Despite being a medical doctor, I would never describe myself as a particularly scientific man. While I had dutifully slogged through my courses on biology and chemistry while at university, the scientific world had never excited my interest to any undue extent. As a physician, my focus was on helping my fellow man, whether in private practice or on the battlefield during my service in Afghanistan.
This usually involved setting broken bones, stitching up wounds, digging Jezail bullets out of my comrades, or prescribing medication for this or that ailment. However, it would never have occurred to me to invent a reagent to test for the presence of blood, as my friend Sherlock Holmes had done shortly after we met and as I related in "A Study in Scarlet." For whatever reason, I simply don’t have that turn of mind.
However, with every passing day, it was now abundantly evident that the minds of many of my fellow citizens were most definitely devoted to experimentation and innovation. What had begun as a trickle of inventions in the middle of the nineteenth century had assumed the proportions of a veritable cataract, and one couldn't open a newspaper these days without reading about some astonishing new device or discovery.
Communication had become much easier thanks to the invention of the telegraph in 1837 and the telephone in 1876; transportation had been transformed, thanks to trains and then the invention of the automobile in 1889; and organization and tidiness had received its own godsend by way of the paperclip in 1899. Perhaps most astonishingly, only two years before the story I am about to relate took place, the Wright brothers had successfully flown the first aeroplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and just last year Thomas Sullivan sent a shiver through every right-minded Englishman when he announced that he had invented the teabag.
Still, human nature being what it is, this outpouring of brilliance and enterprise did not mean that the consulting practice and talents of Sherlock Holmes had been consigned to oblivion. Far from it. Driven by ignorance, prejudice, and boundless greed, humanity simply developed different and more efficient ways to prey upon one another, all in the name of progress. Like the famous Dutch boy with his finger in the dike to prevent a deluge, Holmes held fast in his determination to uphold the values of truth and justice to the best of his ability, although it must be said in all candour that he seemed to have grown somewhat weary of this role as of late, taking more and more comfort in reading, obscure chemical experiments, and his relationship with Miss Irene Adler, the American opera singer, who initially came to our attention due to the fact that she was blackmailing the King of Bohemia (entirely due to his own monstrous behaviour, I might add).
For readers new to these posthumously published tales of Sherlock Holmes, I should explain that far from passing away after the conclusion of "A Scandal in Bohemia," Miss Adler had moved in with Holmes and I under the guise of being Mrs. Hudson, our housekeeper. Not to belabour the point any more than necessary, Holmes and Miss Adler had fallen madly in love with each other practically upon first sight, and although my nose was put a bit out of joint to find her belongings being unpacked in our rooms, I soon came to admire and respect her intelligence, discretion, and the manner in which she was able to keep Holmes grounded in ways that I never could. Faced with the necessity of explaining the constant presence of a woman on the premises, I simply presented her in the stories I wrote for "The Strand Magazine" as Mrs. Hudson, a neat little bit of invention which she didn't mind going along with.
Subsequently, Miss Adler had been of invaluable assistance in any number of cases, especially those that involved the brilliant and wicked daughter of the late Professor Moriarty—Marie Chartier—who had first come to our attention in "The Adventure of the Elusive Ear," when a bloodied and desperate Vincent Van Gogh had showed up on our doorstep. We had then matched wits with her again in "The Adventure of the Fallen Soufflé," a case that involved not only the scandal-ridden Prince of Wales, but also Auguste Escoffier, the most celebrated chef in the world.
I'm happy to say that Miss Adler's presence at 221B also had the edifying effect of expanding my musical horizons beyond the stylings of Gilbert and Sullivan to include the stirring marches of John Philip Sousa, as well as a number of catchy ditties from New York's Tin Pan Alley. I was especially fond of a new American composer, George M. Cohan, whose popular tune, "Give My Regards to Broadway," had caught my ear a week or two before the story you are about to read began.
