Saturday, September 9, 2017

"The Speckled Band"

The Speckled Band.
The case begins Sunday, April 1, 1883.

"On glancing over my notes of the seventy odd cases in which I have during the last eight years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes . . ."

"The events in question occurred in the early days of my association with Holmes, when we were sharing rooms as bachelors in Baker Street. It is possible that I might have placed them upon record before, but a promise of secrecy was made at the time, from which I have only been freed during the last month by the untimely death of the lady to whom the pledge was given."

"It was early in April in the year ‘83 . . ."

"He was a late riser, as a rule, and as the clock on the mantelpiece showed me that it was only a quarter-past seven, I blinked up at him in some surprise, and perhaps just a little resentment, for I was myself regular in my habits."

"In the last century, however, four successive heirs were of a dissolute and wasteful disposition, and the family ruin was eventually completed by a gambler in the days of the Regency. Nothing was left save a few acres of ground, and the two-hundred-year-old house, which is itself crushed under a heavy mortgage. As it was, he suffered a long term of imprisonment and afterwards returned to England a morose and disappointed man."
"When Dr. Roylott was in India he married my mother, Mrs. Stoner, the young widow of Major-General Stoner, of the Bengal Artillery. My sister Julia and I were twins, and we were only two years old at the time of my mother’s re-marriage. She had a considerable sum of money--not less than L1000 a year--and this she bequeathed to Dr. Roylott entirely while we resided with him, with a provision that a certain annual sum should be allowed to each of us in the event of our marriage. Shortly after our return to England my mother died --she was killed eight years ago in a railway accident near Crewe. Dr. Roylott then abandoned his attempts to establish himself in practice in London and took us to live with him in the old ancestral house at Stoke Moran."
"Last week he hurled the local blacksmith over a parapet . . ."
"She was but thirty at the time of her death . . ."
"She died just two years ago . . ."
"Julia went there at Christmas two years ago, and met there a half-pay major of marines, to whom she became engaged. My stepfather learned of the engagement when my sister returned and offered no objection to the marriage; but within a fortnight of the day which had been fixed for the wedding, the terrible event occurred . . ."
"Two years have passed since then, and my life has been until lately lonelier than ever. A month ago, however, a dear friend, whom I have known for many years, has done me the honour to ask my hand in marriage."
" . . . we are to be married in the course of the spring. Two days ago some repairs were started in the west wing of the building . . ."

"It is a little cold for the time of the year."
"But I have heard that the crocuses promise well."

"Two days ago some repairs were started in the west wing of the building . . ."
" . . . there were no signs of any workmen at the moment of our visit."

April 6, 1883. 

Early in April 1883, probably April 4,1883.

The statement "early in April in the year ‘83" is clear enough, and no chronologer disputes it. The day is the item of question on this case, and my first impression on that score is that Watson would not be so annoyed at being awakened at 7:15 if it were not a day he fully expected to sleep as long as he wanted . . . a Sunday. Ernest Bloomfield Zeisler argues that it was not a Sunday, as Watson would not have felt compelled to state that the workmen were not at Stoke Moran if it were a Sunday, as the assumption would have been obvious to the reader. Yet Watson does not tell us that it was Sunday, so we have no basis for making Zeisler’s assumption. Zeisler also argues against Sunday, stating that Holmes could not have visited the Doctors Commons to check out Roylott on a Sunday . . . which I think shows little faith in the resources and connections of Sherlock Holmes. A regular person might not have been able to do the research on a Sunday, but the master detective on a mission of immediate life-or-death importance? That is another story. Quarter past seven is only a resentful hour to young bachelors on the morning after their Saturday night recreations, and thus I’m sticking this tale on Sunday, April 1, 1883. 

Was SPEC the true first case of working with Holmes that Watson recorded? I find nothing in SPEC that disproves my earlier assertion in the STUD Chronology Corner. Watson’s confession that he promised to keep this tale secret until after a certain lady’s death gives him a good reason for using STUD first, even though SPEC was the more remarkable tale . . . perhaps even the thing that inspired him to start writing up Holmes’s cases to begin with. He surely must have had the writing of it in mind while he was still in contact with Helen Stoner, or else the promise not to write of it would not have even come up. And that promise also shows us exactly why he decided to publish STUD first . . . all of the main players in the crime are dead by the time the case is done.

In VEIL, Watson makes the statement, "When one considers that Sherlock Holmes was in active practice for twenty-three years, and that during seventeen of these I was allowed to cooperate with him and to keep notes of his doings . . ." Knowing that Watson was doing so in September of 1903 (CREE), subtracting the three years when Watson thought Holmes dead, one gets the year 1883 as the year that Holmes started allowing Watson to "cooperate with him." Unless one can prove a falling out between the two during some other period, I think the VEIL statement backs up my assertion of SPEC’s claim to being the prime Canonical tale.

Having said all that, I’ll go one step further and proclaim April Fool’s Day as a new Sherlockian holiday . . . the day our Canon truly begins. Not in the Afghan war, not as Watson graduated from medical school, and not as he and Holmes became room-mates, innocent of each other’s career plans. It all truly began on a day when Holmes woke a resentful Watson from a peaceful morning-after slumber to head into what is perhaps THE classic among their adventures together. On April Fool’s Day . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment

"The Gloria Scott"

The Gloria Scott. The case begins Saturday, July 3, 1880. Why? SEASON OF THE TELLING: "I have some papers here," said my ...