Monday, December 19, 2022

Sympathy for the Ryder

 After tormenting the John H. Watson Society with my vocals on Saturday, I found there was a song I just couldn't get out of my head. Not your normal pop song, but a version of "Winter Wonderland" where James Ryder from "Blue Carbuncle" is singing for his life to Sherlock Holmes, which had lyrics adapted from his Canonical pleas, "He cries, 'Oh, my mother! Oh, my father! I will leave the country, please don't tell!"

The actual dialogue goes, "Think of my father! Of my mother! It would break their hears. I never went wrong before! I never will again. I'll swear it on a Bible. . . . I will fly, Mr. Holmes. I will leave the country, sir."

Nobody pleads for Holmes's mercy like James Ryder, who's family called him "Jem." 

It's easy to get James Ryder's exit from Baker Street mixed up with James Windibank, who also ran out the door. Holmes opened the door to the sitting room in both cases, but with Windibank, he also reached for his hunting crop after stating that Windibank needed a whipping. With Ryder, all it took was a simple "Get out!" repeated one time. Both were running away down Baker Street, but in Windibank's case, Holmes was certain more crime was in the man's future. With Ryder, the detective had the opposite reaction: "This fellow will no go wrong again."

So why did poor Jem Ryder go wrong this time?

He's working as an upper-attendant at the Hotel Cosmopolitan, a place whose clientele is probably regular moneyed folks. Temptations were probably there often enough. But Ryder is a younger man, his parents still holding a great influence in his life. Small, rat-faced, nervous -- this is not a fellow with great confidence or charm. And his voice cracks when he says one name: Catherine Cusack.

Jem never blames her. Never points a finger. But Holmes calls her out as "your confederate." He knows the real story.

We don't get the full Watson description of the Countess's maid, but to get that sort of position she had to have some bit of charm. I mean "Catherine Cusack?" We know very little of her, but I'm pretty sure if I was an underpaid upper-attendant at the Hotel Cosmopolitan and actress Joan Cusack smiled and suggested to me that swiping some countess's gem might not only make me rich and get me in her good graces . . . well, I'm not saying my moral fiber is surely up to that tensile strength.

Us non-alpha males are pretty suggestible when a pretty face turns out way, to be sure.

And poor Jem Ryder -- even if his plan had worked, his "friend" Maudsley, who was surely connected up to the Moriarty web at that time if he was up on fencing stolen goods, was probably not to be trusted. Had he simply taken the stone from Jem, Ryder wasn't the sort of man who could have gotten it back. And he probably would have been beaten or killed for trying.

Sherlock Holmes saw enough innocence in Jem Ryder to let him go free, one of the earliest instances we've seen of Sherlock Holmes risking his own reputation, freedom, or relations with the police to play judge and jury. And you know Sherlock Holmes -- he was a pretty keen observer of the human condition. None of us can say what Holmes's full reasoning for letting Ryder get away with his life-destroying mistake, but it might not have just been his observation of the man they have caught at Covent Garden.

We don't know just how (or if) Holmes returned the blue carbuncle to the Countess. Did he also tip her off that maybe her maid wasn't to be trusted? This was not all that long after his infamous line "Women are never to be entirely trusted -- not the best of them," but then that might have meant he also didn't think the Countess could be trusted with that little morsel of truth. And in his non-trust-of-women phase, Holmes might have seen Jem Ryder as a victim of a woman's scheme to get another woman's prize. 

"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" would be a fascinating case to hear from the point of view of the women in the tale. The Countess of Morcar, Catherine Cusack, Mrs. Baker, Mrs. Peterson, Mrs. Hudson, and Maggie Ryder-Oakshott. Three of them were primarily involved in preparing birds for dinner for three very different men under three very different sets of circumstances, but, still, the side-stories on this one would be a wonderful thing. 

For this year, though, I'm just going to have a little sympathy for that poor hotel attendant whose sister saved him a goose for Christmas that his mother probably cooked for him. Unlike Henry Baker, whose wife had apparently ceased to love him, Jem Ryder seems to have been still hoping to get a wife that would start to love him. Maybe his next Christmas? 

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