by MARVIN GRASSE
MARVIN GRASSE was graduated from San Francisco State College after four years of service in the armed forces in World War II. He is now teaching English in Livingston, California.
ONE day in May, sixty-four years ago, the world almost stopped spinning when the electrifying news flashed from Switzerland that the incomparable Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of crime, had perished in a death struggle. Three years later, in 1894, the Great Detective suddenly reappeared and told a rejoicing world that he had really done in Moriarty and then slipped into hiding.
For six decades that was the accepted version. Not a single soul suspected that Sherlock had actually been murdered and that his subsequent return was but a masterful hoax. The truth of these startling statements cannot be doubted, for I have uncovered solid evidence which exposes the murder and masquerade.
This gigantic crime would have gone undetected had not my sense of the unnatural been sharpened by the dreadful crimes I had witnessed on television, heard through the radio, seen at the movies, read about in novels whose chapters were soaked in brutality, and in newspapers whose headlines were streaked with blood. Shaped by such monstrous influences, it was inevitable that I should cast suspicious eyes upon a sentence uttered by Holmes during the Adventure of the Lion’s Mane.
Holmes, now retired to keeping bees in Sussex, commented that he was enjoying the “soothing life of nature” for which he had “yearned” while prowling about the gloomy streets of London. Such a non-Sherlockian statement stung my curiosity.
As a consequence, I cheeked numerous eases Holmes had solved before his tragic flight to Switzerland.
I was handsomely rewarded, for my search uncovered an ample supply of statements that were in direct contradiction to the sentiments of the Sussex Sherlock. Through all of his adventures, Holmes harped upon the same theme: he abhorred dull routines, detested stagnant days, and ached for problems, however insignificant. The most revealing remark of all occurred shortly before his supposed death. “My mind,”he said in the Adventure of Wisteria Lodge, “is like a racing engine, tearing itself to pieces because it is not connected up with the work for which it was built.”
Was keeping bees the “work" for which Sherlock’s mind was built ? My suspicions were fully aroused; and a week later, when I stumbled upon another oddity, I launched my fullscale investigation.
This second irregularity occurred in the Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, a case Sherlock undertook after his spectacular return. In that adventure he professed ignorance of the three famous agents, Oberstein, La Rothière, and Eduardo Lucas, although in the Adventure of the Second Stain, a case Sherlock solved before he vanished, he mentioned them by name!
By linking together his sudden love for nature and his unfamiliarity with familiar agents, my crime-alerted mind sped to the conclusion that the man living in Sussex was not Sherlock Holmes, but a fantastic counterfeit. W hy, then, didn’t Dr. Watson expose the fraud? Because the good doctor’s lips were sealed by the bloody knowledge that he, himself, either had murdered Sherlock or had assisted in that gargantuan deed!
This frightful thought failed to shock me because 1 had been conditioned through the avenues of mass communication to homicide, infanticide, patricide, matricide, and assorted butcheries. The only thing that excited me was whether or not, as they say, I could pin the rap on Watson. A careful scrutiny of the cases Watson recorded for Sherlock disclosed the heartening fact that the loyal assistant had smoldered with hatred.
Time and time again the embittered doctor cried out against the contemptuous manner in which Holmes treated him. He complained that he was a long-suffering mortal, that he was unhappy and helpless, and it was during the Adventure of the Copper Breeches that he shouted to the smirking Sherlock, “You horrify me!”
The spark that caused this hatred to burst into flames was struck when Watson deserted the realm of bachelorhood for that of marriage. Sherlock, who loathed all emotions, set out to reduce Watson’s nuptial bliss to shambles, a feat which he accomplished after four years of atrocious meddling.
Granted now that Watson had a compelling motive for destroying Sherlock, it seemed unlikely that this weak-willed assistant could be capable of putting into effect such a monumental scheme. It was at this point that I searched for a crafty accomplice. I hadn’t far to look, for I spotted Mycroft Holmes, the slain man’s brilliant brother.
On various occasions Mycroft had aided Sherlock when the great sleuth was on the verge of defeat, and yet it was years before Sherlock informed the astonished Watson of Mycroft’s existence. Sherlock let the secret escape while undertaking the case of The Greek Interpreter, but he quickly maligned Mycroft by saying he had a strange and warped personality.
