tope's, he be­comes be­wil­dered, and bog­gles about the cathe­dral tower "with a gen­er­al im­pres­sion on his mind that Mrs. Tope's is some­where very near it." Deputy es­corts him for a dis­tance, and points out an arched pas­sage. "That's Tope's?" queries the Buffer. "Yer lie," an­swers the gamin, "that's Jarsper's." "In­deed?" says Datch­ery, with a sec­ond look of some in­ter­est. He takes the first op­por­tu­ni­ty of in­ter­view­ing Jasper, and by re­fus­ing to leave the lat­ter's pres­ence be­fore Mr. Sapsea show that he does not fear to ex­pose him­self to the choir­mas­ter's keen­est scruti­ny. All this seems to argue that he re­al­ly is a stranger to Clois­ter­ham and its in­hab­i­tants, but there is no doubt that he has a firm grasp of the "Wor­ship­ful the Mayor's" pet frailty, and makes use of that im­por­tant knowl­edge to gain his ends.

Let us scru­ti­nize this mys­te­ri­ous per­son our­selves, and see how far the por­trait Dick­ens pre­sent­ed has its coun­ter­part in the pic­ture we de­sire to su­per­im­pose. It may be taken for grant­ed that, who­ev­er Mr. Datch­ery may be he is fully aware of the ex­treme dan­ger of the task he has set him­self, and it fol­lows that he is not de­void of phys­i­cal courage. It is even more clear that he is cour­te­ous in bear­ing, and at his ease in so­ci­ety. His age is left to be as­sumed, for he is al­ways writ­ten of as a "sin­gle," and never as an "old" buffer; while the phrase "liv­ing on his means" is in­sist­ed on with pe­cu­liar em­pha­sis.

He is de­scribed as hav­ing "a mil­i­tary air," and it may be that this char­ac­ter­is­tic is the ex­pla­na­tion of Mr. Sapsea's three queries as to his pro­fes­sion: but an­oth­er and more sub­tle rea­son is at least pos­si­ble Army, navy, and diplo­ma­cy are the guess­es made. Is there some­thing in Mr. Datch­ery's face which sug­gests for­eign ser­vice of some kind? Mr. Sapsea is hard­ly keen ob­serv­er enough to so em­phat­i­cal­ly read what was, after all, only "some­thing" of a mil­i­tary air. The point is worth not­ing, and we shall ex­plain its ap­pli­ca­tion im­me­di­ate­ly.

In the chap­ter pre­ced­ing that of Mr. Datch­ery's ar­rival, an­oth­er "stranger" is in­tro­duced to the read­er. A stranger who is first dis­cov­ered in a sit­u­a­tion dan­ger­ous to life and limb, but who oc­cu­pies it with cool un­con­cern.

"A hand­some gen­tle­man with a young face, but with an older fig­ure in its ro­bust­ness and its breadth of shoul­der, so ex­treme­ly sun­burnt that the con­trast be­tween his brown vis­age and the white fore­head shad­ed out of doors by his hat "was al­most lu­di­crous." I beg your par­don," says this per­son­age, ad­dress­ing Land­less with the iden­ti­cal form of words which Datch­ery uses in open­ing con­ver­sa­tion with Jasper, and in a whim­si­cal man­ner he in­tro­duces him­self as "the beans." His ob­ject in seek­ing friend­ship with Neville is a kind­ly and thought­ful one; but he cour­te­ous­ly apol­o­gizes for the lib­er­ty, ex­plain­ing that he is al­ways afraid of in­con­ve­nienc­ing busy men, "being an idle man." This last phrase might al­most be an echo of Mr. Datch­ery's "idle buffer liv­ing on his means." Lieu­tenant Tar­tar — there is the rea­son to with­hold the name — al­so lives upon his means, hav­ing re­tired from the Navy in order that he might suc­ceed to his uncle's for­tune. Note the whim­si­cal man­ner of this breezy char­ac­ter, which has "a touch of merry earnest­ness that makes it dou­bly whim­si­cal," and com­pare it with the pre­cise­ly sim­i­lar style of Datch­ery. Mr. Proc­tor thought he could de­tect a re­sem­blance be­tween Drood and Datch­ery in this re­spect. How much greater is the sim­i­lar­i­ty if for Edwin we sub­sti­tute Tar­tar! No char­ac­ter in the book is at all com­pa­ra­ble to the Buffer, ex­cept­ing the Lieu­tenant, and in that sin­gle in­stance the like­ness is sur­pris­ing.

There is a strange para­graph at the end of the sev­en­teenth chap­ter of the novel, fol­low­ing Tar­tar's dis­ap­pear­ance below.

Mr. Grew­gious — mys­te­ri­ous­ly in­tro­duced — is pic­tured for a mo­ment at his soli­tary watch, his gaze wan­der­ing to the stars, "as if he would have read in them some­thing that was hid­den from him." This dark frag­ment re­ceives a bril­liant flash of il­lu­mi­na­tion by the light of the pre­sent the­o­ry. So re­gard­ed, it is a truly Dick­en­sian touch. Oth­er­wise, it is in­scrutable.

