Sherlock, The Unfathomable Episode – New Year’s Day 2016

(The long hidden, private journal of Dr John H Watson was discovered a year ago by yours truly, within the depths of a stone cellar situated incongruously in the living room of an ancient, haunted farmhouse in the little known town of Hipperholme, West Yorkshire.  How this journal ever came to rest in such an unlikely place will remain a mystery forever.  On discovery of such a mind-blowingly important addition to the ‘canon’ of all things Sherlock, I immediately posted the journal into the safe hands of Messrs Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat.  As nothing was mentioned in the media, concerning my momentous discovery, I assumed MG and SM wanted to keep the journal top secret, presumably in order to ‘mine’ it for further Sherlock episodes, and it became clear that said journal would indeed seem to go a long way to explaining last Friday’s curious tale of The Abominable Bride.)


3rd January 1895

I have just returned from a short stay in the north of England, in the county of Yorkshire.  Mary and I had journeyed there towards the end of December in order to make a Christmas visit upon distant relatives on Mary’s side, I having neither kith nor kin in England.    “A change will do us good,” Mary had remarked one morning at breakfast, while a heavy rain fell upon the dining room window, obliterating our particular view of that giant cesspool known as London.   Ah, how my view of the world’s greatest city has changed since I fell in with my remarkable friend Holmes, and even more so when my dear Mary consented to my marriage proposal, subsequently becoming my even dearer wife. “We may escape all this miserable rain in the North,”  Mary had further remarked, as the silent maid brought in two boiled eggs and a pile of toasted soldiers, throwing me a cursory glance which, at the time, I barely noticed.  And so a telegram was dispatched to the relatives in the North, whereupon a room was booked at an Inn in a tiny village known as Hunsworth.  I must pause here to record that, on arrival at our Inn, we were disappointed to find that untameable beast, the British weather, in as quite a belligerent mood, up in the wilds of the North, as it had been in the gentler environs of the South.  Indeed the hills and valleys of the county of Yorkshire were covered in a lowering mist for a good part of our stay, and further afflicted by daily outbursts of torrential rain, causing many parts of the county to suffer such a deluge of this incessant rain that rivers burst their banks and entire towns were flooded.   Not to mention that Hunsworth appeared to be a bleak and dismal place indeed.

Unlike Mary, the vagaries of the notoriously changeable British weather were not uppermost in my mind.  During the run-up to our proposed Yuletide holiday I had been eagerly anticipating the publication of my new Sherlock Holme’s story which was to appear in The Strand Magazine on New Year’s Day.  The papers had been full of what I might have to say about our famous detective’s latest ‘doings’ and I had read every supposition with eagerness, as we made the lengthy and boring trip to the North, by means of that marvel of the modern world – the train.   What an example of the superiority of British engineering is the locomotive!   How it has forever changed the world.  Surely we have attained the pinnacle, in terms of methods of transportation.  I was mentioning this fact to Holmes just before I set off on our trip, eulogising the wonders of 19th century travel, but he had merely puffed on his pipe in an attitude of near boredom, stared at me with those hawk-like, hypnotic eyes of his and said: “Wait until you take a spin in an automobile Watson”,  before suddenly getting up and leaving the room; an enigmatic smile appearing on his lean and angular face.   Considering the word ‘automobile’ made its first appearance in The New York Times in 1897, I am at a loss as to how Holmes could know of such a thing (or indeed how I am capable of referencing an event two years into the future.)  I think this strange occurrence may be due in part to the COCAINE.

I have an admission to make, and one I could only ever make in the private pages of this journal.  After having been Holmes’ friend (I am sure I may take the liberty of referring to myself as Mr Holmes’ particular friend after our adventures during these past five years) I could not help but be party to some of his more peculiar habits, one of which was the occasional use of narcotics, in the form of a 7% solution of cocaine, taken by the means of a syringe.  In fact I was sure that the ‘automobile’ reference had arisen when Holmes had escaped the influence of one of his most recent drug addled sessions.  Noticing that the cocaine appeared to increase his intellectual and predictive powers immensely, I decided to inject myself, on the night that I transcribed our latest adventure, and to submit my tale to The Strand without so much as checking a syllable of the writing, as a kind of one-off experiment, utilising the new idea of the stream of consciousness, currently being bandied about by William James in the ‘Principles of Psychology’.   This also made the publication of my latest story doubly exciting, as I was as in the dark to its contents as my faithful readers!

I hope it is not immodest of me to record here (does modesty really matter within the pages of a secret journal) that my last literary recording of one of our detecting adventures received 30,000 hits in that estimable magazine The Strand, home to so many great authors of the late Victorian age (I think this may be the remnants of the cocaine talking here, as I meant to say 30,000 readers – I have no idea how a word describing the application of a blow to a person or a thing could ever be applied to that non-violent and sedentary occupation known as reading, nor have I any idea why I would use the non-grammatical ‘here’ after the words ‘cocaine talking’.  I almost feel as though my pen is being guided by another’s hand….. but that way lies madness.  Cocaine is a dangerous thing indeed.  Perhaps I am still under its influence?)

