Saturday, September 9, 2017

"Copper Beeches"

Copper Beeches.
The case begins Tuesday, March 18, 1890.

"It was a cold morning of the early spring, and we sat after breakfast on either side of a cheery fire in the old room at Baker Street."

"The small matter in which I endeavoured to help the King of Bohemia, the singular experience of Miss Mary Sutherland, the problem connected with the man with the twisted lip, and the incident of the noble bachelor, were all matters which are outside the pale of the law."

"But, indeed, if you are trivial, I cannot blame you, for the days of the great cases are past. Man, or at least criminal man, has lost all enterprise and originality."

"I have been a governess for five years in the family of Colonel Spence Munro, but two months ago the colonel received an appointment at Halifax, in Nova Scotia . . ."
"Well, when I called last week I was shown into the little office as usual, but I found that Miss Stoper was not alone."
"I shall go down to Hampshire quite easy in my mind now. I shall write to Mr. Rucastle at once, sacrifice my poor hair to-night, and start for Winchester to-morrow."
"For two days after my arrival at the Copper Beeches my life was very quiet; on the third, Mrs. Rucastle came down just after breakfast and whispered something to her husband."
"Two days later this same performance was gone through under exactly similar circumstances."
"I did as I was told, and at the same instant Mrs. Rucastle drew down the blind. That was a week ago, and from that time I have not sat again in the window, nor have I worn the blue dress, nor seen the man in the road."

"On the very first day that I was at the Copper Beeches, Mr. Rucastle took me to a small outhouse which stands near the kitchen door. As we approached it I heard the sharp rattling of a chain, and the sound as of a large animal moving about."
". . .for two nights later I happened to look out of my bedroom window about two o’clock in the morning. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and the lawn in front of the house was silvered over and almost as bright as day. I was standing, rapt in the peaceful beauty of the scene, when I was aware that something was moving under the shadow of the copper beeches. As it emerged into the moonshine I saw what it was. It was a giant dog."

"The telegram which we eventually received came late one night just as I was thinking of turning in and Holmes was settling down to one of those all-night chemical researches which he frequently indulged in."
"By eleven o’clock the next day we were well upon our way."

"It was an ideal spring day, a light blue sky, flecked with little fleecy white clouds drifting across from west to east. The sun was shining very brightly, and yet there was an exhilarating nip in the air, which set an edge to a man’s energy. All over the countryside, away to the rolling hills around Aldershot, the little red and gray roofs of the farm-steadings peeped out from amid the light green of the new foliage."
"I had no difficulty in getting leave to come into Winchester this morning, but I must be back before three o’clock, for Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle are going on a visit, and will be away all the evening"
"Mr. Fowler and Miss Rucastle were married, by special license, in Southampton the day after their flight."

April 5, 1889. 

April 7, 1890.

Watson has saved the best test of a chronologer for last in the "Adventures" tales. "Copper Beeches" has astoundingly little data -- no years, months, or days of the week mentioned directly. All we get is "early spring," a Watson who is plainly at Baker Street (though refers to the sitting room as "old"), and a number of cases that are in the past.

Based on that list of cases Holmes mentions, and the dates I’ve already assigned to them, SOLI must take place after 1889. The fact that Holmes is complaining about the lack of criminal challenges means the matter pre-dates Moriarty and Holmes’s 1891 war on the Professor’s organization. Only 1890 remains.

And while Watson was surely married at that time, his words "the old room at Baker Street" would tend to confirm that he was just back for a lengthy visit. Why was he visiting? The tale’s opening paragraphs should be enough to answer that question. Watson was back in Baker Street making his first attempts at writing up The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, soaking up the old, familiar atmosphere and having full access to Holmes’s notes to supplement his own. As The Sign of the Four was just published in February of 1890, it would seem only natural for Watson to be making such an endeavor in March of 1890.

As a considerate husband, of course, Watson would not just pack up and leave his wife if she were not already away on a visit of her own . . . a fairly long visit, it would seem, as Watson is still at Baker Street when Miss Hunter’s telegram arrives. Why would a husband and wife be apart for so long in the spring, that time when romance is at its peak? My answer would be this: 
They gave each other up for Lent. 

Sacrificing that thing they loved the most for the period between Ash Wednesday (March 5, 1890) and Easter Sunday (April 20, 1890). Considering that Watson has already presented Holmes with four tales at the story’s outset, which is sixty pages worth in the Doubleday complete, estimating Watson’s writing speed at a solid six pages a day, factoring in the most likely days for Miss Hunter to be checking Westaway’s for job openings, my conclusion is this: COPP begins on Tuesday, March 18, 1890.

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