As for this tale, I never for a moment considered writing it up for "The Strand Magazine." My Edwardian readers would have been shocked to the core at some of the revelations herein, and His Majesty's government would have insisted that a number of crucial sections be removed in the interest of national security. Still, as it does present several features of interest insofar as the career of Sherlock Holmes is concerned, upon completion I plan on consigning it to my battered despatch box at Cox and Company for the delectation of future generations, should it ever see the light of day at all. I sincerely hope it does, for I believe it shows my good friend Sherlock Holmes at both his best and his worst; in short, at his most human.
(Editor's Note: In the original Sherlock Holmes stories, astute historians noted occasional factual errors and timeline discrepancies, which were invariably put down to the unreliability of Dr. Watson. This tendency did not diminish as the good Doctor entered his later years, but it does not detract in any meaningful way from the pleasure to be had in this long-hidden tale from the annals of Sherlock Holmes.)
The Fallen Hero
London: November 29, 1905.
As it turned out, Bernard Darwin is a damned good egg. And yes, when I refer to Bernard Darwin, I am speaking of none other than the grandson of the great English naturalist, Charles Darwin himself. Things had been particularly slow at 221B of late, and so on the evening in question I took myself out to the Royal Society to listen to a lecture on Darwin by his quite accomplished son, Francis. Rather surprised and delighted to find myself seated next to Bernard, Francis' son, we got to talking and I quickly discovered that Bernard was an avid reader of my Sherlock Holmes stories. This alone marked him as a man of nice judgement and good taste, and while I would have been interested to learn more about his upbringing and experiences in such a remarkable family, I was too busy answering his quite perceptive and intelligent questions regarding "The Five Orange Pips" and "The Adventure of the Second Stain."
The lecture itself was, as you might expect, fascinating in the extreme, with Francis offering any number of insights and anecdotes related to Charles Darwin's life and work. Apparently, Charles had intended to become a doctor, just like his father, up until the day that he realised he couldn't stand the sight of blood. He also had an aversion to eating owls, a titbit of information that seemed to raise more questions than it answered. Following the lecture, as I collected my coat, I felt a tug on my elbow and turned to find Bernard at my side.
"What now, Watson, old fellow?" he asked. "Back to Baker Street to assist Mr. Holmes in one of his mysteries?"
"I wish that were true," I returned, "but we're actually between cases at the moment."
"Ah, pity. Then perhaps I could interest you in a stroll out into a foggy London evening? See what kind of trouble we can find?"
"Bernard!" I exclaimed, surprised to receive such a proposition from a member of one of the most acclaimed families in England. "Are you quite serious?"
"Completely," he answered. "I'm afraid excursions into the unknown run in the bloodline. Can't be helped. And please, do call me Bernie. What do you say?"
Faced with such a charming invitation and the prospect of not much of interest going on back in Baker Street, I nodded my enthusiastic acceptance, and a few minutes later Bernie and I were in a cab rattling down cobblestone streets towards sections of London quite far removed from the staid and scholarly crowd of the Royal Society. It was the time of night when the decent, respectable side of London closes up its drapes and doors, and a quite different side of the city comes to life.
To get ourselves in the proper mood for whatever might come our way, our first stops were a couple of pubs, where I was much impressed with Bernie's familiarity with the area and the clientele. Things got progressively hazy after that, although I recall one conversation with a man who could pull his lower lip over his nose, and being cornered by a well-endowed matron who insisted that she was actually Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, and would I like a tour of her kingdom.
As a writer, my interest was quite naturally piqued at such an intriguing offer, but as a man of some experience, I made sure that my wallet was secure as I sidled away with a regretful shake of my head. At any rate, my overall sense of the evening was having a rattling good time with Bernie by my side. Yes, there is a somewhat disreputable side of London, but if you can swirl on the outskirts of it without being drawn into the vortex, there are a great many interesting things to be done and observed. Humanity at its best and worst unfolds in a kaleidoscope of tastes, smells, and sights. The most astonishing thing was how time seemed to speed up and then slow down, so that at one moment Bernie and I had sworn our determination to depart for the Galapagos Islands with a barmaid named Agnes the very next morning, and the next moment I was disconcerted to find myself standing alone at the bottom of our stairs at 221B.
