Edwin Drood has vanished. And with the beginning of Chapter Seventeen, a “full half a year had come and gone.”
The Rev. Crisparkle has gone up to London and converses with Mr. Honeythunder about “the sanctity of human life” and murder. It is clear they view Drood as having been “swept off the face of the earth by a deed of violence.” They do not agree on Neville Landless’ alleged guilt. Crisparkle defends the young man.
“I was in the full possession and understanding of Mr. Neville’s mind and heart at the time of this occurrence,” Crisparkle says, but he cannot make out who could have done the deed. Strong words ensue before Crisparkle takes his leave.
Crisparkle meets Neville at the Staple Inn where the young man has taken up residence in an attic room that had “a prisonous look.” This is more a self-imposed exile though.
Neville confesses that “I cannot persuade myself that the eyes of even the stream of strangers I pass in this vast city look at me without suspicion.” The suspicions of the citizens of Cloisterham were unbearable and thus his remove to London. His sister, Helena, is expected to join him shortly in this exile.
Crisparkle’s last visit in London is to Mr. Grewgious, and they see that Jasper is in London.
The narrative then shifts from following Crisparkle’s movements to Neville, who meets a stranger. The stranger lodges nearby and his name is Tartar. He was formerly a naval officer and left his commission upon receiving an inheritance.
Another “stranger” is introduced in Chapter Eighteen. This time, a lodger, “a white-haired personage with black eyebrows”, with a “military air” has come to Cloisterham. He takes up residence at the Crozier, an orthodox hotel. In odd fashion, this man is introduced as Dick Datchery. He is looking for a more permanent place near the Cathedral. He is directed to speak with the Mr. and Mrs. Tope. On his way to meet them, he comes across the urchin boy known as Deputy, who helps show him the where the verger and his wife live. When Jasper’s residence is pointed out, Datchery’s reaction suggests he is familiar with the name.
Mrs. Tope asks Datchery if he “had heard something of what had occurred there last winter?”
In short order Datchery is introduced to Jasper and the mayor, Mr. Sapsea. Sapsea notes Datchery’s military bearing and asks if the man retired from the army or navy. The reply is negative. Sapsea further discusses the Drood case upon being questioned by Datchery.
“Would His Honor allow me to inquire whether there are strong suspicions of any one?”
“…Certainties,” Sapsea replies, but proof is lacking.
The chapter ends with Datchery looking at his white hair in a mirror and saying, “For a single buffer,” as he has presented himself, “of an easy temper, living idly on his means, I have had a rather busy afternoon!”
The introduction of Datchery, strongly implied to be more than he seems and perhaps someone in disguise, adds a whole new layer to this mystery. Mr. Grewgious would seem to be a more likely detective, as suggested by his watchfulness in Chapter Sixteen and again in Chapter Seventeen. In fact, Grewgious’ rooms have a view of Neville’s retreat in London. Grewgious even tells Crisparkle, “I entertain a sort of fancy for having him under my eye.” But is Neville the only one he is watching? Grewgious is on in years. So perhaps he has employed a younger man to “watch” Jasper? Perhaps the mysterious Tartar? Although Dickens’ makes a point of noting that Grewgious did not see Tartar’s visit to Neville.
Who then might the mysterious Datchery be? He cannot be either Mr. or Mrs. Tope, Jasper, Mr. Sapsea, Durdles or Deputy. He is seen in their company in the course of Chapter Eighteen. Whoever he is, it would appear that he has taken his name from the tag inside a hat!
Stay tuned and stop by next week for Chapters Nineteen and Twenty.