To be kept in isolation, as it were, and then to be rewarded by vicious slander would turn the hand of anyone against such an attacker. And so it was that Mycroft joined Watson in nursing a murderous grudge. All they needed was the time, the place, and the opportunity.
It was on the twenty-fifth day of the gentle month of April, 1891, that Sherlock set his foot upon the path to doom. As Watson relates in The Final Problem, Sherlock had completed his strategy for the destruction of Moriarty’s empire of crime, delivered the plans to Scotland Yard, and then fled England to escape Moriarty’s dangerous henchmen. On May 3, Watson and Sherlock ended their flight in Meirigen, Switzerland, where they assumed roles as tourists and took lodgings in the Englischer Hof. The next day landlord Peter Steiler urged them to see the beautiful Reichenbach Falls, located but a few hours walk from the village. Thus, on the afternoon of May 4, 1891, Sherlock Holmes, accompanied by Dr. Watson, set out for the Falls and oblivion.
The terrible events of that fatal day began when Watson returned to the hotel with a note he claimed was delivered to him by a Swiss lad. The contents declared that an Englishwoman, dying of consumption, desired an English doctor in her last moments. No such woman existed, and landlord Steiler denied having written the note, although he said that he saw a “tall Englishman,” who might have written it, loitering about the place. Whitson cursed and ran back toward the Falls.
That evening it was a disheveled, heartbroken Watson who staggered into the Englischer Hof with another letter, and with the stunning news that Sherlock Holmes had been killed. This second letter, written by Sherlock and found by Watson, tells all. In it Sherlock explains that he has met Professor Moriarty, is about to engage in a mortal combat, and that the Professor has graciously given him time to write the message. Since naught but the note remained, it was evident that neither had survived the struggle.
Within hours the investigators arrived, gawked at the Falls, shook their heads at the loss of such an illustrious figure, and the case was closed. How ridiculously simple it all had been! There had been no questioning about the “tall Englishman,”no raised eyebrows over the fact that Sherlock would have been granted time to write such a silly letter; and oddest of all, there had been no searching for the missing Swiss lad who could identify the letter-writer. How preposterous that the most vital element, the boy, was seen only by Watson! His safe to assume that such a lad never existed; that Watson, after helping Mycroft bash in Sherlock’s brains, not only scribbled the cunning alibi-note that recalled him to the hotel, but also composed Sherlock’s “death message"; and that the “tall Englishman" was really Myeroft on his way to the Kalls by some devious path when overseen by the landlord.
If any doubt remains that the diabolical plotters finished Holmes, one has only to scan the wild story told by the impostor who stepped into Sherlock’s shoes. This stirring event occurred in 1894 during the Adventure of the Empty House. It was then that the spurious Holmes revealed himself and sketched the thrilling picture of his escape, exile, and return.
On that memorable May 4, explained the sham, he met Moriarty, wrote the letter, and then pushed the Professor into the thundering cataract. Immediately a boulder tumbled down the cliff, barely missing him. He whirled and saw the evil face of Colonel Sebastian Moran, Moriarty’s chief of staff, peering over the precipice. Holmes quickly disguised himself as an elusive target and, amid flying rocks, escaped.
How droll! It is unthinkable that the Colonel, one of the best heavygame shots the Eastern Empire ever produced, would wait patiently until Holmes made short work of his chief, and then merely toss a few rocks. It is also unthinkable that the Prolessor, a cold-blooded cutthroat, would forgo an ambush for a hand-tohand fight.
The new Sherlock concluded his farcical tale without answering such essential questions as why he vanished for three years, and why he decided to reappear. That such a hodgepodge story was accepted is an unfathomable mystery in itself, but accepted it was and the Great Return was consummated.
This, then, is the truth concerning the strange death and even stranger ret urn of Sherlock Holmes. While the identity of the impostor will probably remain forever shrouded in mystery, of one thing we can be certain: the man who moved into 221B Baker Street, in 1894 was not Sherlock Holmes.