Looking upward, to my dismay, I could see that the stairs were weaving in a steady, sinuous motion, and the prospect of getting up them in one piece was a daunting one. Getting a grip of the handrail, the popular tune from America, "Give My Regards to Broadway," popped into my head, and it was by singing this and focusing on the task at hand that I was able to methodically make my way up the stairs and enter our rooms. And it was then, to my utter astonishment, that I found both Holmes and Miss Adler looking at me in surprise.
"Good Lord!" I exclaimed. "You're still up!"
Holmes' eyes narrowed. "Watson, it's eight o'clock in the morning."
Looking out the window I could see that it was, in fact, daylight, a detail that appeared to have eluded me only moments earlier when I must have been dropped off at our rooms. A quick check of my pocket watch confirmed the time.
"Well, well, well…" I heard myself saying, for lack of anything better to say.
"We thought you were still asleep in your room," said Miss Adler. "Have you been out all night?"
"Apparently," I answered. "And now it's morning! Isn't that remarkable? The way the sun goes around the earth like that...day after day. Astonishing."
"Actually," Miss Adler corrected me, "if Mr. Copernicus is to be believed, it's the earth that revolves around the sun, I believe."
"Well, what's the difference, eh?" I responded, dimly aware that there was a massive difference, but not caring enough to worry about it at the moment, as my biggest concern was the peculiar way Holmes and Miss Adler were looking at me. I therefore felt that it was my duty to set their minds at ease.
"I'm not drunk, if that's what you're thinking. Not a bit of it."
"Weren't you going to some talk at the Royal Society last night?" enquired Miss Adler.
"Yes! Precisely! Francis Darwin! Talking about his father Charles and evolution and whatnot. And do you know who I found myself sitting next to? Bernard Darwin! Charles' grandson. Charming fellow! Superb golfer, apparently. Oh, and you'll never guess! Bernie Darwin is a Sherlock Holmes fan! He's read all of my stories in 'The Strand Magazine' and he was absolutely delighted to meet me. So, we went out. Bernie and I."
"Out where?" asked Miss Adler.
"Oh...here and there. Things have been a bit quiet around here lately, and I fancied a bit of adventure."
Miss Adler leaned forward, keenly interested. "And did you find it?"
"Miss Adler, there are some parts of London, you turn a corner, find yourself walking down a dark alley, you hear some kind of mysterious noise up ahead, and the hairs on the back of your neck stand straight up. God, I miss that feeling!"
"Where did you go exactly?"
I started to reply, but thankfully the cotton wool in my brains had started to clear just a bit. "Oh no. Nicely played, but you won't catch me out that easily. I went where I went, did what I did, and I'm not saying another word!"
Holmes approached me, looking me up and down in that disconcerting fashion of his, then took hold of my jacket lapel and sniffed it. His eyebrows arched upward as he turned to Miss Adler. "Opium."
"Dr. Watson! You spent the night in an opium den?" Miss Adler appeared to be quite surprised at Holmes' deduction, and I have to admit I was a bit surprised myself.
"No!" I answered. "Well, not all night. And don't you two get on your high horses with me! Ask Holmes about all the times I had to drag him out of some filthy drug den or another."
"On cases!" Holmes fairly shouted.
"Oh, we had some fine dust-ups together! Remember that night at the Bar of Gold in Swandam Lane? There must have been a dozen of them, wharf rats from the vilest corners of London, tattooed head to foot, but we sorted them out, didn't we Holmes? You should have seen him, Miss Adler! The finest exhibition of boxing and baritsu I have ever seen in my life! There wasn't a man he couldn't drink under the table or a scrape he couldn't get out of. My God, those were the days!"
I'm not entirely sure what kind of response I expected from Holmes as I reminisced about the halcyon days of our early cases, but it certainly wasn't what came out of his mouth next.
"My coddled eggs!" he exclaimed in alarm, and then he was out of the room and clattering down the stairs in a rush. I turned to Miss Adler, not quite certain that I had heard Holmes correctly.
"Is that a clue of some kind?" I asked.
"No, it's breakfast," she explained. "But sit down! Tell me more about your evening!"
