AN ELEMENTARY INVESTIGATION
"Three-Quarter Musings” by Sherlock Holmes
SUSSEX DOWNS, UK (Jan. 6, 1928) — A couple of years ago, for reasons that I shall explain momentarily, I took pen in hand and, based on my notes and diary from more than two decades earlier, attempted to make a written record of my recollections of the strange happenings that occurred at Tuxbury Old Park, Bedfordshire, in the winter of January 1903. My literary agent had this dreadful trifle published as the case of The Blanched Soldier—a title that I’m sure must have pleased Dr. Watson, plagued as he was by his penchant for playing with words.
In that document, I clumsily described my dear friend Watson as being both exceedingly pertinacious and selfish. In retrospect, I see now that it was I, not Watson, who was being selfish. When Watson remarried, I couldn’t help feeling that he had deserted me. That was a failing on my part. The poor man had suffered through an extended period of bereavement before he finally found joy again. I should have been happy for him! Instead, I was lonely, and wallowing in self-pity. I could, and should, have handled the entire situation in a much more professional manner.
As for his being pertinacious, I realize now that, rather than being stubbornly single-minded, Watson, in his frequent writings, was faced with the difficult challenge of trying to delicately balance a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the litany of actual facts and figures on which my mind naturally focuses needed to be presented in a way that would be of interest to the reader. When I tried to do this myself, in my recollection of the Dodd-Emsworth (Blanched Soldier) case, I found out how utterly frustrating this can be!
On the other hand, Watson had obviously taken upon himself a course of action to make it his purpose in life to create and maintain an image of Sherlock Holmes, the Great Detective, as an infallible being. Often, he has exaggerated my performances in order to enhance that image, even at the cost of giving little attention to his own contributions. On those occasions when I suggested that his writings appeared to be ignoring the facts in favor of pandering to popular taste, he would occasionally retort, “If you think it’s so easy, try it yourself, Holmes!”
Having finally tried it, I must admit that Watson was right. Wielding that double-edged sword is not as easy as it looks! I soon discovered that the task is not at all similar to writing a scientific monograph on tobacco ash or secret cyphers. In my initial effort, I relied too heavily and too long on one side, then tried to compensate by doing the same with the other, back and forth, again and again, resulting in neither side of the sword working very effectively. In telling my own story, I was forced to show my hand too early. I now understand why Watson often clouded over or delayed revealing certain facts and discoveries in order to build suspense for the reader.
Following The Blanched Soldier, my second effort at telling my own story involved The Lion’s Mane, a case that took place right here in Sussex Downs in July of 1907. It being more recent, the unusual facts of the story were easier for me to recall. As I became more comfortable alternating quickly yet smoothly between the two edges of the sword, the flow and pace of this story were much more to my liking. I was fortunate that a severe summer gale had abated the day before that singular incident occurred, so I did not have to include in my telling the “dark and stormy night” theme that opens so many of Watson’s tales—the result, I’m certain, of the good doctor reading too many stories written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Edgar Allan Poe and that ilk.
While I believe my second attempt at narrating my own story was far superior to my first, The Lion’s Mane mercifully brought to an end my career as my own biographer. I should note here that it was not Watson’s challenge to “try it yourself, Holmes!” which prompted me to take pen in hand. Rather, it was Watson’s stubborn refusal to continue as my biographer after the Altamont-Von Bjork affair in August of 1914.
At the time, Watson and I had not seen one another for some years. I had retired to a well-deserved peaceful life of beekeeping--until the Government’s call to conduct espionage against the Second Reich of the German Empire sent me to America to establish my alias as a disgruntled Irish-American named "Altamont." Watson, meanwhile, had returned to tending to his long-neglected patients and his family. When he received my unexpected request for his assistance in wrapping up my espionage campaign, he jumped at the chance, and was a willing and enthusiastic participant in deceiving and capturing Herr Von Bjork, one of the Kaiser’s most devoted agents, whom I had been feeding false information for two years.
