Secrets From the Deed Box of John H Watson, MD
by Hugh Ashton
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The deed box of Dr Watson, presented to me some time ago by a friend who rescued it from the archives of a London bank, continues to produce treasures. The three stories in this collection, which I have entitled Secrets from the Deed Box of John H Watson MD, all represent some aspect of Holmes and his adventures that has previously been undiscovered. In many ways these are somewhat darker in tone than the stories that he did release to the public and publish in the Strand magazine.
For some reason, Watson failed to date most of Holmes’ adventures, and we must therefore make a guess at the chronology of these stories through their allusions to other cases.
The first of these tales, The Conk-Singleton Forgery Case, is mentioned by Watson. He gives no other details in The Adventure of the Six Napoleons, and the story was presumably withheld from the public on account of Holmes’ brush with the police as described here. The story provides excellent examples of Holmes’ skill in deduction from seemingly trivial observations, as well as details of his methods of working a case.
The next story, The Strange Case of James Phillimore, is likewise mentioned in passing by Watson. James Phillimore is described as stepping into his house to retrieve his umbrella, never to be seen more in this world. This brief description implies a somewhat supernatural twist to things, but the truth of the matter is even more surprising. The open antagonism between Sherlock Holmes and some officers of the Metropolitan Police Force may come as somewhat of a surprise to those who have always regarded him as an unflagging ally of the official guardians of law and order.
In The Enfield Rope, we enter unknown territory.Watson never alluded to this case. The principals here were far too well-known to Watson’s public to allow of this case’s publication, even with pseudonyms, and respect for the British Establishment would have restrained Watson in this instance. Holmes’ sense of the dramatic is shown here, and his admiration and liking for a member of a part of society that was often shunned at that time shows a human, more attractive side to Holmes than is often portrayed by Watson.
One of the joys of the exploration of the Holmes papers has been the increasing knowledge I have gained of the character and accomplishments of John Watson.Often regarded as little more than a sidekick to his more illustrious companion, it is interesting to see how often he serves as an accomplished investigator in his own right, while remaining modest about his abilities. Indeed, Holmes very often seems to rely on Watson’s work in order to achieve the solution of a case.
In the Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes remarks to Watson,“It may be that you are not yourself luminous,but you are a conductor of light." I would contradict Holmes’opinion here, and maintain that Watson, though by no means the shining beacon exemplified by Holmes, none¬theless still manages to provide sufficient illumination to shed light on the mysteries presented to his more famous friend.
There are still more sealed envelopes in the deed box awaiting perusal, but the papers are becoming brittle in the Japanese climate, and Watson’s handwriting seems to have deteriorated over time. It may be a matter of a few months before I am able to decipher more of the stories lurking at the bottom of the box.
Hugh Ashton, Kamakura, 2012
- Inknbeans Press, June 2012
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