"I'm not sure I can," I returned.
"Oh really? Does that mean that some sort of criminal activity was involved?"
"It means that copious amounts of various dubious substances were ingested more rapidly than good sense would indicate, and that I can't recall much in terms of our escapades, save for the fact that I was invited for a tour of the underworld by a large woman claiming to be Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter."
Miss Adler pursed her lips and gave a small shake of her head.
"You're disappointed in me," I said.
"I should say so!" she answered.
"Don't be sorry! Take me with you next time, for God's sake!"
It was at this juncture that Holmes reappeared, wearing an apron over his robe, and carrying a tray with a covered dish.
"Here we are, my love!" Holmes uncovered the dish. "Coddled eggs, crisp bacon, lightly buttered toast, and a small fruit cup!"
Highly pleased with himself, Holmes backed up a step or two to better observe Miss Adler enjoying her breakfast. However, instead of diving right in, she contented herself with popping a grape from the fruit cup onto her plate, and then idly shuttling it back and forth between the coddled eggs using her spoon.
"It looks wonderful," she began, "but as Dr. Watson and I were talking, it occurred to me, have you given any thought to the crisis at the Foreign Office?"
"The Foreign Office case. We had the Foreign Secretary and his Under-Secretary here only yesterday. They're terrified that Germany is about to get their hands on some kind of new super-weapon."
"An exaggeration, I'm sure," replied Holmes. "Try the eggs."
"What about the Abernathy murder? It's not every day that a chimney sweep is poisoned with hemlock."
"Lovers' quarrel, probably. Shall I freshen your tea?"
"Lady Bracknell's lost puppy? The poor thing was in here sobbing her eyes out."
"With the size of her estate, it could be anywhere. Are you not hungry?"
Miss Adler put her spoon down with a sigh and looked at Holmes. "We need to talk."
At this, I discreetly pulled out my notebook and pencil, as something interesting was definitely in the wind, even if Holmes seemed to be clueless regarding the direction the wind was blowing.
"About what?" asked Holmes.
"Well, there is no gentle way to put this," returned Miss Adler, "so I'm just going to say it."
"By all means."
"Look at you."
"You're wearing an apron and you're more concerned about coddled eggs and lightly buttered toast than any of those cases!"
"I'm not sure I follow."
"When I first met you," continued Miss Adler, "you were not the type of man who prepared fruit cups. You were an arrogant, self-absorbed drug addict, prone to depressive fits, and contemptuous of the police, women, and humanity in general. Your only redeeming quality was that you were easily the most brilliant and fascinating man I had ever met in my life. As was once remarked of the poet Byron, you were 'mad and bad and dangerous to know.'"
"Well, you were not exactly a paragon of virtue yourself, my dear. You were blackmailing the King of Bohemia and generally regarded as an adventuress of the worst kind."
"Guilty as charged. But then we fell in love, and now look at us." Miss Adler popped the grape into her mouth and fixed Holmes with a steady stare. "I want my Sherlock back."
Just as I was wondering how on earth Holmes would reply to this rather pointed criticism, a strong gust of wind rattled our windows and gave Holmes an excuse to look outside. With his hands behind his back, bouncing slightly on his toes, Holmes gazed out on Baker Street and I knew quite well that he was pondering what Miss Adler had just said and composing his reply. As for myself, I'm afraid that my attention drifted to the tray containing Miss Adler's breakfast, a fact that she picked up on immediately.
"Dr. Watson, I'm not overly hungry at the moment. Would you care for some coddled eggs and toast?"
"Are you quite sure?"
"Wonderful! I'm absolutely famished!"
"Well, you had a long night."
"That I did," I confirmed, making my way with the tray to the breakfast table. "Oh! And here's something I learned! After all his travels around the world, do you know what Charles Darwin's favourite dish was? Roasted guinea pig! Bernie told me that. And it reminded me of the Giant Rat of Sumatra. Remember that case, Holmes? Bit terrifying at the time, but now I'm wondering what Giant Sumatran Rat would taste like."
"That must have been before my time," said Miss Adler. "Did you ever write that story up?"