As we stood upon the terrace that evening sharing a victorious bottle of Imperial Tokay, and I remarked about “an east wind coming,” Watson at first did not grasp my meaning. When it finally came to him, on the road back to London with our captive spy and his valise of top-secret papers secure in the back seat, Watson became increasingly furious. “You are fully aware of what is coming England’s way from Europe, yet you intend to do nothing further about it?” he bellowed incredulously. “Then I want nothing more to do with you and your self-centered life. I can’t believe you blew your cover! You could have kept feeding the Germans false information for years to come--think of the lives you might save, man!”
In fact, I have thought often about those lives of which Watson spoke, especially after reading a first-person account of battle in the trenches on the Western Front by Private Frank Richards of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. I’ll return to that remarkable tale at the end of this little memoir. For now, let me reiterate that Watson steadfastly refused to glorify my victory over Von Bjork. Instead, my literary agent assigned that task to a third person, who shall remain nameless (though astute readers surely will recognize his style). That case was published, without Watson’s permission, under the title of His Last Bow.
After the same third-party authored, again without Watson’s permission or knowledge, The Mazarin Stone, my agent finally convinced the good doctor to publish a few more stories about our adventures together. But he rarely comes to see me, and our once great friendship has never been the same, the fault being mainly mine, I’m afraid.
I am hoping that Watson will be amused by the title of this little piece. It is, of course, a twist on one of his own stories, The Missing Three-Quarter, about a star rugby union player who had gone missing. As a fencer, I know the difference between a lunge and a parry or a riposte; but when it comes to rugby, I wouldn’t know a three-quarter from a two-penny. Old rugger Watson’s contributions to this case, including coming up with a title for its story, were invaluable.
In the case of the current story, the title refers to the fact that, as of this moment, I have been on this Earth for three quarters of a century. I know the common misperception is that I came into being in 1854, and Watson always took great care to neither confirm nor deny that belief. In fact, I was born on January 6, 1853, exactly seventy-five years ago today. The reason for the charade is that, at the time of my birth, my parents were not yet married.
My father was a shrewd, if philandering, country squire. Living on a large, rather remote estate, it was easy to conceal the presence of an illegitimate child. My early education was handled discreetly by a governess, with the able assistance of my mother, who became my father’s bride shortly after I was born. Being of landed gentry, I eventually attended a private school, no questions asked. That likely explains why neither I nor my older brother Mycroft acquired the social skills one naturally develops in a public-school setting.
Mycroft’s mother was the voluptuous young daughter of one of my father’s tenants. To my mother, “THE woman” was not Irene Adler, but Mycroft’s mother—an inside joke of Watson’s that I besieged him to stop employing, and which he usually did, unless he was excessively peeved with me. The woman remained on the fringes of our lives, because her father was an amazing agronomist who was also good with animals.
Mycroft and I both inherited our intellect, including our skills of observation and deduction, from our father, who was not only a respected and successful lord of the manor, but also a good judge of people, meaning he was able to manipulate others into doing what he wanted. The differences between Mycroft and myself can be attributed to our mothers. Mine came from a well-educated family of creative artists, who spoke both French and Latin. His mother’s training and skills—none of which she passed on to her son—were in the domestic arts of sewing, cooking and cleaning. Our parents’ marriage was often strained, one might even call it loveless, which might explain why neither of us ever married.
I shall return now, as promised earlier, to the classic account of the Great War by Private Frank Richards of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. A draft of his yet unpublished manuscript was graciously shared with me by a member of the Naval and Military Press. The memoir is tentatively titled Old Soldiers Never Die, after a popular barracks ballad of the British Army. The song includes this refrain: “Old soldiers never die, Never die, never die, Old soldiers never die, They simply fade away.” Considering myself to be an Old Soldier of Mother England, it is now my desire to simply fade away into history.
My magnum opus is the Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen.
(Published in Norwegian Explorers’ 2023 Christmas Annual, No. 22, pages 96-100)