What Sherlock Didn't Know


BEING confined to my bed with influenza, I sought solace in an old file of the Strand Magazine. In the issue of March, 1900, a British physician named Arthur Conan Doyle — later a convinced spiritualist— tells the remarkable experiences of Harvey Deacon, an artist, Miss Delamere, a medium, and Paul LeDuc, a French authority on spiritualism. They materialized, believe it or not, a live unicorn —with considerable hazard to all concerned.

My curiosity was immediately aroused, particularly as I had very recently read the amazing experiences of Daniel Dunglas Home, the American wizard, in his day the friend and confidant of half the crowned heads and celebrities of Europe. If Home, Delamere, and LeDuc could do it, why couldn’t I?

It has always puzzled me that our beloved Sherlock Holmes, although he occasionally referred to attendance at a trial, had never, so far as Watson’s record shows, actually crossed swords with an experienced master of the art of cross-examination. Adopting Home’s well-known technique of the recumbent position, which perforce I was occupying at the moment, I concentrated on the familiar room at 221 B Baker Street.

The gasogene, the tantalus, the slipper, the coal scuttle full of cigars — all these materialized readily. Watson was seated in a chair. Holmes was standing by the fireplace stuffing his briar. Opposite him stood a lean, long-nosed Britisher not unlike Holmes, whom I at once recognized as Sir Henry Hawkins, later Lord Brampton, a distinguished judge. One of the most prominent members of the British Bar, Hawkins took part in the famous Tichborne trial and had few, if any, equals at cross-examination.

Holmes, said Hawkins, “you are overbrilliant.”

“ No,”said Holmes. “That’s only the way Watson tells it. It is really absurdly simple — sound reasoning from observed phenomena.”

“Bosh,”replied Hawkins. “It doesn’t stand up. Take that Saltire kidnaping at the Priory School in Hallamshire.”

“Certainly,” said Holmes between puffs. “One of my brilliant successes and, incidentally, a profitable one. It fattened my account at the Capitol and Counties Bank by $6000.”

“Success-yes,”snapped Hawkins, “ but you left little ten-year-old Saltire at that foul pub unguarded overnight, with that damned villain Wilder at large. Bull luck, I call it. You should have gone to jail.”

Watson sat up with a startled look. Holmes bridled but said nothing.

“And take that bicycle bosh,” Hawkins continued. “You say that at ordinary speeds the rear tire of a bicycle, carrying the rider’s weight, leaves a deeper impression than the front one?”

“Certainly,” said Holmes.

“Yes — and when it crosses the impression of the front tire it shows its deeper impression?”


“ Let me suggest to you, sir, that, the bicycle being gone, only the track remained to be observed?”


“And that this Dunlop tire contained no distinctive pattern that would indicate direction?”

“Ah,” said Holmes, “but it had a patch.”

“Very true,” Hawkins went on. “But did you by any chance see the patch applied?”

“I did not.”

“So you have no knowledge of any particularity in its shape that would indicate direction ?”

“ None.”

“ It would recur with every revolution of the wheel, be the direction north or south?”


“Then how would the track alone indicate direction ?”

My materialization of Holmes actually faded visibly at this point, and I could faintly observe directly through his body the startled face of his housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, peering from the buttery door. Watson stirred slightly in his chair. “Why didn’t I think of that? I was right all the time and never knew it,” he whispered.

Hawkins was merciless. “And take that rubbish about the colored husband of Grant Munro’s first wife in that tale of the Yellow Face.

“The Munros lived at Norbury, didn’t they, Watson?”

Watson nodded.

“Holmes,” said Hawkins, and his voice was sterner now, “did you ever see a death certificate issued by the Stale of Georgia or the City of Atlanta?”

“I never did.”

“Would it surprise you to know that they were never issued until they were provided for by an Act of 1914?”

Holmes gasped.

“You recall,” Hawkins continued, “that Mr. Grant Munro told you he had seen the death certificate of his wife’s first husband?”