"No, I can't say that I did," I answered, scooping egg onto the toast. "There really wasn't a proper villain to make the story interesting. Mind you, we've had a number of cases like that. Remember the Repulsive Story of the Red Leech, Holmes? I thought we were done for that time."
"It sounds absolutely fascinating!" enthused Miss Adler, before turning to Holmes. "Do you remember those cases, dear? Back in the day when you actually took cases."
At this, Holmes turned from the window, and the dark look on his face encouraged me to focus my attention on the quite delicious fruit cup.
"That's unworthy of you, my dear," he remarked to Miss Adler. "And I know quite well what you're suggesting, but you're mistaken. I haven't changed. Not one bit."
Wordlessly, Miss Adler gestured at Holmes' apron, prompting him to remove it and fling it over the back of the divan.
"There is nothing wrong with wishing to keep one's robe unsoiled!" The effect of hearing himself utter those words was quite remarkable, and a look of astonishment spread over his face. "Good God...did I just say that?"
By way of comforting him, Miss Adler took Holmes by both hands and they stood for a long moment looking at one another.
"I have changed," said Holmes.
"We both have," agreed Miss Adler.
"What the devil happened?"
"We fell in love, with the result that we've both gone soft. And speaking for myself, I don't like it one bit."
"What do you think we should do?" asked Holmes.
"I'll tell you exactly what we're going to do," answered Miss Adler. "Whoever rings our bell next, we're taking the case. I don't care if there's a homicidal maniac loose in Stratford or if the Archbishop of Canterbury has misplaced his handkerchief, we're taking the case."
"Well, that's a rather broad spectrum. Perhaps if we—"
"We're taking the case."
"We're taking the case."
"Fine." Holmes finally gave way to her insistence. "We're taking the case."
And with that, as it had so many times in the past at just such a propitious moment, our bell rang to announce the arrival of a visitor.
"Well, well, well," said Miss Adler with a smile. "It seems as if the gods were listening. I'll get it."
"I'm going to regret this," muttered Holmes as he slouched onto the divan.
Miss Adler turned at the door. "Oh, no you don't! Official Sherlock Holmes position, please!"
"For God's sake, Irene!"
"Clients have expectations. Now either you're Sherlock Holmes or you're not. What's it going to be?"
Like a sulky toddler, Holmes pulled himself off the divan and made his way to his armchair, whereupon Miss Adler took herself down the stairs to greet our visitor. Still working on the quite delicious coddled eggs, it was a painful thing for me to witness Holmes trying to get into character, as it were. He crossed his legs and immediately a grimace of concern appeared.
"No, Holmes," I offered. "You cross your right leg over your left leg."
"Ah! So I do," replied Holmes, reversing his legs and getting more comfortable.
"And you need a pipe."
"Of course!" Holmes sprang up and moved to the mantelpiece, his hand hovering over his selection of pipes. "What do you think, Watson? Briar, clay, or cherry-wood?"
"Excellent!" Holmes put the briar in his mouth, sat down, then began the difficult task of deciding what to do with his hands. Putting them behind his head, he quickly realised that didn't feel right, then folded his arms across his chest before darting a quick glance in my direction. Polishing off the last bit of bacon, I steepled my fingers together by way of example, and with a look of recognition and gratitude, Holmes mimicked my pose just as our door opened and Miss Adler escorted our visitor into the room.
Dedicated readers of my modest efforts to recount the cases of Sherlock Holmes will remember that we have had all manner of entrances into our rooms over the years, ranging from the dramatic invasion of the enraged Dr. Grimesby Roylott to the spidery spectre of Professor Moriarty slowly ascending our staircase. In these more recent tales that I am now recording for posterity, including "The Adventure of the Elusive Ear" and "The Adventure of the Fallen Soufflé," there is no question whatsoever that I will always remember the first appearances of the bloodied Vincent Van Gogh, the dandy Oscar Wilde, and Bertie, the Prince of Wales for as long as I live, not to mention the cleaver-waving arrival of celebrated chef Auguste Escoffier. The gentleman now standing just inside our door was of a similar, highly striking disposition.