random sherlock holmes
Saturday, November 10, 2007

I have in the past remarked elsewhere that such humble efforts as I have made over the years to chronicle the cases of my friend Sherlock Holmes were met, despite the widening they caused to both his reputation and his clientele, by the Detective himself with at best a shrug and at worst a diatribe on the folly of romanticism and the need for cold objectivity, the application of which would produce something resembling lecture notes – or perhaps his own abstruse monographs.

I met such tirades as best I could – though I will admit they were the cause of some asperity between us – and an unstated factor in the continued absence of my wife from the Baker Street lodgings he frequented and which we once had shared.

Over the years however, I had grown used to these outbursts of Holmes’, his moods and manners and had learned to look beyond the surface of his words in order to uncover whatever the true cause of his unquiet might be. A small act of detection of which he was himself not unaware for he would often lean back with a droop of his eyelids and a twitch at the corner of his lips to remark, “Ah, Watson – if I am ever guilty of underestimating your particular talents it is only perhaps to balance the profligate hyperbole surrounding your descriptions of my own.”

It was indeed in such a mood that I discovered Holmes, one nondescript October morning. It was immediately clear to me that he was engaged, if not actively on a case then at least on some puzzle or experiment of his own, for the sitting room air was fusty with the nastiest of his tobacco and the place was littered with newspapers left where they had been dropped.

Perhaps to distract himself, he had picked up a copy of the Strand magazine and, unfortunately for me, had just finished reading when I arrived.
“Ah – the very Boswell!” He cried upon my entry and with heavy sarcasm.
“Holmes,” I acknowledged, moderating in turn the warmth of my greeting.
There was a strained theatrical silence while I awaited his next salvo. He moved across to the window, making a play of toying in a desultory fashion with the curtains and peering at the street scene below. Then, “But it really won’t do!” he ejaculated.

I kept my quiet, studying his narrow back.

“To the general public, those that read your yellow accounts of my work at any rate – I am something more than a detective – and something very less than a man. I have become a mannered collection of gestures and props – a pipe, a hat, a pose – all as expected and all, as the bard would say - ‘signifying nothing.’ You have, I fear, struck me to the quick however with your latest flowery indictment.”
My temper was, I will admit, roused by his words, even as I began to look for clues around the room as to what might be bothering the man. “You go too far, Holmes,” I admonished, “and your outburst is somewhat hypercritical. You accuse of me of catering to the common – and look askance at my taste for popular fiction – yet you yourself, for all your intellectual pursuits, are fond indeed of trawling the agony columns and such of the gossip inclined broadsheets.”
“HA! Again a habit, no doubt expected of me by your readers. How many crimes have I uncovered in those murky waters, sifted at no small cost to my time and patience?”
I had removed my hat and coat by this time and sat myself down, somewhat stiffly.
“But what is the specific nature of my slander against you this time?” I asked.
Holmes turned back from the window and looked at me narrowly. “It as, as usual, a cumulative effect… but one phrase does nag at me – I am ‘the fixed and unvarying point in a changing age… Phssshaw! This summons up the case neatly enough – I am now considered a figure of such rigid and unbending habits that even Scotland Yard believe me to be thoroughly covered in the dust of a bygone era – even as I struggle to prod them towards the deductive methods of the future. Was it not I who obtained a gramaphone – you do not own one yet – was it not I who demanded the installation of a telephone – and who in any case has never sent a letter where a telegram would suffice. I have myself driven motorcars and motorcycles – having been an early and ardent support of the bicycle.”
He paused, not for breath but to reach for a cigarette.
“But it is my MIND that is most damaged by your portraiture. It is stiff and unyielding and it runs on rails so utterly predictable – in concert with my personal habits – that I might as well be a candidate for the Dioginese.”
I seized on his words. “Holmes – it is your brother of whom you speak – it is your brother that lies at the root of this foul mood of yours.”
“Mycroft – Mycroft…” Holmes hissed. “Indeed you do much to make a resemblance – but really – were I he, there would be none of this,” he waved an arm at the surrounding clutter, “nor that.” He indicated the voluminous but eccentrically catalogued archives behind him – those same tomes that might well place Moriarty, Marlowe and Mould on the same page… and of course Mycroft, Holmes’ corpulent, reclusive and undoubtedly gifted older brother.
I smiled. “You have a case then,” I said, “one with which you are at a loss. You wish for those faculties possessed by your brother – indeed perhaps for his presence and aid. However his usual misanthropic nature means you have decided to forestall calling on him or inviting him here. He would not come. His routines – as you have told me often enough – never vary. He cannot be summoned except in times of extreme national crisis. Therefore the problem at hand – though tangled and of import to yourself - is of a lesser nature.” I folded my arms and leant back into the comfort of the old armchair.

Holmes eyes flashed and he clapped his hands together silently. “Bravo Watson. Bravisimo.” He exhaled a long stream of cigarette smoke through his nostrils. “An astute and accurate deduction – and one that shows my previous words as… uncharitable.”
I was keen to finish the conversation. “Indeed Holmes, for the quote you mention, is, you will find, a description in regards to myself, furnished by you.”
“Ah.” Holmes, I was pleased to note, looked suitably chagrined.
“But enough Holmes. Honestly, I did not come visiting for this – tell me of the problem! It may be that for all my common failings I can perhaps be of use as a sounding board and a fresh pair of ears.”
Sherlock Holmes nodded then and threw himself onto the worn divan, his now cigarette-less fingers reaching instinctively for a pipe from the table. His face, previously a dour pallor, was now flushed and his eyes held an excited gleam.
“Ah Watson,” he breathed, lighting the pipe, “but what a problem it is!”



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