Whilst spending a happy New Years’s Day gorging ourselves on mince pies, left over Christmas cake and the odd glass of wine or sherry, I temporarily left the delights of these homely shenanigans (I must get a hold of myself, these non-literary turns of phrase are most alarming) and made the short walk to the local newsagents to pick up a copy of The Strand.  Returning to Mary’s relatives’ house I ensconced myself in the study and spent, what turned out to be an alarming 90 minutes, reading the contents of my faithful recording of the tale of The Abominable Bride.

The fact that I cannot recall such a case every coming my or Holmes’ way is by the by.  The more remarkable aspect to our latest adventure seemed to be that it was an intensely clever mash-up (where are these words coming from!) of all that had gone before.  My cast list was present and correct.  Mrs Hudson was there bemoaning the fact that she appears to be a ‘plot device’, when Holmes and I both know that we would be lost without her endless cups of tea however, when I really think about it, what else does Mrs Hudson do, apart from being in possession of a character trait known as ‘long suffering’,  so perhaps her criticism should in future be heeded.  Lestrade was also present and correct, as were numerous unknown characters, hitherto missing from my published reminiscences but, in this tale, clearly well known to Holmes and myself.  I had, however, appeared to have written an exact account of Holmes’ and my first meeting, including the questionable bit (really? ‘bit’!) in the morgue.  So far so good, until I discovered that at rather crucial points in the story, I appeared to have placed Holmes within the confines of a gigantic metallic bird capable of flight!!   He was surrounded by Mary, Mycroft and myself, dressed in highly unusual attire.  My moustache was missing, no less, and I was sporting a haircut of a most alarming nature.  Each of us held a strange oblong glowing device, upon which we sporadically placed our fingers and appeared to tap out strange rhythms.  These scenes would clearly be more at home between the pages of a Jules Verne novel.  As I settled further back in my leather chair I came to the conclusion that this, at turns, macabre, gothic and deeply unsettling story could only be the result of my misuse of that pain killing narcotic known as cocaine.

At one point the Klu Klux Klan made a sudden appearance, attired in purple, and appeared to be behind the deaths of many boorish and selfish husbands.  These deaths were announced via the sending of orange pips in the post – an allusion to the actual KKK’s practice, in 1870’s America, of sending their victims melon seeds, orange pips or oak leaves through the post, signifying their victim’s untimely end.  This revolting, purple and pointy hooded murderous clan was revealed to be made up of members of the fairer sex, uttering incantations in the crypt of some nameless church and demanding rights for women (our maid made a brief appearance, which explained that previous cursory glance – NB must be more polite to the maid.) Moriarty  then popped up inexplicably in the guise of the so called abominable  bride.

And Moriarty appears to have shot himself in the mouth, rather than plummeting from the Reichenbach Falls – mirroring the death of the abominable bride. Both she, and Holmes’ arch nemesis, then appear to rise from the dead, and Holmes had become obsessed with discovering how this kind of thing could be possible in such a world of factual science as the 19th century is.

My sense of the natural flow of time seemed to have disappeared, along with my ability to write in a coherent and intelligent manner.  For I am referring to this character Moriarty as if I know him and yet I am sure Holmes and I have never met such a marvellously Machiavellian criminal mind at this point in our career  (I will make a note here to include Moriarty in my further reminiscences of Holmes’ and my time together, whenever future adventures lack the required intrigue and excitement.)

However, this story was certainly better than anything I had ever previously written.  There was a breath taking quickness of pace and a remarkable cleverness.  Why, I had to read the whole thing through, three or four times, just to make sense of it – I had included so many  jokes known only to Holmes and myself and many cross references to previous and future tales – how that could be is beyond my small 19th century mind.   And Holmes – what can I say?  When he appears in the metal bird he seems so different, so mercurial, so engaging but so full of nervous energy.  Back in the real world of hansom cabs and deerstalker hats he is so much more restrained, calmer of movement, more the Holmes I know; as far as anyone can ever fully be acquainted with the inner workings of the mind of a genius.

Had my Holmes’ inspired experiment with cocaine yielded satisfying results?  I think it had.  The Abominable Bride was a strange tale indeed, but perhaps narcotic use had brought unconscious issues to the surface.  The non-political presence of women had never concerned me before but now perhaps it would.  Perhaps, like Holmes, I had transiently attained the power to see into the future, even if I lacked the ability to explain the strange metallic bird and the glowing devices.   I could now see that cocaine was a seductive substance indeed, if my extraordinarily entertaining tale was anything to go by, but determined that my foray into the world of the addict would not be repeated.  I also decided to telegraph the proprietors of The Strand asking that they add a disclaimer that The Abominable Bride was a complete fabrication on my part, designed to provide a ghostly tale at Christmas time, and should not appear as an actual case in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

My brief trip down Cocaine lane may have led to this marvellous, time travelling tale but I am content to stay here in the 19th century.  A world of votes for women, murderous brides and insane psychopaths seems just a little too scary.  After finally laying my New Year’s tale down upon the writing desk, I returned to the living room and the comfort of a real fire, the glow of gas light and the maid (towards whom I was most gracious) serving a welcome early supper.

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