Sunday, May 24, 2009

Whitechapel

1888 had been, so far, a year of frantic action, as well as conflicting emotions. I had buried my wife, Constance, in the preceding December. It was a sad and dreary time of sleet alternating with fog: London at its worst. Holmes had gently suggested that I move back in with him. As there were no children involved, I had acceded. Constance had succumbed to diphtheria. She was always of delicate constitution, though she tried so hard to be the perfect doctor's wife. She tolerated and even encouraged my friendship with Holmes, though she discomfited him by cheerfully (in the American fashion) using his given name.
Holmes sat with me in Baker Street and, looking at me with those remarkable grey eyes, piercing and masterful, said, "Work is the best antidote to sorrow, Watson." Within a week we were enmeshed with the Douglas family at Birlstone. The pace did not let up. After that we were invited by a scientific team to investigate the murders of several of their members in the Transcaucasus mountains. A large, hairy wildman called the Wodewose was involved. I have been enjoined not to reveal the details of this near-tragedy until after the death "Col. Bombast". Holmes was badly injured; I was injured in the leg. Only my expertise with battlefield wounds was able to save us, and several other members of the expedition. Holmes never again went to a zoo, and his bitterness toward hunting began then.
By April he was chafing to work. The strange little case I called "The Yellow Face" was not one of his more successful cases. Just before that case, the first of the harlot killings occured in the East End. Holmes dismissed the murder, though noting the savagery of the knife-work. "The unfortunate murder of an unfortunate," said he. "When liquor is mixed freely with the baser passions, this sort of thing happens. There is no intellectual interest or redeeming human element in it." He strode up and down our sitting room, flapping his arms like some great, refined bird of prey. "I have told Lestrade, and anyone else who will listen, that Whitechapel is like a powder-keg, only needing a spark to set it off. If Sir Charles keeps provoking them, they will surely blow!"
I had rarely heard him express political and social opinions so freely. Usually, when he was immersed in work, he professed indifference to the social matrix in which he lived. His interest was in the day-to-day intersection of the criminal class with the rest of us, not in Dickensian social reform. "Recidivism, Watson! Recidivism--that's the thing!" he exclaimed.
By September, though, it became obvious that "Jack", as the press were calling the harlot-killer, was growing bolder. The unfortunates lived in fear. Several private citizens of some stature had interceded with Holmes to take an interest in the bloody rampage. But work intervened. The puzzles which engaged Holmes' attention came thick and fast: "The Greek Interpreter", which introduced me to Mycroft Holmes; the case of the Sholtos and the Agra treasure, which rewarded me with my second wife; and the extraordinary affair of the Baskervilles on the moors.
At the end of October we were sitting quietly in Baker Street with a fire going; outside it was raining. We had barely recovered from the rigors of the Baskerville case and its fiendish hound. The bell rang on the ground floor of 221B. Holmes looked at me. "Are we expecting anyone, Watson?" I shook my head, put my book down, and stood. Suddenly we heard Mrs. Hudson's voice: loud and frightened. This was followed by an imperious rapping at our door. Holmes lifted his brows, reached into his desk, and extracted his hair-trigger. He sat back down and covered the pistol with a cushion. "Come in!" said he.
The door opened slowly and a man entered. Taller than Holmes was he, thin and stooped, with a balding head which seemed to oscillate slowly back and forth, like a snake. His forehead was domed and his features aquiline. His eyes were grey, like Holmes. He shut the door and stood staring, from one to the other of us. I had only heard him described by Inspector MacDonald.
"Pray, Doctor, put down your shillelagh . . . and might I suggest, Holmes, that you take your finger off the trigger of your trick pistol? You might do yourself a mischief. I am not here for violence; you know my ways, Holmes." I sat down and rested my heavy blackthorn cane by my chair. Holmes tossed the cushion aside and took his finger off the trigger of his revolver, though he kept it in his lap.
"Please be seated, Professor," he said. His tone was even, but not light.
"Thank you, gentlemen," said Moriarty.
"I can think of no reason for you to be here," said Holmes. "I see that you got to Douglas."
Moriarty gave a small smile. "I do not tolerate opposition--or disobedience. 'Porlock', as you style him, is no more."
Holmes gave a start. "I will settle for you one of these days, Professor," he said quietly.
"And I you . . ." Moriarty said. "But now we have a problem in common, Holmes."
"The harlot killer," said Holmes.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

It's pretty good. The sheer volume of ideas is enough to leave me reeling. I think you have to spread out these ideas, or organize them more. Or you could perfect this extremely dense style and make it distinctive, which, to my mind, requires a lot of conscious effort to employ guiding principles that tend to make your work very uniform.