We now come to the eigh­teenth chap­ter. At what pe­ri­od in the story does Datch­ery make his first ap­pear­ance? We are not told ex­act­ly, and the open­ing phrase, "At about this time," is in it­self sus­pi­cious. From the first chap­ter on­ward to this point it is pos­si­ble to trace an un­bro­ken se­quence of events: from the nine­teenth chap­ter to the con­clu­sion of the work the or­der­ly nar­ra­tive may be con­tin­ued. We can even con­nect the chap­ters on ei­ther side of the Buffer's "busy af­ter­noon," but the events of that same af­ter­noon are en­tire­ly de­tached from their sur­round­ings, and their sit­u­a­tion can­not be ac­cu­rate­ly de­ter­mined.

We have, there­fore, some ground for as­sum­ing that Dick­ens, at this part of his story, availed him­self of the li­cence, not in­fre­quent in fic­tion, of tem­porar­i­ly aban­don­ing the strict­ly chrono­log­i­cal order. It is not until Chap­ter XXI, and "a day or so" after his in­tro­duc­tion to Neville, that Tar­tar is taken into full con­fi­dence re­gard­ing Jasper. His offer of the use of his rooms is speed­i­ly fol­lowed by a promise to call open­ly upon Neville, with the ob­ject of draw­ing the prowl­ing ras­cal; but the fur­ther progress of the story might pos­si­bly have re­vealed that Tar­tar's use for this pur­pose sug­gest­ed to Grew­gious a de­vel­op­ment lead­ing to the Datch­ery as­sump­tion. The Lieu­tenant was not per­son­al­ly ac­quaint­ed with Jasper, but dis­guise might be con­sid­ered nec­es­sary, for Tar­tar's move­ments at Sta­ple Inn had no doubt come under the watch­er's ob­ser­va­tion.

Of the Navy man's fit­ness for the work in hand there can be no doubt. He was un­oc­cu­pied, was pow­er­ful, re­li­able, de­ter­mined, coura­geous. He had saved Crisparkle's life. Was he to be the chief pro­tec­tor of Rosa, with whom he had so rapid­ly fall­en in love? At least, a strong in­cen­tive is ap­par­ent.

Crisparkle could very eas­i­ly put him in pos­ses­sion of use­ful facts re­gard­ing the lo­cal­i­ties and per­son­ages of Clois­ter­ham, and very like­ly it would be sug­gest­ed that Mrs. Tope's was a con­ve­nient lodg­ing to make his head­quar­ters, since he would there have Jasper con­stant­ly under his eye. He would be told that Tope's was near the cathe­dral, and Jasper's gate­house would, per­haps, be de­scribed; but fur­ther di­rec­tion on the spot might well be nec­es­sary to an ab­so­lute stranger. To in­quire for Tope's di­rect­ly was out of the ques­tion, and Datch­ery's "Any­thing cathe­dral­ly now?" is a clever way of sug­gest­ing to the Crozi­er wait­er what he re­al­ly wants with­out awak­en­ing cu­rios­i­ty.

The in­ter­view with the opium woman prob­a­bly con­tains the key to the enig­ma, if we only knew where to look for it. Datch­ery is here more vivid­ly pre­sent­ed than else­where, and var­i­ous so­lu­tion­ists have pro­fessed to find in these pas­sages im­por­tant rea­sons for their con­tentions.

A sea­far­ing man who, prob­a­bly, has vis­it­ed East­ern ports, may rea­son­ably be sup­posed to know some­thing of opi­um-smok­ing and its ef­fects. Datch­ery has, per­haps, noted its traces in Jasper. Now, when Puffer makes her ag­i­tat­ed ap­pear­ance, he says "Hal­loa!" in a low voice, pre­sum­ably won­der­ing what there is un­usu­al about her. His sud­den start when, later, she con­fess­es to the habit, may be taken as the fir­ing of his train of thought.

It is a point worth not­ing that, prior to this, Mr. Datch­ery walks at the old woman's side, with his hands clasped be­hind him — "as the wont of such buffers is," ex­plains Dick­ens, or, we sug­gest, as is the want of the naval of­fi­cer when pac­ing the quar­ter-deck.

"Been here be­fore, my good woman?" 

"Once in all my life."

"Ay Ay!" com­ments the Buffer, un­con­scious­ly em­ploy­ing a truly nau­ti­cal ex­pres­sion.

After the in­ter­view he turns home­ward pon­der­ing.

"As mariners ap­proach­ing an iron-bound coast may look along the beams of the warn­ing light to the haven lying be­yond it that may never be reached, so Mr. Datch­ery's wist­ful gaze is di­rect­ed to this bea­con, and be­yond."

Read and com­pare with this what is said of Tar­tar as he and Rosa enter his cham­bers at Sta­ple Inn.

"Rosa thought... that his far-see­ing eyes looked as if they had been used to watch dan­ger afar off, and to watch it with­out flinch­ing, draw­ing near­er and near­er."

The par­al­lel is com­plete.