“Yes,” replied Holmes. “Perhaps it was issued by the attending physician.”

“Surely, Holmes, you are aware of the American prejudice against Negroes?”

“Yes, as Altamont in Chicago I became well aware of it in later years, and I did know of it before that.”

“Can you conceive of even an informal death certificate issued in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1885 or thereabouts, that did not specify the race of the decedent as either colored or white, particularly the former?”

Holmes made no reply. The face of Mrs. Hudson became plainly visible through his midriff. Watson tugged at his mustache.

Hawkins tilted forward slightly and slanted an index finger toward the detective. His words grew clipped.

“Munro said the first husband and child died of yellow fever. Even Lestrade, and surely the young inspector, Hopkins, would have seen through that one and that fortune of £4500 which a colored lawyer in Atlanta left his wife within twenty years of the Civil War. Stuff and nonsense. Wait a minute.”

Hawkins strode to the hallway door and opened it. A pleasant-appearing young man entered and bowed to us.

“Gentlemen,” said Hawkins, “let me present W. Colquitt Carter, Esquire, of the Atlanta Bar, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.”

Hawkins closed the door and again turned to face us. “Carter,” he asked, “did Atlanta ever have any trouble with yellow fever around the 1880’s or at any other time?”

“No,” Carter replied, “I believe not. It has an elevation of 1100 feet and I believe yellow fever seldom if ever occurs at that altitude.”

Hawkins went on. “Were marriages between colored men and white women permitted in Georgia in the last century?”

Carter smiled. “No, indeed. The Georgia Acts of 1865, page 241, section 678, specifically provide: —

“Intermarriage of white and colored people. If any officer shall knowingly issue a marriage license to parties either of whom is of African descent and the other a white person or if any officer or minister of the gospel shall marry such persons together he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

“Further than that, I might say, Sir Henry,” he went on, “marriages between white persons and colored persons were absolutely null and void under the laws of the State of Georgia.”

“Carter,” said Hawkins, “were there any colored lawyers, or at least any of sufficient standing to leave a white wife a fortune of $20,000, practicing in Atlanta in the 1880’s?”

Carter smiled. “No, Sir Henry. At your request, I consulted the City Directory of Atlanta for 1885. There was no Negro lawyer listed. I also inquired among some of my older friends at the Bar and they had no recollection of any Negro lawyers practicing at that time. In the 1890’s there were one or two Negro lawyers who engaged in the practice of law and who had a small law practice in Atlanta. It is hardly conceivable that any one of these could have had a practice sufficient to accumulate a capital of $20,000.”

For the first time Hawkins smiled. He bowed a slight acknowledgment to the younger man.

“Carter,” said he, “have you checked these conclusions with a more experienced man?”

“Yes, I have,” Carter replied. “Holding Mr. Sherlock Holmes in great and affectionate esteem, as I always shall,”—Holmes’s face lighted a bit at this and Mrs. Hudson grew less visible, — “I should not have come here without taking that precaution. I have been over the whole matter with my good friend, Mr. Stephens Mitchell of the Atlanta Bar.”

Carter turned and addressed Holmes: “Forgive me, Mr. Holmes, but I am sure that Dr. Watson must have been in error in mentioning Atlanta. It was undoubtedly New Orleans where Mr. and Mrs. Hebron lived. There was more intermixture of races there even in the early days, and yellow fever was common.”

Hawkins snorted. “Even there, Carter, a death certificate would have specified the race?”

Carter nodded.

“Any questions, Holmes?” Hawkins snapped.

There was a long silence.

“Watson,” said Holmes at length, “if it should ever strike you that I am getting a little overconfident of my powers, or giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper ‘Norbury’ in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you.”

“Humph!” said Hawkins. “Just ask him why he let John Oppenshaw and John Douglas each go to his death with no word of explanation as to the nature or the identity of their antagonists. Ask him why he never reasoned that Jonathan Small would unquestionably heave the Agra treasure into the Thames.”

Watson flushed and half rose from his chair.

Holmes made no reply. Rand vanished.